Every day at Sasakwa I got up and looked out at the savanna. Every day I drove down into it with Lee Fuller, at dawn and again after tea. Sometimes we followed a frail watercourse, sometimes a well-travelled track through the woodland.
I saw lions mating again and again (and again) and a herd of elephants turning blue – all but their tusks – in the swift, equatorial dusk. I watched a cheetah kill a Thomson’s gazelle using the wildebeest herd to conceal its approach. I saw impala in the high grass, and I could feel their nervousness, but I didn’t really understand it until the morning when Fuller and I got out of the Land Rover and walked up the nearly dry bed of the Grumeti River.
Fuller carried a .416 Rigby rifle, a very big gun by American standards. For a couple of hours, I felt like prey. We stood under baboon roosts. We examined hyena and leopard tracks. We watched fork-tailed drongos (black, iridescent birds) attack a young martial eagle. We considered the blossoms of Acacia tortilis and felt the leathery leaves of an abutilon. Then we drove some more.
One morning, Fuller and I were driving down the hill before dawn, slipping out of the woodland and into the open, a clear, blue day ahead. Fuller said, with satisfaction, “Just us and 140,000 hectares.” I knew exactly how he felt.
When I stayed at Singita Lebombo, four years ago, I was lucky to have had Lee to take me on game drives during my brief time there. When our small plane landed on the soggy airstrip close to Singita Grumeti, I looked out the window and recognised Lee immediately. (At six feet four inches, he is hard to miss).
I’d had no idea he’d left two years earlier to become Grumeti’s head guide (before Singita became involved) and would be with us for the next five days. That was good news indeed because Lee is both experienced and exuberant. He expresses the same delight at seeing a rare bird or a butterfly as when he spots a herd of elephants. Often he would stop the Land Rover, get out, pick up a flower or an insect and hold it for us to examine.
Then, with a look of childlike wonder on his face, he would explain what makes it so special. He even gave Maura and Jon a demonstration of how a tsetse fly bores itself into human flesh – which just so happened to be his own forearm. That’s dedication.
Lee’s attitude about game viewing is to be flexible. “I never make a plan on a drive,” he says, “because it always ends up changing.”