An audio and video podcast of my trip hitchhiking around the world by sea.
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The King of the Jungle

When choosing a safari, you have options: Tanzania, Kenya, Maasai Mara, Serengeti. But there is one place that stands out. The gathering place. A crater created to gather life. With a land space of almost 100 square miles, Ngorongoro Crater is massive earthen bowl formed by a collapsed volcano. It is home to approximately 25,000 large animals that include pretty much everything you picture in Africa: elephants, hippopotami, zebra, wildebeests, rhinos, oh yeah and lions!

Now, I don’t mean to sound sexist, but when I think of lions I think of the males. Massive maned beasts, crowned with a flowing head of golden intimidation. He is the king, whose voice alone demands undeniable respect, paralyzing its foes before it proceeds to eat their face. It’s true the women do all the work and don’t get the respect, hunting wildebeests and looking after the young whilst the man of the house sleeps something like 20 hours a day. However, when it’s go time and a pack of ruthless hyenas initiate a cowardly but deadly attack, well then there’s no question who you want on your team. After an earth-altering roar, when laughing turns to weeping and trembling hyena scatter like shadows from the sun, that’s when the king claims his crown. That’s what I call a lion, and that’s exactly what I wanted.

So that’s exactly what I told our safari driver, Jackson, I wanted to see. Well I told him I wanted to see everything but especially lions. Jackson did not disappoint. In two days we had checked off nearly every form of African wildlife desirable. Dancing hippos in muddy pits. Awkward giraffes taking full advantage of their long awkward necks as they inconspicuously peeked around acacias trees. Elephants coating themselves with the dust of the earth as they walked feet from our stilled land cruiser. Antelope. Water buffalo. Zebra. Wildebeests. Then finally… the lions.

We had crossed path with another driver, who in native tongue told Jackson there had been lion spottings in a specific area of the crater. We started the car and moved across the floor of the massive crater like a comet tailed by a cloud of African dust. “Elephants…” Someone noticed and pointed out. Impressive, but not worthy of detour, for we were in hunt for something much more grand. We approached the promising area. I stood on the arms of the seat below, head through roof panning the plains for any variance in coloring.

A khaki lump was spotted in the like-colored grass. Lions. Well sort of… it was girl lions. I’d like to tell you a story about how incredible it was. About the herd of buffalos who approached and were attacked and the alligators who fought for rights. But nothing of the sort happened. One stood, crouched promisingly, and after the alert beests moved back, it laid right back down. I’m sure there’s something sinful about being disappointed at a lion spotting, but I was. Fortunately, the story doesn’t end there.

We had checked nearly every animal off the list, even the lion (woopadee doo!), but there was one we had yet to spot. The rhinoceros . Pronounced rhino-SAURUS because it’s pretty much the only “bad-ace mutha” of a species who somehow made it through the prehistoric holocaust that claimed his dinosaur brethren. The day was coming to a close, we would have to leave soon. Then alas! We spotted and with the help of a zoom lens confirmed a rhino. It was far off, but headed our direction. It was big. It was intimidating. It was with child. We stopped the car.

Slowly but surely, the prehistoric beast approached. Closer, and closer. Mother and child-grazing as they moved. The magnificent mammal crossed 50 feet in front of our vehicle. “Jackson…” I whispered. “ Let’s drive closer…” Faithful to his paying friends, Jackson started the car, cautiously creeping closer. We weren’t far off anyway but with in seconds we were uncomfortably close. The startled mother turned instantly. “Pffshhh! Pffshhh!” I watched as the angry air fired through its fuming, flexing nostrils.

Without a second lost, the rhino was moving full speed like a tank through the grass. We had waged war, but it had the stronger army. We were confident too. Jackson pinned the pedal to the floor, and explosion of dust rolled through the sky, wheels spinning, spitting as the infuriated rhino approached. Finally the wheels caught, pinballing us around the sunroof. We got away and after a few intense seconds the air was a still as before. The rhino returned to its alerted child who returned to grazing unaffected. We stopped, breathed, and watched.

Sun setting, sky red, we climbed the walls of this natural wonder. The ride was quiet. A new peace settled our souls as we looked back at this comely, yet savage kingdom. I left satisfied save one question… where the heck was the rhino when the “king” was chosen?


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