The day announced itself with quiet rays of sunlight peeking across the mountain tops, the valley below still hidden in shadows. After a quiet night next to the river bed, it was time to get going in the cool of the morning, get away from the humdrum of the well travelled road that we had left the day before. Lumley was ready to go, I quickly fed her and packed up, time to motor on down along the river bed. I wanted to see some desert elephants, it had been a while, so we took the road less travelled, a two-track down the river towards the coast. A sandy road that would challenge me and the land rover, but we had done similar trips before and the 4-wheeler could cope if I did my bit.
Once I had packed up and checked that nothing was left behind, I had a a slow walk around the camp site looking at animals tracks; a few kudu tracks at a distance from the camp site and the expected jackal tracks that led up to the fire from the previous evening, no indication of lion or leopard. Some fading elephant tracks, a few days old and heading west, were an early promise of elephants down river. Lumley was running around sniffing everything, this was a different world for her; after some cajoling, she reluctantly jumped up into her seat and we followed the river downstream. I was a little vary, not knowing where the elephants may be, as the track was surrounded by high brush on both sides. On a previous trip down a different valley, I had to do some rather rapid reverse driving to escape a young bull elephant on testosterone overload. The kind of story you may want to tell your grandchildren, if you survive, but not exactly a pleasant experience at the time.
“Lumley, time to hit the road”, she just wagged her tail and smiled doggy fashion, tongue hanging out, poked her head out the window and barked once in approval. It was slow going, the way we liked it, I hummed some random tunes and chatted with Lumley, whose tail wagging I took to be agreement. After a few miles the track took a turn away from the river and up the side of the valley. I stopped on a crest and we got out the car, both Lumley and myself having a good stretch. I looked down into the valley and noticed that the river had formed a big pool with a big herd of antelope to one side, not drinking as would be expected, but looking across the water at the opposite river bank. I got out my binoculars to have a closer look and spotted four lions, two youngsters having a playful fight and a mature male and female. The latter two were clearly in the mating zone and I decided to get some lunch for Lumley and myself, then settled down to watch the show for a while. I let Lumley go on discovery while keeping a close eye on her, I did not want her to startle the antelope that were on our side of the river. She’s a good dog, kind-of “gets it” and after a while she came to lie at my feet, falling asleep in quick time. Down below the male lion was keen to let the whole valley know of his conquest with a load roar every time he mounted the female; a lion’s roar does travel well and still instils fear in me every time I hear it, even in the distance. The antelope slowly meandered towards the water, thirst driving them onward, there was a tense equilibrium around the pool. I noted that the track turned back down the hill and passed next to the pool, not too far from the lions, though these were on the opposite bank. Time to get out the camera, there were potentially some good shots on offer. I started the car, allowed the animals in the valley to settle and get used to the strange noise, then slowly drove down the hill so as not to disturb the animals too much. They were clearly not conditioned to cars and humans, unlike in the game reserves further north, we were in their territory. Fortunately, the antelope settled fairly quickly and the lions did not seem to care, the youngsters playing and the adults, well, you know what I’m getting at.
Lumley was not comfortable, it may have been the smell of the lions, and she lay down next to me with her head in my lap, a clear signal that a cuddle was requested. At an opportune point I stopped the car and set up my camera for some photography while also “enjoying the moment”. I contemplated staying there for a few hours, but we needed to move on to a camping spot away from the lions, it was not safe here for either of us. Slowly I drove away, heading west, we might come back tomorrow.
The sun settled behind the mountains. It would be a cold night with the stars at their brilliant best against the dark desert sky. Sleep would come easily for both of us. I looked at Lumley: “Are we going to see elephants tomorrow?” She wagged her tail in excitement, we fell asleep. Life in the slow lane.