“CAUTION! DO NOT GET OUT OF THE CAMPSITE, ANIMAL MAY ATTACK HUMAN BEING” Perhaps that should have been a warning…
After a long, dusty, dirty, bumpy, drive along the less than perfect road into the Serengeti we, and our trusty Land Cruiser safari truck, made it into our bush camp. As our guides set up the tents we toured around our little campsite and one of the first things we saw was the sign, warning us to stay in the camp. This is the African Savannah, the Serengeti no less, so we’re assuming this sign has some merit. But what animals? Surely not the family of Banded Mongoose we saw running towards the bathrooms? They were too cute. During the night we were in for a surprise of a slightly larger kind.
Once the tents had been all set up, dinner served, and the sun had set it was time to crawl into bed and rest for the following day in the Serengeti. I should mention at this point that the campsite is based around a tree in the center, the same tree with the warning sign. Meanwhile, the bathrooms are at the edge of the campground. For those of the male persuasion this is no big deal, a tree is a perfect place to pee, and as my wife and I attempted to sleep in our tent a group of safari guides and cooks did just that. It was funny at the time but it turns out it was key to the nights events.
As per usual we’ve been drinking a lot of water since we live in a temperate rainforest and the Serengeti in dry season is not a rainforest, quite opposite. This of course meant that precisely at 4 am my wife leans over, shakes me awake and says “I have to pee”. “So go pee then” I reply. “Can you come with me?” Of course I get up to tag along. We slowly put our shoes on, unzip the tent, and head off into the dark of the Serengeti by the light of our headlamps. 100 metres or so later we make it to the bathrooms and temporarily part ways. My wife tells me later that I came along so that should something attack she would look less yummy than me. A joke? I hope so. We do make it to and from the bathroom unscathed.
While on our way back from the bathroom to the tent, with headlamps flashing to and fro to see if anything is creeping nearby. my wife tells me that she has been hearing this one noise all night and she isn’t sure what animal it is. “What noise” I say as I’ve been pretty much dead asleep. In a whisper she says “it makes this noise, like oo-oooo, oo-oooo,” I look at her, “I have no idea what you’re talking about”. She says “but it goes oo-ooo, oo-ooo,” again in a whispered hush, having difficulty demonstrating the change in pitch of the second ooo. I now look at her as if she’s gone crazy and continue to insist that I have no idea what she’s talking about. By this time we’re back in our sleeping bags and she waits a moment to hear it again and then asks “did you hear that??” Of course I say “no, you’re crazy.” (I never heard a thing). Frustrated she gives me a look and tries to get me to shut up and listen. Suddenly, from right outside my side of the tent, a half metre from my head, we hear and loud “gruhwwff!”. I freeze. Then retort, “I heard that though!” We waited and listened – literally every other noise stopped, not a cricket, bug, or bird made a peep. We knew what it was, they knew what it was – it was a lion. It was RIGHT OUTSIDE OUR TENT. It likely saw us coming from the bathroom – which is a really creepy thought. It left right away, we assume, and after a minute or so the other animals in the night began to chime back in and we relaxed a bit – so cool, but SO SCARY! Somehow we promptly turned back over and went to sleep.
The next morning we meet in the dining area for breakfast, now having a greater appreciation for the caged walls. We look at our guide and say, “Peter, there was a lion right next to our tent last night!” He says, “No, you were hearing lions roaring far away, they were probably eight kilometres away but it echoes.” (Yeah right. When something makes noise beside my head I know it’s beside my head.) We insisted it didn’t sound like an echo, nor did it sound like roaring, but he wouldn’t budge. About 10 minutes later, Kelvin (the safari owner) comes over and says, “Guys! There was a lion RIGHT NEXT TO YOUR TENT last night!” Finally! We said “we know – how did you know??” to which he replied that he had not been able to sleep and so he hung out in the cooks area for the night and watched as the lion descended from the rocks into the camp and wandered right through the middle, past the tree that advises against wandering outside of the campsite, and then moved off into the savannah. Crazy. Just crazy. 30 seconds longer in the bathroom and we may have been looking at the lion, face to gaping jaw, instead of just hearing him. We figure the lion came down to explore the “scents” coming from the tree and we just happened to be beside the tree. So be careful where you pee, especially when in the Serengeti.
The oo-oooo, oo-oooo. Hyenas. (They visited the tent the next night, but that’s another story).
© 2012 Ryan Faas