The Serengeti is soft, veiled like a new bride in a lacy haze, worn so low that it’s not until we tip to land that I see the airstrip, a length of dust, bone white and straight as it cuts through newgreen plains.
I tumble out of the plane, the only passenger, as royalty, wings of my own, the pilot is young – he could be my son – but he wears Old Gent’s manners and insists on carrying my suitcase to the makeshift ‘arrivals’ hall – a scrap of shade, dirt floored, three faded blue plastic chairs – and checks that I have a lift to camp. I do, I say, but I am waiting for my friend and partner in crime, E. She arrives shortly after me – the airstrip in this busy, busy national park is a veritable hive, small aircraft buzz in and out as bees. E is tall and blonde, one stride to two of my steps so that I am permanently trotting in her wake. Ours is a long friendship and an old working relationship. She glides from her plane, glamorous in hat and scarf, toting kilos of camera equipment.
We bump our way across acres of Africa, which spills wildly all around us, such reckless, careless, arms-thrown-wide abandonment, three lioness, bored of being papped roadside, wander nonchalantly off so that soon all we can see are the tops of their ears and the tips of their tails flicking in irritation above the grass, which is high and softly feathered after generous rain that has left the roads pockmarked with slivers of puddles and slicks of chocolate-mousse mud.
The work, three days of it, is exacting but rewarding, E gets her pictures, I get my stories and we try not to be distracted by the family of warthog who come to graze in camp and the comical troupe of mongoose that tear up to the mess where we are working, amidst tripods and trailing leads and open laptops, stand up on their rear legs and gaze in astonishment at the unusual and faintly absurd scene of two girls squinting into screens and then scamper off tut-tutting loudly.
The relative peace of this picture is shattered with the arrival of guests, a honeymooning couple – and Africa Virgins – from Miami, full of their recent nuptials and travels to date. I eavesdrop on the groom as he regales his father with tales of their adventures; ‘You can keep Europe’, he says, ‘Spain, France, Italy, all the Eiffel Towers in the world, none of that comes close to this, to Africa’.
And at night I lie in my tent and listen to the droll laughter of hyenas and the bark of skittish zebra and I think how lucky; how lucky I am to be an African.