We are too late for the Great Migration, when herds of wildebeests, zebras and buffalo, not to mention the far more elegant eland and gazelles, blacken Kenya's Masai Mara plains. In July they begin a desperate trek north from Tanzania, seeking greener grass. The wildebeests march in single file, a little stupidly it seems. The rest behave more shrewdly, if just as nervously. The Great Migration, after all, is a moving buffet for the valley's full-time residents—lions mark the procession from the high grass, identifying the night's meal. By October, though, with storms coming up fast, it's merely the Pretty Good Migration. Laggards continue north, but it's fairly hopeless. Predators are on all sides now, enjoying this migratory compulsion no end.
The upshot is, it's a tougher business than we thought, being part of nature. But not for us. We went to sleep the night before—our butler having tucked a hot-water bottle into our four-poster bed—and replayed the chef's elaborate five-course meal in our fevered and Lariam-laced brain. And, effects of the quinine now evaporated, woke up to a shocking sunrise that spilled sudden light onto the plains below our feet.
But that's the difference between animals and us. We have money. It takes a good chunk of it to be above the laws of the jungle. At CC Africa's Bateleur Camp, with lodging, all those meals and two-a-day guided tours in Land Rovers, it might cost an adventure-simulating couple a grand a day. At the end of that day, though, they would be unlikely to complain. This is not the Africa Hemingway experienced—it's better. It's safer, more comfortable. But it's still Africa, not the E-ticket Jungle Cruise. Those hippos, the ones you only have to worry about when their ears are twirling? Those are real. But compromises have been made, on both the humans' and wildlife's behalf. After decades of peaceful coexistence (big-game hunting is illegal, except on private preserves), neither is particularly afraid of the other. The lions, used to the Land Rovers, sit placidly over their kill (another hapless wildebeest) while we circle for a better picture, not 10 yards away.
At day's end, back at Bateleur Camp, we relax on leather couches in an open-air veranda overlooking the plains, the river, the Pretty Good Migration, baboons scattering in the distance, the entire bowl of creation beyond. Soon enough to bed, where we wonder how we got so far along in life without ever having a hot-water bottle at our feet. In the darkness it's a different story. We don't exactly hear the roars, the rustle of brush, the snapping and tearing that announce nature's horrible authenticity. We just imagine it, probably. But the next day we discover more bones, more lions sitting placidly over their kill, more vultures. As we eat our own somewhat less dramatic breakfast, it occurs to us that the experience is just as real as it should be. Of course, the wildebeests might have a different opinion.