Saturday, May 14, 2011

Helicopters, Lions, and Scott

Next! Time for my helicopter ride over Victoria Falls.

A white van showed up to drive me right back to where I'd been this morning, near the national park. We picked up other passengers en route. I couldn't help but notice that everyone else was staying at some swank digs. Helicopter rides don't come cheap.

We got a quick safety briefing next to the video editor, who was using a super-swank new Mac (jealous). Then we were whisked out to the helicopter, and just as I thought "Maybe I should have tried to fly on the ultra-light instead," we were ushered in, told to put on headphones, and up we went. 

Hey, what's that up ahead?

Well, that's just amazing.

I never understood before how the Falls worked or where I was actually rafting. I often have trouble answering the question "Was it worth it?" Not this time.

Yes. The helicopter ride over Victoria Falls is totally worth the price of admission.

But I wasn't done yet. Now it was time to walk with lions.

This sounded completely weird. Walk with...lions? What? Don't lions know how to walk themselves? Can this be ethical? Safe? Aren't lions endangered?

So here's the deal...these aren't wild lions. They are little tame lions, and the point is to get them to behave in some wild lion-like ways. These lions will NEVER be released into the wild.

So how, then, are these lions helping make more lions in the wild?

They're released into a private reserve. Their descendants don't grow up being shown how to behave by humans--they are trained by their own prides. Those are the lions that get released. Not the little lions we walk with.

And as I was sitting there in Fawlty Towers, reading about my upcoming lion walk--no, that's not true. I was on a horrible Skype connection yelling at some poor call center guy about how my credit card had once again been blocked because I'd just used it to buy an Intercape bus ticket online. You know, something I've done at least four times before.

And in walked Scott.

"Are you the person I'm looking for?"


Scott is the writer I'd been emailing about the route through Congo. He'd gone though about three weeks before me, and we'd realized (by email) that we would both be in Livingstone on the same night—him heading north to the TAZARA train, me heading south on my way to Cape Town. We arranged to meet up for Indian food after the lion walk—which turned out to be great as we'd both lived in the Gulf and he was heading to NYC after his long journey around Africa ended.

And then I went to see the lions.

Which was very cool, but not quite as easily cool as the helicopter journey. I worried that the lions might not really need or want tourists walking them around, but then the project seemed sound. Some operators discourage their tourists from going on the walks, because they think "These lions will never be released into the wild."

But no one had said they would be released into the wild. But could the people who were opposed to the walks be onto something?

Seemed more like a reaction due to not getting all the facts first, but I'm not an expert on lions. the grand scheme of weighing everything on a case-by-case basis, this seemed all right. But there was room for error.

The little lions were awfully cute.

1 comment:

  1. I just let out a jealous moan so sad that my wife yelled from the other room because she was afraid something had gone wrong. Wow are those guys cute.