WSJ-What I Learned on Safari: Ignore the Fine Print


WSJ-What I Learned on Safari: Ignore the Fine Print

May 8, 2020
Masada Siegel
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What I Learned on Safari: Ignore the Fine Print

How could my sister shop while I faced a lioness?

Wall Street Journal

Lions greet tourists on a safari in South Africa, April 2017.


Conventional wisdom will tell you to read waivers carefully before signing your life away. Sometimes it’s better to jump blindly into adventure. Eleven years ago my friend Tuomo convinced me to tag along on a South African safari. I agreed, trusting he wouldn’t put me in danger.

On arrival to Balule Nature Reserve, everyone piled out of the truck and headed to the viewing deck, where we saw five lionesses relaxing a quarter-mile away. They must have had a “tasty lunch,” our guide observed: “We’re so lucky; I haven’t seen lions at the watering hole for over two years.”

My stomach bottomed out. There were wild animals everywhere, but no gates, no guards, no fences protecting our tents. I’d never even camped in the U.S. This was some introduction.

“I guess you didn’t read the fine print in the catalog,” he said with a smile.

I wanted to call my mother, but so as not to panic her, I phoned my sister instead: “Audrey, I’m sleeping in a tent. And there are five lions outside, and I’m scared.”

“What? Masada, I can’t hear you. I’m in Costco right now. Can I call you back?”

I stared at my phone. I was about to be eaten by lions and she was shopping.

The next day, we were scheduled to follow an unarmed tracker on a nature hike past where we’d seen the lions the day before. My tent seemed like a safe haven by comparison, so I told the guide I’d sit this one out.

“You can’t be alone at the camp,” he said. “It’s not safe.”

Now thoroughly terrified, I reluctantly joined the hike. It was beautiful as well as scary. The tracker showed us footprints from elephants, zebras and monkeys. A young giraffe appeared and watched us as we admired her—a quiet reminder that we were guests in her world.

I finally relaxed when we took a safari ride in a truck later that day—until an elephant charged our vehicle, which chose that moment to stall. The truck started seconds later, but the guide insisted we stand our ground, revving our engine as we slowly accelerated towards the massive beast. I was sure we’d be trampled to death, but the elephant broke off its charge at the last moment. Fear-induced adrenaline heightened my senses the whole trip and let me catch every magical detail. Sometimes it’s best not to read the fine print.

Ms. Siegel is a freelance journalist who covers international affairs, business and travel.

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Appeared in the April 2, 2019, print edition.

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