What do you get when you have one 111 pound woman lying three feet from a canvas tent window, and two full grown male lions roaring into said window? One crazy crying gonna pee my pants beeatch, aka, me.
Last August, 2014, I ventured out of Botswana, where I usually work as a wildlife photographer, onto the Masai Mara in Kenya. The day started off landing on a dusty airstrip in the middle of the savanna, me clutching the airsick bag because well, I barf on these small bush planes when we hit turbulence. Luckily I was able to talk the pilot into letting me sit shotgun while the rest of the passengers pretended to pay no attention but I’m sure they were all spitting venom with jealousy because the view from the cockpit is AWESOME… but I digress, so back to my blathering…
We arrived at camp and as usual, and I request the furthest tent from the main lodge area. I do this because I’ve discovered that as the cabins are set quite far apart, sometimes not even within sightline of your closest neighbor, you end up experiencing my favorite thing: being scared shitless in the pitch black of an african night. I admit it: I’m a consummate adrenaline junkie for wild animals on safari. Well, my dreams always come true, and this night was going to be one to remember!
After dinner someone has to escort you back to your tent because otherwise you may get munched on. There are no fences at the places where I stay, which is the only way to be in Africa. Fences suck. So anyway, on my way back to my new abode I learn from the manager that there are 300 lions plus residing in this territory. That got me all perked up! I love this shite!
So away my escorts go, one of them being a Masai warrior, an “askari” or guard, as they are called in Swahili. And I bunk down for the night in my far off tent that has the camp on one side, and the wide open african bush on the other.
It’s 10:30 pm. Pitch black. No electricity. I can hear whooping calls from restless hyenas off, somewhere close. And then I hear the dry grasses and small twigs crackling under soft padded feet, right outside the window facing into the deep. The sounds grow closer, and I strain in the darkness to make out what animals are creeping up to my screen. As I’m flat on the ground the tent window goes straight down all the way so I start to see manes in the blue black of night. Lion manes. Big, glorious, silhouetted manes. The kind like Lion King. The kind of manes that Tina Turner would die to wake up with in the morning. All fluffed and perfectly wind blown. But holy crap, these two males are slowly walking up to my window and look as if their noses are pressed against the screen. I can hear them sniffing into the tent; I imagine them sniffing one skinny white meat appetizer, soft on the outside, crunchy on the inside: ME.
“Don’t move Tina…” That’s what I’m saying to myself. Now I know lion behavior well enough after doing this for so many years. And so long as I don’t stand up I think that even though they know I’m here, me and my bed are one and the same, and I’m not on the menu, and so long as I just chill out we are all going to enjoy each others’ company. Hell no! These two guys choose to start their territorial roaring tonight, within three feet of my head. Holy shit! If you’ve never heard a lion roaring it’s hard to explain but here’s my two cents: it feels like throwing yourself into the inside of a vibrator and turning it on high, and then lying under a train that’s blowing a steam engine horn. You pretty much feel the vibrations of every single guttural roar with the insides of your gut, your chest, your heart, hell, your butt hole is up in your mouth. I’m not joking.
So these two beautiful boys roar like this at the top of their lungs, non-stop, straight into my face as I’m lying on my side and now am stuck and cannot move out of this fetal position for fear that they will kill me. Rooooaaaaarrr! RRRRRRaaaaawwwwrrrrr! Roaaaaaaaaarrrrrr! OMG I’m going fucking die!
I slowly pull the blankets over my head (this takes like 15 minutes as I’m trying to do this inconspicuously so they don’t see the blanket move (uh, right!!!)
I slide my iPad that was on the pillow next to me under the covers, and start videoing myself - my goodbye letter to my family, a record that they will find after I’ve been consumed, the other white meat (aka me). With tears sliding down my cheeks, I say good bye dear friends, good bye mommy. I love you all. I’m so scared. I’m probably going to die and this is what you will find. A video diary made under the covers.
Lions roar every few nights, male lions, to claim and announce that this is their territory. The sound carries over 4 miles in every direction, more if the terrain is just right. The roars go on and off usually around 3-4 a.m. for a spell, sometimes long, sometimes short. But these two pro’s roar into my damn ear from 10:30 p.m. to 4:30 a.m.! I just about died from fright... And I'd do it all over again, and I loved every minute of it.