My husband, Greg, and I arrived at Nsolo Bush Camp in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia on June 19, 2018, just in time for lunch.
We were the only guests in the camp at the time and had lunch with the camp manager, Gloria, and our guide, John. John asked me what I hoped to see on this, my first Safari.
“Lions,” I said.
John mentioned that we may be in luck as there were lions in the area feeding on a dead elephant.
And then he proceeded to set the scene by telling us a story about the time he had taken guests on a game drive and they came upon a pride of lions. They stopped their vehicle to look at them (the safari vehicles in Africa have no doors so they are open down to the floor).
A lioness got curious about their vehicle and approached it. John told the guests not to move, just to be still. John was in the driver’s seat and so he was the lowest to the ground. The lioness stuck her head in the vehicle and started smelling John’s feet! He said he could feel her hot breath on his ankles…
the next thing he knew, the lioness started licking his shoes!
They must not have tasted very good as she soon stopped and walked away. John turned around to look at the guests in the back seats and they were all on the floor. He asked them why they were down there. Their reply?
They didn’t want to see John get attacked by the lion!!!
With John’s story fresh in our minds, we left for our game drive.
As we were the only guests, we had the pick of seats in the vehicle. I took the row of seats right behind the guide so I could hear everything he said and Greg sat in the row behind me so he could spread out his camera equipment.
Within five minutes of leaving camp, we came across one male lion, five female lions and six cubs. They were laying down in the grass across the road from the dead elephant which they had been eating. John pulled up right alongside them. John said he had seen this same pride the night before, but there had been two males that night.
One of the females got up and walked right alongside our vehicle.
My heart was pounding, I was so scared as I looked down at my ankles. All I could think of was John’s story. There was the lioness’ head and there were my exposed feet, right at her eye level. But she was going back across the road to have some more elephant.
Then one of the cubs got up and walked up close to the vehicle, plopped down, and stared at us. It had golden eyes.
Two smaller cubs had been rolling around and playing. They noticed the one staring and decided to investigate, coming closer to the vehicle. I kept thinking, “Stay away, babies, because if you come close, your mother will come to get you.” But the cubs thought this was all great fun and one was pulling the other one’s tail with his teeth as they continued to play right in front of the vehicle.
The adult lions had stayed laying down until my camera slid off the seat and fell to the floor of the vehicle with a clatter. I thought that was it, the lions would attack us and it was all my fault because I dropped my camera. Instead, two of the lions simply raised their heads to look, before promptly going back to sleep.
My heart was still pounding, but I felt a little better.
When John asked us if we should go, I said, “Can we watch them for a few more minutes?” Greg, who was sitting in the row of seats behind me, hit me in the back of the head, and said, “Let’s not press our luck.” So we left and had a much-needed sundowner cocktail.
We continued our game drive in the dark with a man with a spot light. As we turned a corner in the dirt road we startled a giant elephant on the side of the road. He charged the vehicle trumpeting with his huge ears out and we took off.
Continuing down the dark dirt road, John stopped the vehicle and said, “Well, there’s the male lion that was missing from the pride.” Laying down on the side of the road, I saw his giant head and mane.
The adrenaline was still at a level where I didn’t feel the need to see another lion (with a possible foot fetish) immediately.
The lion raised his head, yawned, and I saw his giant teeth. He got up, crossed in front of our vehicle, peed on the other side of the road, then crossed back and lay down again.
It had been the most incredible three hours of my life.
We returned to camp to a three-course meal with champagne, served on a white linen tablecloth on a table set out in the dry river bed. The other guests who had just arrived enjoyed being regaled by tales of our exciting lion sightings and then my first day on Safari ended with a glass of white port wine around an open fire.
Next week: My tried and tested Lion Licking Avoidance Strategy