There are 24 active users currently online.
The African Drum
(part one - tanzania)
by Neil Peart
Privately Published in 1988
Limited Edition of 100 copies
205 pages with Black & White Photos
table of contents
part one - tanzania
1 - into africa
2 - ngorongoro crater
3 - game drive
4 - sunrise on the serengeti
5 - the cradle of man
6 - lake manyara
7 - lake duluti
8 - between two worlds
9 - abdul's unlucky day
10 - lake naivasha
11 - cabbages and kings
12 - the road to nairobi
13 - out of kenya
part two - kilimanjaro
14 - base camp
15 - the velvet forest
16 - milestones
17 - the alpine desert
18 - the highest high
19 - down to horombo
20 - the last march
21 - overland rover
part three - kenya
22 - sojourn in nairobi
23 - treetops
24 - riff valley lakes
25 - hippo on the lawn
26 - to cottar's camp
27 - up and away
28 - night creatures
29 - all said and done
part one - tanzania
Click Any Thumbnail to Enlarge Image
Mumagari onaga unene.
He who travels sees great things.
Etejo opa olnojine, "Mme kamunkyak oshi, keju maitagol."
The hyena once said: "I am not lucky, but I'm always on the move".
Through the thick warm blanket of tropical night, I walked across the runway to reboard the KLM jet in Dar es Salaam. It was still very dark on the ground, but so near the Equator sunrise is a swift performance. By the time the plane was in the air I could see light spreading from the east. And suddenly I could see it. Rising through the mass of grey clouds, the two peaks of Kilimanjaro stood out dark and solid. The jagged tooth of Mawenzi, and the wide, snow-capped bulk of the main peak- Kibo. I felt a thrill of excitement, with my eyes fixed upon this mystic and majestic vision. Three weeks from now I hoped to be standing right there, on the highest point of all Africa - the snows Kilimanjaro.
1- into africa
Kilimanjaro International Airport, Tanzania. Wet black runway, red earth and brown grass. Grey terminal building, grey-green trees and pale sky. Brown hills stood in the distance under low clouds. The crowd of weary passengers streamed into the modern terminal, and formed into the inevitable shuffling lines to face the formalities. After checking your passport and vaccination certificate, they send you over to the bank to change the obligatory fifty US dollars into Tanzanian shillings (the special "Extortion Tax"). I returned with a bulky envelope weighing a good five pounds, most of my 3400 shillings conveniently in coins.
It's only after you have fulfilled this requirement that your passport is returned, so the situation soon became chaotic with another formless line crowding opposite those still waiting in the first line. There were some who had come just for the Kilimanjaro climb, and didn't have enough money to change, and others who were being hassled over various immigration difficulties. Voices were raised, demanding attention, protesting and arguing, but the local officials remained stern and unruffled.
Finally wriggling through the bureaucratic net, I stood by the luggage conveyor and waited for my backpack to come out. This is always a nervous moment on a journey like this, but eventually it arrived, the last piece to appear. A big blue backpack with a sleeping bag strapped to the top, and one of those foam sleeping pads strapped to the side. After hearing a few horror stories of people being stranded in some desolate place, I had decided to remain as mobile and self-contained as possible, thinking that it would be better to have luggage that I could just put on my back and go with.
As I walked out through the doors I could see a big pink truck out in the parking lot, which I remembered from the brochures. This had to be from the Tracks company, with whom I would be traveling. As I walked toward it a young woman approached me and asked if I was traveling with Tracks, and when I replied that I was, she checked me off on a list and we waited for the others to arrive.
"I wasn't sure about you, you walked out like you knew where you were going!", she said to me, and introduced herself as Val. Her accent told me she was Australian.
"Oh, I recognized that pink truck from the pictures in the brochure."
She laughed. "Did you meet any of the rest of the group coming from London?"
"No I flew in from Montreal, and just joined this flight in Amsterdam"
I looked eagerly around me- at Africa- out to the open bush country which began just beyond the parking lot.
"Are you excited?"
She must have seen it on my face, and I was happy to admit I certainly was. I can't recall now if I was that excited on first arriving in China, I was probably just too tired, but now I was truly on edge with anticipation.
One by one another four or five of my "fellow travelers" appeared, were duly checked off on the list, and we were led out to the truck for the drive into Arusha.
Like most of the big safari trucks I would see, it was a four-wheel-drive English Bedford, with the box on the back converted into a passenger compartment. It was certainly equipped for the wilderness, with a winch, towing hooks, a spare driveshaft bolted to the side of the chassis, spare sets of springs, long stamped-metal "traction mats" to lay over muddy ground, a spare wheel on the front, huge fuel and water tanks underneath, and shovels, axes, tools and spare bits and pieces everywhere. There was even a vise welded to the front bumper for emergency repairs. Atop the cab was a heavy steel rack for the tents, and a caged-in compartment in the back for the luggage.
Inside, it was rather like an open-air bus, a row of seats facing to the rear and three rows facing frontwards. The driver recommended we leave one of the side curtains down for now, as it was a cool and windy morning. With them raised you not only had a good view, but were right out in the view!
It was a fairly rough ride, the roads paved but not particularly flat. The passing landscape started out very arid near the airport, with dried-up brown cornstalks lying on the ground, but gradually became greener and more lush as we rose higher. We passed some coffee fields and pretty tropical vegetation, but most interesting of course were the people. Some of them were dressed in very colorful traditional clothes, while others wore the more usual international costume of T-shirts and shorts.
As we got closer to the town of Arusha everything became uniformly green and lush, looking like the rainy side of the Caribbean islands. Here in the shadow of Mount Meru there is plenty of rain all year round, making it an especially beautiful and fertile oasis amid the surrounding dry plains. There were many broad-leafed banana trees lining the road here.
The Hotel 77 looked quite promising, a spread of low bungalows among brilliant tropical flowers and shrubs. I learned that it had been built for a United Nations convention in 1977 (hence the name), and was part of a complex of hotels and convention centres which had been built at the time, and must remain largely unused since.
This was to be the meeting point for the seventeen people on this trip, some of them arriving from Europe and some from other parts of Africa. Once we were checked in, the five of us who had arrived together agreed to take a walk into town and have a look around. I was trying hard to put names and faces together, to get over that initial awkwardness of a group of strangers being thrown together. At least knowing their names seems to make all the difference.
We walked south along the dirt footpath at the side of the road, Mount Meru swaddled in clouds behind us, then turned right at the main road into town. We passed a row of surprisingly big, somewhat decaying houses set in large tree-shaded properties. One would imagine these impressive estates must have been left over from the colonial days. Tanzania, then Tanganyika, was a German territory from 1885 until the end of World War 1, when it was mandated to Britain by the League of Nations. The country became independent in 1961, then amalgamated with the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba in 1963, to become Tanzania. (I'd always wondered what happened to Tanganyika!)
Passing the New Arusha Hotel, a Ford agency and a gas station, we walked into the main square of town, shops and businesses lining both sides of the street. Some of our group were interested in carvings, and we took a look in a few of the shops, most of them run by Indians. Apart from those catering to tourists, the shop windows were like those in many Third World towns; a bit of this, a bit of that, and not much of anything!
All of us had been told that bargaining was the order of the day here, and never to pay the price asked for anything, but the first time one of us tried to bargain for a carving he was interested in he was told: "We don't bargain here". Oh.
We walked into the coffee shop at the New Arusha for some lunch. Along with an egg sandwich and a Coke, I was encouraged by the others to try an Indian snack which they pronounced 'samosa', but seems to be spelt, among variations, 'sambusa'. They were delicious, a spicy meat-filled dumpling which would become a popular "junk food" on the trip.
After returning to the Hotel 77 for a couple of hours sleep, I set out alone in the late afternoon for another walk into town. It was a beautiful evening, the sky was clear by now, and the trees cast long shadows across the road. Meru was still crowned in clouds behind me. It was cool enough to wear a sweatshirt, as the altitude here is over 5000', and I noticed that most of the people I passed were dressed in western clothes, though there were still quite a few wearing more exotic traditional clothes.
I noticed several people sitting along the side of the road tending small fires, roasting ears of corn which they offered for sale to the passersby who were moving in slow motion on this peaceful Sunday evening. Arusha is not a big town, only about 100,000 people, but since Tanzania is not a very urbanized country it still counts as a major city. In a country of something over twenty million, even Dar es Salaam as the largest city has only about a million people.
It was strange to notice that even in a place like this where westerners have been coming in considerable numbers for the last hundred years or so, they still look at you strangely and stare as if at an oddity. I saw that the "Elite Cinema" was showing a double feature of Shoot with Cliff Robertson and King Solomon's Mines.
Evidence of friendly relations with China is apparent here. I passed a couple of sidewalk merchants hawking the color magazine called China, a publication of the Chinese government, in several languages, and I looked in the window of a bookstore which had whole racks full of very obscure, esoteric-looking Chinese books in English. (Who on earth buys them?) They also offered a large selection of books in Swahili, which has become the official language of many East African countries, being a hybrid of Bantu, Arab and later European influences.
The traffic is mainly pedestrian, with the occasional car and even less-frequent bicycles. What bicycles you see are usually Chinese models, that heavy old one-speed Raleigh replica with a single brake lever across the handlebars. As to the cars, most of them seemed to be Peugeots, but of course there were several Land Rovers and Toyota Land Cruisers. I also saw one posh-looking Range Rover, and a few Mercedes-Benz cars.
There are an amazing number of safari companies around town, perhaps twenty or more offering different trips around the abundant game parks in the area. It would probably not be hard just to arrive here and make your arrangements on the spot. I was approached by a few young western people looking for others with whom to form a safari group, sharing the expenses of hiring a Land Rover or minibus.
It's facile to draw comparisons between places, but the look of the streets and the buildings, and of course the way the people look, definitely put me in mind of the Caribbean islands, while the atmosphere of the smoky fires and roasting corn along the roadside, and the small-time entrepreneurs selling nuts and candy was reminiscent of rural China.
As Idi Amin brought sharply into the world's focus, there is a gulf between the Indian and African populations of East Africa. Apparently the Indians were first brought here as cheap labor to work on the railroad, like the Chinese in America, and then stayed to become successful traders and merchants. They were among the first traders to bravely penetrate inland from the coast, and they have played a large- if silent- part in building the economies of East African countries. Like the Jews have been (are) in Europe, they seem to be used as a kind of scapegoat, being resented as much for their insularity as for their prosperity. The book North of South by the Trinidad-born writer of Indian descent, Shiva Naipaul, paints an interesting picture of this syndrome, and the so-called "Asians" being used as a buffer between Black and White- a meeting ground of mutual resentment and distrust.
As I walked along pondering these things, I saw an interesting incident. An older African man stopped his car at the side of the road, and went running over to warmly greet an elderly Indian man. They lit up to see each other, shook hands eagerly and spoke together for a few minutes with obvious warmth and concern in their faces. It was a beautiful thing to see.
There is also a fairly large Arab presence in East Africa, going back hundreds of years to a vast trading network, mainly along the coast and in Zanzibar, but stretching inland in search of ivory, and later, the shameful raw materials of slavery. I passed a mosque just as the people were coming out, everyone dressed in black and the women with heads and faces covered. A carload of them passed me, a whole family in sombre black, but with a brightly-colored flower of an African girl in the back who must have been the children's "nanny".
I walked back to the hotel with the sun almost down now, and the clouds at last clearing from the peak of Mount Meru. I met a few more of the group in the bar, as we gathered for our first dinner together in the hotel restaurant.
It was getting hopeless trying to connect sixteen new names and faces, but I knew about five of the group now. Just to make it more confusing, we even had a pair of twins, Heather and Barbara, red-haired and freckled farm girls from western Australia. At dinner I also met Alan, a young Scottish doctor, and his wife Carol, a nurse, who had missed their flight from London and had had to fly into Nairobi, then take a crowded taxi for the four-hour drive here. That made an adventurous start for their holiday.
I was fortunate to find myself sitting at the table beside Val and her eleven-year-old son Joe, as they carried on an interesting and informative conversation through dinner about the place, the people and the animals. They have an interesting story of their own.
Val decided to come to Africa from her native Australia shortly after her fortieth birthday, and sold her house and just took off with Joe. She had been a social worker, and was getting "burned out" on other people's problems, she told me. As the months passed without finding work, even cheap lodgings began to drain her savings, and they lived for five months in a Nairobi dormitory with seven hundred other transients. It's hard to imagine the discomfort, lack of privacy and sheer tedium of living that long under those conditions, and the constant, fruitless search for work made ever more urgent by their dwindling resources.
But she finally got a job as what is called a "courier" for the Tracks company, meeting the people at the airport, making the campsite reservations, organizing the crew and supplies- and listening to the complaints! But they seemed to enjoy their lives here, and had a nice house to live in which was provided by the company.
Joe told us that he hadn't been to school for over a year, as he was on a waiting list for the public school, as opposed to the alternative of paying ten thousand dollars to go to the American school. Wow! He had tried a correspondence course, but understandably it hadn't worked out too well. It would take a lot of discipline from within or without to make that work, without even the camaraderie of other children to leaven the task of learning. (I learned later that it was also Val's lack of proper residency papers that made it difficult for Joe to go to school!)
One could imagine that spending over a year living in Tanzania would be an education in itself, and that was certainly true. A bright-eyed, intelligent and articulate boy, Joe entertained us with stories about the wild animals, the natives, the lack of entertainment, and everyday life in Tanzania. He could speak Swahili very well, and conversed freely with the waiters and the young men who would be our driver and cook.
Val stood up after dinner to give us the "welcoming speech", explaining the nature of the trip to us, and what our responsibilities would be. We were asked to help with loading and unloading the truck each day, to set up and tear down our own tents, and to wash our own dishes. The three members of our crew would look after the driving and the preparation and cooking of the food. Fair enough. After all, we chose this kind of trip to get involved.
As I walked back to my room through the darkness of my first night in Africa, I watched a crescent moon moving in and out of the clouds, a few stars shining through as well. It was quite cool and I felt a few drops of rain coming down. I shivered and walked faster along the dimly lighted pathway.
Iyiolo eninuaa kake miyiolo enilo.
You know where you are coming from but not where you are going.
2- ngorongoro crater
Having crossed six or seven time zones in a day, my inner clock was pretty confused. Even though I got to sleep early, I was awake by 2:30 in the morning and began reading the book I'd started on the plane, Herman Wouk's tragicomic Don't Stop the Carnival, about "real" life in a Caribbean resort. Coming to the end of it, and still wide-awake, I decided just to stay up until breakfast time, and started on The Moon And Sixpence, Somerset Maugham's fictionalization of the life of Paul Gauguin. I had read it years ago, before I even knew who Paul Gauguin was, and since I had become so engrossed in his work lately I had wanted to read it again.
When the sun came up I got out of bed, enjoyed the last hot shower I would have for a while, and put my pack together again.
It was a cool and overcast morning as I walked over to the main building, my heavy backpack pressing me into the ground. In the cold morning light you could see that the Hotel 77 was not aging gracefully. After only ten years the concrete was starting to crumble, and was badly water-stained.
Although many of the others had spoken of being on the truck for its 8:30 run into town, only Janne was in the dining room, and I invited myself to join her for breakfast. Janne was a big burly Australian lady, perhaps in her early forties, and was one of the Australians on the trip. She had been in Africa for about a month already, traveling in Botswana, Zimbabwe and visiting Victoria Falls. She told me she had also traveled widely in Canada, including a camping trip up into the Yukon and around Alaska. So she made good conversation. We were surprised to find that the morning coffee was instant, after all the coffee fields we had seen on the way in.
It would be interesting learning everyone's stories, how they came to be here and what occupations gave them the "disposable income", as people say, to be able to make a trip like this. Especially someone like Janne, who obviously had a couple of months of freedom and the savings to pay for it.
Four or five of us were waiting for the truck when it finally showed up around nine. We were to learn the nature of "African Standard Time", and not to take stated hours too literally! The American journalist David Lamb spent eight years as a correspondent for the Los Angeles Times in Africa, and in his book The Africans he writes eloquently of this fundamentally different world-view: "you quickly realize that all those things you learned in the west about punctuality, efficiency and rational thought processes don't have much to do with Africa. Africa can only be explained in terms of Africa", and quotes an anonymous proverb:
"In Africa the clock is always at five minutes to twelve."
We were let off at the Clock Tower- which is, rather ironically the main crossroads of Arusha- while the truck went off to collect fresh provisions. Some people walked across to the post office, Janne was off on a quest for English cigarettes, and I was hoping to find some field guides to the birds and animals of East Africa. Val and Joe had told me of a kiosk in the New Arusha Hotel that should have some.
I went inside the bookstore l had looked at yesterday, and found that not just some, but most of the books were from China; Recollections of West Hunan, Yunan Travelogue, A Small Town Called Hibiscus, China and The World (including "China on Disarmament", "Chou En-Lai the Diplomat, "US Policy Towards Taiwan", and "West European Countries and Their Foreign Policies), The Taiping Revolution, and my personal favorite: China Today From Youth To Retirement; ("A Lost Or Hopeful Generation", "Marriage And Divorce Today", and "Growing Old And Gaining Respect"). I love that "lost generation" reference; how very literary! But they must just send crates and crates of English language books over from China, in a strange and futile kind of foreign "aid"- who reads them?
The only western book I saw in the whole store was a dusty pile of lurid purple copies of Goodbye Columbus. Since I've enjoyed some of Philip Roth's later books and had never read this one, I picked up a copy, figuring it would make an interesting souvenir.
It was strange to see the car dealers, Ford, Renault and Peugeot, with their showrooms absolutely empty but for one old tractor in the Ford window. This was a good indication of the shortage both of goods and the money with which to buy them.
There was quite a lot more hustle and bustle around Arusha on a Monday morning than there had been on Sunday. I learned that the black market in East Africa is very active in foreign exchange, offering rates up to double the official one, and I was approached several times by young men with "Change money? Change money?". But of course it's highly illegal, and since you're supposed to declare all your foreign currency at the border, and must carry a receipt to account for all your exchanges, you'd have to smuggle money in to be able to use their services.
I found the kiosk in the New Arusha Hotel, and sure enough, the old fellow had what I wanted, The Field Guide to the National Parks of East Africa, among his meagre stock of scruffy, mostly second-hand novels. The only problem was that he was asking an outrageous price for it. Twenty-five hundred shillings- that's almost fifty Canadian dollars!
Remembering the advice about bargaining for everything, I offered half of what he asked, but he just shook his head no. "Maybe in Kenya you can get it for less, but it costs more to get everything here". So I offered a little more and still he firmly refused.
Well, I knew I really wanted to have the book, in it were pictures and information on most of the birds and animals we'd be seeing. And this- this- pirate had the market cornered, so I pulled out my wallet- only to find I was five hundred shillings short of the asking price.
I asked at the front desk if they would change a traveler's cheque for me, but they would only change money for their guests, and sent me across the street to the bank. This was to be an education and an adventure. It was a fairly large building, but there were at least a hundred people in there milling around the tellers' windows. I found that the foreign exchange desk was off to the side, and joined a small group of conspicuously pale people in that lineup.
When I finally got to the front, I had watched and was familiar with the routine. I filled out a couple of forms, and handed them to the lady behind the counter, along with my foreign exchange receipt, my passport and the signed traveler's cheque. Then they were sent off to sit for a while on another desk, eventually to be stamped without interest and returned, and shuffled to yet another desk. Eventually the pile of papers is returned to you, and you're sent to a teller to actually (and finally) receive your money.
I went to the indicated teller and stood behind a couple of young men, one of whom seemed to be discussing an urgent matter with the young woman behind the counter. I waited impatiently for them to finish their transaction. Suddenly she was holding out her hand for my papers, while continuing to talk to the one young man in a rapid-fire delivery, and passed a big bundle of Tanzanian shillings past the two of them and into my hands. I thought this rather strange, but after spending the last forty minutes doing all of this I just wanted to get away. As I counted the impressive-looking stack of notes, trying to calculate if the exchange was right, and then finally gave up on it and turned to go, she never once had to interrupt her conversation. Bureaucratic efficiency in action.
Now I was running late, as it was after ten o'clock, the announced departure time. I hurried across the street and pain the ransom for the field guide, then walked rapidly back toward the hotel. I kept looking over my shoulder and hoping to see the big pink truck on its way back, to know that it was late- and I wasn't. It would be terrible to get there and see the whole group sitting in the truck waiting for me- on the first day too!
But I needn't have worried. I'd forgotten- we're on "African Time" now. You poor fool, don't take a silly thing like time too seriously!
There's sunrise, and there's sunset, and then there's all the time in between. That's all.
It was more than an hour later, well after eleven, before we were finally aboard the truck, to receive a little more advice from Stewart, the young Englishman who was "Operations Manager" for Tracks. I gather it was his job to basically keep the trucks running, and repair abuses they suffered on safari.
There was a buzzer in the back of the truck which communicated with the cab, and he told us how to press it once to stop for photos or whatever, twice to go again, and three times for an emergency toilet stop, A shovel- The Shovel- was provided for the digging of personal latrines. We were advised not to wander away from the truck for this purpose, nor to wander away from our tents during the night- for any purpose. He told us an amusing but probably apocryphal story of someone running out from behind a bush with their trousers around their ankles, having been "unseated" by a passing lion.
We drove out of Arusha on the Uhuru Road, seeing another side of life in the town. Away from the faded charm of the colonial houses, and the rows of shops around the centre of now we passed through a crowded area of corrugated metal shacks, some with signs advertising "Hotel". This was confusing at first, until I learned that "hotel" means "bar" and "lodgings" means "hotel". Okay.
Both sides of the road were a pageant of people, buses, dogs, goats wrecked cars (stationary and still moving), women carrying great baskets on their heads, men in native dress with their walking sticks, and others lounging in doorways and against the walls. It reminded me of something young Joe had said at dinner last night, that if the women of Tanzania laid down their tools and burdens the whole country would fall to pieces.
As we left the town we also passed out of the rainshadow of Mount Meru the sun was shining now and the country became dry and dusty. We passed a few coffee farms, and some fields of dried-up corn stalks, then were upon a flat plain of brown and yellow grass with rounded hills in the distance. There were only occasional flat-topped acacia trees, cacti and thorn bushes now.
The paved road lasted about forty-miles, then we were into wilder country. Instead of goats and cattle we were seeing ostriches and zebras- our first wildlife. A huge male ostrich cavorted before his chosen hen, white wing feathers dipping back and forth in an impressive mating dance. I hadn't imagined these exotic creatures to be so plentiful, but they are one of the commonly seen wild animals. Now we were intently watching the passing landscape, and were rewarded by seeing a herd of Wildebeest, more zebras, Impalas, Secretary Birds and a giraffe. We watched many hawks and vultures circling high overhead.
It was already starting to feel like a trip back in time. These were the plains across which our earliest ancestors walked, and to the eye at least, nothing has changed. I couldn't help but think back in time, and I felt a kind of "atavistic homesickness". We passed a strikingly arrayed group of warriors, all dressed in black robes, their faces wildly painted with white stripes, and black feathered headdresses wafting out behind them. Unfortunately though, in reality the costumes were probably in hope of earning a few shillings by posing for photographs.
Apart from the characteristic acacia trees of the plains, there were also many of the majestic Baobab trees, dormant now in the dry season, their impossibly thick trunks full of spongy material which stores water for the dry months. I learned from one of the twins, Heather- or was it Barbara?- that these unusual trees are also found in northwestern Australia, and since they are often hollow, there is a famous one there that was used as a jail- naughty people were simply locked up inside the tree for the night.
Barbara- or was it Heather?- was also telling me that their family farm in Australia is 11,000 acres, of which 3000 are planted in wheat. That is a big farm, and it sounds as if they have a good life there, remote but self-contained. They first met Janne and Cheryl, the other Australian girls, on a camping trip in the Yukon and Alaska, and they had all decided to share this trip as well.
Anywhere the bare trees were tall enough we would see long wooden cylinders hanging from high branches. These were a source of mystery and much speculation among us. My best theory at the time was that they were for drying meat, to keep the animals away, but I later learned that they were in fact beehives.
Around midday we pulled off the road and parked on the plains, among the dry brown grass and small thorn trees. The crew put together a light lunch with a nice salad, along with the "Dettol Ritual"- a bowl with a solution of the disinfectant Dettol in which we were to rinse our hands before meals. Thus our food would always be "flavor-enhanced" with the wonderful scent of disinfectant. Alan and Carol, doctor and nurse, laughed at this idea, saying that you'd have to soak your hands for several minutes in a very strong solution for it to do any good, but we all went along with it. You can't argue with rituals.
A group of children materialized out of the thorns and dry grass, leaving their herds of cattle and goats to stare at us for a while. We had learned to say "Jambo" ("hello", or "how are you?"), but that was as far as our communications could go. They just stood there silently and looked at us, not moving until we drove away again.
Later in the afternoon we made the long, steep climb up the wall of the Rift Valley. It was about two thousand feet high here, up a rocky dirt road winding back and forth across it. We labored upward, with baboons wandering along the dusty road beside us, then crossed a fertile plateau to the entrance of the Ngorongoro Crater Park. We had gained a lot of altitude already, and it was fertile and lush once again. By the time we climbed up even higher, to the rim of the crater, we were at eight or nine thousand feet, and were surrounded by rich and tangled greenery. We stopped on the road to gather some firewood, and enjoyed a fabulous view back over the plateau in the dwindling light.
It was dark by the time we arrived at our campsite, Simba Camp, (simba means lion in Swahili- great!) and we helped to unload the tents and baggage. It was a challenge trying to set up unfamiliar tents in the dark, but we stood around shining our flashlights on our cook, Emmanuel, as he demonstrated with one, and then we went off to try our luck with the others.
A linguistic note: to everyone else on the trip a flashlight was a "torch", and a "zee-bra" was a "ze-bra", and, being the only North American, for the sake of "standardizing communication" I soon found myself bending to these terms.
People seemed to separate into tent-sharing units without discussion, and we found that there were two tents to be shared between three single men. One of them was Geoff, a six-foot-six New Zealander, so Simon and I agreed to share one tent, and let the over-sized Geoff have one of his own. The three of us became good friends almost immediately, and Simon turned out to be a great person to share a tent- and an adventure- with. Once again, as in China, I had thrown myself into the middle of a group of strangers and come up lucky.
Simon is a squarely built, compact man, with a round expressive Welsh face haloed with short dark hair, and an active, if somewhat droll, sense of humor. A seemingly confirmed bachelor, he's young for his age- mid-forties- and keeps himself in good shape with cricket and rugby. Simon is the best kind of Englishman, one who has traveled widely enough to gain an open mind. (Well, mostly open- he didn't always agree with me!)
In his youth he had spent a year or so in Norway as a lumberjack, living out in the remote forest with an older Norwegian woodsman, each unable to speak the other's language. He has also spent a lot of time in the US, traveling around the "real America" by bus, and making friends while visiting quite a few different parts of the country. Thus he is blessedly free of the anti-American paranoia which afflicts so many of his countrypeople; the complete contempt for two hundred million people they've never met and the vast and beautiful land they've never seen. (Except on television of course.)
The darkness was soon a mass of shadowy activity, lit now by a fire as well as by truck's spotlight. The tents were soon up, and everyone was struggling against the greater obstacle of the camp beds, trying to sort the mysterious struts into their proper shape. One of each pair of happy campers would be shining a flashlight (torch) on the bits and pieces while the other tried to assemble them with force and bad words. I shared a bit of my whisky with Simon and Geoff, from a flask of Chivas Regal I had brought for just such "emergencies".
It was cool in the night at this altitude, so I put on a sweatshirt and jacket and joined the rest of the group shivering by the fire. After the baptismal Dettol ritual, we enjoyed a welcome spaghetti dinner. Alan and Carol aroused some jocular comments with their "torches" mounted on their heads, but I'm sure they found them very useful- and they had the advantage of being able to see their food!
Taking a cup of hot black coffee, I wandered away from the light to look at the stars and talk to my tape recorder. I was evolving a good system of keeping written notes when I was with the group, and recording them when I could get away by myself. I looked up to the clear black sky and a bright crescent moon, with the Milky Way stretching across the heavens.
Still out of sync with the time changes, I slept for a few hours and then was awake most the night. I lay there in the utter darkness, uncomfortable on the confining camp bed, and resolved in future just to sleep on the ground with my foam pad- at least I'd be able to roll over!
Every once in a while my pulse quickened to hear the roar of lions from down in the crater, and what must have been the eerie wailing of hyenas. It was a bit spooky, and I had to reflect on how cool I'd be able to be if I heard something big snuffling right outside the tent. Could I just lie there and wait for it to go away? Simon got up in the night to relieve himself, and remembering Stewarts warning about wandering away from the camp, he just knelt at the door of the tent.
Ukenda chooni na giza basi shetani atakupiga kofi.
If you go to the lavatory in the dark, the devil will give you a box on the ears.
3- game drive
"To depart on a safari is not only a physical act, it is also a gesture.
You leave behind the worries, the strains, the irritations of life among people under pressure,
and enter the world of creatures who are pressed into no moulds, but have only to be themselves. . ."
The Mottled Lizard
At 5:30 AM most of the group was up and about, though it was still very dark, and surprising cold. The spotlight from the truck was diffused into a wash of light by the thick damp air, and shapeless figures moved in the shadows. The solid beams of flashlights moved across the dark grass as we took down the tents and packed up our things, like gypsies stealing away in the night. As we finished packing and began to huddle around the fire I got a great picture of Simon emerging out of the foggy darkness, a yellow waterproof poncho reaching down to his bare knees, and The Shovel over his shoulder.
Everyone was talking about the sounds of the night : "Did you hear the lions?", "Did you hear the hyenas?" One of the girls, I think it was Simon's friend Kathy, told us that she had been outside during the night, and had turned around to see the stripes of a zebra in the moonlight, right there in camp. The crew also told us there had been some hyenas through camp in the night. Wow!
There was some grumbling about other sounds of the night as well. There are no secrets between the thin walls of neighboring tents. Apparently Janne was a loud and frequent snorer, and her experienced traveling companion Cheryl has learned to sleep with earplugs. Their neighbors however, were not so well-equipped. And the two young Englishmen, Ross and Grahame, also took it in turns to add to the chorus of the African night, and they all took some good-natured ribbing. This would become a regular morning litany, recounting the concerts of the night before.
There was fresh fruit, bread, margarine and jam laid out on the folding table, and Emmanuel sat on a stone by the fire breaking eggs into the big frying pan. Coffee and hot water for tea were in metal pots on the large square grill which stood over the fire. It was funny to see the Australian girls sharing a jar of Vegemite, and Cheryl gave lessons in making toast on a fork over an open fire. It's a demanding art- attested to by the number of broken slices of bread which collected in the ashes. I moved as close to the heat of the fire as I could, hands around a mug of hot coffee, amazed at how cold it was- I mean this is supposed to be equatorial Africa- but of course here on the crater rim we were at almost 8000' of altitude.
With breakfast over, the tents heaved up to the rack over the cab, and everything loaded into the back of the truck, it was noted that one of the rear tires was a little on the flat side. So we stood around and shivered a while longer while the crew tried to get it off and change it. They couldn't get the jack to raise the truck high enough to get the wheel off, and ended up digging a hole under it.
Of course, we were all eager to get out and see some animals, and eventually we were driving off into the fog, even colder now moving through the chill air in the open truck, and the scats were covered with heavy condensation. Beside the narrow dirt road we could make out the trees, eerie as they appeared out of the fog, moss hanging from their branches. We all caught our breath as we sighted three elephants slowly foraging among them.
We stopped at a group of buildings to pick up our guide for the day, then finally headed down into the crater. The Ngorongoro Crater, more correctly called a caldera, is the largest and most perfect in the world. About nine miles in diameter, its walls form a circle some two and a half thousand feet high. The whole area comprises a game park, the floor of the crater stretching over a hundred square miles, and providing many natural environments for the thousands of animals which are protected there.
We couldn't see much as we started down the steep one-lane track, which was perhaps just as well as we wound dangerously down this precipitous dirt road. But as we descended below the clouds which lingered on the rim, this amazing vision began to clear. In the middle of the walled circle of brown grasslands was a blue lake, perhaps three miles long, and thin lines of greenery across the savanna indicated the nourishing moisture of small rivers. There are also two areas of acacia forest, to add to the great variety of habitats. The remains of a wrecked truck near the bottom graphically illustrated the dangers of the descent.
As we drove out onto the crater floor, the first thing we saw, to our great excitement, was a pair of lions, male and female, walking slowly through the short grass. The truck came to a stop and the engine was switched off, as we took turns moving to the left side for pictures, and tried to stifle the 'oohs' and 'aahs' of excitement. Suddenly the male climbed atop the female and started mating energetically, oblivious to or perhaps contemptuous of our presence. As the short performance ended, and the pair continued walking calmly along, our guide told us that they would be back at it every fifteen minutes or so.
"Really", said Simon, "what takes him so long?"
Vast herds of Wildebeest, mixing with smaller numbers of zebras and the huge African Buffalo, stretched across the plains, and there were many herds of different kinds of antelope; Grant's Gazelles, Thomson's Gazelles, Kongoni, and the largest of them all, the Eland. The shy and bizarre-looking Warthogs went trotting away as we approached, their tails in the air like radio antennae. There was such an exciting variety and abundance of wildlife, and we were busy spotting new ones, taking photos, consulting the field guides for identification, and just looking around in wonder.
We stopped on the shore of the lake to marvel at the vast numbers of flamingos, living on tie algae formed by the alkaline lake. A small flock of white Sacred Ibis flew overhead, their black necks outstretched, and the noble Crowned Crane made a beautiful sight, with the straw-colored tiara which gives it its name. At the "hippo pool" we could see their shiny backs, and occasionally pink nostrils and ears, but they remained cool and discreet beneath the surface.
One of the best sights of all was a whole family of hyenas sunning themselves around a complex of burrows. The adults stood a lazy guard, while the pups played and fought between them. Whenever the very small ones would pop their heads out of the holes, they would be pushed back down again by the older pups, acting as playful but firm babysitters. We were learning how to be silent now, or at least to be excited in whispers, and we sat and watched them for about fifteen minutes, fascinated to be witness to this domestic scene.
Our guide promised to find us a Black Rhinoceros, perhaps the rarest of all animals these days, having suffered so much from the depredations of poachers. I was astonished to learn that in the last ten years, some ninety percent of the rhinos have been wiped out, all for the sake of their horns. All this unbelievably irresponsible slaughter, just so a Yemeni can display his manhood with a rhino-horn dagger handle, or some Oriental can bolster his with a spurious aphrodisiac. In the game park offices I saw many gruesome pictures of rhinos and elephants which had been killed by poachers, untouched except for a bloody gash where the horn or the tusks used to be. Very sad. In fact more than that- maddening.
Near a reedy area there were a couple of Land Rovers already parked, one of them with a camera on a tripod perched on the roof. Most of the smaller safari vehicles have removable roof panels, which make for excellent game viewing or photography. In our big tall truck, we could just hang out of the open sides- or clamber up on the framework of the tarpaulin roof for something really special. We stopped beside the Land Rovers, and followed their camera lenses and binoculars to a black shape among the reeds.
Through the glasses you could just make out the line of a dark back sloping to a large head, and that tragic horn protruding up and back. Though we watched fixedly for quite some time, he wasn't moving, and that was all we would see of this rhino. But even that was fortunate enough, as in my whole time in Africa I never saw another, which is not surprising as there are reckoned to be less than a thousand left, and those must be particularly wary and evasive to have survived the greedy poachers.
As we moved across the crater floor once more we saw another rare sight, a Bat-Eared Fox trotting along the dusty track. This is the only fox native to Africa, and since these animals are normally nocturnal it is unusual to see one abroad in daylight. We approached one of the acacia woodlands, and spied a couple of elephants browsing among the trees. Just beyond the woods we stopped in an open clearing for lunch.
We learned that this was the spot where we would have camped last night, had we made it to the crater earlier. One could see why they chose not to drive down that road in the dark, but how fantastic it would have been to have awakened this morning in the middle of this world of wonders. If we had left Arusha on time we would surely have made it. It was a nice campsite, with outhouses and running water- and what a setting! The crater is like a vast amphitheatre, with its green walls stretching around the horizon, and a complex and beautiful chain of life within.
While the crew prepared lunch we laid around in the dry grass, feeling the hot sun finally draining the last of the morning chill from our bodies. Layers of clothing and long pants were coming off now. The heat shimmered on the plain as you looked out, blurring the figures of a huge herd of Wildebeest. Apparently the only animal which doesn't live in the crater is the giraffe, as the crater walls are too steep for its ungainly body to negotiate.
The steepness of those crater walls became a subject of close scrutiny for us, as our truck began the arduous ascent up the exit road. Once again a single-lane dirt track, it zigzagged up the half-mile wall of the crater in only about four switchbacks, so it was extremely steep. The truck strained in low gear, climbing slowly upward as the crater floor receded below us. To look down, over the side was to look into space.
What a test of driving skill for our driver- and what a test of nerves for the passengers! There was one switchback where a rock all prevented us making it in one turn, and we nervously as he backed up to the edge of the road, where a sheer drop of a couple of thousand feet fell away behind us. We looked at each other questioningly, eyebrows raised and I was glad to be sitting on the outside- mentally preparing to leap out! Even the guide, who must have made this climb dozens of times, grinned a little nervously in the back of the truck. I couldn't help but picture the twisted wreck we had seen on the way down. I watched the orange and grey Agama lizards scampering on the rock face, inches from the side of the truck. We all drew a deep breath when we emerged into the rain forest at the top of the crater. Now that was adventure!
As we reached the cluster of buildings once more to drop off our guide, Geoff and I put together a tip for him, and Geoff delivered an eloquent speech of thanks on behalf of all of us. I mentioned before that he is a big fellow, six-foot-six, 250 pounds, and his legs make mine look like toothpicks. Though he mightn't thank me for it he looks like James Arness in the old Gunsmoke TV series. In spite of his stature, he is one of the "gentle giant" breed, a soft-spoken New Zealander in his mid-thirties, and one of the truly nicest people I have ever met. With touching and almost naive sincerity, he said that it had been one of the greatest days of his seeing all of those animals in the wild, and I found that he was expressing my own inner excitement, which I would probably have been too self-conscious to state. Bravo Geoff.
We stopped at an outlook on the top, looking over the bright floor of the crater to one side and down to the dark green plateau on the other. There was a memorial there to several people who had died in the service of the wildlife. One killed in a plane crash in the Serengeti, one killed by a rhino attack, but saddest of all were the last several names on the list- all killed by poachers. What punishment could possibly fit these inhuman criminals? (Their own extinction might be a start!)
We were soon out of the humid lushness of the crater forests, continuing downhill past barren yellow hills, sometimes with a crown of green at the top where the moisture collected. After an area of rocks and thorny scrub, we were back on the bare and dusty plains. It was all on such an incredibly vast scale, mile after mile of dry savanna, yellow-brown and featureless, unbroken even by the usual thorn trees. A thick cloud of dust billowed behind the truck, soon covering us and all our possessions with a layer of grit. We passed many herds of the attractive little Thomson's Gazelles, with their long delicate horns, and trim brown bodies marked by the characteristic black side-stripe.
Leafless, dead-looking thorn trees sometimes clustered around a dry rocky riverbed, and there we would see a few giraffes and baboons. An occasional hyena loped across the plains, and I loved to see the pretty black and grey Secretary Birds stalking their prey in the grass. It is the only bird of prey which doesn't hunt from the air, but simply by walking around. In fact they seem to fly only reluctantly, striding around on their long legs and picking snakes and rodents out of the grass.
Late in the afternoon we arrived at the gate of Serengeti National Park, and while the driver went into the office to register, we were relieved to climb down from the truck and stretch for a few minutes. I say "relieved" advisedly, as being bounced around on the rough roads is tiring, and hard on the bladder. We were up on a small hill here, and there were several large boulders and acacia trees forming an island on the featureless plain we had been crossing for hours.
We watched a pair of giraffes browsing in the nearby trees, when suddenly a big hyena walked out and lay down in the sun, maybe thirty yards from where we stood. Even without binoculars you could count his spots. The giraffes watched him closely, as did we, to see what this sneaky fellow was up to. But it was a three-way standoff, with the giraffes, the hyena and us all watching each other warily.
I think that hyenas have been the victims of bad press. Seeing them in the wild, especially that family at Ngorongoro, really gave me an affection for these much-maligned animals. I find them quite attractive to look at, muscular and purposeful-looking, and their voices in the night are as eerie and haunting as the song of the loon. Their reputation as scavengers is largely undeserved, as they are reputed to be excellent hunters, often having their prey stolen away by lions.
With all of the wildlife programs I have watched about it over the years, it was almost like a pilgrimage to be visiting the fabled Serengeti Plain. As the truck got underway again I stared around me fascinated. It began like the golden-brown grasslands we had been crossing all day, but soon a series of rocky outcroppings appeared, jutting out of the savanna here and there in fantastic shapes. The effect was like a supernatural version of the stone icons which the Inuit build in the Arctic.
These mystical towers which dot the limitless plain are called kopjes (silent "j"), and as I learned from one of those nature programs, form a complete little ecosystem of their own. Birds, small mammals and reptiles all make their homes there, and predators use them as a lookout post from which to survey the plains.
The park itself is impossibly vast, over five thousand square miles, and our campsite was near the centre. So it was still a couple of hours' drive, with only a brief stop at a dry riverbed to collect some firewood. I climbed back into the truck covered with burrs and thorns from the tangled undergrowth. We watched the sun setting above the open country, shining in and out of the brilliantly-colored clouds.
It was beginning to seem like a long day, exciting but tiring, and we were glad to finally arrive at our campsite. The fire of a neighboring group of campers offered a welcome suggestion of security in this wild place. A couple of times a blur of motion crossed the ground in the path of our headlights. These were the Banded Mongoose, we decided after some discussion and a consultation in the field guide.
Once again we set up our tents in the dark, though this time with some familiarity. Simon and I had a passion for "organization" in common, and we had it down to a system, where he would stake out the pegs while I assembled the struts, and then I would erect the centre pole and the fly sheet while he wrestled with the camp bed. We had even tried to introduce a rotation system for the truck, so everyone would be in a different seat every day, but it was only half-heartedly adopted. Some people just seem to resist "organization" of any kind- even in the interest of fairness!
By the time everyone was "moved in", Emmanuel had supper almost ready, and gathered around the fire on the little folding campstools to enjoy a welcome meal. (Avec le parfum de Dettol, naturellement!) Conversations began to spread among all these new acquaintances, the shared experiences of the last two days already drawing a bond between us. I really had lucked into a special group of people here. Even with a few couples among mostly single people, a mix of several nationalities, and the Australian girls who had traveled together before, there was no "cliquishness". Everyone mixed pretty freely, and by the end of the week there was hardly anyone in the group with whom I didn't have at least one really good conversation. And with Simon- I had a lot. We really struck up a rare friendship.
And though he would blush to hear it, he's a great person. He claims he has never married because of a dark side to his nature, and that he can be "a right miserable bastard" when the mood strikes him. But I never knew him to be other than good-natured, cheerful, vocal, funny- and sometimes vulgar- but also thoughtful, intelligent and well-informed. He possesses two qualities which endear a person to me. One; and perhaps greatest in all estimation of my Fellow Man, he makes me laugh! And two; he loves to talk about any number of interesting subjects, full of opinions with the knowledge to back them up, and full of a real love for the world and delight in life. He works as a Systems Analyst, which explains his love of organization. For mine I offer no excuse.
The senior members of our group were Ray and Day (short for Daisy), who were both in their late sixties. Ray is Australian, and Day was born in New Zealand. They were truly a sweet old couple, warm and solicitous to each other and to everyone else, always bright-eyed and enthusiastic, and uncomplaining about the discomforts of bouncing around in the hot dusty truck all day, lugging tents around and setting them up, and sleeping in those horrible camp beds. It was sobering to realize they had children older than me.
A few clouds drifted slowly across the dark sky, black masses passing over the stars and a bright half moon. The beacon of flames and smoke from our fire was mirrored by that of our neighbors, perhaps fifty yards away. All else was impenetrable darkness. As we sat or stood in groups around the fire, drinks were shared from Duty Free bottles of whisky and brandy, and the talking went on for hours.
Simon and I stood with Ray and Day for a while, as they told some good stories from their long and interesting life together. Ray is a veteran of World War Two, and I believe they actually met and were married in England during the war. Day told a long story of returning to New Zealand for her class reunion, full of calamities and farce, and they told us of a hiking trip they had taken in the mountains of New Zealand some years ago.
Then I fell into a good conversation with Geoff, Simon and his friend Kathy, who is an English lady, a few years younger than Simon, who works as a draftswoman in the field of Industrial Design. As they knew what I do for a living, the conversation eventually turned to music. Naturally enough, people are very interested in the workings of the maverick demimonde of the music business, an interest which I understand because I am too. Being uncomfortable with the "fantasy" aspect of the public perception, I am always glad to explain the reality of it, as an art and as a business (and ever the twain shall meet!)
As often happens, I was caught up in a discussion of the "morality" of music. This is a dangerous subject to let me get started on, as it is something I take seriously. In explaining how I see my own work, songwriting as an expression of thoughts and feelings I care about, music as a reflection of craftsmanship and informed taste, I wandered into an explanation of the "cheaters"- those who "play down" to their audience, calculating everything they do to the lowest common denominator of public acceptance. It probably got started by someone mentioning someone (an "entertainer" most likely, as opposed to a musician) for whom I have no respect, forcing me to explain why! (Yeah.)
It was a strange subject to be expounding upon before a fire in the middle of the Serengeti Plain, under the African night sky, but expound I did:
"There are all kinds of "tricks" which a musician can use, both in songwriting and performance. As a simple example, there are certain chord progressions which will trigger broad emotions of, say, sadness, and certain easy clichés which will ensure an audience response, whether to dance, tap their feet, bang their heads, feel happy or angry or sad. But of course these are shallow things, and draw only shallow responses. That's one reason why there are so many bands who appear and disappear like shooting stars, either they run out of "tricks", they aren't smart enough to figure them out again, or they start to believe those who tell them how great they are, in preference to facing the, ah- unattractive truth."
And I went on fearlessly into the even darker realms of taste:
"Well you know, one thing that really bothers me is that people set themselves up, every one, as experts on music. Only in the- what would you call them?- "entertainment arts" [loathsome expression], like music, TV, movies, do people really believe that they know what's good or bad. People don't think their opinions are equal to the knowledge of, say, a doctor or a scientist, but you can't say: 'Look, I've been studying and playing music for over twenty years, I know something about it'. That doesn't mean a thing. But again, as in any profession, when someone becomes successful by what you consider to be dishonest means, you resent it. Or I do, anyway."
And on and on I rambled, now orating on the subject of "quality":
"And it's never a question of "I like this", or "I don't like that". It's not an expression of their personal taste. It's always this song or this artist is good, that one is bad. So it's a qualitative judgement, and an accepted truth. The thing you like is good, the thing you don't like is bad. And, (I laughed), like other notorious things which everybody has, you can't argue with opinions!
"But I have learned that there is music which I might like but I know isn't very good, like some infectious little pop songs, and there is music which I know, by objective measures of quality, like some classical music, is very good but doesn't move me. So I think there's a big difference between taste and quality.
"Even some professionals, musicians and critics, fail to acknowledge this distinction, denying any 'objective criteria'. Bollocks! People who care about music know the difference. Even the great Duke Ellington said it: 'There are only two kinds of music. Good music and bad music.'"
Everyone was asleep.
Ejo tunani shaat ena naa torrono ena, kake meeta enayiolo te pokira.
A man says this is good and that is bad but he knows nothing of the two.
4- sunrise on the serengeti
"The distant roar of a waking lion rolls against the stillness of the night, and we listen. It is the voice of Africa bringing memories that do not exist in our minds or in our hearts- perhaps not even in our blood. It is out of time, but it is there, and it spans a chasm whose other side we cannot see."
Sometime in the night I heard the tearing sound of Velcro, which fastened the door of our tent together. Through the fog of sleep I remember thinking: "Damn, I've put my foot through the door. Now something's going to come along and bite it off". I sat up and saw the shadow of Simon returning from an "outdoor visit", just refastening the tent flap. Sigh- it had only been that. The phosphorescent dial of my watch said 4:30, but I was quite awake now, and we both just lay there quietly for a while. The sound of hunting lions, that coughing kind of bark I'd read about, could be heard from time to time, and the occasional "whoop" of a hyena.
West With The Night
Eventually we began talking in low voices, and about 5:00 banging and shuffling noises could be heard from the neighboring camp. I thought perhaps baboons were running around over there, tearing things up, but it turned out to be their crew preparing breakfast. Soon Geoff's big voice was calling over to us from his tent, and there was a bit of talking and laughing among us.
Suddenly the voice of an American woman was heard just outside our tent: "Excuse me, could you keep it down a bit over here? It's 5:30 in the morning and you've woken us up." We apologized sheepishly, but it was rather ironic with all the noise their crew had been making, and the rattling diesel of their truck warming up, plus the fact that the rest of their group was already up having breakfast. But we tried to feel contrite.
Our group was stirring early as well, and it was a fresh and beautiful Morning. The sun wasn't quite over the horizon, but a soft light was spreading across the land, showing us our surroundings for the first time. We were in the middle of, well, nowhere! The brown plain of short acacia scrub stretched forever, the colorless country making the sky seem an even more vivid blue. It was cool and still, and as the sun inched upward the long shadows of a few stunted grey trees stretched across the dry earth.
I walked over to the fire which our crew already had burning warmly, and wished good morning to Ray and Day, up early and cheery as ever, and to the quiet English couple, Lain and Alison. Lain was often a good source of knowledge on the flora and fauna, as he had traveled in Kenya before. As people gathered around the fire for coffee and tea, some wandering back from the nearby outhouses, I mentioned to Kathy about our American visitor this morning, and how strange it was that she had complained about us, with all the noise that was coming from their camp. Kathy said that she had heard us talking as well, especially Geoff's big voice. I laughed, saying: "Well, Geoff may have the biggest voice, but Simon certainly has the busiest!" Being a friend of Simon's, she could appreciate the truth- and humor- of that.
During breakfast we were amused by the baboons, who waited to attack the garbage as soon as it was thrown into the big steel drums. A whole troop of them gathered around, and the braver ones warily climbed up on the edge and dug for the good bits. One of the bigger ones was squatting there with a tasty morsel in his hands, keeping the others away, when a fast little guy ran past and snatched it out of his hands, running into the bush squealing with fright as the big one gave chase.
By about 7:30 we too were aboard our truck and off down the narrow dirt track across the plains. How excited I was a game drive on the Serengeti Plain, all those nature programs on TV coming to life around me. I heard echoes of Marlon Perkins, David Attenborough, Lorne Greene, William Conrad...
We first had to stop at the park offices to pick up our official guide, a formality which at first I thought to be simply a "make work" program, but it turned out to be a very valuable service. These people really know where the animals are to be found, with a network to keep each other up to date on their movements. Our guide in particular was eager to make sure we saw everything we wanted to- even if he had to break a few rules in the process.
As we waited at the office, I took a walk around the nearby cluster of boulders, curious about some small mammals I saw scurrying there. They turned out to be something called a Rock Hyrax, a small rabbit-sized animal which amazingly is considered to be the nearest living relative to the elephant! We laughed in disbelief when lain told us this, but apparently they do share some unique anatomical features in common (teeth, toe nails, etc.), and they and their cousins the Tree Hyraxes were very plentiful here.
Our first stop was at a hippo pool, where once again these huge animals were completely submerged, only pink nostrils and ears, and an occasional dark grey back visible. I hoped to see one out of the water one of these days- I'd really like to see a whole hippo! Small parasite-eating birds, the Red-billed Oxpecker, flitted fussily around their symbiotic friends.
We drove along a track which paralleled a river bed, stopping to watch and photograph several lions dozing in the longer grass here. Though they looked lazy and impassive, there was no mistaking their nobility and power, they were surprisingly big, and their tawny coats were stretched taut over muscles like coiled springs.
Giraffes were plentiful, browsing in nearby trees or trotting with their rhythmic grace across the horizon. There is something essentially friendly and comfortable about the way giraffes look, though this too is deceptive, as I learned that they can kill a lion with a well-placed kick!
There were herds of Wildebeest and zebras, and many kinds of antelopes, including our old friends the Thomson's Gazelles, perpetually wagging their short tails. These were so numerous everywhere we went that it became a joke among us, pretending to be excited to see them, and they soon became a kind of mascot for us. We also spotted a couple of the shy little dikdiks, the smallest of the antelopes, which are about the size of a baby goat.
We stopped near a group of people in a Land Rover, their binoculars and powerful camera lenses focused on a large thickly-leaved tree. As our engine was shut down, I scanned the tree with my own glasses, slowly searching the dark foliage, and was rewarded at the sight of a spotted tail hanging down from a thick branch. "A leopard!", I whispered excitedly.
There was a chorus of "Where?", "Where?"
"In the tree."
"Just there, follow that branch up to the right. You see the tail hanging down?"
"Yeah, yeah- I've got it."
"Where? I still can't see it."
Well, it wasn't much of the leopard, but it was one. (Stuffed, somebody said.) And as we drove on a bit further we got lucky once again. This time we could see the four paws hanging down, and the vague shadow of a large powerful body. We knew how rare it was to spot these nocturnal hunters in the daytime, and felt appropriately excited and fortunate.
The leopard also completed our quest for the so-called "Big Five" animals, the elephant, rhino, lion, leopard and buffalo. I had wondered about this grouping, as they were not the biggest in size, but I learned that the name of this elite club refers to their danger to man; these are the five animals most likely to cause you grievous bodily injury if given the opportunity.
We had another exciting moment as we drove onto the open plains, and a cheetah went running away from our approaching truck, leaving his kill behind. I could just see him through the binoculars, stopping to look balefully back at us from a hundred yards or so away. A flock of White-backed Vultures was clustered over the unfortunate antelope within seconds, and, though it was against the park rules, our guide allowed us to drive across the plain up close to them. The vultures were undisturbed by our presence, and about twenty of them huddled around, pushing their way in and tearing at the flesh. A Tawny Eagle stood near them, looking majestically aloof but obviously hopeful for a share of the spoils. But he was hopelessly outnumbered, and probably too proud to fight with these lowlife scavengers.
Simon, the old softy, felt bad that we had deprived the cheetah of a hard-won meal, and we all hoped that it would return and chase off the scavengers as we drove away. I'm sure it would have. I was also hoping that this distant individual would not be the only one we would see, as they were one of the most fascinating of all the animals to me. Beautiful to look at; long, slender and graceful in movement; they are the swiftest of animals, able to run at 60 or 70 miles an hour to chase down the antelopes upon which they feed. This purposeful grace is the paragon of form and function, and it soon became my favorite of the big cats. Simon agreed with me on that, but surprisingly, he claimed not to be impressed with the lions. It must have been that mating performance that so disillusioned him!
It was only a few minutes later when our guide again led us off the road, and up to a lone thorn bush on the sun-baked plain. As we slowly circled it we could see a yellowish, black-spotted shape beneath it- another cheetah! We were able to get quite close to have a good look through the glasses and take photographs. And just a little further along, once again off the road, we sighted three of them under a bush, probably a mother and her nearly-grown young. We parked quietly for several minutes just twenty yards away from them, and though they watched us warily they stood their ground. Truly an exciting sight for me.
But perhaps the most awesome vision of the morning was a huge herd of elephants, there must have been eighty or a hundred of them, moving slowly across the plains. They seemed to float on a low cloud of the dust which was raised by their shuffling feet. A majestic, timeless sight, these gigantic prehistoric-looking animals moving across these grasslands as they had for tens of thousands of years.
Simon has a particular passion for birds of prey, even having tried his hand at falconry, and it wasn't long before he had everyone in the truck scanning the sky for him. I had been a keen birdwatcher as a boy, and I found this dormant interest suddenly reawakened as he and I thumbed through the field guides to compare the wingshapes of the many large birds soaring motionless on the warm air currents above the plains. We identified several types of eagles, as well as the large hawks which are called buzzards here.
We were back in camp in time for a nice lunch, then spent a few hours lazing around in the midday heat. Everyone was taking it easy, lying in the powerful sun or dozing in the shade. There were a few people sitting on boxes and campstools in the shelter of Kathy's tent flap, comparing notes and bringing their diaries up to date, adding to the list of birds and animals they had seen. This was the first time we had been able to just sit somewhere, as it seemed as if we had never caught up from leaving late on the first day. Bouncing around in the truck all day was certainly tiring, I found to my surprise that my muscles were often sore at the end of the day, with constant bracing against the violent motion on the rough roads. And the dust settled all over you, seeping into everything you wore or carried. The possibility of going over to the lodge for a shower this evening had been hinted at, which had us all excited.
The announced plan was to go for a late afternoon game drive, then to visit the Seronera Lodge to investigate the possibility of showers. But when we clambered aboard once more and set out, we seemed to drive aimlessly down one of the roads we'd been on this morning, then turn around for no apparent reason and drive to the lodge.
At any rate we were glad to learn that for a few dollars each we could rent some rooms with showers, and we split up into groups of four or five and were led to four rooms in this large, modern motel-like complex in the middle of the Serengeti. It had been built I think by the Germans, or perhaps the Scandinavians, as an aid project, and was really a lovely place. It occupied the top of a low rocky hill, and the string of buildings housing the lobby, restaurant, bar and guest rooms had been built around and within the existing large boulders.
Although there was no hot water, lights or electricity in the rooms, even a cold shower and shave felt wonderful, rinsing away the accumulated dust and sweat of the last few days. After taking our turn under the cold spray, the bathroom growing ever darker, we met up in the large open bar to enjoy a beer or a whisky. Everyone felt much better, and looked much better too, and the circle of clean, damp-haired and happy campers grew, sitting in the comfortable chairs around a low table.
You could see that after the European benefactors had turned the place over to the Tanzanians, it had become a bit run down. Obviously fairly recently built, to a clean and modern design in harmony with the environment, it was already looking a bit grubby and neglected. Not only the hot water and lights were out of order, but also the ice-making machines and the refrigerators- so cold drinks remained an unfulfilled wish. It was richly populated with hyraxes as well and they had left their rabbit-like "calling cards" all over the place.
There didn't seem to be many people staying there, I don't think we saw more than a dozen guests, but I could see that visiting a place like this for a couple of nights, and driving out to look at the animals during the day could be quite pleasant. (Though not so exciting as being out on the plain under canvas!)
Some of us walked out onto the terrace outside the bar, which again made use of a natural rock outcropping. I was surprised to see a small swimming pool, though of course it too was out of order- empty and riddled with cracks. The view was just fabulous, looking down across the plains to the west, an endless vista of brown grass and dry acacias with the sun just touching the low hills on the horizon. This classic African vista was only spoiled by a big garbage dump right outside the hotel, presided over by scavenging baboons and many of the large, funereal Marabou Storks in the trees. How strange to see this unsightly mess here- in the middle of one of the world's greatest game parks.
We were in good spirits as we drove back to camp for dinner, once again catching the blur of a group of fleet mongooses in the swath of the headlights, as they raced for cover. We sat around the fire under a bright half moon, the plain but well-cooked food tasting as good as it only can outdoors, and watched a spectacular display of heat lightning off to the north. It seemed to come down, not in zigzags, but in straight silver lines from the clouds to the earth, spreading a bright and dramatic glow in the darkness. The conversations were once again warm and animated, the air alive with laughter and good spirits. I noticed that Janne was talking with our driver which was nice to see, as there was a kind of gulf between us and them that we had been trying to bridge.
Janne was a bit of a puzzle to me, but I had a good feeling about her. Both she and her tentmate Cheryl seemed to be a couple of tough old birds, and in fact Janne was a policewoman back in Australia, a Detective Sergeant, and Cheryl was a secretary in the same police station, both of them unmarried. Simon had mentioned to me early on that he found them both a bit forbidding.
I told him I felt they were different somehow. While Cheryl was tough-spoken and cynical, and bore an evident chip on her shoulder, I had a suspicion that Janne had a "soft centre", a core of vulnerability which she protected with a defensive armor. And I found this to be true, once you had won her trust, you couldn't meet a warmer and nicer individual. It may be that it was just the thick skin demanded by her job, or perhaps it was that she had never been well-favored by nature as a girl, and had had to retreat behind a protective barrier.
As Simon and I unrolled our sleeping bags that night (Simon had told me it was a good idea to leave them rolled up until you were ready to climb in- to prevent any "unwelcome visitors" finding a warm place to rest), and laid there talking in the utter darkness, he told me that he thought I was right about Janne, and we talked for a while about the ways in which vulnerable individuals have to armor themselves against the insensitivity of others.
Sometimes it takes the form of that "urban impassiveness" that you see on the faces of people on subways, on crowded streets, or even on elevators- a temporary shell which can removed at will, when it's "safe" to be open; when you're not among strangers.
But sometimes the armor closes itself around a delicate thing, and with time it grows so thick that it hardens right to the core, and the delicate thing is lost.
Kuma ti kuma to ihiga, na kuororoa to maii
To be hard does not mean to be hard as a stone,
and to be soft does not mean to be soft as water.
5- the cradle of man
"According to tribal legend the Maasai first found themselves in a crater-like country surrounded by inaccessible hills and escarpments. One season the rains failed and great suffering resulted, with people and cattle dying. But during this drought it was observed that birds used to come down the steep escarpments and bring green grass and leaves which they used for making their nests. The elders met and decided that the birds must fetch their grass from areas beyond the escarpment where rain had fallen. It was then decided to send scouts to examine the land beyond. . .
One more sunrise on the Serengeti, the red sun just above the horizon on this beautiful morning Everyone was up early breaking camp and hauling their tents and luggage over to the truck Once Simon and I had everything stowed away, I climbed up to the top of the truck's roof rack to take a picture of the whole scene. In the foreground people struggled to fit their tents into the bags which always seemed too small, Emmanuel was bent over the fire working on breakfast, Simon washed his hands in Dettol, the baboons squabbled over the garbage nearby, a pair of vultures surveyed us from a treetop, and out beyond the outhouse the yellow plains stretched to the horizon, the dry and leafless trees casting long shadows.
As soon as the scouts reached the top, they were staggered with amazement at the beauty, the fertility and the greenness of the land that they found. There were wide stretches of pastureland, many streams and rivers and lots of living room. Furthermore the land was empty and all that was to be seen were wild animals and the birds of the air."
S. S. Sankan
Through the cab roof below me throbbed the droning pulse of the one and only tape which the crew ever seemed to play, maybe the only one they owned. It was a collection of raucous and repetitive American R & B songs recorded from a radio station in, of all places, Wichita Kansas. How they came to have it I don't know, but they sure liked it, playing those same half-dozen songs over and over all day long. Fortunately the sound of their distorted old tape deck didn't reach into the back of the truck, but every time we stopped you could hear it blaring out, and nearly every morning and evening it boomed and rattled away.
We retraced our route from the Ngorongoro Crater, driving back across the infinite Serengeti, across the golden treeless savanna which stretched away to the distant low hills. Giraffes, a shy little dikdik, the inevitable Thomson's Gazelles, a couple of Golden Jackals loping through the grass- and Kathy called to Simon and I to watch a Tawny Eagle soaring high above us. Where a grassfire had recently burned, the new grass came up green and fresh-looking, and a tall Secretary Bird stalked its prey in this fertile spot. The barren plains were criss-crossed by a network of meandering but well-worn game trails, an animal habit which we wondered about. We figured that they must stick to regular paths for the sake of the grass, their food, but it's hard to know.
Even in the early morning, a heat mirage shimmered across the open grasslands from the relentless sun. We passed a dry river bed, a tumult of dusty boulders, where a stand of yellow acacia trees called "Fever Trees" clung to life. I learned they are so-named because it was a native superstition that these pretty yellow-barked trees caused yellow fever.
We left the rough gravel "highway" to turn off onto an even rougher, dustier side road, and the truck labored through the deep dust, sometimes up to the axles. Our destination was the Olduvai Gorge, the place where the Leakeys had found our oldest known ancestor, Zinjanthropus Man. This had been listed as a possible option on our safari, but Ray and Day and myself had been particularly keen to go, urging that we make a stop there.
As we pulled up to the small museum on the edge of the gorge, we had our first real contact with the Maasai tribe. Although not the largest of East African tribes, they are probably the most widely-known, being handsome, exotically-arrayed nomadic people who have clung to their traditional herding lifestyle almost alone in rapidly modernizing Africa. They are the ones you see on the travel brochures, their hair elaborately dressed and colored with animal fat and red ochre, standing with a spear in hand as they guard their herds on the open plains. They cross freely between Tanzania and Kenya, a remnant of their original bravely-defended territory remaining as a "reserve".
Their culture is rich in traditions, taboos, rituals and mythology, and is often compared to the Jewish one- even to the non-Maasai, "gentiles", being lumped together as Ilmeek. One unusual taboo forbids the eating of almost every wild animal, though their domestic cattle form the bulk of their diet. In former days a youth had to prove his manhood by killing a lion. I don't know if that tradition survives, but milk and blood is apparently still a popular soft drink among the Maasai.
Here at Olduvai Gorge, in this shrine of Evolutionism, their ancient myths of creation and exodus offered a romantic counterpoint.
There seemed to be a family of three generations standing in wait, six or seven of them, all in traditional dress, their earlobes cut away for the large earrings they wore, and wearing elaborate beadwork necklaces and bracelets.
And what they were waiting for was us- to pay them to take their pictures. They did look great, and appealed to the romantic in me in their steadfast clinging to an ancient and simple way of life, but when I discovered they wanted fifty shillings each for the arduous task of posing for photographs, I decided it was just too weird and put my camera away.
Geoff and I took a walk down the steep and stony wall of the gorge. The late morning sun was very hot, radiating up from the barren rocks all around us. We. climbed to the top of a narrow pinnacle which rose in the middle of the deeply cut basin and stood there surveying the dry world around us. This was a spot that really gave me something to think about.
To imagine that 1,700,000 years ago, our earliest ancestors had walked on the earth here below us. In the Nairobi Museum I saw a cast of the line of footprints the Leakeys had found here; a man, a woman and a child walking barefoot across a field of volcanic dust, the woman walking in the man's footsteps. "Why?", I asked myself; "Was the sand hot or what? Then why didn't the child walk in the man's footsteps too? Some superstition? Where were they going anyway?"
But whatever the reasons for their journey, or the conditions of it, their footprints have been preserved for almost two million years. It is fantastic to reflect upon this link to a long-forgotten past- it's like the ultimate "Roots" saga. My imagination typically projected myself and my own family onto that arduous trek across the scorched earth, a migration of survival perhaps, and escape from a now-barren Eden.
The Olduvai Gorge is centred between several extinct volcanoes, including the Ngorongoro, and its history is a direct result of that location. There had been a lake at the bottom, and the people had lived beside it, leaving their tools and their remains there to be buried and preserved by subsequent volcanic action. Over the millenia layer after layer of life was buried away, like a series of time capsules. Then in more recent times, a volcanic upheaval had caused a violent flood to rage through here, opening up this gorge right down to the bottom again, and at the same time opening up an archaeologist's dreamworld.
In the small museum there were well-presented charts showing the gorge in cross-section, and the different periods represented by each layer. There was also an interesting collection of fossilized bones, some fossilized Guinea Hen eggs, and a couple of artist's interpretations of what the land and animals might have looked like back then- in the real good old days!
After a pleasant lunch under a thatched canopy at the edge of the gorge, we boarded the truck once more to continue our journey. As we drove away, it was kind of sad to see those representatives of the proud and independent Maasai sitting in the shade of the museum wall, waiting for the next bunch of tourists to pay them fifty shillings (each) for a photograph.
It was surprising to see how differently people reacted to this experience. For instance; Grahame had been to Olduvai before on a previous trip through this area, and he was one of those not recommending a stop here. He said: "there's nothing to see really, it's just a gorge". And I suppose some of this group were much in agreement with that evaluation, and it's true- there really is nothing to see, but there was something about the setting and the associations that I found very powerful, and it gave me much to think about on the next part of the journey. Perhaps there was nothing to see, but there was plenty to feel.
Once more we bounced and strained through the dust out to the main road, then turned to begin the long climb up to the rim of Ngorongoro. Even the hot dry wind across the plains helped to make the heat more bearable, as the midday sun glared down from a cloudless sky. I had a smaller water bottle, from my bicycle, which I carried with me on the truck, but the chlorine taste of the purifying tablets remained uninviting even with a wedge of orange squeezed into it. We passed out of the barren grasslands into an area of thorny scrub: No animals, not even Thomson's Gazelles, could be seen in this desolate wasteland. Mile after mile in first gear, the truck labored up the hill.
There was more dust in the air today, making the distance hazy, and the vastness of the history presented at Olduvai had me contemplating those Large Questions which sometimes demand to be thought about- even if never solved. As I looked around at the thorny scrub, which alone with the grasses survived in this inhospitable environment, I was thinking about how only the most hardy and well-protected plants had evolved to fill this meagre ecological niche, and from that, into Evolution in general.
As a whole it is a theory which I accept as logical, but there are certain questions which I have heard raised which make me wonder, like the theory of genetic mutation being the source of new survival traits in the species. It sounds sensible enough, but the quantum leap from, say, scales to feathers, or from gills to lungs still seems difficult to rationalize. What's it all about (Alfie)? How did it all happen? These are the kind of questions which Creationism makes so easy- what a pain to be an atheist!
We made a firewood stop on a hillside of dried-up timber, with most of the men and some of the women climbing out of the truck to gather dead branches, or to hack away at fallen trees with the axe or the panga- a machete-like cutter with a curved blade. Simon, the experienced lumberjack from the Norwegian forests, chopped away at a fallen tree trunk with the axe, while Geoff walked back down the road dragging a big log in each hand. Paul Bunyan lives!
I had noticed that when the truck was hot they were always careful to park on a hill, so they could let it roll backward to bump-start it. As once more they let the truck roll silently backward, it roared into life, and once again we were climbing slowly, the engine still working hard in first gear, until we saw the familiar rolling yellow hills around the Ngorongoro once more.
And then we were up in the luxuriant green growth of the higher altitude forest. It was quite a different scene to arrive at Simba Camp in the bright afternoon sun, after having arrived in the dark and left in the fog the previous time. We had seen none of it at all. Now we could see that it was an open clearing perched right on the edge of the crater, and you could look out over the whole thing, the walls of the far side blue in the haze.
A few of us followed a little path through the long grass which led over to the very edge, where the wall fell away three thousand feet to the crater floor. It was an awesome sight. Even without binoculars you could see the pink wash of innumerable flamingos on the shore of the blue lake, and that combined with the gold of the savanna and the dark green of the acacia woodlands made a rich and colorful mosaic. Even at this distance the herds of Wildebeest and zebra could be easily seen, and birds of prey swooped down from high on the wall. Simon and I decided to hurry and get our tent up so we could spend the rest of the afternoon right there, just watching this "wildlife theatre".
On one side of the campsite area was a small structure of cinder blocks with a cistern on top. At one time it had contained showers and toilets, but they'd long since fallen into messy disrepair. The roof made a nice perch from which to survey the area, and I climbed up there with my tape recorder for a few minutes while Simon made himself a cup of tea. ("Yank" he calls me, "Teabag" I call him, in our mutual disdain for such nationalist slurs.)
Below me our cook and our driver did some laundry, also climbing up to the cistern to fill a pan with rain water, then sloshing their clothes around in New Blue Omo Powder. Most of the other people were gathered around the fire for a refreshing cup of tea or coffee, enjoying the luxury of arriving at our destination early for once. Though the sun still shone brightly, the air was pleasantly cool at this altitude, and the trees were dripping with moss above the thick undergrowth and rich green grass.
Simon and I sat for several hours in the grass at the crater's edge, scanning the inside with our binoculars and enjoying this exciting vista. Some of the others dropped in on us from time to time, while a group of people went over to the nearby lodge for a drink. Sharp-eyed Simon spotted a herd of elephants down in the acacia woods, and we checked on their slow movements from time to time, as we scanned the grasslands hoping to see a lion or a rhino, and watched the birds of prey wheeling in the clear blue sky.
We could trace the route we had taken across the crater floor the other day, coming down the wall and across the savanna, to where we saw the lions performing that disgusting act, and the hippo pool, the line of the small river where we had watched the hyena family, and the clump of reeds where the rhino had been hiding. An occasional moving plume of dust marked the passage of a Land Rover or safari truck driving across the dry grasslands.
I'd brought my flask over with me, and we enjoyed a couple of capfuls of Chivas to toast the sunset in this once-in-a-lifetime location. The Wildebeest began to string into lines as the crater fell into shadow, breaking up their former tight herds and moving on to somewhere they would feel safer. There was certainly nowhere to hide down there.
I was thinking about the relationship of predators and prey. Where the grazing animals, the prey, have to live with their eyes, ears and noses alert every second, knowing that only watchfulness and a quick exit will save them, the predators walk slowly and confidently around, lordly in the knowledge that they need fear no animal. But even they must grow old and weak, and I was thinking poignantly of a noble old lion, growing slow and feeble after years of being "King of the Beasts", and the tragic end of being brought down and devoured by a pack of hyenas. And so eventually they all know fear and violent death.
Simon eventually headed back to camp and left me sitting there alone, the sun just hitting the treetops behind me. At first it was wonderful sitting there by myself, watching the animal world prepare itself for night. But as I began to think about where I was, and what else was around too, I started to get a little nervous. The Maasai grazed their cattle up here, and apparently the lions were fond of eating lean beef. And we had seen those big elephants the other morning less than a mile from here. The guide book says there are leopards here too- and they kill things just for fun.
Something could come out from behind those bushes right now that would be really scary!
After a lifetime of walking freely in fields and woodlands, it's hard to get used to the idea that there are things here which will rip your throat out! You look around at all these animals from the safety of the truck, and after years of zoos and TV nature programs it seems so safe somehow, and it's easy to take it for granted. Big mistake. There's a nervous little laugh on my tape as I discussed this reality with myself: "Ha ha. Yeah- I think I'll head back pretty soon". I gathered up my things and walked back to camp, with a bit of a spring to my step.
I had asked Kathy to see if she could buy me a half-bottle of whisky over at the lodge, to replenish my flask (Simon was drinking it all), and she came back with a Konyagi bottle (a Tanzanian gin-like liquor) full of something like Vat 69 Scotch. She'd thought the price horrendous, at something around $15 for the half, but way out here I couldn't complain about.
With a little extra time to prepare dinner today, Emmanuel whipped up an especially good one for us, with a ground-beef stew, sausages, carrots, cabbage, potatoes and sweet potatoes. The high spirits and growing camaraderie of the last few days continued around the fire after dinner. I got into a good conversation with Ross, a young Englishman in his late twenties or early thirties, who works as an "investigative accountant", traveling around to check out companies before those notorious corporate takeovers and mergers. I kidded him about being a corporate Secret Agent, a Private Eye of the accounting world.
We stood away from the fire a little bit, and lost ourselves in talking for a couple of hours. He seemed a little insulted when I told him I was disappointed that he didn't have that thick "Brummie" accent my friends and I often mimicked.
"Not all people from Birmingham talk like that you know!"
"Well, evidently not, no more than all Canadians talk like: 'Jeez eh, how's it goin'? Like let's have a couple of brews eh!'. But the ones that do are still funny!"
And from this modest conversational beginning, we went on to deeper things. Music, politics, economics, the British parliamentary system as opposed to the American Electoral College- stuff like that. He was telling me a funny story about the Italian system of "representation by population", where a topless dancer had apparently just been elected to their parliament. Democracy in action! We discussed the prevailing attitudes of European and British people toward America, a TV-tube caricature of filth, vulgarity and violence- none of which exists in Europe of course!- and whether British policemen really do carry guns (I think they mostly do, he maintains they still don't). We delineated the different kinds of violence which trouble America and Europe, street crime on the one hand and terrorism and "football hooligans" on the other. Of course, there is too much violence in the US, but it's foolish to pretend that it doesn't happen elsewhere. I had been amused to read recently that British Airways had started-carrying handcuffs on their charter flights out of the UK; not to control terrorists, but to restrain drunken and violent passengers.
Then there were the mutual causes of this social violence to discuss; unemployment, poverty, boredom, alcohol, drugs, racism, religion, television, capitalism, socialism. . . We had problems to get sorted out!
When we had finished "saving the world", we moved in closer to the fire with the others, and Ross brought out his bottle of Duty Free whisky to share around the remaining six or eight people who hadn't gone to bed yet. I had another nice talk with Janne, as she was telling me about her three weeks down in Botswana, near South Africa. It sounded like a great trip, combining camping, canoeing and boat trips as well as overland travel, and I took down the name of the company she had gone with.
And one of those amazing "small world" coincidences occurred when she mentioned having met a German girl during her trip in western Canada and Alaska who worked for a Canadian musician, and when I looked at Janne's address book I saw that it was our guitar player Alex! Small world indeed. "Canadian musician met Australian woman in Africa, who met German girl in Alaska who used to work for fellow band member of Canadian musician. (Who met Australian woman in Africa who met. . .)
With fewer of us tonight, we were finally able to get the crew to open up. It turned out that their insularity and silence was due more to lack of confidence in their English than to any real alienation. Janne had broken- the ice a bit the previous night beside the fire in the Serengeti, and now, with fewer of us, I suppose it was not so intimidating. We had a good talk with Emmanuel for the first time, and finally learned something about our driver too.
We had been calling him "Dootch", as that is how we were introduced, but now we learned that his name was actually "Dutch", but pronounced like "Deutsch". Get it? It was hard to understand his explanation, but it seemed as if his father had fought with the Germans during the war, and liking them, had named his son after them. Thus Deutsch- but it didn't explain why it was spelled "Dutch" on the driver's licence he showed us, or how his father came to be fighting for the Germans during the war, when Tanzania (then Tanganyika) had been a British colony since the First World War. Could it possibly have been the Dutch his father meant? Nor did this explain why the people from the Tracks company had called him "Dootch". More African mysteries.
We learned that all three of our crew were from the Kilimanjaro area, though Dutch is from the Chagga tribe, while the cook Emmanuel and his assistant Henry are from the Pare Thus they speak different languages, so communication even among themselves was difficult. Dutch told us that as children they learn their tribal language and Swahili, and then later in school they learn English, but nobody takes it very seriously or considers it very important. To speak English among themselves is considered to be "putting on airs".
Dutch (pronounced "Deutsch", you remember) had gone to trade school to learn to be a mechanic, and that was what he really wanted to do. He was just working as a driver to try to save enough money to buy the toolbox and tools he needed to practise his trade. Emmanuel had begun as an assistant safari cook, the peeling, preparing and washing-up job which Henry did now and had worked his way up to being cook.
Janne had lent the crew her tape of Paul Simon's Graceland, hoping they might like it enough to play something different than the Wichita tape, and tonight that tape went around and around, endlessly replaying as we sat in the dark by the blazing fire. The crew were cheerfully smoking Janne's cigarettes and accepting a drink of whisky from Ross as we talked quietly. It was nice to see Emmanuel's shy smile and Dutch's warm grin as we spoke haltingly of our different worlds, ours seeming just as foreign, exotic, interesting and strange to them as theirs did to us.
Maji usiyoyafika hujui wingi wake.
You do not know the extent of waters you have not been to.
6- lake manyara
I suppose other people's dreams are not the most interesting subject in the world, but it's funny how every time I take a trip like this it brings the weirdest dreams into my sleep.
I was just driving to the store with a friend and our two children, when we suddenly turned out to be in Los Angeles, and then we were somehow backstage at the Los Angeles Forum. Then 1 was alone outside, driving my Audi Quattro up miles of stone stairs in the dark (good thing I had four-wheel-drive!) which were lined by cheering people and bright lights, and it seemed to be part of a movie set. Then I was back talking to the stagehands at the Forum, and the car keys were lost and everyone was looking for them, and then we were all in Tina Turner's apartment- which was above the Forum- and then-
I woke up. Whew!
The mist began to close in on the crater rim just after sunrise, though it didn't seem quite as cold as it had been the other morning. Geoff, Simon and I walked through the wet grass over to the edge where we had spent yesterday afternoon, but just as we stood there the clouds began to obscure the inside of the crater. Simon told me he had heard elephants and lions during the night, and the crew told us there had been elephants, buffaloes and lions just back toward the road from us. Yikes! The crater was soon invisible, and we walked back up to the fire where Emmanuel was cooking up some porridge. I ate a wedge of orange and then went to work on packing up my stuff.
A couple of young Maasai boys wandered through our misty camp, looking at us shyly but with curiosity. One was perhaps twelve years old, the other nine or ten, and they stood a little away from the tents, dressed only in thin blankets on this cool and damp morning. The elder one carried a stick to herd the cattle. I went over to talk to them, and found the older boy could speak a few words of English, and he asked me, not for money or candy, but for a pen. Unfortunately I didn't have one I could spare, I wish I had known before how valuable pens are to the children of Tanzania, I would have brought a whole boxful of Bic retractables. As it was I got them to pose for a photo, and gave them a little bit of money- because they didn't ask for it.
As we climbed up on the truck, Graceland once more going around and around, everything loaded and stowed away, I waved goodbye to my young Maasai friends, and we drove off. The morning remained overcast and misty as we drove around the crater rim, and then headed down across the fertile plateau.
Ross and I sat together, and continued our conversation from the previous night. One doesn't save the world in the morning of course, but we discussed different bands we liked and didn't like, music and attitudes, and the reality of Live-Aid.
Ross is one of those who are of the opinion that an event like Live-Aid really represented something- maybe changed something. But I had to disagree. It certainly didn't change human nature.
Now I'm no cynic, and certainly some of the people involved had the right motivations. There's no doubt that Bob Geldof didn't run himself ragged and sacrifice his on career spearheading all that for any other reason than to try to do something. But there's also no question that many of the other people involved, musicians and "industry" types, had their own axes to grind. There was a lot of: "Look at me, look at me- I'm rich and successful and doing something for the poor starving people", and there was precious little altruism in all this public posturing. It seems to me, Ross, that everyone should have just given some money and shut up!
I know from the inside what was going on during these recordings and concerts, people showing up because "my manager told me it was a good career move" (direct quote), and one can easily guess at the ulterior motives which hypocrites are so adept at hiding.
And then there was the public stoning given those who didn't choose to be part of this exhibitionism. One band called Tears For Fears was dragged through the gutters of the English press for "killing the children of Africa" in their refusal to appear, and yet who could blame them? I have to agree with the British producer and journalist Jonathan King, who dared to write in a London newspaper the next day that all the charitable benevolence aside, it was a terrible show. That certainly took courage, and made him no friends, but I think it's true. Amid all that chaos, with egos and technology impossible to organize, the only artists that came off well were those who just sang with a solo piano. Yet even then they couldn't get a microphone that worked for Paul McCartney. (Though if you ask me, that may have been the hand of a Higher Power!)
My favorite humorist, P. J. O'Rourke, also wrote a very witty and acerbic article on this subject, focusing mainly- in his inimitable way- on the "We Are The World" gang:
"We are the world [solipsism], we are the children [average age near forty]
"That's three palpable untruths, two dubious assertions, nine uses of a first-person pronoun, not a single reference to trouble or anybody in it, and no facts. The verse contains, literally, neither rhyme nor reason."
We are the ones to make a brighter day [see line 6 below]
So let's start giving [logical inference supplied without argument]
There's a choice we're making [true as far as it goes]
We're saving our own lives [absurd]
It's true we'll make a better day [unproven]
Just you and me [statistically unlikely]
And on he goes into greater depth and wit, arguing my case much better- or at least much funnier- than I ever could.
But I can offer a much more cogent example of what it was all about, Ross. During the year following this outpouring of public generosity (when many of the Live-Aid pledges given in the peer-pressure heat of the moment weren't being honored!) I was thinking about some extra drumsets I had sitting around, and trying to think of a good way to give them away. It occurred to me that I might have an auction, and give the proceeds to the Foster Parents Plan, a favorite cause of mine. Then I thought; there must be plenty of other musicians who have equipment sitting around which they're not using, maybe I could make this bigger. And I started to think about a satellite hookup, doing it with MTV and Canada's Muchmusic, and have people bidding by telephone from all across North America. You see, Ross? I was getting excited now. Why, this could catch on, we could even do it every month with a celebrity auctioneer, and help out a bunch of different worthwhile causes. But to do something on this kind of scale I'd need a lot of cooperation.
So I started talking to people in the business, both music and charity, and asked our office to get in touch with the video networks, the phone companies, try to put something like this together, it could be great. So, a little nervous about the scope and demands of this thing I'd put into motion, I sat back and waited for this wave of the whole world's new-found humanity and helpfulness to sweep over me. And what do you think happened Ross?
Absolutely nothing. No one could be bothered. It just wasn't hip anymore- it was no longer necessary to appear charitable. The consciences had all gone back to sleep. So had Ross.
In the late morning we drove up to Gibb's Farm, an old coffee plantation from colonial times which survives by offering guest accommodations and meals to passing travelers. It's located on a very lush hillside, thick with tall trees and tropical vegetation surrounding the orderly rows of coffee bushes. The gardens around the house were beautifully landscaped, lovely gardens of tropical flowers and a fish pond with weaver birds nesting around it. A row of neat little guest cottages lined the driveway, and with the location between Arusha, Lake Manyara, Olduvai and Ngorongoro, on the road to the Serengeti, it would make a wonderful place to stop for a day or two. (Or an hour or two, in our case.)
We were greeted by a gracious hostess who showed us a place to clean up (with running water, and flush toilets!), and then we took a walk around. We were supposed to have taken a walk up to a waterfall in the forest, which we were told was a beautiful place where wild animals often came to drink, but for some reason we couldn't. They said we had been scheduled to go at 10:30 and we didn't arrive until 10:45. But wait a minute- we're on African Time here, what's fifteen minutes? I suppose just as this place has survived as a memory of the days of colonialism, some residue of punctiliousness must be left over from the "outpost of the Empire" days. Strange.
A well-spoken young girl gave us a tour of the coffee-processing area, where the beans were sorted and dried in the sun before being shipped off to be roasted. Then we gathered at the chairs and tables on the main terrace, enjoying the beautiful setting and waiting for lunch to be served. Punctually at 12:30 we were called inside.
Inside the house the rooms were cool, with terracotta tile floors and white-washed walls hung with local maps, wildlife paintings and a zebra skin. A small fire burned in the fireplace in a corner of the main room, as it was still overcast and cool on this highlands morning. The furniture was simple and comfortable. The dining room was at the rear of the house, overlooking another verdant garden, and two large- tables were covered with an incredible variety of food. There was soup, cold meats, several kinds of quiches and dozens of salads, everything beautifully prepared and presented. There was another whole table offering about five different desserts- my special weakness- rhubarb crumble, custard, fruit salad, trifles and more. What a feast to be spread before you out here, in the wilds of Tanzania! I don't think I ever had a better meal in Africa.
After lunch we continued across the green plateau, the countryside dotted with rustic houses of mud and sticks. The roofs were often thatched, with the occasional touch of "modern luxury"- corrugated metal. The people lived off the land here, with fields of maize and a few banana trees, and several brick-baking ovens making use of the clay soil. Ragged children came running out to the side of the road, waving their hands and calling out to us. Once when we were stopped for a moment one of the Australian girls produced some candies to hand out to a family of small children. There was a charming scene when the oldest boy, maybe seven years old, took the first candy and immediately gave it to his little sister, then let the others crowd in Only after everyone had one did he come up and hold out his hand for himself. Now that's the spirit of generosity, Ross! Ross? Wake up, Ross!
I noticed as we drove along that the Swahili word for school is "shule", from the German, another example of the polyglot nature of the language; Bantu, Arab, English and German words combined in a kind of East African Esperantd.
The plateau ended at the top of the Rift Valley wall, and we stopped there for a few minutes, a "Viewpoint Pause" as Dutch called it. A pedlar walked up to the truck and held out his hand to us, then opening his palm like a magician to display several cut stones of Tanzanite, a pretty pale blue semi-precious stone which is unique to the area. Barbara- or was it Heather?- bargained with him for a couple of them, while some of us walked off the road to the edge of the cliff.
We walked through the dry scrub and tall, sculptured termite nests, and stood on the edge of the sheer precipice. It dropped sharply down below us about two thousand feet, making for a fabulous "Viewpoint Pause", and we looked out over Lake Manyara National Park, where we would be camping tonight. The large blue lake was beautiful, spread across the floor of the Rift Valley, and a fire burned in the dry grasslands on the far side of it, a line of flames and white smoke stretching away in the distance.
"We had come down to the Rift Valley by a sandy red road across a high plateau, then up and down through orchard-bushed hills, around a slope of forest to the top of the rift wall where we could look down and see the plain, the heavy forest below the wall, and the long, dried-up edged shine of Lake Manyara rose-colored at one end with a half million tiny dots that were flamingoes."
(No flamingoes today.) At the bottom of the steep road of stones and dust, we drove by the gate of the park and stopped at the market in the town of Mto-wa-Mbu, which I later learned means "Mosquito River". I think we have one of those in northern Canada as well! Inevitably, Graceland came blasting out of the cab as we stopped.
Green Hills of Africa
The market area was very large, catering both to the local population and passing tourists as this road is on the main safari route from Nairobi and Arusha to Ngorongoro and the Serengeti. In fact there were two other big Bedford trucks stopping there at the same time, the people walking around in search of a good souvenir of their Tanzanian adventures.
There was a large area of small stalls, where the local entrepreneurs invited you in to look at their carvings, spears, beadwork, baskets, batik, goatskin shields, drums, shakers- that sort of thing. But unfortunately it was all strictly "tourist class", all imitations of the authentic Makonde carvings or Maasai beadwork. Simon and I walked around looking at it all, and he was now beginning to regret not having bought the beautiful ebony carving he had liked in Arusha. At the time he had objected to paying a fairly high price (at the place where "we don't bargain"), but now he could see that "you gets what you pays for". The good stuff cost more here too, just like anywhere else.
We walked around to the far side of the market, where the local trading was done. Though it was late in the day, and most of the business had probably been transacted in the early morning, there was stilt a large variety of bananas, mangos and other fruits, green vegetables and tomatoes. Men sat at treadle sewing machines mending old clothes, while others made carvings and women sat weaving the colorful baskets.
As we came around to the side facing the road there was a long line of local shops, called dukas; corrugated metal kiosks which offered things like soap, shortening, vegetable oil, toothpaste and children's aspirin. I was amused to see a "bike shop"; one of the dukas which was hung with bicycle wheels, tires, chains, ball bearings and miscellaneous tools. It was interesting that here as well the bicycles and parts were of Chinese manufacture, some with the Flying Pigeon trademark which I remembered from my visits to similar "bike shops" in that country.
As we sat in the truck waiting for the others I saw a tiny Subaru safari van pass by, the six occupants and their driver looking very cramped. I was glad my trip hadn't turned out to be like that. I was also thinking that if the safari I'd originally booked hadn't cancelled out on me, I wouldn't have taken this one and met all these good people. It's interesting how life's accidents, or synchronicities, can lead to situations like this. Thinking of Simon and I, two people living in different countries and with completely different livelihoods and lifestyles, signing up for a particular trip in Africa for a particular time when we could get away, and ending up by sharing a tent in Tanzania and becoming good friends almost immediately.
I looked at a group of Maasai women standing on the side of the road, dressed in their beautifully-dyed robes of colorful checks, their heads shaved, and many beaded and metal necklaces around their necks. Not only were their earlobes split open and stretched around decorative wooden plugs, but the tops of their ears were weighted down with heavy metal earrings. I noticed that as the girls grow up they are more heavily weighted down, until the upper ears are completely doubled over. Not very attractive to our western eyes, but the Morani (Maasai warriors) must like it!
Our campsite in the Lake Manyara National Park was very different from any of the others in which we had camped. First of all, here at the very bottom of the Rift Valley the vegetation is nourished by ground water, which I imagine collects and runs down the valley walls, and is not dependent at all on rainfall. In fact, this particular type of forest is called a Ground Water Forest, as opposed to a Rain Forest I suppose.
Our tents occupied a circular clearing, among very tall trees which were thick with leaves and vines. It had a real "Tarzan" look to it, especially with a bamboo shower enclosure in the shelter of the trees at one end. But the shower actually worked, and we were very glad to have the chance to rinse away more dust from the Serengeti, Olduvai and the road from Ngorongoro. All of our clothes were encrusted and permeated with brown dust too, and some people took this opportunity to rinse a few things out and hang them from their tentropes.
Before dinner we took a drive around the park, seeing a large troop of baboons along the narrow dirt road, the smaller babies clinging under their mothers, the larger ones riding up on Mom's back. It's interesting that baboons in East Africa are considered rather like raccoons are at home, as nuisance scavengers and nervy thieves.
There were giraffes and the beautiful caramel-colored Impalas browsing in the late afternoon light, and Simon and I were excited to see an African Fish Eagle perched above a stream right at the roadside. This is a beautiful big bird, looking a bit like a Bald Eagle with its noble white head, and this was the first one we had seen. The trees above us were full of nesting pelicans, so numerous that we had been able to see them from the top of the valley, and it seemed as if their droppings poisoned the trees in which they nested, as the branches around them were dead and bare. The sun was setting behind the wall of the Rift Valley to our left, we could see several elephants browsing up there, and the Baobab trees looked beautiful silhouetted against the dying light.
As we drove back in the dusk, we were suddenly in the middle of a herd of elephants crossing the road. Naturally we yielded the right of way- but one of the bigger ones took offence anyway, and turned to face us, ears flared in warning. Oh boy.
"Don't worry Mr Elephant- we'll be out of here right away- don't get mad!"
We heard a story that was supposed to have happened in this park, where an angry elephant charged one of these big trucks, ramming its tusks into the steel body and lifting the back wheels right off the ground. There was an apprentice driver at the wheel, and the main driver was yelling at him to: "Get it into four-wheel-drive! Get it into four-wheel-driver, and finally he managed to get the front wheels spinning in the dirt, and pulled the truck away from the elephant, two big holes remaining where its tusks had been impaled. That must have been an exciting moment for those in the truck!
It was interesting to notice that one of the herd had a badly misshapen leg, and to reflect on the highly-developed social behavior which would permit such a sadly handicapped individual to survive. Almost alone among animal species, elephants help each other when a member of the herd is sick or wounded, or when one is giving birth. Like the rhinos, the elephants have suffered severe depredations from poachers, having been reduced by as much as half in the last twenty years for their coveted tusks, as well as by the common problems of drought and loss of habitat.
And yet in the National Reserves in Kenya their numbers have to be "controlled", i. e. killed, to minimize the destruction of the landscape. I guess they're like big bulldozers roaming around the dwindling forests, smashing and uprooting trees. Messy eaters.
In the evening a pair of big white thicks pulled into the other campsite beside us. The make of them was MAN, Austrian I think, and they were very robust-looking, almost military, like something out of Raiders of the Lost Ark. There was a big black "NZ" painted on their austere whiteness, and sure enough, it was a group of New Zealanders, on a fifteen month journey from London, through all of Africa, and back again. Wow- what a trip!
And with another one of those synchronicities I was talking about, a young New Zealander on our truck, Fleur, met her friend and next-door neighbor from home traveling with the other group. Big Geoff went over to introduce himself to his fellow New Zealanders, and ask for any information they could give him about climbing Kilimanjaro, but they were having a group meeting, and the leader said he would drop by later.
I was thinking about what these people were in the midst of doing. Spending fifteen months roughing it around Africa with a group of other former strangers. (You'd certainly get to know each other.) There's no question that the trip would be a great experience, but I would find it hard to give up over a year of my life for something like that Too "goal-orientated" I suppose. I could see if you had been working for a lot of years, and had accomplished your goals already, you might want to get away from the world for a while. But to do something like that when you're still young and ambitious is alien to me. (If, I suppose, you are ambitious!) Even thinking back on the last fifteen months of my life, there's no way I'd trade all that I've done and seen for the sake of a single trip- however adventurous! And of course, if you're a young person on a trip like that, you're unlikely to be traveling on your own resources.
Murimirwo ni ithe ndoi indo iri bata
He who has his fields tilled by his father
does not know that things are precious.
After dinner we sat around the fire talking, serenaded by (of course) Paul Simon, and I saw Geoff get up and go over to meet a couple from the other camp. It was the leader of the New Zealand group and his girlfriend, and since I too was going up Kilimanjaro the following week, I asked if they'd mind if I listened in as well Geoff and I listened eagerly, glad to have someone to clear up the real nature of this undertaking for us. The Kiwi (I'll call him that because I don't remember his name) was a rather flabby and self-important fellow, perhaps in his late thirties, with glasses, a beard and a good-looking girlfriend. He gave us much to think about, telling us of the dangers of "altitude sickness", and some horrible-sounding thing called Pulmonary Oedema, a condition whereby you turn blue, bleed from the nose and ears, and die. Apparently it's like the opposite of the "bends" which afflicts divers at great depths.
He said that it's normal to have a headache and be vomiting (!), and to maybe have nosebleed, but if you get that other thing the porters have to race you down the mountain just as fast as they can, on a special stretcher with four bearers which rides on a motorcycle wheel. Wow. Sounds great. He advised us to try to make the climb in six days rather than five, to give an extra day on the mountain to acclimatize to the altitude.
He also said that near the top the guides were liable to try to discourage you from going all the way, so they wouldn't have to make the climb they'd done so many times before. Apparently they would tell you that you couldn't make it and should go back, but we were to remember that our minds would be playing tricks in the thin air, and that we were the ones paying for it, and to threaten "no tip" if they don't get you there.
All of this ran through my head in the night, leaving me not a little apprehensive about the seriousness of the undertaking I had signed up for so coolly. I saw myself being raced down the mountain on a stretcher, all blue and with blood coming out my ears. A person could get killed here! I mean, in the brochures they say "any reasonably fit person can make it", and "it's just like a long walk uphill", Those words would certainly return to haunt me, but so would the words of our Kiwi friend.
I didn't admit it to myself at the time, but he wasn't a very likeable person, delivering the Gospel According to Himself with a heavy quota of gratuitous obscenities, insensitive to any who might find it offensive.
And his advice would turn out to be exaggerated and sensationalized- calculated to thrill and impress his audience, rather than enlighten them. Only later did it occur to me that he was careful never to say whether he'd actually done the climb himself.
But I wouldn't be surprised to learn he had never been near the place!
Uhoro wa maitho ti wa ruthiomi.
What one sees with one's eyes is not what one hears from another's tongue.
7- lake duluti
Simon and I thought we had chosen a nice campsite, on a flat piece of ground under the tall trees and a little away from the others. The trouble was, some of the others thought it was nicer than the spots they'd chosen, and we soon had several very near neighbors set up beside us. We thought we'd chosen a "nice country place", only to find ourselves living on top of each other in condominiums!
This only became a problem during the night, when Simon and I were once more working diligently on the problems of the world. Through one of our rambling conversations, we encompassed his interest in the battlefields of World War 1, a discussion of the resentment of the Japanese by people who had fought against them during the Second World War, and a mutual disdain for- but interest in- religion and astrology. In discussing Christianity, we agreed that all the "good stuff" is to be found in the Old Testament- all the good stories, the miracles, the violence, the sex and the philosophy. Really, we decided, it had all been said by the Ten Commandments (or perhaps more realistically, the Ten Suggestions!), and had only been watered-down and sentimentalized later. The baboons barked and chattered their comments from the darkness outside our tent.
I told Simon my theory about the presence in an adult's face of the child they had been, a private game I like to play when looking at the face of a friend or a stranger. I have the idea that you can tell how much of the child is left in the adult by whether or not you can picture what they looked like as a little boy or girl. With some people it seems easy, where others are impossible to imagine, and I think it really tells something about them. Obviously one has to grow and change, but there should be something left of childlike innocence, joy, wonder, sensitivity, trust.
"Go to sleep Simon!"
It was Kathy's voice ringing out in the night from a neighboring tent- I guess she didn't know me well enough to yell at me!
And another voice from the other side, I think it was Iain, seconded the motion: "Hear hear!"
"Hmmph", I whispered, "Neighbors on top of us, thin walls- we've got to move to the country!" So we shut up, and let the world solve its own problems.
In the morning we took another drive around the park, though some of the group were already becoming bored with the "same old animals"; Wildebeest, zebras, buffalos, antelopes and elephants. All of the animals and birds remained exciting for me, and it was a thrill to park right beside a pair of baby jackals, who remained fearlessly looking at us as their nervous parents trotted away to keep watch from the distance. We had been hoping to see some of the famous "tree-climbing lions", and kept an eye on the trees, but never did see any. This is one of only two places in East Africa where lions are known to climb trees, and no one is really sure why, whether it's for a cool spot to sleep or a good place from which to hunt. Maybe both.
We got out of the truck at a river near the shore of the lake, to watch a great number of hippos lazing in the water, or at least the tops of them, and I was still hoping to see a whole one out of the water. Not today. The bird life around the water was fabulous; hundreds of egrets, cormorants, Marabou Storks, pelicans, Egyptian Geese and other shore birds.
Late in the morning we returned to camp for lunch, then loaded up the truck and headed back toward Arusha. We were retracing the route we had followed just a few days ago, though with all we had done and seen it now seemed like a long time ago. Then we had been strangers, a little lost in a strange land, but now we were companions, comfortable in a familiar environment.
Bouncing on the rough road across the dusty plains once more, back on the paved road for the last forty miles, and then into the crowded streets of Arusha we drove. We stopped in town for a while so Emmanuel could pick up some supplies, and sat waiting in the truck and watching the town go about its business. (And Graceland played on- we were really getting sick of that tape!)
Talking to Dutch the other night, it was funny to hear him say he didn't like Arusha because it was "too big". Though it's really quite a small city, only about 100,000 people, I guess when you're from a small village on the slopes of Kilimanjaro it would seem a very busy, noisy and crowded place.
We listened to the eerie song of the Imam calling the faithful to prayer from the mosque across the street, and I was moderately surprised to see a brand-new BMW and a Mercedes 190 parked beside us. Someone was making money here anyway. Two well-dressed "dudes" strolled by, and compared with the crowd through which they moved, their flashy clothes made them stand out like peacocks in a chicken run. I figured they must have been black marketeers, the most charitable possibility I could think of anyway.
This is another place, like China, where socialism has been imposed upon a people who are by nature very capitalistic. Bargaining and barter are a part of life here- even hitching a ride is a matter for which a fee will be negotiated in many parts of Africa, and "small business" entrepreneurs operate everywhere, on both sides of the law.
The other night around the campfire someone had asked Dutch if there were a lot of Indians in Arusha. "Oh yes", he replied, "too many!", and went on to tell us that they owned all the businesses; the shops as well as the industries. In North of South, Shiva Naipaul postulates the idea that many East Africans harbor a secret approval of Idi Amin's ousting of the "Asians" from Uganda, and this may help to explain why Tanzania was left holding a $500,000,000 bill after President Nyerere led the war which deposed Amin. He was forced to fight back when Ugandan forces began encroaching on Tanzania's borders, and ended up overrunning the country and attempting to sponsor a new elected government, though the leadership of Uganda still remains an uneasy balancing act.
Surprisingly, none of the other African countries nor the United Nations would help him in this crusade, an expensive enterprise which effectively wiped out Tanzania's reserves of foreign currency. This is a major reason why Tanzania remains one of the poorest countries in the world, and though Amin was certainly perceived internationally as the worst sort of dictator, no one seemed to be willing to help his deposer. Strange.
On the move again, we drove about twenty miles out of town to our campsite at Lake Duluti. This was a very different sort of campground, with a guard who opened the gates to a well-groomed, park-like place on the shores of a small lake. We set up our tents on the neatly-trimmed grass under tall trees, among several other groups of campers, and found there was even a bar on the lakeshore with showers and flush toilets- this is just too civilized!
This was the last day for some of the group, Geoff, lain and Alison were off tomorrow to start the Kilimanjaro climb, and the rest of us would be heading across the border to Kenya, so we would be saying goodbye to our crew as well. Simon and I exchanged addresses with Geoff, and we shared a bit of the single malt whisky which Simon had been jealously guarding all week.
I had foolishly volunteered to take up the collection from everybody to tip the crew, and wandered from tent to tent for that purpose, "cap in hand" as it were. Then I found myself sitting in our tent with a flashlight taped to the centre pole, which shone a beam of light down on a big pile of Tanzanian shillings and American dollars. I sharpened a metaphorical pencil, and went to work figuring out the exchange, and the percentages to be divided among Dutch, Emmanuel and Henry. Some of us were determined to help Dutch got enough money for his toolbox, and many people gave very generously for that purpose. We were sorry to say goodbye to them now, having just got to know them a little bit, and I think everyone had grown fond of the three, hard-working Tanzaaians.
Val from Tracks and her son Joe met us here too, and distributed forms which everybody was to fill in stating their comments and complaints about the safari. One of the most common disappointments we expressed was not having camped on the floor of the Ngorongoro Crater, which we blamed on having left so late the first day. Val told us that in spite of what the brochures and itineraries said, there had never been any intention to camp there, as it cost about $30 a person to do so, and it was a lot cheaper to stay up at Simba Camp on the crater rim. Naturally we said that having come all this way, we wouldn't have quibbled about spending a bit extra for such an experience, but it was academic now.
Any other complaints were pretty trivial; that the overhead racks in the truck should have some kind of netting over them, to prevent the raining-down of articles upon our heads on the rough roads, and that one of the seats in the truck was broken and uncomfortable.
Having weathered the trials of sorting out the money for the crew, I talked Simon into giving the presentation speech, in which he expressed our thanks, our good wishes, and Janne's generous donation of the Graceland cassette to the crew's limited collection. Certainly none of us wished to hear that album for a long, long time (If indeed, ever again!)
After dinner we gathered in the bar, a small open pavilion right on the shore of the lake, and used up the last of our Tanzanian money buying drinks for the crew and each other. You were not allowed to take any shillings out of the country, so now was the time to get rid of them. As we sat at the long tables with out drinks, Val was telling me that Lake Duluti is actually a crater, which has been filled by underground springs. Out behind it begins a wild area called the Maasai Steppe, a trackless bush country through which she once traveled with some friends in a Land Rover. There are no roads at all, and they followed cattle tracks, hiring Maasai guides when they were really lost, to lead them to towns where they could get their bearings. Sounds good to me!
After a while I took a walk along the shore, looking out over the lake in the bright moonlight and enjoying a haunting night concert from the frogs and insects. I recorded a few minutes of this African night on my tape recorder, and tried a couple of times to track down the source of these songs, zoning in on one voice and peering under logs and among the reeds with my flashlight, but I could never find one.
I sat down on an overturned boat and lit a forbidden cigarette I had borrowed, figuring I could allow myself the indulgence on this night of celebration. I was thinking about the country of Tanzania and its problems. Since achieving independence in the early 'sixties, President Julius Nyerere has evolved a kind of "paternal socialism" for his one-party government, which has often put the country at odds with the surrounding capitalist nations. In fact the border between Kenya and Tanzania was closed for six years, between 1977 and 1983, over a dispute about the equity of a partnership between the two countries and Uganda. These days they maintain an uneasy peace, but the border is open.
In spite of some disastrous early experiments in land and population redistribution, Nyerere seems to remain a very well-respected leader, within his country as well as around Africa and the world. He even has intellectual and artistic credentials, having translated some of Shakespeare's plays into Swahili. Certainly his official portrait, which adorns every place of business (by law here as well as in Kenya- to remind you of who's really boss I guess!), radiates a kindly, avuncular warmth directly into the camera, in contrast to the ones of President Daniel Moi of Kenya, who gazes sternly away from you- into the glorious future, one presumes.
On the dark side however, Nyerere tolerates no dissent, controls all the newspapers and media, and in "elections" he was always the only candidate. Until 1979 he actually held more political prisoners than South Africa, though he did release over ten thousand of them in the next couple of years.
Val gave me some insight into the white community here as well, talking about the cliques they inevitably form. There is one group composed of the "aid" people, enjoying the luxuries provided by their foreign governments, and the expatriate teachers forming a kind of intellectual elite, and then the former colonial people who have been here since before independence, most of them in their sixties and seventies now and set in their ways. They were allowed to keep their farms, though now of course they must sell their produce to the government at fixed prices rather than on the free market. That would explain why a place like Gibb's Farm supplements its coffee income with the restaurant and guest houses. I guess the safari people are kind of the mavericks, on the outside of these cliques. Val was telling me of the small scandal she created by bringing a friend of hers, a black teacher, to one of the "white social functions".
I heard a story about one of the other groups finding a scorpion crushed in the folds of their tent as they unpacked it, and I unrolled and checked the inside of my sleeping bag extra carefully tonight. Once again, sometimes you need a little reminder of exactly where you are.
I heard Simon come in about midnight, leaving some of the party still carousing over at the bar, their conversation and laughter carrying in the night air. Our tent was right beside the main gate, and I heard the diesel clatter of the trucks and Land Rovers coming and going throughout the night. A group of locals had a very long and loud discussion in Swahili sometime after I fell asleep- their turn to "save the world" I guess. All this was a big contrast to the night sounds we'd grown used to- the baboons last night, or the lions and hyenas on previous nights.
I was kind of excited about the changes tomorrow would bring, crossing the border into Kenya, a new truck, a new crew and a new country for a few days. Then I too would be leaving the group early, flying back to Tanzania for the Kilimanjaro climb. I must admit to feeling a little nervousness about that already.
Things were supposed to be a lot more organized and "developed" in Kenya, and I wondered how different it would be. Had we known what we were in for in the next few days, we would certainly not have bothered complaining to Val about Tracks in Tanzania- not a word would have been spoken about misleading brochures, or trivialities like the lack of netting in the overhead racks, or the discomforts of the back seat!
The unfavoured may eventually be valued.
8- between two worlds
A light rain was falling when I emerged from the tent in the early morning. I put on a plastic shell and walked through the wet grass over to the fire. I noticed that the crew were walking around with their pant legs rolled up, and I soon discovered the reason for this. I felt a sharp pain on my ankle, and pulled up my own pant leg to see a couple of ants feasting there. Brushing them away and baring both my legs, I looked around to see thousands of them filing around in the grass.
These would be the Siafu- safari ants, of which I had read nightmarish reports. Beryl Markham wrote: "Siafu don't just sting- they bite chunks out of you. Within a few hours a normal, healthy horse, if he is unable to escape his stable, can be killed and half-eaten by even a reserve division of Siafu."
Alan and Carol came over to the fire as well, apologizing for having disturbed anyone during the night. They had been awakened about 4:00 AM by the presence of hundreds of these biting ants inside their tent, and I guess it had been quite a job getting rid of them all. Soon everyone was doing a strange dance around the fire, stamping their feet and brushing their legs, and worst of all- finding these painful pests wandering inside their clothes.
We said a last goodbye to Geoff, lain, Alison, Emmanuel and Henry, and the remainder of our group drove off with Dutch to Arusha. We would be picking up Val, Joe and a friend of Val's at the Tracks house to give them a ride as far as the border, as they were on their way to Nairobi. We were supposed to meet with a truck from the Kenyan side, then travel to Amboseli National Park to spend the night. This park sounded like a beautiful place, at the foot of Kilimanjaro, and on a clear day the mountain was said to make a fabulous backdrop for the animals. We would never know.
We drove along the Arusha road once again, the same one we had taken that first day coming from the airport. How different a place looks when you've seen enough to put it into a context. Now we could appreciate the lushness of the vegetation here in the shadow of Mount Meru; the banana trees, the flame trees, and the lilac clouds formed by the flowering Jacaranda trees which grow over the streets of Arusha. I learned from Janne that these pretty trees are in reality South American in origin, and have been widely planted in Australia as well.
Janne was also telling me that she had the opportunity to meet some of the other safari groups last night, and that their "interpersonal relations" hadn't been as enjoyable as ours Apparently there had been many little causes of friction, like people filling the inside of their truck with so much personal junk that no one could move, and thoughtless people causing "international incidents" by trying to sneak photographs of the real Maasai, whose beliefs forbade it. She was also telling me about an unpopular lady on one of the previous trips she had been on, whom they had called the "traction mat"- if they got stuck in the mud it was her who was going under the wheels!
We had another insight into Tanzanian life as we drove all around Arusha- from one petrol station to another- looking for one that had some diesel fuel! In a place where almost every vehicle is powered by diesel, this is a serious problem. I was reading in Africa on a Shoestring that if you're traveling by bus in Tanzania you should be prepared for delays caused by fuel shortages, and now I could see why. After visiting about six stations we finally found some fuel (and every time we stopped, Graceland wafted back from the cab), and we were off to the Tracks house.
It was a nice modern bungalow in a suburban area, with a large garage and parking area for the safari trucks. I noticed that they seemed to have a security guard on duty, and many of the nicer houses around Arusha were surrounded by high walls with barbed wire and broken glass set into them.
Joe had been telling me about some of the pets they had in the house, and invited me and a few of the others inside to see them. Stewart, the young English Operations Manager whom we had met the first day, had a fondness for snakes, and there was a huge cage built in the front room to house his seven-foot python. Whoa! The python is ordinarily a rare and retiring creature, but Stewart had rescued this one from a grass fire when he was on safari, and had brought it home as a pet.
I was very impressed with Ross's bravery, when he let Stewart wrap the giant reptile around his neck- Ross figuring that Stewart wouldn't have let him do it if it wasn't safe. Trusting soul! I wanted to get a picture of this, but was afraid the flash might cause a reflex tightening around Ross's neck. Stewart assured me it was okay. In another cage Joe showed me their pet Bushbaby, a possum-like nocturnal mammal, and Stewart also had a couple of Night Adders in a terrarium in his room. Just your average household- Val and Joe, Stewart and his girlfriend, a python, a Bushbaby and a couple of adders!
We climbed aboard the truck and continued our journey, the lushness of Arusha soon giving way to the dry grasslands, the bony cattle and goats scratching their food from the sparse vegetation. It was a cool overcast morning, and moving rapidly along the well-paved road made it quite cold in the open back. I was fortunate enough to find an empty seat beside Simon in the sheltered front row, and we started talking together, as usual, the most comfortable of companions now.
We saw a few zebras and gazelles, and a lone male ostrich. The majestic white dome of Kilimanjaro appeared above the clouds for a while, its ethereal beauty giving rise to mixed feelings of excitement and apprehension in me. There was no weakening of my resolve, I really wanted to get up there- I just didn't want to die doing it!
After a couple of hours Joe pointed out the border ahead, a cluster of buildings among some low brown hills. First stop- Customs, Immigration and Currency Control for Tanzania. President Nyerere smiles warmly down on you as you stand in line to fill out a form, hand it in and have your passport stamped, then join another line to have your exchange papers checked. Like petty bureaucrats everywhere, the officers project a stern demeanor, aloof, all-knowing and wearing every ounce of their little powers. They didn't even look at the currency forms, just had us put them in a pile on the desk. Then it was outside to unload all the luggage from the truck, drag it inside and stand in another line. This time I never even knew I'd been cleared- I just looked down and suddenly there was a pink chalkmark on my pack- he got me when I wasn't looking!
And now we entered "No Man's Land". This is a zone about a kilometre wide between the two countries, which is packed with tumbledown buildings, and has an atmosphere rather like a big "jumble sale". Rows of market stalls and dukas line both sides of the road, selling a pretty unexciting selection of clothes, shoes and household goods, with brightly-colored plastic pails and such-like from China. There were many Maasai women selling jewelry on the street; metal earrings, beadwork necklaces and elephant hair bracelets. The town, if town it is, is called Namanga.
At the other end of this "nowhere place" were the buildings housing the Kenyan authorities. We went through the same formalities once again, only this time under the stern countenance of Kenya's President Daniel Moi, looking away into that glorious future.
A big fat Indian man shoved his way past the lineup at the Currency Control counter. (Simon, who knows about such things, later told me he was a Sikh). He was very tall and wide, his vast bulk pushing us all up against the counter as he passed. Turbaned, well-dressed and neatly-bearded with shiny white teeth, he stood in front of the officer smiling and talking, while he placed a few banknotes on the counter. As he turned and squeezed past us again, I saw the officer lay his hand flat over the money and transfer it without expression to the pocket of his shirt. I could hardly believe what I had seen, but others saw it too- you couldn't help it, it was so openly done.
Now we just had to wait for the truck to arrive from Nairobi. We pooled our few remaining shillings and went next door to the "Lucky" restaurant, a primitive and grubby arrangement of tables and chairs offering Indian snacks and soft drinks. There was a window looking into the kitchen, but to look too closely was perhaps a mistake. We fearlessly enjoyed as many sambusas and the doughnut-like mandazis as we could afford, washed down with warm Fanta.
There was no place to exchange money here, so we couldn't buy any Kenyan money. You weren't allowed to take any Tanzanian money out of the country so we'd spent all that. And so it was that at this moment we became effectively broke.
Val, Joe and their friend soon left us, hiring a taxi to take them on to Nairobi. There were some resentful suggestions that she should wait with us until our truck showed up, but she assured us it would be along any time now, and they've never been more than two hours late. Uh-huh. My travel agent had told me she was reluctant to recommend Tracks to me because she had once had an elderly client stranded for five days at this border. Five days? I looked around me in disbelief. There was nowhere to stay, or even to camp, you'd have to sloop in the dirt at the side of the road, and live on sambusas and mandazis every day. If you had any money to pay for them! It seemed impossible.
So we settled ourselves in the truck to wait. At least Dutch and the truck were still here, though neither of them had the papers to enter Kenya. Maasai women gathered around the truck six and seven at a time, holding their trinkets up in front of us and waving them around as they screamed unintelligibly. It soon became annoying, and we agreed that if anyone was interested in buying anything, they should do it away from the truck. Well- most people agreed.
I tried to get comfortable laying across that broken back seat, and picked up reading The Moon and Sixpence again. Maybe I could retreat from these hot, dusty and noisy surroundings into the Eden of turn-of-the-century Tahiti. Simon and Barbara- or was it Heather?- played Scrabble on one of those portable boards, and Day laid down on the seat in front of me and went to sleep. Other people talked or read, or walked around through this unprepossessing neutral zone (one more time).
After two hours of waiting, the Maasai still continued harassing us, though we'd learned to ignore them. One young man in western clothes tapped me on the foot which was hanging over the edge of the truck as I lay there reading. He wanted to know if I would trade my glasses, my T-shirt, my shoes, my watch- anything for the junky jewelry he was selling. The only Swahili negative I knew was hapana, perhaps not exactly the right negative, but it got the message across, and this soon became a kind of mantra as everybody took it up and recited it again and again to all the persistent hawkers.
Hapana! Hapana! Go 'way! Take a hike! Hapana! Hapana! Get lost! Sod off!
After four hours, there were strings of laundry draped across the inside of the truck, as people decided to make use of this waiting time to finish drying their clothes. Spirits were low, everyone wondering when we ought to give up, and what we ought to do. The heat, discomfort and the uncertainty were beginning to get me down, and I was starting to feel pretty lousy, headachy and weak. Probably just malaria or yellow fever, I decided. I finished the Maugham book, my spirits cheered by the vivid description of the hero's horrible death from leprosy.
"What the hell should we do, we wondered.
I was glad I had only a backpack to worry about, deciding in my own mind that I would give tip-before too long and head for Nairobi myself, if the others were determined to wait into the night. Looking around, I doubted if anyone would- it didn't look like the sort of place one would willingly choose to spend the night, especially in an open truck. Even our tents had been left behind- at Lake Duluti, so we were definitely on our own. At least there were fourteen of us- safety in numbers.
Dutch came back sporting new trousers and shoes. I'd thought he'd looked especially disreputable: that morning, and there'd been a reason. It was so he could throw the old stuff away when he went back, just as teenagers used to do at home when they went across the border to Buffalo to buy the more fashionable clothes available there. Some of our tip money was going to good use, I hoped he would still be able to get his toolbox.
By 5:00 we had been waiting five and a half hours. In another hour it would be getting dark, and we decided to take our destinies into our own hands. Ross and Grahame had gamely been trying to phone someone- anyone- from a phone box on the Kenyan side, but had not been able to reach anyone. Now we planned to hire a couple of taxis and head for Nairobi on our own. The only problem was, we still didn't have any money. I resolved never again to travel without a reserve of US dollars at all times, but for now we'd have to get them to take us to a hotel where we could change some money and pay them. There was no knowing if they'd go along with that idea, but we wouldn't mention that detail if we didn't have to.
The commonest kind of taxi in East Africa is the matatu, usually one of those small Japanese pickup trucks with a box over the back, which waits in a particular spot until it is full, and then crams a few more people inside, a few more bundles on top, and finally departs. We had thought we would hire two of these, but the first driver was firm in the conviction that we only needed one. Even with Dutch as interpreter he remained adamant- I guess he was determined not to share the fare with another driver. Cheryl took care of the negotiating on our side, and a large crowd gathered around us as she loudly harangued the driver, and made sure again and again that the agreed-upon price was the absolute and final one. Her strident voice and Australian accent cowed the luckless driver as she ensured one more time that the price included the luggage as well. She was magnificent, and the crowd loved it!
The driver backed his matatu up to the rear of the truck, and we transferred all of our luggage and sleeping bags to be tied onto its roof. We agreed that Ray and Day should go up front with the driver, showing respect for our elders, and began fitting the rest of us into the back. There was a simple bench on each side, onto which eleven of us had to squeeze, while the twins took turns sitting on a sleeping-bag in the middle. It was a close fit, wedged in tightly side to side, and our knees had to be intermeshed like gears. Since Grahame and I were squeezed into the back, we were detailed to watch for luggage falling off of the roof, which was difficult because I had to bend over just to see out of the window, not to mention the fact that it was growing dark. Others were detailed to keep a lookout for a safari truck that might remotely be looking for us. It must be admitted, we were working well together!
It was only a couple of hours' drive to Nairobi, but crammed and uncomfortable in that tiny box the ride seemed interminable. The overladen little truck was at the bottom of its suspension travel, and it was a rough journey. The matatu drivers have a terrible reputation for dangerous driving, the guidebooks describing them as only for those "with nerves of steel and hefty life insurance." I was to read many stories in the newspapers describing horrible accidents involving matatus- but I didn't know that then, and thus didn't know enough to be afraid! Our driver raced along through the darkness, sometimes driving for miles on the wrong side of the road- to miss the potholes, Ray and Day told us later.
The closeness of the box and the violent bouncing were making my headache and nausea worse every minute. I was feeling pretty bad now, and I was glad to see the bright lights of Nairobi up ahead, glimmering in the blackness. As we joined up with the main highway coming in from Mombasa, the road became a four-lane highway into the city. It seemed so strange to be driving past tall modern buildings, along lighted streets with curbs and sidewalks and traffic. Though we'd only been out for eight days, those days had been so full, so rich, and so engrossing that it seemed like a lifetime. The bush country had left its mark on me.
We pulled up in front of the Excelsior hotel, the one described on the information sheet as the "Tracks hotel". I jumped out and ran in to see if there were rooms available for us, while the driver went to find a parking place. It took the desk clerk about ten minutes to figure it out, but eventually they found us seven double rooms, and I ran to tell the others to "come on in!". My head was pounding, I ached all over and felt very nauseous, looking around to see where I could be sick if I had to. I could see no public washrooms in the lobby, and supposed I'd have to go puke in the street. Great.
The first thing I had to do was change some money to pay off the matatu, which turned into about a fifteen-minute operation, then I gave them my credit card and passport and got us all registered. That was another fifteen or twenty minutes. I concentrated on keeping my head clear enough to get this done, so I could get to a room and lie down.
Eventually I was able to give everyone their room keys, and we agreed to meet in Simon's and my room in fifteen minutes, to decide on a course of action. I shouldered my pack and went to walk up the two flights of stairs to our room, only to find a locked iron gate barring the stairs to the second floor. When I asked the security guard how to open it, he said; "Oh no, this gate is locked for the night. You must take the lift."
Now, I prefer to avoid elevators in places like this; and for good reason. Why, only the week before, the power had gone out in the whole city of Nairobi for four hours, (especially embarrassing for Kenya, as it was during the Pan-African Games), and I sure didn't fancy the idea of spending four hours trapped in a shoebox-sized elevator. When I asked him; "What do you do if there's a fire?", he seemed- or pretended- not to understand, and I gave up and went down to take the elevator. I was feeling too lousy to argue, and too lousy to care if the elevator stopped or not.
The room, like the hotel, was a little on the seedy side. It was fairly large, with a bedroom and a sitting room, but it was dingy, the walls a dirty white and in need of paint. The windows were cracked, the upholstery patched with tape, and the paint was peeling off in strips in the bathroom- though at least there was a bathroom! I took it as a good omen that there was a print over the beds of a herd of Thomson's Gazelles- our mascots!
The others soon began to gather for the "summit meeting", telling us it was a good thing the meeting was in our room, as theirs were about half the size. Maybe because I did the registering they gave me the "group leader's" room, I don't know.
Ross and Grahame had managed to get a message through to Stewart back in Arusha, though there was no knowing what good that might do. We also left a message at the front desk for anyone who might be looking for us. We decided we would have to wait until morning, and if we hadn't heard anything by then some of us would go over to the Tracks office, and the others would take turns keeping watch in the lobby. There was nothing else we could do.
All of this decided and agreed upon among our now very unified group, everyone decided to find something to eat, but I didn't feel very hungry. I'd taken a couple of Tylenols, but still felt pretty bad, and just wanted to go to bed. I wished them all goodnight, and when they had gone I climbed into the strange feeling of a real bed with a mattress and sheets. And a pillow- all week I'd been resting my head on a folded-up towel and sleeping on the ground.
Equally strange was the sound of raucous music coming up from the hotel bar, instead of the sound of baboons, lions and hyenas; and the glare of the city lights through the window, instead of the stars and moon of the African night.
Then there was the feeling of being ill and stranded in this dingy hotel in Nairobi, with no idea of what was going on, no idea of what we would do, or where we would go tomorrow.
Matuku ti ma kiumia.
Not all days are Sundays.
The other side is dark.
9- abdul's unlucky day
Though I slept well, I woke to find my head still throbbing, which began to worry me. A headache is rare enough for me, but I've never had one persist into the next day. So I lay there in the grey morning light in this dingy room imagining all the terrible diseases I probably had. After all those needles too.
For more than a month before I came on this trip I was like the "human pincushion", with a series of vaccinations every week against cholera, tetanus, yellow fever, typhoid, hepatitis- why, one week I had four at once- one in each arm, one in the buttocks, and an oral one down the throat! I couldn't possibly have caught anything- if a bug bit me it would get sick! I had taken my malaria pills every Monday for two weeks before leaving, and then every Monday since. The first page of my notebook read "MALARIA PILLS MONDAY!!", and we had all been reminding each other of our "Malaria Days" all week.
I seemed to remember reading one of the brochures about these "bad bad diseases" where one of the symptoms stated "if the headache persists", it means you have- ? What? I couldn't remember. Something terrible. Great. What have I got? I saw myself turning yellow and delirious, having to be flown home immediately- or worse, spending weeks in an African hospital, feverish and weakly fighting off those deadly blood transfusions.
I went down to the hotel dining room for breakfast, hoping that might make me feel better. It was nice to have orange juice to start, which just about made a meal when combined with a vitamin pill, a couple of Tylenols, and two big white malaria pills. (Yes, it was Monday- my Malaria Day!) But I wasn't too full to enjoy some cereal with real milk, some proper toast and jam, and the final treat- fresh pineapple, my favorite fruit.
I met a few of the others having breakfast, and learned that Carol had been suffering last night as well. It was stomach trouble in her case, probably a souvenir of the "Lucky" restaurant, but she was feeling a little better today. Ross and Grahame had received a phone call at 4 AM from one of the other drivers, who had been bringing in another tour group. He told them he had seen our driver provisioning yesterday afternoon, which seemed pretty strange because it had been Sunday afternoon, and also because he was supposed to have picked us up yesterday morning. But Grahame, Ross and Simon were going straight down to the Tracks office, hopefully to get things sorted out.
I had to book myself a hotel for later in the week, when I would be back here on my way to Kilimanjaro, so I went out on the streets as well. Nairobi is a large city, about a million people, and the streets are modern and bustling with traffic and pedestrians. Concrete, glass and steel; banks, offices, highrise hotels, airlines, oil companies, multinationals- all the enterprises of the western world are represented here. The sidewalks are lined with shoeshine stands and souvenir-sellers, some with stalls and others just strolling pedlars offering carvings, batik and jewelry.
After looking at the modern Intercontinental and Hilton hotels, I decided on the venerable New Stanley, which had a bit of atmosphere and a good location. After booking myself a room, I walked into the bookstore beside the hotel. I'm a sucker for bookstores anywhere, they have some kind of a magnetic attraction that forces me inside. I had to laugh at myself one morning at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, when, with only a couple of hours to look at one of the greatest art collections in North America, I found myself dawdling over the bookstand.
I picked up one of the local newspapers, the Kenya Times, and the guidebook Africa on a Shoestring. I had looked at Ray and Day's copy, and knew from my trip to China that the Lonely Planet guidebooks are interesting and informative. Then I thought I'd better get back to the Excelsior and see if there was any news on our fate.
A couple of the girls were "on watch" in the lobby, but there was no news, and Simon, Ross and Grahame hadn't returned yet. I went back up to the room and settled in to wait. We had decided we would hold onto at least one room until we knew what was happening. I was glad to notice that my headache was abating- maybe I didn't have a horrible disease after all. That was close.
I started reading a copy of the Tanzanian Daily News which Geoff had given me in Arusha yesterday. There were stories about chimpanzees being smuggled out of Tanzania for AIDS research, and a tragedy in a South African gold mine with fifty miners trapped underground. What a horrible thing that would be.
There was an interesting story about stowaways from Tanzania escaping to Mozambique. Eight of them had been sent back, and four of those had escaped en route. It seems as if there's a pattern of that, a stream of people trying to get out of Tanzania, rather like Chinese people escaping into Hong Kong or Macao. This piqued my curiosity, as it seemed to illustrate a lot about conditions of life there.
There was also a story about slavery in the Sudan, with members of one tribe being used as slaves by another. And a story telling of six people who have been killed by animals recently in a place called Kibaha. Apparently they were killed by lions and hippos, surprisingly the two most common "man-killers". I guess it's a big mistake to get between a hippo and the water! But on the other hand, sixty-two wild animals have been killed by game officials there. Humans 62- Animals 6.
Then there's the one about- The farmers in the Sierra Leone are going back to ox power, having found mechanized farm power "costly to run and difficult to maintain". But in order for them to return to the old ways, they first have to relearn the skills of their ancestors. I guess so! What a world we live in.
Ray and Day came by to drop off their luggage in our room. They were off on a mission to recover some Kenyan money they'd had confiscated at Nairobi airport on their way down to join this trip. Unaware of the restrictions against taking Kenyan money out of the country, they had innocently declared it to the officer- and had had it taken away. I was mildly surprised that they actually did get it back- though not without a considerable amount of bureaucratic time and trouble.
I continued reading in the newspapers and guidebooks, picking up a lot of interesting information. For instance, I had been growing very curious about the Swahili word uhuru, which seemed to appear everywhere in Tanzania and Kenya; as the name of streets and highways, in the papers, as the name of Kilimanjaro's highest peak, and I even knew it as the name of a reggae band, Black Uhuru. Now I learned that it means freedom, independence, or autonomy.
Kenya had won its Uhuru in 1963, when Jomo Kenyatta became the first president. He seems to have been a far-sighted man; even after having been exiled and imprisoned for eleven years for his part in the "Mau Mau" rebellions of the 'fifties, he swallowed his bitterness and encouraged the white settlers to stay in Kenya after independence, thereby maintaining the economic base on which to build a new and relatively prosperous country. He died in 1978, and many streets, buildings and the International Airport are named after him. He was succeeded by his Vice President, Daniel arap Moi, whose deadly-serious portrait is seen wherever you go.
The origins of the Rastafarian "dreadlocks" can also be found in old pictures of the self-styled "generals" and "field-marshals" of the freedom-fighters during the Mau Mau Rebellion, who let their long warriors' braids grow wild while they fought in the hills of Kenya.
And I learned that Nairobi was first founded as recently as 1899, as the construction headquarters for the British-built railway between the coastal city of Mombasa and Uganda. This ambitious undertaking was begun in 1896, and took six years and five million pounds to complete. It was strange to see an old photograph of the tented city on the empty plains which spawned this metropolis.
And from the "Did You Know?" file: Slavery was abolished in the British territories in 1807, but it was not until 1873 that the slave market in Zanzibar was finally closed, and the black market continued until 1907, when the last slaves in the area were emancipated.
I went down to the hotel restaurant for lunch, to find a nice smorgasbord spread out on the long tables. How very civilized! We had decided to continue charging all our meals to the rooms, in the hope that Tracks were going to pick up the tab- the least they could do, we figured. I met Janne there and we talked together for a while as others came in to join us.
Simon, Ross and Grahame returned at last, and with good news. They had actually talked to the people at the Tracks office, who claimed they had never received confirmation of our safari, nor the all-important money with which to provision for it, and had just assumed it was cancelled. Yes, they assumed it was cancelled. There had been no communication between the head office in England and Tracks in Tanzania or Kenya. No letters, telegrams, telexes, telephone calls or anything- they just assumed.
But they promised to put together something for us today, and we were to be picked up this afternoon to drive to Lake Naivasha. Naturally we were a little dubious at this point, and taking no chances and nothing for granted. We decided to wait in the lobby all right, but hold onto our room and leave the luggage in it.
But sure enough, about two o'clock a red-bearded young man, a New Zealander, came into the lobby, and told us our truck was waiting down the street. He paid me for the matatu fare from Namanga, and said he would take care of the hotel bill, including the meals. We dared to get excited now, and ran to collect our bags and get aboard. I stopped at the front desk to tell the girl that the bill was being handled by Tracks, and to snatch my credit card slip out of her hand and tear it up. She didn't like that idea very much, but I was taking no chances with this either, and destroyed it before she could protest.
The truck was about a block away, another big Bedford, only white this time instead of pink, and we spent some time putting our luggage aboard and waiting for Ron, the red-bearded tour leader. The girl from the front desk didn't seem to trust Tracks any more than we did, as she came running out to demand that someone look after this bill before we went anywhere. To mollify her, Simon went back inside to wait with her until Ron returned. We met our driver, Abdul, a tall and genial young man, whose features as much as his name told of his Arab blood.
After another half hour or so, Simon and Ron came back to the truck, and Ron climbed inside with us to explain the situation. He told us about the lack of communication, and that he had thrown this whole thing together in a morning. He was sending us off to Lake Naivasha with the crew, while he finished up the organizing and provisioning here in Nairobi, and would join us there tomorrow.
We were excited to be on safari again. (Safari, by the way, means 'to travel' in Swahili.) Spirits were high as we drove out of the city, and conversation buzzed in the open truck. Simon and I were sitting together at the back, rattling on as usual. He knows about a lot of things which I don't, and vice versa, so our conversations could be very enlightening. He was filling me in on some interesting background to the history of Israel, and we talked about Lawrence of Arabia, and the Aga Khan, then jumped across time and space to the Scots settling in Ireland, and Bonnie Prince Charlie. Alan and Carol were sitting in the seat in front of us, and being Scots they could offer some interesting facts on those last themes, and being doctor and nurse, they added some knowledge and insight to our discussions on health and nutrition. When you're theorizing and debating, it's always good to have an expert for two) on hand.
Since the cab is crowded even with three inhabitants, they had installed the fourth member of the team in the back with us, and he slouched in the middle of the front row, which faced rearwards. He was a silent and grubby-looking individual, and I noticed that his neighbors were both always turned the other way. The reason for this turned out to be the powerful stench which surrounded him like an aura, repelling any attempts at communication. I never got his real name, he might have been one of the two Charlies, but he was soon christened "Smelly".
During all this time we had been climbing steadily, the road continuing to rise before us. The surroundings were pretty, the green and fertile highlands which had attracted the first settlers to this area. It was amazing to see the differences between Kenya and Tanzania. Things like sidewalks, power lines, traffic lights, good roads, modern concrete overpasses, the great number of trucks and private cars, nice buildings and suburban houses were a striking indicator of the relative wealth of this country. We truly had been "between two worlds" yesterday.
The truck slowed down suddenly, went silent and coasted to the side of the road. I wondered what was up, and looked out to see an evil-smelling cloud of white smoke pouring from the engine. Oh boy, more fun- we had only made it about ten miles! This truck didn't look that old, but it was obviously pretty tired. If you looked over the side you could see that the rear wheels went down the road a foot or so to the right of the front wheels, and the rear springs were absolutely flat. A trickle of diesel fuel leaked continually from the tank. It was definitely a beat-up old machine they'd exhumed for us.
And now it was dead.
The four people who had been sent with us climbed out slowly and stood around looking at this incomprehensible machine, but our group knew how to swing into action! Like a well-trained military unit, a bunch of us hopped out, put some stones behind the rear wheels, and three volunteers walked off to find a telephone to get some help sent out- like, now. We no longer had any patience for African Time.
The three scouts returned with rather vague expectations, and Abdul decided to give it another try now that the engine had had some time to cool. I must admit I was surprised when the engine rattled into life, but we were off down the busy road once more- for a few miles anyway. Another cloud of white smoke came billowing out, and we rolled off the road again, the passing trucks honking at our lack of consideration.
Once again we blocked the wheels, and a detail was sent off in search of another telephone. This time they took Abdul with them, in case he could be helpful as a translator. They were gone for quite a while, and I took a walk along the roadside to pass the time. It was a pretty area, fields of green corn, plenty of trees and grass, and the view back toward Nairobi looked almost Italian, green and hazy with neat columns of Italian cypress rising here and there in the distance.
When the scouts returned, they were sure we had a couple of vans on the way to rescue us, so we settled down to wait once again. We'd been doing a lot of waiting lately. It started to get chilly as the sun descended, and we put down one of the side curtains to keep the cool wind out. We were certainly well put-out with Tracks in Kenya by now, and we laughed over the trivial complaints we'd made about the Tanzanian company. How happy we'd be now to have Dutch, Emmanuel and Henry, and that big pink truck- never mind the broken seat! It was ironic that the company in Tanzania should be so much better organized and equipped than their counterpart in the infinitely more modernized Kenya.
After a couple of hours had passed, Abdul announced that he was going to drive us into a town.
But why?", we protested, "Shouldn't we just stay here? How will the rescuers find us?"
Somehow he evaded these seemingly-reasonable questions, saying only that "it would be better" if we drove to a town, "in case you want to buy some chewing gum or something". Chewing gum? Is this guy crazy or are we?
But it was pointless to argue. There was such a language problem between us and them, as only one of the four spoke English at all well, and he wasn't even in the crew- just a friend they'd brought along for the ride. So once again the engine rattled into life, and off we drove into the darkness. We turned off the main road, and entered a small town where we pulled into the gas station, an island of bright light in darkest Africa. We were all extremely bored with "having adventures" by now, and really just wanted to get somewhere. Two days of flailing around like this was getting a bit tiresome.
An empty medium-sized bus appeared beside us at the fuel pumps, whether summoned accident I will never know. It may have been Divine Intervention; somebody was probably praying by now. With the interpretive help of Abdul and his friend, we managed to make a deal with the driver to take us to Lake Naivasha, and began transferring everything from the truck to the bus.
The bus itself was a thing of fantasy. The pale yellow paint was covered with an Abstract Expressionist rainbow of multi-colored stripes and zigzags. The only word I can think of for it is 'lurid', though perhaps 'psychedelic' applies as well There was a sign on the front: "TRADE MARK MWANGAZA", which means 'light' or 'brightness', and this bus was certainly brightness exemplified. The inside was a dizzying blend of varied patterns of linoleum on the walls and ceiling, orange, pink and red flowers, next to green and yellow squares, next to a blue, gold and green pattern. The purple and green "sex lights" gave this bizarre decor an even more nightmarish cast.
But it would get us there.
We kept Abdul with us as interpreter, and left the rest of the unlucky crew (including Smelly) with the truck to await rescue. Just before we left a couple of strangers crowded into the back with us, and when we asked who they were we were told that this was the owner of the bus and his friend. A likely story, but who wants to argue now, they can take us out and rob and murder us if they want to- as long as they take us somewhere!
When someone asked for some light as we drove along, one of the hitchers casually climbed out and right along the side of the moving bus to the front, to ask the driver to turn on the inside lights! It was all like some cheap spy movie.
About nine o'clock we drove up to the lodge if Lake Naivasha. We were told that they were expecting us, but we would have to go inside right away if we wanted dinner. We had planned to get the gear unpacked and the tents set up before eating, but we certainly needed a meal, and the bus people said they would wait there for us.
We walked into the lodge, an atmosphere of dark wood and soft lights, and felt dirty and disreputable in these elegant surroundings. We felt even more out of place among all the crisp safari suits of the other diners. The situation looked brighter after a good meal, and cheered by a couple of glasses of wine we went out to tackle setting up camp.
Once again we found ourselves putting up unfamiliar tents in the dark, only these ones, like the truck, had obviously been scraped together at the last minute, and were a motley selection of mismatched bits and pieces. Though we had the light of a bright full moon and the headlights of the bus to work by, even Abdul knew nothing about these tents, so it was like piecing together a geometric puzzle.
Eventually they were all erected, though some of them looked a bit odd, and were probably not put together the way their designers had intended them to be. They were certainly on the small side too, but at least we had shelter. I was glad to have my own foam sleeping pad, as they had sent some repulsively dirty and stained foam mattresses, and not only were they horrible- there weren't enough of them!
It's like that joke Woody Allen tells about the old woman at a hotel complaining that: the food is just terrible here", and the other woman replying: "Yes, and such small portions!"
Even the usually unflappable Ray was moved to give a message for Abdul to pass on to Ron: You tell that Ron for Christ's sake to get some new mattresses! At least enough for everybody!" Poor Abdul. He was a very likeable fellow, and it was unfortunate that he had to be the sole repository of all our discontent and indignation.
Simon was busy covering himself with thick clothing, and continually dousing insect repellent on any exposed areas. He had been told there might be mosquitos- "mozzies" here by the lake, and I've never met anyone with such "insectophobia". He was fanatical about keeping the tent closed up tight every second, and if we heard the whine of a mosquito during the night he could not rest until we'd hunted it down and killed it I told him he'd better stay away from the Canadian woods during the summer. "Didn't they have any mosquitos in Norway, Mr Lumberjack?"
As we lay there in the dark listening for marauding mozzies, we could hear the buzz of outraged voices around the camp. Everyone was thoroughly fed up now, and airing their grievances to each other irately and redundantly.
Cheryl was always among the most vocal when it came to protesting, and she had a most unfortunate slip-of-the tongue when she was enumerating our travails to the patient Abdul. She was delivering a tirade, complaining about the Truck, the tents and the mattresses with mounting fury, until she reached a fever pitch- an irrational state of outrage. Without thinking about what she was saying, she burst out with: "This isn't fit for white people!"
I bet she wished she could cut out the tongue which had done that to her.
Heri kujikwaa dole, kuliko kujikwaa ulimi.
Better to stumble with the toe than with the tongue.
10- lake naivasha
The sunrise over the lake was spectacular, the sky clear and lucent, and the water was smooth as oil, reflecting the colors of the dawn sky. Green hills surrounded the lake, one of the distant ones a wall of the Rift Valley. The rich, dew-soaked grass grew right down to the edge of the lake, and then there were a few feet of mud flats. The bird life in the sky, in the trees, on the water and on the shore was just fantastic. The wading birds stalked the shallows, the cormorants sat looking into the water from a post, and the shore birds picked, probed and hunted for their breakfasts all around me. I sat with my binoculars and my field guide, happily trying to give a name to all of the different species. Simon soon joined me there.
It was nice at last to get a look at our surroundings. Once again I'd arrived in the dark, and awoken in a place I'd never seen. Our camp was set on an open grassy field by the shore of the lake, shaded by tall and leafy acacia trees. There were a few other groups of campers here and there, but as it was a spacious campground there was plenty of room. The grounds of the lodge began across a little road, a rambling series of cottages leading over to the main building where we had dined last night.
With all of this bird life, the "Dawn Chorus" had been particularly active here, and I had emerged from the tent just before the sun rose. Our haphazard arrangement of tents was covered with a film of dew in the grey light, looking like a huddled settlement of squatters, and I was amused to see the word "Honymoon" (sic) stencilled on our tent flap. Some honeymoon.
Lake Naivasha is the highest of all the Rift Valley lakes, at almost six thousand feet, and is only fifty miles south of the Equator. Traces of human habitation around the lake reach back four thousand years; knives, axes and arrowheads of obsidian. More recently, it had been Maasai land until the railroad brought the first settlers here at the turn of the century, and now the land around it is all privately owned. It has been a popular resort spot through most of this century, and has become an important agricultural area, with many farms and ranches growing fruit, vegetables and flowers. The road here was built by Italian prisoners-of-war during World War II, replacing the winding trail down the Kikuyu escarpment. Joy Adamson, of Born Free fame, had made her home, Elsamere, on the shore of the lake.
Simon and I watched the birds until the sun was well up. A Grey Heron swallowed his morning frog, a Marabou Stork stood motionless in the shallows, and a pair of Fish Eagles hunted low over the water farther out. We talked a bit about the trials of the last few days. One good thing, we decided, was how close our group had become. We had definitely entered another plateau of friendship, based on trust and interdependence in action. It was good that even more people had been brought out of their shells and into the "expedition spirit". Through yesterday's farces, the usually taciturn Alan had been laughing and joking and accompanying people on the rescue missions with enthusiasm. Nothing like a few crises to bring out the best in people! I thought how glad I was to be sharing a tent with a person as sympatico as Simon on this trip- it could have been a nightmare!
And so today we rise to a new day with: no crew, no fire, no food, no truck- no nothing. We're on our own. Fortunately we have the lodge nearby, and there is running water, and showers (of a sort) here in the campground. Simon and I walked across the well-tended lawns toward the main building, commenting that it really was a beautiful place. Very tall, spreading acacia trees shaded the lodge area and the attractive guest cottages. There was a huge aviary along the gravel pathway, with peacocks, parrots, Guinea fowl and a bushy-tailed black and white Colobus monkey. It seemed strange to see birds in captivity in the middle of an area of such rich wildlife. That ol' sentimental fool Simon was disgusted by this. I didn't like it either.
Breakfast was a smorgasbord affair once more, as we were to find is common for breakfasts and lunches at the hotels and lodges in Kenya. So we were able to have a nice selection of juices, cereal, eggs, pastries and fresh fruit. This was not hard to take, but we still felt out of place with the environment.
It was a bit of reverse snobbery I suppose. Among all the well-dressed and well-heeled who were cossetted here in luxury on their "adventure in Africa" we felt a bit superior- with all of our experiences and all! It seemed so much like a game of "let's pretend" to me, as if they didn't want to get too "involved". It shouldn't bother me I know- it's their holiday- but it's the same when I see people on one of those organized bicycle trips in Europe, wearing all the latest high-tech cycling clothes, thousands of dollars worth of state-of-the-art cycling equipment, vans to carry their luggage and pick up tired riders- all of this so they can ride maybe twenty miles a day, and go home and tell their friends they've "cycled around Europe".
I have been reading a good magazine lately called Traveler, and they are at pains to draw the distinction between "traveler" and "tourist". I suppose this is another one of those fine lines, like "taste" and "quality", where the only way to know the difference is to care about the difference
After breakfast Simon and I went back to the lakeshore, and were excited to see a Goliath Heron, the largest of all the herons. It was a beautiful, majestic creature, about five feet tall, and I had been hoping to see one of these huge birds. We also saw a very funny moment in "bird world". A Grey-Heron was dozing away on one leg, standing on a rock in the water, when suddenly a playful cormorant flew by and bumped the heron with his wing, ruffling him awake and off-balance. I'd never seen anything like that- I guess there are practical jokers in the animal world as well!
We were going on a boat trip this morning, and Abdul came by the camp early to make sure that this at least would happen properly. He was going back to Nairobi this morning, so we said goodbye to poor Abdul, who was a nice fellow, and really had done everything he could for us. It wasn't his fault, and we felt bad for him.
Around 9:30 we boarded a couple of small launches, which took us out on the lake and over to Crescent Island. (Really, Crescent peninsula, when the water level, as now, is down.) The boats were small cabin cruisers, with plenty of room for seven of us in each of them, and it was a nice ride over the calm lake on this crystalline morning. The water was a pretty translucent green, like curving glass where the boat sliced through it. It was nice to be out on the open water, with a sense of space and the cool fresh air. It felt wonderful after the madness of the last couple of days. This was, as my Dad would say: "A treat instead of a treatment"!
We went ashore at a rickety wooden jetty, and were told that it was safe to walk around anywhere here, as there were no predators. The group split up into twos and threes, people wandering in whichever direction looked interesting to them. The island was quite open, a slope of long grasses broken by tall shady trees and thickets of scrub, so the walking was easy and pretty.
Right away Simon and I spotted a couple of big nests high up in the trees, which seemed to contain something. Something big. We scanned them with our binoculars, then walked closer to investigate. As we stood under them, suddenly the large shape of an immature hawk or eagle rose up, tested its unsure wings, and flapped awkwardly over to another nearby tree. We weren't sure what it was at first, but later determined it to be a young Fish Eagle. And then there was another one from the neighboring nest, rising into the air for a few seconds to land heavily on another perch. Perhaps both of them were making their first flights today. We two would-be ornithologists studied them for a while, then moved on down the shore. It was strange to see an airstrip in the middle of the island, with a small plane beside it and a jeep track leading away into the bush. That kind of took away from the sense of wildness and isolation here.
A little farther along we met up with Barbara (I think it was Barbara!), and she joined us walking across the tip of the island. There were many animals roaming free there. Waterbuck (a large antelope rather like an elk), gazelles, zebras, Wildebeest, and even wild horses. As I was creeping downwind from a herd of zebras, trying to get a close photograph, a little African Hare came darting out from the clump of grass right beside me. Some of the others even saw jackals on the other side. It was a good feeling to be walking around freely among the animals- ones that don't bite!
As the pickup time approached, people began to gather from different directions. The three of us sat down in the grass under a tree, joining Cheryl and Janne, who was nursing a twisted ankle from falling into a burrow in the ground. We lazed there in the shade for a while until we saw the boats returning for us, then walked down to the dock and got aboard.
On the way back our pilot took us to visit a large family of hippos, who were once again all but concealed under the water, their pink ears and noses a tease to those who wanted a glimpse or a photograph of something more- even a big yawn would be good!
There was still no sign of Ron, but we knew what to do. We went up to the lodge, had a fabulous lunch, and charged it all to Tracks. We thought it was only fair to make this as expensive for them as it was inconvenient for us. We had already missed camping in the Amboseli National Park, under Kilimajaro, and it looked as if we would miss the expedition to nearby Mount Longonot, with the climb into its volcanic crater. And here we were marooned in this "resort park", in Cub Scout-surplus tents, waiting once again. Admittedly, it was not a terrible place to wait.
Outside the dining room and bar was a nice covered terrace, open to a wide lawn and lush gardens. There was a large landscaped pond in the middle of the lawn, which was alive with Crowned Cranes, Black Swans and Egyptian Geese. The birds made for an interesting show to accompany a drink on the terrace. Monkeys played among the trees nearby, there was a swimming pool (if a bit green-looking), and Ross and Grahame and the twins even took advantage of the tennis courts.
With the well-trimmed lawns and raked pathways around this Safariland Lodge, the elegant guest cottages, the dining room and bar, that huge aviary, and a private, irrigated orange grove, it did seem a bit too civilized- even decadent- here. But we would get through the afternoon somehow. We knew how to make the best of a tough situation.
I took my sleeping bag and spread it out under a tree, got out my binoculars, field guide and tape recorder, and laid down in the shade. As I was becoming more and more interested in the birdlife, I had bought The Field Guide to the Birds of East Africa here at the lodge. The field guide I had bought back in Arusha was for the National Parks, and had a lot of information about the parks themselves, and pictures and descriptions of most of the animals we had seen and the commoner birds. But now that I was spending more time birdwatching, I was starting to spot the less-common species, and wanted something more complete.
So I laid there under the tree and looked through the branches above me for birds, while I brought the last two days up to date in my notes. (Not that I'd be likely to forget a moment of it! As I transcribed my tapes and notes from the day spent at the border in Namanga, months later, I started feeling unwell all over again just from reliving it!)
Simon had proposed that when (and if) Ron arrived, we should let Simon speak with him alone, instead of being greeted by a pack of outraged and raving natives. He would take him down to the little bar by the jetty for a talk, and try to deal with him reasonably and get things sorted out to everyone's satisfaction.
When I returned from a wash up at the lodge, I saw the old white Bedford parked at our camp, and figured Simon must be down at the jetty "sorting things out" with Ron. I couldn't believe that the same truck was back again, and as I walked by I saw a trickle of diesel fuel still leaking from the tank, the springs still flat, and the wheels still crabwise on its twisted frame. And this was going to take the others on the long journey to the Maasai Mara tomorrow!
Seeing this I was glad I was getting out in the morning. I hated to leave the trip before the end, especially after all we'd been through together, but now 1 wouldn't mind strapping on my parachute and "bailing out".
During the afternoon I saw the "proper" way to go on a camping safari. A large truck pulled into the campground, and the crew unloaded and set up a neat circle of large square tents. Then a pair of vans drove up, one of them full of luggage and bedding, the other with food and cooking supplies. The efficient crew went to work furnishing the tents, setting up the beds and a portable washstand outside each tent. A fire is soon going, food is being prepared, lanterns are hung by each tent- all is ready for the guests, who are probably still out looking at animals. There is certainly merit in that idea, but even looking over at our "squatter's camp", I thought that being a 'do-it-yourselfer' was probably more satisfying- if less professional-looking.
I also have a developing theory that it is better to travel on these cheaper excursions than on the luxury trips- you simply meet "a better class of people". People who want to travel somewhere exciting, but are perhaps on a budget, and don't mind "roughing it" a bit. Thus there's little complaining about petty things, everyone expects a bit of work and discomfort, and, as we saw yesterday, you really become a group, not just a bunch of people thrown together. As I've found on cycling trips, you really make good friends on a trip like that. People are there prepared to "work at having fun", in a difficult environment, so you at least have that much in common already. No one expects it to be "just like back home".
And when you meet an especially kindred spirit, like Simon, or several good people I met in China, you have the fun of sharing these kinds of experiences with a new friend, the excitement of exploring a new person and a new place at the same time. Since you're sharing an experience you'll never forget so you'll never forget the people with whom you shared it
In the late afternoon most of us gathered on the terrace at the lodge for a drink, experimenting with a curious variety of mixed tropical drinks. Simon joined us, looking exhausted from his marathon of diplomacy. Over a couple of beers he had made clear to Ron what we'd been through and what we expected of the company, and had received Ron's assurances that "all would be well".
Ron claimed that the truck had died yesterday because Abdul didn't know how to drive it properly, and that it could be driven in a way to prevent it overheating. He admitted the truck was "knackered", but he knew how to keep it going. He promised a good trip to the Maasai Mara, which is the Kenyan side of the Serengeti, and was going to prepare us a steak dinner himself tonight.
That all sounded good. But poor Simon really did look-drained. The effort of being nice when he was just as irate as any of us, and trying diplomatically to make the situation as constructive as possible had worn him out. He sat down in a chair on the terrace, ordered his first drink, and didn't stir from the bar for many hours.
Most of us headed back to camp as the sun began to get low over the hills across the lake. It was a beautiful still evening, pleasantly cool at this altitude, and everything was so green and vibrant-looking in the soft light. There was a hush, and we walked quietly in the shadows of the tall trees.
There had been some debate about "Smelly". Yes, he was back, as assistant cook, and some people were a little upset about a person of his "hygienic distinction" handling their food. There were demands to have him sent back, which Ron agreed to if that was what we wanted, but Alan spoke up with a doctor's realism and authority (and a fine Scottish lilt): "I think you're over-reacting a bit. Ron can't do everything himself, and besides, I'm sure those Tanzanian boys couldn't ha' washed but once in a week."
So reason prevailed over fastidiousness and body odor.
We gathered around the fire which Ron had started. We introduced ourselves to him- as well as a dozen or so people can be introduced to a newcomer. "Got all those names, Ron?" He was an interesting fellow; from New Zealand, lean, of moderate height, with wild red hair and a wild red beard. He had the nickname of "Toose", short for Tucson, he explained, because he had been a rodeo rider in his native country (they have rodeos in New Zealand!). All this was such an unlikely origin for a nickname that we took it up. After he'd tired of that avocation, he had gone to England and found a job driving double-decker tour buses across Europe and the Middle East. He had some wild tales to tell of flying bullets and evil highwaymen in some of those troubled countries. He had done some white water rafting on the Zambezi before getting into the safari business out here, so he had certainly been around, and now he was trying to get a job doing rafting trips in the Sierra Nevada mountains in America.
Kathy put together a big salad, while Toose worked on cutting up some meat. He had a big bag of charcoal to burn, but there was no firewood around for a brighter after-dinner fire. I took the panga and a flashlight (I almost said torch!) and went in search of some. The moon hadn't risen yet, and it was very dark, but there was a fallen tree somewhere over that way, and I hoped I could find it and cut off some branches. Ray and Ross followed me over, bringing more light to bear as I hacked away, and more hands to carry back what I could cut. I'd managed to slice off a small pile of brush, when suddenly I felt a sharp stab in my wrist as I swung the blade against a branch, and looked down to see a four-inch thorn embedded deeply in my wrist. Ouch! It had a little barb on the end, which made it no fun to get out, and it hurt a lot even once I'd removed it. Poor baby!
Remembering "The Snows of Kilimanjaro", where the hero dies of gangrene from a wound caused by a thorn scratch, I handed the panga over to Ross and Ray, and went back to camp to put some disinfectant and a bandage on it. I didn't want to die of a suppurating, smelly wound like Harry did in the story.
Dinner was soon ready, with everyone helping and contributing any way they could, and it was delicious. Toose had come up with some fabulous beef from Nairobi, the best I had in Africa, and the salad and potatoes were delicious as well.
Simon remained up at the bar, along with Janne and Cheryl. The meals were so big here that the girls hadn't been hungry after a mammoth lunch, so they stayed there keeping him company. We were all surprised to see Cheryl walk all the way back to camp, prepare a beautiful steak sandwich, and carry it all the way back up to the lodge- for Simon. Throughout the trip these two had been a little like cats and dogs, and being of different temperaments but both quite "vocal", they had been mildly "at" each other all the time.
One night around the campfire Simon had made one of his frequent humorously silly remarks, and Cheryl had exclaimed: "Oh Simon, you're such a flip!"
Now, none of we non-Australians were exactly sure what a flip was, but we thought it was probably not very nice.
I think their mutual roles in the last few adventures had made them appreciate each other a little more, Cheryl dealing with the matatu pirates yesterday, and Simon's diplomacy with Toose today had proven their mutual willingness and ability to "pitch in".
After dinner I walked away from camp a little bit, to sit on a fencepost and look up at the night sky. It was clear and black; with a few high cumulus clouds edged with silver by the bright full moon. An acacia tree was silhouetted perfectly in the white sphere, and the black and silver of the African sky was magical.
I was thinking about this journal and I had a problem. I was really serious about making this story good and true, and had been collecting all the information and impressions I could for the background. More, I had been trying to know these people well enough to be able to understand and describe them a little bit. I wanted to go deeper than I'd gone before, into the place and into the people.
But inevitably, in a group this size, there was someone I didn't like. How should I handle this? It would certainly be honest to be open about it, to describe all the acts, statements, and attitudes that so irritated me, and it might even add a nice thread of tension to the narrative. A little "purple prose".
But it would seem kind of cruel and unfair. I mean, I'm sure such people don't mean to be bad, they're just different from me, and if they irritate me I try to keep it to myself. There's little point in arguing with someone who sees the world completely differently from you, unless they're at least intelligent enough to make the debate stimulating. This, however, was not the case here.
I used to be against the idea of the "compassionate lie", a belief which John Steinbeck defended in one of his books as often more humane than the truth. I disagreed at the time I read it, convinced of the principle that the truth is always better than a lie. Now I'm not so sure. I remember a line of dialogue from some movie where a father said to his son: "You're so full of what's right, you can't see what's good", and I think there's a lot of truth in that observation, as it sometimes applies to myself, anyway.
So I will forbear. I'll follow my method in past cases like this; just mention the person as seldom as possible. No lurid litany of hatred and vitriol, no snarling outrage at the latest irritation. No character assassination.
It's right to be honest. It's good to be gentle.
You don't take vengeance on silliness.
11- cabbages and kings
I had wandered back up to the lodge to see how Simon was getting along, and found him holding court inside the bar, everyone gathered in a large circle around one of the large tribal drums that was used for a table. They asked me for a concert on the drum, but I laughingly declined, saying: "you can't afford me!" I ordered a brandy and enjoyed the high spirits of the group for a while, everyone talking and laughing gaily. When I started to feel tired, and got up to go, Simon announced that he was tired as well, and we walked back in the darkness together.
We undid all the zippers and ties that Simon had insisted upon closing to keep the 'mozzies' away, and crawled into the little tent. It was small enough that we had to lay out our beds one at a time, then take turns undressing and getting into our sleeping bags. Simon figured that our last night as tentmates was worthy of commemoration, and brought out his precious bottle of single-malt whisky. Our nearest neighbors were Alan and Carol, and Simon decided that since they were Scots they might appreciate a taste as well, and called over to them through the wall of the tent. Carol pleasantly declined for both of them, saying they'd had enough to drink, but Alan came over anyway, though under protest. I had the top of my flask to drink from, while Alan was using the cap from an aerosol can as a cup, and Simon filled both of thorn before he tipped the bottle up and drank from it- a man of simple tastes.
Alan crouched there in our crowded tent for a few minutes, then left us, and Simon and I drifted into conversation, this time far enough away from our neighbors not to disturb anyone, we hoped. The tent was dimly lit by the glow of an upended flashlight, with fading batteries, but we could just make out each other's features and expressions, and we could just see to get the drinks to our lips!
And now the time had come to speak of many things...
Simon: "Yes, I do know what you mean, I have no patience with stupidity either. Didn't Oscar Wilde say the only sin is stupidity?"
"Among other things, I think he did. But there's stupidity- and there's stupidity. You won't believe this, but I have a theory about that!"
(laugh) "Oh yes!"
"Well, I've certainly never known you to have a theory before!"
"Ha ha. All that has changed now! The word I like in this case is 'simple', if you see the distinction. To call someone simple has unpleasant connotations these days, but I think that kind of character- I mean simple in the sense of not complex- can be very nice in a person. People whose needs and tastes are very straightforward and honest, as they are as people. I often find a 'simple' person is very agreeable to be around, and a good friend. It's the other kind of stupid that drives me nuts- the small mind with a big mouth syndrome, you know what I mean."
"Yes- and whom!"
"Well. . ."
"Never mind. But yes, I've known people like that too. Like you said, uncomplicated, like country people can be. Big-hearted, unpretentious and ruled by common sense."
"Right. But it's a matter of temperament too- not having that good quality warped by envy, self-delusions, or meanness, as it more often is."
"There's a word for that, that smallness of spirit."
"Yes, it's a great word too- pusillanimous- small of soul."
(laugh) "That's good, but it's not a pretty word, is it?"
"No, not pretty, but it's not a pretty way to be either."
"I wonder sometimes if intelligence isn't a kind of curse, and if there isn't something to the 'ignorance is bliss' idea."
"Sometimes, yeah, I suppose it is better, but ignorance also causes bigotry, and mob-rule, and other nasty stuff. Maybe simplicity is bliss, and ignorance is just stupid."
Eetai ta oshi moda nen.
There is a kind of man who is both foolish and wise.
"Well, I'm a rugby and cricket man myself, though I play a little bit of a traditional kind of tennis, called Real Tennis, but in any sport that fellow's kind of behavior gets me peed off."
"Simon, you're being unfair. I think you have to understand that a professional athlete like that is under an incredible amount of pressure. Not only from within, but people are watching every move he makes, on or off the court, and every day there are people measuring his performances, in split-seconds and fractions of an inch. Most people just don't have to work like that. And probably couldn't work like that. I know I couldn't, it's bad enough just having to live up to my own expectations, let alone anyone and everyone else's!"
"That's no excuse for being a childish boor, and disrupting the game like he does."
"Well, perhaps not, but I've met the guy a couple of times, and he's really a quiet and insecure sort of person. He even looks up to musicians- of all people- and calls himself 'just a tennis bum'. But when he's out there playing, he gets intense. He has no mercy for his own mistakes, and no patience to pay for anyone else's bad judgement or bad call, Think about it; for him the strain and the pressure of being at the top are enough that at twenty-five years old the guy started to lose it, and feel washed up already."
"That's because he's a soft colonial!"
"All right, all right. But I've met other well-known people, maybe not as famous as he is, but soccer and rugby players who have had a certain amount of fame, and they're not like that."
"Well I think it's different in team sports, a team can share the pressure and compensate for each other's weaknesses. Though I have a friend who played for the Montreal Canadiens hockey team, and he used to live in a normal suburb of Montreal, just like a regular person, but he couldn't even take the dog for a walk without everyone in the neighborhood telling him what the coach should be doing, and how the team should be playing. And of course it's different for different people, it washes off the easy-going types- though I've never met a 'normal' person who liked it- while some people are driven mad by it. And the press! That poor guy's been driven nuts by the press, especially in Britain. Down on Fleet Street they just love to get people stirred up about the 'ugly American'. He didn't dare even bring his wife with him to Wimbledon this year."
"Oh come on, I don't think anyone in that position has a right to complain. It comes with the job, there are rewards, and there are penalties."
"Yes, that's true, but the rewards and the penalties aren't the same for everybody. Some people just wanted to excel at their jobs, they never wanted to be famous. And having paid the high price for the thing they wanted, they find they're expected to pay for what they don't want too. You can't do anything about it but it's not fair. Some people, like Paul Newman, have even tried to fight it by refusing to sign autographs, tired of hearing 'oh, take off those sunglasses so we can see your blue eyes'."
"Yes, I saw him on the telly talking about that, and I thought he sounded like a right bastard!"
"Well, there you go. I've had only a small amount of fame to deal with, and I truly can't imagine how awful it would be to be that well-known. Like Greta Garbo; she never said she wanted to be alone, she said she wanted to be left alone. But for me, I admire Newman's courage and honesty. It's hard to fight the whole machinery of fame, as I've learned, but he just wants to be left alone to do his work, that's all. I can certainly understand that, and it shouldn't be too much to ask. And he does good work, too. Like Humphrey Bogart said; 'the only thing you owe the public is a good performance."
"Well- look where it got him!"
Akili ni mail.
Ability is wealth.
What is famed does not last.
12- the road to nairobi
Before sunrise I was out on the dock again to watch the birds. The full moon was still a few degrees above the western horizon, and the sun hadn't cleared the trees in the east, but the sky was pink almost all the way around. A film of heavy dew lay on the boats which were tied up at the dock, and it was cool and pleasant. A little way out a small native fishing boat drifted slowly across the water, silhouetted against the mist which floated above the lake.
It is only in the past year that I have really come to appreciate the earliest hours of the day- (though in younger days I was more likely to see it from the other side!). During the summer at the cottage I had been rising at 6:00 every morning, and alternate days either going out on my bicycle, or working at my writing on the computer out in the garage. There's something beautiful about the first light, about the sunrise, in the way it looks and the way it feels inside, that is more powerful than any sunset. It is full of promise and anticipation, rather than finality and fulfilment, and anyway; I always like the beginning better than the end of something.
The giant Goliath Heron was back, and a smaller Grey Heron, and there was a flock of the odd-looking Sacred Ibis scavenging along the shore. These last are a strange bird, quite large and covered with white feathers except for the black-skinned head and neck, a long black downward-curved bill, and a beautiful spray of delicate blue-black feathers at the back. I never did find out why they're called the Sacred Ibis, but I like them. Ducks, cormorants, coots and crakes hunted for breakfast in their various ways, and there was a noble Fish Eagle perched on a stick farther out. It is truly a birdwatcher's dream here.
This was my last morning with the group, and Simon was going to meet me here to watch the birds together for the last time. I was going to miss that guy! It's not easy to find people who can make you laugh and make you think!
By the time we came back to camp a fire was going, and everyone was stirring. The sun was bright in a clear sky, with just a couple of clouds off to the southwest, and it was a beautiful, sparkling morning. We got our tent taken down and our gear packed up, as we heard Toose trying to start the truck. He had been using the headlights to illuminate the food-preparing last night, and now the battery was dead. The starter made a low grinding sound once or twice, then was silent. Everyone was recruited to try to give this big behemoth a push start, but even with a dozen people pushing, it was hard to get it rolling. We rocked it back and forth, and strained away at it until it finally sputtered into life.
Janne turned to me and said: "I bet you're glad you're leaving now!"
I nodded and laughed: "Really!"
At least they only had to make it to the Maasai Mara today, where they would be spending the next three nights, and then the truck had only to get them back to Nairobi- or for that matter they could probably hitch-hike from there! They'll be okay.
There were many tame monkeys around the campsite, Black-faced Vervets, and while Toose was off filling up with water we had some fun with them. Grahame coaxed some of the more fearless of them down out of the trees to take some food from his hand, and it was funny to see their different characters- the brave ones who ran right up to take it, the shy ones who wanted to- but were a little afraid, the greedy ones who came back for more, and the mothers with babies, who were the most timid of all. They just looked on hungrily from a safe perch.
Finally we were driving out of the park, and we were all glad to be moving on once again. We'd had enough of this place, and we all had a long way to travel today. We drove into the town of Naivasha, a few miles away, where I hoped to find a ride into Nairobi. As we pulled up to the bus station, I heard "La Isla Bonita" blasting distortedly out of a shop door, and it reminded me poignantly of my daughter Selena. It had been her favorite song all summer, and so often we had been driving around the roads of Quebec with the top down and that song playing up very loud. I'd been thinking lately that I couldn't wait to share all this with my wife and daughter, missing them and hoping they would like Africa as much as I did. They would be here in another week or so- but first I had to climb that stupid mountain!
The truck came to a stop on the hot and dusty street, and it was time to say goodbye. I would like to have said something to each person individually, but that was difficult under circumstances, so I just said goodbye and good luck to everyone, and told them: "If I had to through all of this I'm glad it was with you lot!", and I meant it. Simon climbed down to help me with my backpack, and we embraced warmly and promised to keep in touch. Toose considerately walked over with me to make sure I found some transportation.
The bus station itself was an open square, with about four big buses and several smaller ones parked in the middle. All of them had paint jobs worthy of "TRADE MARK MWANGAZA", and they were all just crammed with people, their roofs piled high with boxes and baskets. The outside of the square was lined with stalls of wood and corrugated metal, and seemed to double as a market square as well. Loud music of a nondescript nature blared out from many of the stalls, and Toose told me it was local East African music, which he didn't find too impressive. The music of southern and western Africa was a lot more interesting, he said, but for some reason it was pretty bland in this area.
Stopping at one of the stalls, he asked about buses into Nairbbi, and was told that they were all full, which, when you looked around, certainly seemed to be true. The man said they were always full "this time of the month", whatever that meant, as it was the ninth of September! I had thought a bus trip might be an interesting addition to my experiences, but I told Toose that I wasn't really keen on another matatu journey. It didn't really matter, as we were told they were all full as well. When we asked when there might be another bus, they just shrugged and said: "maybe a couple of hours". African Time, remember.
We asked about private taxis, which seemed to be what they wanted us to do in the first place, and were told I could get one, but it would cost an outrageous 800 shillings to go the miles into Nairobi. It was bargaining time and I got into it now I started the bargaining at 350, and then worked up to 500, when the "dispatcher" went to consult with someone presumably the driver. He returned and said it would have to be 600 shillings, which was still almost fifty dollars, but I could see that this would be the final price, and acquiesced. wasn't really any choice, being "this time of the month" and all. I didn't want to stand around there in the hot sun for a couple of hours and try to squeeze onto a sardine-packed bus or a death-trap matatu, so I said I would take it. I shook hands with Toose, thanked him for his help, and wished him good luck on the drive to the Maasai Mara. Now I was alone.
In a few minutes an ancient Peugeot pulled up before us, and I threw my pack into the back seat and climbed in beside it. I was glad that the car's trunk didn't seem to open, as with the back seat filled by the pack and me, it would eliminate the usual practice of cramming a few more passengers in for the ride. As we drove through the little town I asked the driver if he lived here in Naivasha, and he said he did. I remarked that it seemed like a nice place to live. Being a small town on the shore of the lake, it was pretty and at least would have plenty of water. He said that it was a good place to live, and that would be about the extent of our conversation.
He said he had to get some petrol, and we pulled into a station and filled up. My last 150 shillings went to pay for the fuel, and I would have to change some more money when we got to the New Stanley to pay the fare. But once again I was in the situation of being without ready cash, and if this dilapidated old car failed to make it and I had to find some other way, I would be in trouble.
Next he announced that we had to pick up a spare tire, and we drove out into the country, in the opposite direction from Nairobi. I suppose it's natural to feel a bit uneasy in a situation like that, you feel kind of helpless and alone in a strange, strange world, and I was certainly wondering: "Where is he taking me?"
But we ended up driving into the "US Peace Corps Training Center", of all places, where he borrowed a wheel from a friend of his who worked there. Then it was back into Naivasha to pick up his driver's licence from a garage, and still one more stop to pick up his friend, whom he was bringing along for company I guess. Finally we were on the road to Nairobi.
It was a very good road, along the top of a high ridge which formed one wall of the Rift Valley, and the views were tremendous. It was a clear and sunny morning, and everything shone in bright shades of green and blue. I could see for miles back down into the valley, over Lake Naivasha and the beautiful Mount Longonot, and I wished we'd done that climb yesterday. It might have made a good warmup for Kilimanjaro. This was an area of rich farmland, and there were stalls along the highway selling vegetables, sheepskins, baskets and big pails of potatoes. It was again a striking contrast to Tanzania, though there were yet a few donkey carts, and plenty of poor-looking pedestrians.
At highway speed the little car trembled and rattled and shook, feeling very unstable on the road. It seemed to be protesting against this undignified rate of travel, and again I wondered if it would make it. Somehow the body and wheels seemed to move independently- they didn't seem to be connected.
The driver and his friend kept up a non-stop dialogue in some unknown language, I don't think it was Swahili, and for some reason they felt compelled to shout every word. At first it was interesting to speculate on what it was they were discussing- sports, politics, women, gossip?- but after a while it just became tiresome, and I wished they would shut up for a while.
I was happy to finally see the outskirts of Nairobi approaching, to be back in semi-familiar territory, and we wove our way through the busy streets of the city and up to the New Stanley. The driver's buddy came in with me while I changed a traveler's cheque and paid them off, and then I checked myself into the hotel and went up to my room.
The room was like one in a slightly run-down old English hotel, but it was neat and clean, and as I looked around at the double bed, the mini-bar, the TV and the nice bathroom I let out a spontaneous "yahoo!"- real civilization. The tape recorded me laughing with pleasure; "it looks great. It's nice to be here." A hotel room is a comfortable environment for me after many years of traveling, and I felt right at home in this one too.
The first thing I did was empty out my backpack, which was almost entirely full of dirty clothes at this point. I called down to the front desk to ask them to pick up my laundry and have it done, then luxuriated in a hot bath. Heaven! Dressing in the last of my clean clothes, I went down to the Thorn Tree Café for some lunch. My laundry still hadn't been picked up, and I asked about it once more at the front desk on my way by. They assured me it would be looked after. Sure.
The Thorn Tree is a famous meeting-place, going back to the days of the big-game hunters. There is a tall acacia tree growing up through the sidewalk café outside, which gives the place its name, and which stretches up about fifty feet in front of the hotel. I saw a plaque stating that this tree had been planted in 1961, replacing the original one. Around it is a four-sided notice board, covered with messages left by people for other travelers, and from people looking for others to share the price of a safari.
I ordered the lunch special, Impala Stew, which was a tasty, beef-like meat dish. It was interesting- in a sick kind of way- to eat one of the animals I'd been looking at in the wild. Don't get me wrong- I wouldn't buy a rhino horn backscratcher or anything, but Impala are far from endangered. I was hoping to get a chance to eat some Thomson's Gazelle, I certainly knew they weren't endangered- no more than rabbits are anyway! The cute little Impala- was accompanied by a Kenyan side-dish called "Irio", like Mashed potatoes with corn and greens blended in. A glass of wine, the forgotten luxury of ice cream, and a cup of delicious coffee made me feel good. And so clean!
I walked out into the streets of Nairobi, enjoying the feeling of big city streets under my feet once again. The other morning didn't count; I'd been feeling poorly and everything had been too uncertain for me to take pleasure in my surroundings. Now I noticed that downtown Nairobi is quite pretty, with some nice open squares, and many jacaranda, palm and acacia trees lining the streets. The streets were thronged with a multi-racial crowd of people, and there were a great number of street pedlars and beggars. It is difficult to picture it as it would have looked in the days of the colonials. It's a new city, and as with North American cities, it's all changed too much and too fast. You can't squint your eyes and see how it would have been, as you can in older European cities like London, Paris or Venice.
Almost immediately I was accosted by a young man, respectable-looking and well-spoken.
"How do you like Kenya?"
I replied that I liked it fine.
"I am a student, please take ten or fifteen minutes to tell me about your country. Do you have a nice climate in your country like in Kenya"
I smiled and told him that I was from Canada, and no, we didn't have a climate like Kenya's.
"From Canada? What do you know about the University of Saskatchewan?"
This raised my eyebrows, but I had to say that I didn't know much about the University of Saskatchewan, as I lived a long way from there.
"How about the University of Guelph, or Western University?"
I said, quite truly, that I knew of them, but couldn't really tell him anything worthwhile about them.
I was getting a little suspicious about the meaning of this exchange, and when he suggested that "maybe we could go somewhere and talk about your country", I began to look for a way to gracefully get out of this conversation. I wasn't sure what he was after, but I was sure it wasn't information about Canada, and suggested he would do better to find some books to read about Canada if he was really interested.
But he wasn't letting me go easily, and continued to press. He left me only one opening, but not an easy one, by acting insulted and saying: "Well, if you think I am just wasting your time-".
Maybe he knew that Canadians have a tendency, probably inherited from the English, to avoid a confrontation by going along with an insistent person. But this time he would be disappointed, as I am too used to people wanting to waste my time, and it is the only thing that I am greedy and selfish about. (So I say, anyway.)
I just said: "Yes, I think you are wasting my time. Goodbye.", and walked away from him. I can't imagine what he was really after, it seemed like a lot of trouble he was going to compared to the other "street people" who just uttered a straightforward "Change money? Change money? Good rate!", or "You want to buy nice elephant-hair bracelet? I give you good price." (Judging by the number of people selling elephant-hair bracelets, supposedly made from the elephant's thick tail hairs, there must be a lot of bald-tailed elephants in Kenya!), even the voice in the crowd chanting the offer of "Marijuana? Marijuana?".
Street crime is a major problem in Nairobi, they tell you in the guide books and in the hotels not to walk anywhere at night, and to be very careful even in the daytime. The black market is very active in money, drugs and flesh, and as we saw at the border, corruption is simply a way of life. Whatever my young accoster was up to, I knew I wanted no part of it. It took me a while to adjust to constantly being approached and hailed by these entrepreneurs of the street, and at first it made me very uneasy. After a few days I became hardened, and could wave them away convincingly enough to be effective.
There were a few things I wanted to buy here; odd-sized "N" batteries for my flashlight and an alarm clock, some new mini-cassettes for my recorder, and a bag in which I could leave some of the stuff I wouldn't need on Kilimanjaro. The hotels are used to people going out on safari and wanting to leave unnecessary luggage behind, and are glad to look after it for you. By the time I'd picked up these items and walked around the central area, I'd had enough of being hassled every few feet for one thing or another, and picked up a couple of newspapers and went back to my room. The big bag of laundry still sat by the door, and it looked as if I was on my own with that as well.
It was wonderful to sit down in a comfortable chair, put my feet up, pour myself a whisky from the mini-bar, and sit back to read the newspapers. I had bought an International Herald Tribune, half to see what was going on in the world and half to do the crossword puzzle, but first I turned to the Kenya Times. Although the typesetting was sometimes so bad as to be incomprehensible, it was still a good insight into the "local scene".
I read that the borders have been closed to the neighboring country of Burundi, as there has been a military takeover while the President was attending a convention of francophone countries in- ironically- Quebec. Several Burundi nationals were stranded here in Nairobi without money or places to stay.
There was a lot of outrage in the Kenya papers the whole time I was there, after Amnesty International had accused them of holding forty thousand-odd children in their jails, and of having committed numerous civil rights violations. It's hard to weed out the facts in a case like this, but it seems as if there were a few Kenyans in Europe, particularly in Scandinavia, who were painting an unattractive picture of internal affairs at home. President Moi had made strong speeches defending his country's civil rights record, and government officials were saying that Kenyans abroad attacking their country were "no better than someone abusing one's mother while away". Well. Who's to know?
Letters to the editor are the most interesting part of a newspaper to me (well- next to the crossword puzzle). They tell you more about what's really going on in a place- or at worst they tell you a lot about the paper you're reading, whether you're at home or in a strange country. An interesting debate was going on between Muslims, Jews and Christians through this medium. It was interesting and refreshing because this debate didn't involve smears, violence, vandalism, or the kind of mindless "isms" that are often the result of religious disagreement. The debate seemed to go on for several weeks, and centred around some serious intellectual arguments. Passages of the Bible, Torah and Quran were quoted to prove that Jesus was sent only for the Jews, and there was a fascinating debate surrounding the number of errors in the Bible- "50,000 errors in the Bible" read the headline. This also involved the number of changes that had been made in the Bible to suit the "learned men" of later times, a question I've wondered about too. I found this fascinating, both the subject of this debate, and also the dignified way in which it was being conducted. A "gentleman's disagreement".
There was one letter that I have to quote verbatim- it would lose too much in the translation.
Alone in the wilderness
Recently I happened to have been travelling to Naivasha town for the first time. I was going to visit a relative living in a certain institute near the town. Unfortunately I reached the place at 8:00 pm when it was not easy to find my way to the destination.
After the bus, which was heading for Nairobi, had left me in the dark by the roadside, some one and half kilometres from the town, I could not tell the direction of my destination since, I could no longer follow the map which had been drawn to help me.
By the roadside where I stood was near a junction of Naivasha town road and the wide and busy road by-passing the town to Nairobi. At this junction a matatu, or possibly a private van, from town stopped suddenly aiming at joining the main road by-passing the town to Nairobi. Here is I thought I could be helped so I rushed to the driver seeing that he did not speak languages I tried to use gestures and a few broken swahili words with the intention that this gentleman could either guide me or advise me on what to do.
At first he seemed to be getting my message but he further asked me numerous questions, one after the other, until I could not understand him any more. The gentleman, seeing that I did not answer his questions drove off at once.
In fact, the man almost crushed me because I was very close to the car.
At this place I could easily have been killed by wild animals although what the man did could not make me see a clear destination between him and the wild animals. Personally I think unity is strength and we should be well united so that we can make Kenya a better and safer place to leave in I fail to define a nation when people behave in this manner. I am worried about where we are heading to.
Well. Me too.
A sad note was struck by the headline announcing: "55 Kenyan Lorries Stranded in Uganda". Sad because these fifty-five trucks had been on their way to deliver wheat and food to Ethiopia and the Sudan, and had been stranded due to: "insecurity in the north" of Uganda. Evidently that country is quite unstable since the iron hand of Amin was overthrown by the Tanzanians, and there is often "trouble in the north".
But enough seriousness. I turned to the inside back page of the Herald Tribune- the crossword puzzle.
And later, the full moon rose once again to silhouette an acacia tree, as it had last night over Lake Naivasha, only this time it shone into a hotel room, illuminating a young man laying back in a chair with a pen in his hand, flipping through the pages of a notebook. The room was untidy, with a heap of clothes exploded out of a blue backpack, newspapers open all over the place, the television showing a school choir singing in Swahili, and the remains of a room service dinner on the table.
Mwiikaria ndari haro.
He who lives alone has no quarrel.
13- out of kenya
The next morning I went down to the Thorn Tree Café for breakfast, then across the street to a kind of department/grocery store. I bought a small box of New Blue Omo Powder, the one I'd seen Dutch and Emmanuel using back at Simba Camp, then went up to attack my laundry.
It's a good thing I've learned on cycling trips how to do laundry in hotel sinks, as the washing instructions and everything but the name on the detergent box was in Swahili. It seems a simple enough task, but I was used to machines doing these jobs!
A few pairs of socks in the sink is one thing, but this time there was a lot of laundry, and it was really dirty, so it would have to be the bathtub. And there I was the old washerwoman, down on my knees by the tub, wringing the sands of the Serengeti out of my clothes. The amount of dirt was unbelievable. I had to refill the tub four or five times for each bunch of laundry, as the water turned dark brown again and again
The next problem was to get it all dry. I had wet clothes hanging from the laundry rack over the tub, from the shower curtain rod, from the wardrobe closet, from the sink, over the suitcase stand- everywhere, but I doubted if it would be dry by the time I had to leave tomorrow. I'd have to think of something.
This satisfying task completed, I left everything to "drip-dry", and went out on the streets for a walk around town. I strolled through the big indoor market, which contained two colorful floors of stalls selling all kinds of produce and meats, and then into the outdoor market which was full of the inevitable carvings, spears and shields, baskets, batik and jewelry. Nothing irresistible there.
I walked along a street that was the "automotive row" of Nairobi, and it was strange to see the dealers' windows full of shiny new cars. In contrast to the empty showrooms of Arusha, here there was a wide variety of brand-new Daihatsu, Opel, Honda, Peugeot, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Alfa Romeo and Mercedes-Benz models. I even saw a couple of MGB's on the street, a car I always notice as it was my own first car, but it was remarkably out of place here- this small and temperamental British sports car on the roads of Africa.
I made my way over to the National Museum on the outskirts of town, and went inside. I started my visit at a really good display on the geological formation of the earth, particularly in regard to the Rift Valley, and Kenya's lakes, volcanoes and natural mineral resources. The museum has a large collection of watercolors painted by Joy Adamson of the many species of plant life, and a fairly good selection of mounted animals and fish. I was amused to see one of the latter which was called- I swear- the "Shit Eating Fish". I did a double take when I first looked at the name, thinking I'd read it wrong, or someone had changed the sign. But sure enough, there it was, and it had received its name because the fishermen believed it fed on sewage. Even the Latin word, Scatophagus I think it was, translates into the same curious name.
Most interesting of all was the prehistory section. Since the director of the museum is Richard Leakey, of the famous archaeological family who made many of their significant discoveries in Kenya and Tanzania, the museum has access to some wonderful exhibits. Here the major archaeological sites in the two countries are thoroughly documented, how they have been excavated and what was found there. The tools and weapons of different ages are on display, as well as many fossils.
The stages in the development of modern man are well illustrated by charts and pictures, and also by an excellent diorama which shows a three-dimensional representation of three different periods of our ancestry; full-size mannequins of men, women and children living and hunting on the African plains. I was amused to see one of the groups portrayed eating Thomson's Gazelle tartare- I knew they'd be good eating!
Our old friend the Zinjanthropus Man from Olduvai goes back 1,700,000 years, and they've traced modern man- homo sapiens- back to only thirty thousand years ago. Upstarts. Characteristics typical of homo erectus and homo sapiens go back as far as two hundred thousand years, but I never knew that some of the "famous skulls", like Australopithecus, were thought to be from evolutionary branches which didn't evolve, but became extinct. Prehistoric endangered species.
The Theory of Evolution was revived in my thoughts by all of this, and it occurred to me that the one element I hadn't given proper weight to in my Olduvai reflections was time. We're talking millions and millions of years here (sounds like Carl Sagan)- who can say what might or might not happen in a time frame like that? There may have been so many different mutations, and stages of mutation, which gradually created a more adaptable creature. Just one genetic accident, even only once in ten thousand years, would bring about a change that would be passed on.
But I don't know, it still makes my brain hurt. What about webbed feet? Opposable thumbs? Antlers? Eyelids? Sex?
Another thing I learned is that the earliest known city is Jericho, estimated at ten thousand years ago. And the walls came tumbling down. . . I suppose that it was just one of the first cities built of stone- and so the first one whose ruins would survive. We know what happened to the house of straw, and the one of sticks. I'll huff, and I'll puff . .
There are full-scale reproductions of cave paintings which were made by the Leakey family, and I found these really fascinating. Having become quite interested in painting in the last few years, it was exciting to see the very beginning of it all. It seems the oldest known art dates back about 35,000 years, and these were already highly-stylized cave paintings of animals and daily life. Interesting that the urge to decorate, the urge to express something in pictures, should be so deeply ingrained in us from earliest times. It is also significant that there should be such individual styles evident as well, where the work of different painters of the time can actually be told apart.
I believe these first known works of art were found in caves in Spain, and it is interesting that the modes of form and line in which they worked are reflected so clearly in the famous Spanish artists of this century- like Picasso and Miro.
Back at the hotel, I moved from these visions of our earliest beginnings, to the pinnacle of modern civilization- the hair dryer. I borrowed one from the hotel, put the luggage stand on top of a table to make a clothesline, and sat in front of it drying my clothes one by one. It was a laborious, but eventually effective, method, and it still took several hours. I definitely gave this example of man's ingenuity a lifetime of use in one day. (But will it last 35,000 years?)
During that time I watched many fascinating "home-made" TV programs in Swahili, single-camera sitcoms and news programs, but it was worth it. It was better than having to pack a whole load of wet clothes into my pack- or dirty ones for that matter. Joy of joys- at last I had clean clothes!
The work is done if one does it.
* * *
The departures board at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport makes some interesting reading. Places like Entebbe, Khartoum, Harare, Kilimanjaro, Dar es Salaam, Bujumbura, Lusaka, Kigali, Kinshasa and Abidjan make a really good geography quiz. I failed: I had no idea where most of these places were. I learned later that of course Harare was formerly Salisbury in Zimbabwe, which was formerly Rhodesia. And when I found out that Bujumbura is the capital of Burundi, I knew I'd have to go there someday. I want to be able to say I've been to Bujumbura Burundi.
But today I had to get to Kilimanjaro. I arrived at the airport about two hours early, having heard so many travelers' tales about flying in Africa. It turned out not to make much difference, as each of the different airlines took turns using the same check-in counters, just changing the signs to read Kenya Airways, Sudan Air, Ethiopia Air, Ugandan Air, or any of the many others. The sign for Air Tanzania didn't appear for about an hour, during which time I found a seat and people-watched for a while.
After the inevitable long slow lineups to check in for the flight and check out of Kenya, there is the final insult of the "Departure Tax". After you spend your money to come and visit a place, and spend even more of it in the country, they have the nerve to hit you up for another $10 on the way out the door. A lot of countries dependent upon tourism seem to find this kind extortion an acceptable "goodbye present" to their visitors.
Once I was in an airport lineup on the Caribbean island of Antigua. I stood behind an American man who had absolutely no cash left to pay this departure tax, and was in a real bind as they truly would not let him board the plane unless he paid it. Sympathizing with the stupidity of the situation, I gave him the five or ten dollars. He took down my address and promised to repay it, but as time went by I forgot all about it. Then about two years later I was surprised to receive a cheque in the mail from this long-forgotten man, apologizing for having put it off so long. Sometimes things happen which renew your faith in human nature.
The plane actually took off almost right on time- only a half hour late- and it was a fairly smooth flight, about forty minutes long. Most of the passengers seemed to be African businessmen, or perhaps politicians, with only a few tourists or white expatriates traveling to Tanzania. It was a good plane, a 707, so I wasn't too worried, but it's a good thing I didn't know at the time that the US government forbids its employees to fly on Nigerian Air, and doesn't recommend that they fly on Air Tanzania- because of their lax safety standards. Great. The corrections to the airplane's attitude did seem a little heavy-handed at times, but we made a safe and smooth landing at Kilimanjaro International Airport. I was disappointed that the clouds were high, and there was no view of the mountain on the way in.
As I looked out the window while we waited to disembark, I did have a good warning to be careful how you pack soft luggage, when I watched one of the handlers jumping down from a pile of baggage, using my backpack as a stepping-stone!
Once again how different a place like this looks the second time around, when you've had a couple of weeks to put it into a context. And how different this little airport felt with only a few people getting off here, most of the passengers continuing on to the capital city of Dar es Salaam. There was none of the chaos of a jumbo jet full of people crowding in, none of the friction of tired and grumpy travelers and harried officers. As I filled out my immigration card in the empty arrivals hail, the young officer walked over to look over my shoulder, reading as I wrote and saying: "Oh, you are from Canada."
I smiled back at him and replied that: "yes I was", and when I got over to his counter he quickly stamped my passport and papers, and sent me over to pay my second "special Extortion Tax" of the day- the mandatory exchange of fifty US dollars. This time my pack was one of the first things off the 'plane, in fact one of the only things off the 'plane, and the atmosphere of the whole arrivals area was very calm, polite and friendly, so different from the growling and hassling of my first landing here.
I was soon walking out through the big glass doors, to be met by Nigel, a young New Zealander who represented the company "Wildlife Explorer", which had made the arrangements for the Kilimanjaro climb. He led me out to a brand-new Land Rover- what luxury!-, and we tossed my pack in the rear of it and drove off.
It's amazing how many New Zealanders there are working here in Africa, a disproportionate amount for such a small country. Nearly all the whites we met in the safari business were either New Zealanders or Australians. It was Simon who told me that the "Antipodeans" really have a reputation for "flying feet", or wanderlust, and it seems to be well-founded. I am good friends with quite a few New Zealanders who had moved to London at the same time I did years ago, and they're still there too. For a country which only has a population of about three million, they sure manage to cover the globe. Those people do get around.
Mundu utathiaga oi no nyina ururgaga.
He that does not travel knows only his mother's cooking.
end part one - tanzania
In Nairobi I bought an antique drum. A talking drum. It talks to me of thorn trees, fever trees and flame trees. It talks to me of rain forest, golden savanna and snow-capped mountain.
It talks to me of Africa.
I want this journal to be like the drum. More than a memory. More than a picture. The drum as a story is about primitive beauty, about wild things and about good people. It is about history, conversation, and magic.
It is about African time.
There is sunrise and sunset, Then there's all the time in between.