Reading Ernest Hemingway, you always got the feeling that a man was no more than a lace doily until he went to the green hills of Africa and fired upon the big game. So I did.
O.K., it was with a Canon Point and Shoot. And the family came. And we never went anywhere without a family-sized box of Huggies wipes. The tour company reps insisted on it. "You'll get dusty," they warned. How's a guy supposed to show grace under pressure with a box of Huggies wipes on his lap?
The safari was not quite as I'd dreamed. Before we went, I'd spent hours admiring myself in the bedroom mirror, wearing my 22-pocket Hemingway-style safari jacket and Crocodile Hunter hat. But after we arrived in Tanzania the kids refused to ride with me in the jeep until I took them off.
Then, after a 13-Huggies drive to the first lodge, the front-desk clerk told us, "Electricity is five o'clock until 10 each evening." Not room-service hours. Not health-club hours. Electricity hours. Do you give Amish points?
Not that there wasn't constant danger. At another lodge we had to sign a death and dismemberment waiver, like at many Newark hotels. At one camp we had to signal an "escort" with a flashlight if we wanted to leave our tent after dark. The escort was a native bearing a bow and a quiver of arrows in case, he told us, of a hippo attack. Yeah, right. You know what an arrow is to a 3,000-pound hippo? An after-dinner toothpick.
Out on the game views we saw some rare species. We saw the Abercrombie and Kent nine-passenger jeep! The four-wheel-drive Toyota van! The Land Cruiser with a third row of seats!
At one point we happened upon three sleeping lions—and 17 other safari jeeps. The lions woke up to watch the behavior of the huge, odd beasts. You could imagine a lion telling his cub, "O.K., son, watch how they battle for dominance. Sometimes, they'll even square off and lock bumpers. And look at the guy in the stupid safari jacket!"
We had our Mutual of Omaha moments. A hungry lioness strolled up to our parked, open-air Rover and, staring at each one of us, used the driver's side front tire to scratch herself. Terrified, we tried to keep from moving, breathing or smelling in any way like luncheon meat.
The guides say that you're perfectly safe as long as you stay in the jeeps, but some spacklebrains don't. We heard about a guy whose wife insisted that he get out of the Rover and hold the horns of a sleeping water buffalo for a photo. She was just getting the shot in focus when the buffalo woke up, pitched the guy 10 feet into the air with his horns and then caught him on the way down. Wonder how the picture turned out?
One morning, just as the sun was coming up, we found two lionesses feasting on a baby zebra 100 yards from our tents. It is a frightening thing to be that close to animals as they devour their kill, ready to tear apart each other if necessary to get their share. Frightening, that is, unless you've seen the media buffet at Chicago Bears games.