LIVING AMONG LIONS...
Updated: Sep 17
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Here I was, face to face, with two of the most talented killers in the wild animal kingdom. With the power, speed, and agility to kill cape buffalos, zebras, springbok, and on occasion, even a giraffe or elephant when the pride is desperate enough, lions exude strength and controlled aggression. I was staring at that predilection from just a few feet away, while the two lionesses laid lazily in the tall grass, under the bushes. Only moments before, the driver floored it down one of the dusty well-worn roads in the Masai Mara, to enter this large thicket of bushes and trees, after receiving a tip from another guide of their location. After a six hour drive the day before from Nairobi, accompanied by a short evening scout to see what we could find (elephants and giraffes by the way), before bedtime at the lodge, this was my first chance to see the apex predator of Africa.
How did I get here you might ask, and what compelled me to choose this as my first stop on my new fulltime travel career? I’ve now traveled the last 11 months, including thirty-two days in lockdown in La Paz, Bolivia, due to Covid-19. I quit my job with a very large travel company, the very last days of July when I flew to Playa Del Carmen to imbibe at an all-inclusive, waiting for the sale of my condo to conclude. It was a beast of year and a half, which mentally wore me down, and I thought was on the verge of breaking me. I never considered before that even someone like myself, who was well acclimated to stress after 4.5 years in the Marine Corps and 4 years in the Army, could suffer a nervous breakdown. It is clear to me now though, if I had not taken drastic steps, that’s exactly what would have happened.
The truth is like a lion. You don’t have to defend it. It will defend itself - St. Augustine.
A multitude of catastrophic incidents occurred within a short time period. During January 2018, my girlfriend twenty-three at the time was pregnant with twins, when she had a heart attack while driving. In the February delivery, the babies were stillborn. Also, in February 2018, my father who had retired to Florida, endured a major stroke after driving himself to the hospital with major chest pains. He was released a few months later, having recovered enough to live on his own, when I was contacted on July 3rd to be told he had passed in a devastating house fire. The damage was so complete, the sheriff’s department brought in a special dog to sniff for accelerants, as the investigators initially thought it was arson.
According to the coroner, the death was classified a heart related incident, where he then appeared to have dropped a cigarette, but the totality of the circumstances lingered. The trifecta finally occurred in November 2018. I was sitting in my truck at a traffic light, off an exit on 101 (highway at home in Scottsdale, AZ), when I was rear ended at approximately 55mph by a driver on their cell phone. Their SUV went up underneath my Z71, lifting the backend up and over, so the seatbelt yanked out of the position I was in. My back is already fucked, with compressed discs from the military, but the accident succeeded in finishing it off. I continued to work until July 2019, although I never bought another vehicle, as I knew it was time to start thinking about a change.
I flew from Phoenix to Tucson to renew my passport, as I only had 7 months remaining. I had an international business class ticket to NBO (Nairobi), so I was able to get it renewed same day. Then I hopped from Tucson to Denver, Denver to Frankfurt, and Frankfurt to Nairobi. Arriving in Nairobi, I spent a few days at the same hostel I normally stay at, off of Langata Road. If you’ve never been to Nairobi, Langata Road is a fairly major roadway outside of the business district/ downtown, which runs through the town of Langata between Ngong and Mombasa Road junctions. I departed from the hostel at 6am with my guide, and took the long, rumbling, dusty trip to the Masai Mara.
A lion sleeps in the heart of every brave man - Turkish Proverb.
The incredibly bumpy road during the last hour and a half though will make you assume all four tires are flat though. The journey takes you through stunning views of the Great Rift Valley and provides an eclectic look into how people in the country of Kenya, not just the city of Nairobi, actually live. Arriving in Masai Mara National Park, which is about 1500 square kilometers and stretches into the Serengeti in Tanzania, inebriated me with wonder and awe. The plateaus and plains on their own are amazing, but to see the first few animals, zebras and ostrich, was a feeling of relief and freedom and ease which I had not felt in some time. As I sit here writing this, getting past the bumpy road and arriving at the park, seems to be a metaphor for the trials beforehand, and the tribulations.
Isak Dinesen once said, “You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions.”