The Gillette family -- mom Audrey, dad Bryan, and sons Colin, 11, and Decker, 9 -- were on safari with a guide midway through their yearlong travel adventure, parked on the savanna in Botswana.
Then they noticed the majestic male lion about 20 meters away.
"He started coming toward our jeep, and the jeep was open," Decker recalled excitedly in a phone interview from Paris last week. "Then he just lay down in the shade of our jeep -- he was less than a meter away."
Decker said for him the encounter with the lion was a highlight of their trip, which began in Cuba last June, proceeded through Central and South America, the African continent, the Mideast, then Europe, ending in London. The itinerary included 27 countries.
Audrey and Bryan were already inveterate travelers. They had decided, while sitting on the beach in Turkey in 2005 after traveling in Asia for seven months, that they would travel around the world again when they had children. The boys made their first international trip, to Nicaragua, when they were 6 and 8.
"We all make choices and have our priorities, which are aligned with how we spend our money," Audrey said. "We don't go out to eat as much and our cars are 10 years old -- we make those choices because our priority is travel."
Both are planners and organizers, which helped, since a yearlong trip for the family of four involved a lot of logistics, including homeschooling. Bryan and Audrey are also endurance athletes, so they knew the importance of pacing in order to get to the finish line and alternated busy days with time to relax and recuperate.
Their main route was set in advance, although they had to remain adaptable as plans had to change, for instance, when their train out of Zimbabwe never arrived.
"When we were in Rwanda, the bus slid off to the side of the road," Bryan recalled. "We were with a group of people I knew from the Bay Area, and we got off and it was lightly raining. Someone said, 'Are your kids worried?' I said, 'No, this is just one of many things. They're very resilient.'"
The boys also came to understand what a comfortable life they have in Pleasanton.
"After spending a week volunteering at a local Rwanda school, the kids definitely appreciate the schools they have," Bryan said.
Bryan and Audrey blogged about their travels at www.gillettes.us as they traveled, and Bryan updated his Facebook frequently including photos. The family also posted short films.
The first video shows Bryan meticulously packing to deal with temperatures from the mid-20s in Patagonia to tropical climates on the beaches. They each brought their own iPad and Kindle.
Another video features the boys in Guatemala in the pouring rain where they talk about roasting marshmallows over a volcano and the 6.9-magnitude earthquake they had experienced.
One blog covers tracking threats and risks, whether from crime, terrorism, civil unrest, health or natural disasters. Europe turned out to have its own challenges, including pickpockets. Decker mastered the Paris Metro system and navigated the family around the city as a school assignment.
They were constantly finding teachable moments, Bryan reported, and the trip included a lot of "hangin' out time" while waiting for an airplane or a bus.
"We have discussed weighty matters like the genocide in Rwanda, the atrocities of the Jews during WWII, the coup in Zimbabwe or the income disparities around the world," Bryan wrote in one blog.
He was proud of how the boys interacted with everyone they met, especially in places where Americans are rare.
"They have been really good ambassadors for our country," Bryan said.
The strangers who became friends were the highlight of the trip for Audrey.
In Bolivia, they struck up a conversation with a couple from Buenos Aires who said to give them a call when they arrived there.
"They invited us to his mom's farm and we had barely gotten out of the car when a woman came running toward us with a big hug, saying, 'I am so glad you are here!'" Audrey recalled.
In Zimbabwe, a conversation with a man led to a get-together in Johannesburg where they were feted at a barbecue held in their honor.
Colin said the highlight of the trip for him was Lebanon, where they visited with a large family connected by a cousin's marriage.
"In Lebanon, they eat a lot," Colin reported with delight.
They visited the relative's Beirut restaurant, Tonino's, which specializes in crepes and waffles.
"We were thinking we'd have crepes and waffles but they set out more food and more food and more food," Colin said. "It was very good food -- I really liked the humus. I didn't really like humus before, but I found out how amazing it is in Lebanon."
Bryan said the highlight of the trip for him was how well their sons adapted to their year on the road.
"We have pushed them much harder than we would at home, physically and mentally," he said. "We did one trip with three days of hiking, 22 miles, to Machu Picchu. I have never been more proud of the boys. They reached the 15,000-foot peak and were exhausted."
They also learned to deal with constantly changing and often challenging environments, he noted.
"There is no doubt they will come out of this year feeling more confident and prepared to handle the challenges life will throw at them," Bryan said in a blog.
They updated the blog to keep friends and families informed but also to share ideas with others who might consider such an adventure.
"I would like more families to realize that this is possible," Bryan said.
Tomorrow they land in Washington, D.C., for a week of American history, which Colin would have studied in the fifth-grade year he missed.
"We figured it would be nice to stop in our capitol because we really do live in a great country," Bryan said.
Then it is back to Pleasanton. Bryan can't wait to cycle the Ridge with his buddies, and Audrey looks forward to a kitchen stocked with food she knows everybody will like. And she is ready to go for a run with her girlfriends.
The boys, too, are looking forward to seeing their friends.
"That's been the hardest thing for the kids, they didn't have other friends to interact with," Bryan said. "Fortunately, my parents visited us three times, and Audrey's mom, twice."
Technology, of course, made it easy to stay in touch and to do schoolwork. They chose a flexible homeschooling program.
"I didn't want to be sitting in our apartment doing spelling when we could be out learning about the acropolis," Audrey said.
Since Bryan and Audrey had already traveled in Asia, they focused this trip on South America and Africa.
"These are two of the hardest continents to travel through, there is less of a tourist path," Bryan said. "That was all part of the adventure."
"It's the adventures and the tough times that are the stories you will remember," Audrey said.