In his memoir, Dangerous Beauty (Talk Miramax Books), Ross shares his experiences about being a safari guide in Africa, leading a surreal life most of us can only fantasize about. Although he does devote a significant portion of the book to a tragedy that made headlines around the world (on March 1, 1999, Ross, along with other tourists, was kidnapped by Rwandan rebels in Uganda's Impenetrable Forest; by day's end, two of Ross' clients and six other tourists had been murdered), Dangerous Beauty is more a celebration of Africa and its vivid wildlife than a rumination on death and suffering.
EVENT: Ross reads at Elliott Bay Book Company, Thurs Aug 23, 7:30 pm, free; call 624-6600 for details.
Tell me about everyday life in Kenya, where you've lived for almost 20 years. "That's almost an oxymoron, since it's the Third World, where mere day-to-day living chores take a tremendous amount of time. You can't simply make phone calls, mail bills, and zip into a grocery store and get everything you need. A great deal of my time between safaris is spent getting ready for the next safari. Supplies must be bought, repacked, frozen; tents repaired, cleaned, boxed up. If I do get time off from safari, I go on safari alone. The chance to just work on what I want to is a treasure for me. I can finally follow a set of tracks for hours; I can spend 20 minutes trying to sort out a variation on a birdcall that's been puzzling me for weeks. I can wait all day for a cheetah to decide if that gazelle is... worth killing. I've never owned a TV, so evenings are spent reading or writing, or visiting close friends. And there are always the mountains--the Aberdares Range, Mt. Kenya, or Mt. Kilimanjaro."
What's the most common misconception people have about Africa when they start a safari with you? "People almost always think the animals are after them; that man is a common-prey species. If you walk out of your tent at night, you're dead. If you are near a lion, they want to eat you. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most guests new to the continent expect it to be crushingly hot, seething with insects. Chances are, you'll never see a snake or come across any significant insects during your whole time there. Also, people do not expect that they can meet and interact so easily with Kenyans and Tanzanians. Besides Pakistan, I think East Africa has to have the most relaxed and easygoing people you could possibly come across."
You write about how you like your clients to experience things with more depth, moving at a slower pace with attention to details. This is not the way most Americans take their vacations. "I'm sure I'm not the right guide for everyone. Just last trip, I kept my group out, with cold rain soaking us, until 10:15 pm, just to watch a giraffe give birth. We missed dinner and arrived back frozen--the proud parents of a six-foot-tall baby, but frozen nonetheless."