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Wednesday 18th October 2006

Safari, so good-ee.
It was a five hour drive to the Mikumi Safari Park, so we got there about lunchtime. We're staying in posh tented accommodation up on a hill overlooking the vast sprawling plain which is home to all kinds of amazing and terrifying creatures. The park is the size of Denmark apparently so we're not going to see it all. In advance we were promised zebras, giraffes, wart-hogs, wildebeest, various bucks, lions, leopards and crocodiles. But I was pretty sure that we'd be seeing another animal in the safari park, an animal more deadly and ugly and vicious than all the others put together, an animal that is the world's one true monster, an animal we call... the hippopotomus. Apparently they kill more people than any other animal. I love people. You didn't think I was going to say "man" did you? You idiot.
We went for our first drive at about 4. We were taken out in a big open sided land rover with no bars to protect us from lions's claws and the man taking us had no gun to shoot any elephant that might decide to charge us. Apparently we'd be safe. But how could they be sure?
It was a great first day. The flat plains of the safari park spread out for miles and there were dark blue mountains in the distance. Most of the terrain is covered by brown reeds and grass and the occasional tree or splash of green poked up from the landscape, but this was the huge, unspoilt Africa that I had hoped to see. We saw eland and reed bucks to begin with, but we were reminded of the red in tooth and claw nature of nature when a bright white skeleton (out of respect for the dead I will for once use the actual grown up spelling) lay picked clean on the rich brown earth. Of course part of me was excited by the prospect of seeing predators attack their prey, but I wasn't sure I really wanted to see it happen.
We also caught glimpses of zebras, giraffes and wildebeest, but to be honest just driving through this terrain and feeling the warm air rushing by us was experience enough for the moment. As dusk approached I tried to imagine how it must have been for early man living in these conditions, how night fall must have been a terrifying time of day, how danger could lurk unseen round any corner.
At this point I was engineering scenarios in my brain where I could instigate a war between the lions and the elephants (who usually leave each other alone), but maybe if I told the lions that the elephants said they were gay... who knows?
Then the land rover approached a water hole and we went off the already bumpy track to an even less defined pathway. Suddenly we found ourselves maybe ten feet away from a pride of sleeping lions. They lay under a bush, in a heap one on top of the other. They looked like the cutest most benign creatures in the world. One lay on his back his paws in the air, moving as he dreamed, one lazily licked himself like you'd see any domestic cat doing any day of the week, a cub was amongst them. They looked sated and like they'd recently eaten, which was some kind of comfort, but it was still slightly nerve-wracking being little more than a pounce away from these vicious animals, however funny and cartoonish they looked. It was utterly magical and amazing and I later learned it's quite hard to spot lions so to get so close to seven or eight of the scary buggers so soon was a real privilege. I held my breath throughout and we all whispered to each other (as if this was going to stop them noticing us).
Then if that was not enough the landrover backed up to the waterhole in time to see a herd of elephants making their way across for a drink. There were six or seven of them too (perfect for my lion/elephant war plans) and there were two little ones, one who was really tiny and still brown and furry. I was still pretty scared as I know that elephants will charge you if they perceive you as a threat, but all was calm. They went into single file and then the big elephants gradually surrounded the little one, moving along all the time, to protect it on both flanks. They were such amazing and beautiful, intelligent and sensitive creatures that it seemed impossible to believe that some idiots will kill them just ot get their hands on their tusks (or worse propose some kind of inter-special war between them and some big cats for their own entertainment). I was almost moved to tears by the spectacle. Just to be so close to these animals was almost unbelievable: to see them free in the wild, rather than cramped up in a zoo.
Soon enough we had to go, but it was an amazing start to the couple of days that we're spending here.
Night set in and the black sky was full of stars. I probably haven't seen the night sky so clearly since I was in the outback in Australia nine years ago. I am going to enjoy myself here, even if I ultimate end my stay here as lion poo.

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