I had taken the girls to a little game reserve in South Africa that sat along the edge of Crocodile River, which runs for part of its route through the Kruger National Park. If you have seen wildlife documentaries or Disney movies, think back to the scene where all the animals come together at the same time to drink from the same water source - that was what greeted us there. Elephants, giraffe, cranes, crocodiles, springbok.... and as it turned out, a lion.
In 2008 my kids spent a year in the South African school system. Their mum was born there, and so it was great for them to be exposed to that part of their lives so early. It was a long commute from San Francisco to visit them, but it afforded us life changing experiences.
I had made them a promise. When we went on a trip I would dram a circle on a map around their home in Pretoria, and wherever they put their finger, we would go to there, and upon arrival, they could choose where we stayed. We probably stayed in more places with the word "giraffe" in their name than any other humans!
On this occasion they landed right on the border to Mozambique, so with a little nudging away from danger, we decided that they had actually picked a small patch of nothingness nearby. Five hours later we were there.
The problem was that "there" really was nowhere. There was a dirt road that my compact rental didn't like very much, and no other signs of life. We of course took it, turning around and reversing to the armed guards on the large gates that had popped up on the horizon. My logic was that I could get away quicker if this turned bad....
After the guards had stopped laughing at my maneuver, they explained it was a community of holiday properties and I was welcome to come in and see if any were available, but suggested I did so driving forwards. A little two story wood hut was acquired for our stay, and we went to look around.
Crocodile River is just extraordinary. Unlike safari drives that can involve lots of hours of driving for not much reward, or faked setups of animals herded towards you, this was Africa as it should be. We further benefitted from The Kruger cutting off access to the river from their park for a year because it was being over-visited, and so we were in the only spot for 5 miles where it could be seen. And the animals came en masse.
The girls stood with their little faces pressed against the shockingly flimsy chainlink fence and called out the animals as they saw them. I stood behind them taking pictures and giving myself some serious dad points! This was Africa at sunset with every animal you could hope to see.
When it happened, I thought it was an earthquake.
My entire soul started shaking like someone had just turned up the bass to 11 in a nightclub. Instinctively the hairs on my body stood upright, although I have no idea what help that was going to be. I looked down at the girls. Rebecca and Bailey were frozen to the spot, a look of horror on their faces, Felicity was giggling and pointing.
And then the first wave passed as nonchalantly as it had started.
Following the finger of this little 3 year old, I saw grasses and trees but nothing else to give away what had just happened. The animals across the river did though, and all began to move away to what they determined to be a safer spot. Even the elephants kept a watchful eye in our direction. Huge elephants!
And as this intrusion began again, I saw it; the mane of a fully grown lion vibrating in time with its roar, about 20 feet away from us, sticking up from the brush. I am sure if it had been hungry I wouldn't have heard it the second time, or perhaps even the first, but thankfully it seemed to be telling us to move along rather than announcing it was dinner time. I must have scooped up the kids at that point and thrown them into the back of the car, myself piling in on top of them, although I have no real memory of that moment. I don't know how long we stayed like that for, but it was relief-laughter that eventually broke the silence. We locked the doors, cracked the windows and sat there for the last of the daylight watching this King have complete command over his entire kingdom, grateful for his tolerance of our intrusion.