It’s a fact of life. Nothing turns out quite as you expected. And safari game drives are no exception. We had set out on ours in the afternoon and were now centre stage to the majesty of the Masai Mara. The landscape was khaki-coloured and rolled away to lap at the foot of the distant escarpment. In the foreground there was a smudge of low silver-green scrub: on the horizon a flat-topped acacia. A secretary bird strode ahead of us, its grey-and-black feathered suit mimicking that of a Victorian secretary, his hands metaphorically clasped behind his back. A typical safari scene: just what we’d expected. But not exactly what we’d hoped for – no rollicking herds of wildebeest. No roaring lions. No hyenas. No kills.
Ah well. Never mind.
A little later, the safari vehicle draws to a halt and John, our driver-guide gazes at the far hillside. ‘You wanted elephants?’ he says. Well, yes, we had said that we’d like to see elephants. But we hadn’t expected them to be available to order – off the safari menu as it were. ‘Over there,’ says John casually, and raises his binoculars. We do likewise, but it still takes a lot of looking before we find the elephants. Amazingly, given their size, elephants make quite convincing bushes when seen from a distance. ‘There are more,’ observes John ‘if you look over the head of that cheetah.’
Cheetah? What cheetah?
A stone’s throw from our vehicle, rolling on its back, its creamy-white belly exposed and fluffed out like a cushion, is a cheetah.
John surveys it. ‘Not pregnant,’ he says musingly, ‘just got a full belly. She ate about an hour ago.’ We gaze at the creature in awe: and then at John. How does he know these things?
The more time you spend with John, the more your faith in his ability to know everything grows. As the cheetah rubs itself back and forth on the harsh savannah grass, John casts a contemptuous glance at a cluster of vehicles on the horizon: all seemingly focused on one thing. ‘Why gather around one cheetah,’ he observes, ‘when you can have three hunting males all to yourself?’