Cover photo – Hyenas at sunset by Jean-Luc Garcette
The tension builds in the safari Jeep, a sense of anxiety even, as crocodiles of immense proportions gather, emerging from the muddy depths. Their beady eyes peer from underneath the gnarly waters – and then you hear it…
The sun is rising over the Masai Mara. Its orange hue lights your face, your heart beats in anticipation as you watch in silence the leopard, slinking, crawling, belly to the ground, downwind of his prey.
A flurry arises as the birds frantically twitter in warning excitedly above the warthog’s head as he crouches on his tiny knees, his antenna-like tail poking the air as he intently chomps on the grasses of the African plains, oblivious to the world around him.
The excitement of the birds’ warning heightens, your breath draws faster, the silence deepens.
Each muscle of the leopard is defined in its ripple. Will he catch his prey?
Every inch of your being is present in the anticipation, your chest rises and falls in rhythm with the earth, each breath building on the next, as in that moment there is only you, the leopard, the warthog, and the birds. There is nothing else, all of life falls away. In that moment you disconnect from the world and reconnect with yourself.
And that’s the gift of the raw, untethered land that is Africa, as you mindfully witness the circle of life quietly, yet dramatically, unfolding before your eyes.
The awe and wonder you are seeking is inside you
Across the plain, the long, hairy beard of the wildebeest gently droops towards the earth as he meanders hundreds of kilometres from the Serengeti in Tanzania, willowing along with two million animals, one behind the other. Unwittingly, or knowingly, they follow nature, the grasses and the rains.
There is no questioning about the life-threatening challenges that lay ahead; there is no complacency. They simply wander, walk, and sometimes run, babies playfully jumping as they follow their mothers.
Who’s going to be brave enough to lead?
Hippos wallow, seemingly oblivious to the danger that lies beneath the intrepid waters as the migration flows. Herds pace the shore of the Mara River, looking for the least dangerous crossing point, as a cluster of zebra call from the other side. Who’s going to take that first jump? Who’s going to brave their life to lead their babies, their families, their fellow travellers to the other side?
The tension builds in the safari Jeep, a sense of anxiety even. Immense proportions of crocodiles gather, emerging from the muddy waters. The width of their giant bodies takes your breath away. Their beady eyes peer from underneath the gnarly waters. Then you hear it: the first splash, and off they go, hundreds and hundreds of wildebeest and zebra fighting the current to get safely to the other side.
As your heart beats faster, urging them to swim, the unthinkable happens and a zebra loses his footing. Your silent voice screams, “No, no!” as he is dragged away, his large body rolling, disappearing under the water, and then emerging in the jaws of the crocodile.
His scream rises through the air above the chaos of the crossing and you know his life is slipping away
To your left a lioness lingers, hiding in crevices of the river bank, awaiting an easy lunch. But today is not her day, as she witnesses the crocodile eating her potential prey.
A gasp arises from the safari as a baby wildebeest is carried downstream on the current, fighting to get to the other side. His cries of distress echo through the air. As hearts race, you can feel the other spectators around you willing him to find his feet. He struggles, floundering in the intensity of the current. Finally he stumbles up the river bank, wet and shaken. A quiet cheer comes from the crowd and relief fills the air. He made it and we can breathe once again.
There’s a falter in the crossing as a group of zebra nervously baulks and comes to a sudden halt. You can feel their trepidation as they pace the bank, watching the still unfed, vicious crocodiles. The waters break into a swirl, and you witness the magic of nature unfurl as the hippos rise, bolstering to create safe passage, a barricade between the crossing and the crocodiles.
See the world with new eyes
Our hearts smile and almost explode as the awe and wonder of nature fills us. We know, on some level, something has shifted and we will never be the same again.
Jaws drop, eyes widen, faces open as the vast expanse of the Masai Mara and its residents steal hearts.
The perfection in the imperfection is realised as we witness the essential role of the vulture and the hyena in the ecosystem of life. Carcasses abound across the plains as lions finish feasting on their prey. A pack of spotted hyena pace, laughing, as vultures swirl, awaiting an easy lunch. In just a few hours there will be no trace. These scavengers of the wild consume every bone and morsel, stomachs filled for another day.
The sun is setting over the Mara, as we arrive back at camp, our senses awakened by the plethora of giraffe, elephant, gazelle, and antelope. We’re tired, excited and feeling fully alive. There are no words that adequately describe the magic of this natural wonderland.
The excitement is not over yet
Leaning back drinking in the last remnants of day, an ice-cold G&T in hand, we see movement on the river bank as the barrel-like body of a male hippo emerges on the sandy crescent-shaped bank. His stumpy short legs carry his large body across the sand as he scans the edges of the water intently for danger. He comes to a standstill, soldier-like, halted and on guard.
Three more hippos follow, positioning themselves like soldiers facing the water around the edges of the crescent. Then, to our delight, our day gets even richer as a mumma hippo raises her large body onto the sand, leading her baby onto the shore. She positions the baby on her left close to the wall of the river bank. She is protecting him from anything that may lay beneath the muddy waters, ready to steal him away.
As she moves across the sand, the other females fall in behind. Cocooning the baby in safety they move, as one, up the bank.
Speechless, we marvel at the wonder of life.
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