We are too late for the Great Migration, when herds of
wildebeests, zebras and buffalo, not to mention the far more
elegant eland and gazelles, blacken Kenya's Masai Mara plains. In
July they begin a desperate trek north from Tanzania, seeking
greener grass. The wildebeests march in single file, a little
stupidly it seems. The rest behave more shrewdly, if just as
nervously. The Great Migration, after all, is a moving buffet for
the valley's full-time residents--lions mark the procession from
the high grass, identifying the night's meal. By October, though,
with storms coming up fast, it's merely the Pretty Good
Migration. Laggards continue north, but it's fairly hopeless.
Predators are on all sides now, enjoying this migratory
compulsion no end.
The upshot is, it's a tougher business than we thought, being
part of nature. But not for us. We went to sleep the night
before--our butler having tucked a hot-water bottle into our
four-poster bed--and replayed the chef's elaborate five-course
meal in our fevered and Lariam-laced brain. And, effects of the
quinine now evaporated, woke up to a shocking sunrise that
spilled sudden light onto the plains below our feet.
But that's the difference between animals and us. We have money.
It takes a good chunk of it to be above the laws of the jungle.
At CC Africa's Bateleur Camp, with lodging, all those meals and
two-a-day guided tours in Land Rovers, it might cost an
adventure-simulating couple a grand a day. At the end of that
day, though, they would be unlikely to complain. This is not the
Africa Hemingway experienced--it's better. It's safer, more
comfortable. But it's still Africa, not the Eticket Jungle
Cruise. Those hippos, the ones you only have to worry about when
their ears are twirling? Those are real. But compromises have
been made, on both the humans' and wildlife's behalf. After
decades of peaceful coexistence (big-game hunting is illegal,
except on private preserves), neither is particularly afraid of
the other. The lions, used to the Land Rovers, sit placidly over
their kill (another hapless wildebeest) while we circle for a
better picture, not 10 yards away.
At day's end, back at Bateleur Camp, we relax on leather couches
in an open-air veranda overlooking the plains, the river, the
Pretty Good Migration, baboons scattering in the distance, the
entire bowl of creation beyond. Soon enough to bed, where we
wonder how we got so far along in life without ever having a
hot-water bottle at our feet. In the darkness it's a different
story. We don't exactly hear the roars, the rustle of brush, the
snapping and tearing that announce nature's horrible
authenticity. We just imagine it, probably. But the next day we
discover more bones, more lions sitting placidly over their kill,
more vultures. As we eat our own somewhat less dramatic
breakfast, it occurs to us that the experience is just as real as
it should be. Of course, the wildebeests might have a different
opinion. --Richard Hoffer
February 25, 2003
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON BATELEUR CAMP, TURN TO PAGE 218.