+$Finally! The jarring rattling stopped. The infinite, bouncing commute across rocky elephant trails came to a halt. No more thorny branches threatening to scar my face with a snappy whip through the windows of our trucks. No more desert dust in my teeth. Finally.
+$We had arrived at the Ongava Game Reserve near Etosha National Park in northern Namibia after a long desert drive. The amiable lodge staff greeted us in the driveway with fresh juice and with cool washcloths we could use to swab our dusty faces.
+$A crackly voice came across guide Festus Mbinga’s radio. We strained to listen.
+$“Get in those vehicles!” Festus instructed. We look at each other, dumbfounded. Lions? Like, right here, coming for us, right now?
+$Fortunately, no. Several spotters had laid eyes on fresh tracks, and they suspected a pride wasn’t too far off.
+$The lion was the one species we had yet to see that week in Namibia. Populations of desert-adapted lions live in the harsh, dry environment of the northern part of the country, and WWF and other conservation groups have been working to protect them. As a result, the number of free-roaming lions has grown over the years.
+$Adrenaline replaced exhaustion, and like firemen responding to an alarm, we grabbed our gear, piled quickly into the pop-top safari vehicle and tore off.
+$The truck bolted through the chest-high brush along narrow trails. The sun was setting. Twenty-four eyes served as scouts—we all wanted the bragging rights of seeing the lions first. That honor went to my new Swedish friend David.
+$I’m not sure how he did it, but somehow, David spotted the well-camouflaged lions lounging in the ochre-colored grasses. The light was faint, but we guessed there were six or eight lionesses, cubs and adolescent males. We whispered congratulations to David as we readied our cameras.
+$A few of the lionesses stood up and walked along the trail; we followed them from a safe distance, our spotlights highlighting every bristly hair on their tails. They turned frequently to check on us, their eyes glowing green from the light. The young ones stayed hidden.
+$Natural light was nearly gone. We didn’t want to annoy them with the spotlights, so we kept our visit short.
+$Or so we thought.
+$Festus turned the key in the ignition. Nothing. Not a click, not a grind. Not a single whimper. The vehicle wouldn’t start.
+$Of course, these things happen when you’re off on an adventure, and the team at Wilderness Safaris kicked into action. They had a rescue vehicle to us within a half hour.
+$But what that meant was this: Thirty minutes in the Africa bush, surrounded by a pride of curious lions, the only natural light a thinning sliver of smoky orange glow in the distance. It was exhilarating for what we could see—a few lions in the beams of a flashlight—and what we couldn’t see, what could be lurking in the dark.
+$We were safe. (Right?) That lion could never jump through our vehicle windows. (Keep kidding yourself, woman). I let my mind run away for a little bit, just for the fun of it. My gut instinct, though, told me we were safe.
+$Eventually a vehicle arrived. Some of my fellow travelers hopped from one door to the other, not even putting a foot on the ground, while others climbed through the pop-top roof of our disabled truck and through the roof of the other. The lions must have found it curious; a few got up and walked around to see what we were doing.
+$We arrived back at the lodge, showered and reassembled for a quick dinner. Like my travel companions, I was exhausted from that long, bumpy, dusty drive across the desert, and from the adrenaline rush and crash of the evening.
+$There’s no way I was going to fall asleep. No way. The lions of Ongava stayed on my mind.