Thursday, August 18, 2011

So-fari, so good.


As we drove further north the weather changed from hot, to baking hot. And as the temperature rose, my temper boiled and my tolerance plummeted. We were ever thankful when the sun dropped below the horizon. The cooler evening also meant only one thing, a thing that we'd travelled the entire world before finding it. That thing was 'The Fringe', an American sci-fi TV series that someone had copied 3 series (or seasons as they like to say in the US) of to our computer a few months before. It had lain there dormant, like a sleeping behemoth, before being unleashed with a mighty fury that had Fay and I watching like two junkies for hour upon glorious hour, evening upon guilty evening. It is, like this blog, both wildly inaccurate and at best only mildly entertaining, but it must have sated some unmet desires in both Fay and I and whilst at the end of every evening I sincerely promised myself that 'that was it' and 'no more, this time was really the last', we couldn't help ourselves and when Fay or I started watching again, the other would, as sure as night follows steaming hot day, be lured in.

It got hotter. We took a passenger ferry from Dar Es Salaam for a mini holiday within a holiday.  Zanzibar gave some temporary, windy reprieve. Not just from the heat but also from the car which had been our home, and increasingly an albatross around our necks for the last two months. Especially in the early stages, we were reluctant to leave the car unattended, and this meant many a time when I would go and buy another new sim card or negotiate the price of some market tomatoes and Fay (poor Fay) would be left to swelter in the hot tin can. As time has gone on, and we've discovered that Africans are generally more honest and trustworthy (if much more chaotically unorganised) than Westerners, we've managed to let go and leave 'Rhino' to her own devices whilst we go about our business.

One of the foremost reasons we left on our travels was Fay's desire, seeded when she was in her early teens, to see Africa, and more specifically, the Serengeti and the Masai Mara. Arusha is the main base town for both trips into the Serengeti and also to climb Kilimanjaro. Not having the time, money or inclination to climb Kili, I did manage to persuade Fay that climbing Mount Meru would be a good idea. Often used as an acclimatisation climb prior to attempting Kili, it is a great mountain in it's own right. At 4500 metres it's difficult enough, and the route is varied and at times spectacular. You are obliged to take an armed ranger/guide should the resident buffalo or mountain elephants take a dislike to you. We found a ranger at the gate called Jeffrey and he arranged for his friend with an unpronounceable name (whom I re-named 'Pen') to carry some of our equipment and food. The climb takes three days and on the third morning we set off at 1am and arrived at the summit to see the sun rise from behind Kili and cast it's imposing shadow over the clouds beneath us. What I won't say here is that despite my having to encourage Fay to attempt the mountain, it was her who had the much easier time getting to the top, my routine bouts of altitide sickness making life pretty tricksy 'up, up in the atmosphere' as they say in Mary Poppins. Jeffrey and Pen, were very patient as I had to take things very 'Pol-e Pol-e' (slowly slowly). We reached the bottom the following day and flicking through the comments book, I found the entry which best summed up the experience. Carlo d'amato thought the mountain was 'frickin' sweet'. How had he recorded his nationality? 'Eggplant' of course.



After Mount Meru we made our way to the Serengeti Plains and from there into Kenya and the Masai Mara. There are a million hoofed beasts that roam the plains in search of fresh grass. We were in the Tanzanian part of the park and with luck on our side we managed to view thousands of them crossing the Mara river. The power of ants comes from their working as a seamless organisation. To look at them as if to watch a single entity, each constituent part instinctively knowing it's job and performing it without question. The wildebeest seem to work in almost exactly the opposite way. So whilst we watched one group brave the currents and the crocs of the Mara River, we were simultaneously able to watch another, crossing at the same point, in the opposite direction.  The spectacle was fascinating to watch. The Wildebeest gather in ever greater numbers on the banks of the river. Time after time you think they are about to GO, but time after time they DON'T, and slowly disperse before gathering again. It's only occasionally, when one specifically suicidal beast makes the initial dash that it begins and thousands plummet   

frantically into the water, jumping over or standing on each other in their bid to get safely to the other side.


From the Kenyan side we had a different experience. We arrived at a point famous for Wildebeest crossings, and there were hundreds there. Although present, they were also very much dead, bloated and stinking of death and decaying flesh. They had attracted the morbid attention of an equal number of vultures and other scavenging birds to this corpse banquet and the sight was as harrowing as it was unexpected. We later found out that the unfortunate dead had either drowned or been stampeded to death. I can't imagine there's a better advertisement that the 'grass is not always greener' anywhere in the world.


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