Sacred Combe Safari IV
Day 1, part 2
I had to make a decision on behalf of our guests, and all I had done so far was say hello and welcome. I had to take a punt on what kind of guests they were and why they had chosen to come to the Luangwa Valley.
We were travelling in an open vehicle from Mfuwe airport to Tafika camp, a two-hour bounce in the dark along unmade roads, taking in a corner of South Luangwa National Park. I was riding up front with my old friend and colleague Amon Zulu, catching up and talking wildlife.
Our guests had been on the road for about 36 hours: getting to Heathrow, travelling to Dubai changing planes for Lusaka (no direct flights from London), then once again for Mfuwe, and now this last-straw run through the night. They were all in desperate need of stillness, running water, clean clothes and something nice to drink. And I denied them all these things.
A little crackle from the radio. Yes, still there. So Amon asked: should be go straight to camp? Or take a 20 minute detour?
I thought long and hard. It took me about 1.5 seconds. “Let’s go for it.”
Lions. Ten minutes later, yes, we were looking at lions. There they were, lying about in the uncompromising way that lions specialise in. Blinking in the spotlight I trained on them, still quite full from yesterday’s kill but visibly wondering if it was time to hunt again. Great big tawny lionesses, each paw like spiked mace, with golden eyes that can turn in an instant from sleepy contentment to furious action. One glance, one single glance seems to pierce your soul.
Weary, travel-stained, longing for the comforts of camp – but these guests had come here for something far greater than physical ease. They were longing also for lions, and longing still more for the sense of wildness that comes from breathing the same air as lions.
There was a different quality to the silence as we made the final bounce towards Tafika.