© David E. Moon, 2014  All rights reserved

 

Middle Class Safari

We rented a white British Ford Sunbeam from a local agent. It was only two-wheel-drive, but its tires (including the spare) were in good shape and it was the dry season so we felt that it could probably handle the roads. We felt a profound sense of freedom. We had our tent, our stove, and supplies; we had our own vehicle. We could go where and when we wanted; we could stop where and when we wanted; we controlled our own schedule.

Masai Mara

West of Nairobi lay Masai Mara National Park. Contiguous with the great Serengeti Park of Tanzania, it is part of the great migration route. We were told that the great migration was over and that our best game viewing would be in the northern Serengeti and Masai Mara so we headed west from Nairobi. We left early and it was not long before we were seeing giraffe, antelope, and wildebeest. South from Narok, we followed a one lane dirt road towards Kline’s camp where we planned to spend our first night camping on the untamed savannah. Small herds of antelope, giraffe, and buffalo were scattered across a dry, rolling, grassy, acacia studded landscape.

Our First Camp

It had been a long day. we arrived at what we  thought was Kline’s gate on the Tanzanian-Kenyan border about dusk. At a border and park check- point, we asked for the location of the campsite that we had been told was available. Just ahead we were told. “See that buffalo standing by the road, turn left there; you can camp.” We had read that Cape Buffalo were danger- ous and could charge without provocation so we asked, “Isn’t that a Cape buffalo?” “Yes, yes”, was the answer“, turn left, you camp there.”           We drove to the buffalo, turned left, found a level spot and pitched our tent. We were the only campers, there were no facilities, the border guards were gone. We learned later that Kline’s camp was much further away and that we were not at a designated campsite. A small herd of buffalo gathered around a water seep kept a careful watch on us. Based on their reputation, we felt that they deserved an equally careful watch from us. It felt strange. We had been in Africa for over a month, we had camped before but this was our first night in the “wilds” of Africa. We were truly alone for the first time on our trip, our only company, notoriously ill- tempered Cape buffalo. Should there be trouble, we had nowhere to turn for help. We were camped some distance from the buffalo, but as a precaution we left the car running until the tent was up and dinner was ready. We left both the front and back entrances open for quick escape. By the time dinner was ready, all we could see were eyes reflecting the light of our flashlight back from the dark. We turned off the engine and headlights and ate dinner by candlelight. Just after dinner, an eerie glow appeared on the horizon. It couldn’t be sunset because it was in the southeast. The red glow grew brighter and brighter, wider and wider until it seemed to stretch from horizon to horizon. We were watching a wild grass fire. We watched for a long time, trying to tell if it was coming towards us. Finally about ten or eleven o’clock we decided that it was not getting any closer and went to sleep. The next morning, the buffalo were gone, but the grass was still golden brown and the birds were singing so apparently the fire had missed us.

Seronera Lodge

We headed off to the near fabled Seronera lodge in the Serengeti Park. We took our time, looking for game and enjoying the scenery. About mid morning we passed through the blackened landscape left by the grass fire of the night before. The abundance of animals was surpris- ing, but they were mostly scavengers like fox, jackal, and hyena. The remains of a wildebeest laying amidst the ashes of the grass fire seemed a metaphor, the promise of independent nations rising from the remains of colonialism. Before finding a campsite, we went into the lodge to see how the moneyed class lived. After staying in council rest houses and low budget rooms, the opulence quite stunned us. I remembered our strangely dressed companion on the S. S. Chauncey Maples and wondered what he would have thought of it; if he could even have believed the cost of a single night’s accommodation. We arrived at our campsite before dusk. Again we were the only people there, but this time there were rudimentary facilities and no buffalo. As we ate dinner, we watched giraffe graze the Acacia trees until silhouetted by the setting sun. It was nearly a full moon and as the moon rose the Acacias cast shadows from the moon towards our tent. This was the Africa of our imaginings.  About midnight, I crawled out of my sleeping bag, slipped on my sandals, and stepped outside into the stillness of the night. The Acacias still cast moon shadows, but they were much shorter and the moon hung large and luminescent above my head. As I moved away from the tent, I was sure that I saw a large male lion sitting in the shadow of an Acacia. Undecided as to waking Barb and retreaating to the car or going back to the tent, I returned to the tent and lay awake, continuing the debate. Sleep eventually ended the debate.

Game Guide

The next morning we hired a game guide to help us find game. Since we were using our own car, it was relatively inexpensive. Our guide seemed impressed that we were camping by ourselves but did not seem to think that it was dangerous. Dressed in the green fatigues of a park warden, he was young, articulate, and well versed in the natural history of the area. He knew the animals, birds, reptiles, and even many of the insects. He could identify the trees, shrubs, and grasses. He explained the seasonal patterns and their effect on the vegetation and the pattern of the great migration. We told him of the grass fire and he described the impact of grass fires and grazing patterns on the vegetation and of the vegetation on grazing patterns. He found lion, cheetah, and leopard. He found all of the large mammals except rhino and some ungulates which were no longer in the area. Before leaving us, he told us where we would be sure  to find crocodiles and hippo, and he recommended Ngorongoro crater if we wanted to see rhino.

Cultural Dualism

Even more than his game finding skills, we appreciated the chance to talk. He was a Masai, employed by the lodge to guide tourists. His English was excellent and we asked where he had learned it. It turns out that like the Canadian government trying to assimilate the first nations people, the Tanzanian government was trying to force the assimilation and settlement of the nomadic Masai. He was one of the subjects of the Tanzanian assimilation experiment. He had been forced into boarding school. He was required to wear western clothes and shoes, to speak English, and to study the standard Oxford syllabus (he also knew that Canada produced salmon and wheat). Unlike the First Nations children in Canada, he was allowed to return home on weekends and holidays. When he finished his schooling, he returned to his family. The Masai, he said, had created a new ceremony to honour the return of their children. It was “the pants burning ceremony” in which the returning children would don their traditional dress and burn their school uniforms. While he wore a guides uniform and slept in a dormitory when at the lodge, he would return home and join traditional Masai life during his off hours. He saw no contradiction in this and took great pride in his Masai heritage. As an official guide, he emphasized that were not supposed to leave the car, but since we were camping and would have to leave the car to camp, he would tell us the trick that would allow us to walk, unbothered by the Tsetse fly. “Tsetse flies are greedy,” he said. “If you walk behind something big,  they will attack the big thing and ignore you. One of you can walk behind the car while the other drives, the flies will chase the car and leave the other alone.” As soon as we were on our own we tried it. It worked.

Masai Lands

The area between the tsetse fly prone game parks and the fertile uplands was of use only to the semi-nomadic Masai and here they still followed their traditional way of life. They lived in semi- permanent compounds of wattle and daub huts surrounded by a wattle fence, armed with acacia thorns to keep predators out and cattle in. They followed the grass, moving their herds to new areas as the grazing became depleted. Moving from compound to compound, they carried their possessions on the backs of donkeys or the heads of their women, and repaired or rebuilt  their compounds on arrival. We had shared a bus and had seen their compounds, women and boys herding goats, and men guarding cattle but only from a distance. We had snatched a few images with our telephoto lens, but had actually met none except our guide. On our way to Ngorongoro Crater, we came across and elderly Masai with a pronounced limp, he was herding goats along the road. This was unusual because we had only seen young boys and girls herding goats. The men and older boys herded cattle. As we tried to pass, the goats would run down the road, leaving the man behind. If we slowed the goats would slow and the man could catch up. We offered him a ride. He had very little English, and we had very little Swahili, but were able to explain that we would follow the goats until it was time for them to leave the road and that we would then stop and let him out to take charge of the herd again. He sat in the passenger seat so that he could keep an eye on the goats while Barbara sat in the back. His spear would not fit in the front so he somewhat reluctantly let it lay across Barb’s lap in the back. After a kilometer or two, the goats turned off the road onto a trail. We stopped and our passenger got out. He bowed, said asante (thank you in Swahili) and limped after his goats. We could see his compound in the distance and as we drove away, I regretted that we did not ask to visit the compound or to take pictures, but the story of the tourist in the hospital still haunted me.

Ngorongoro Crater

Driving east from camp, the dull green slopes of Ngorongoro crater and surrounding lava cones rose 2500’ above the gold and brown of the savana.  That evening, camped on the rim of the crater, we looked down on a microcosm of the African savana 1500’ below us. The high elevation was enough to make the evening quite cold, and we were glad to be carrying the extra clothes that we had needed in England in the spring. Tourists were not allowed on the crater floor without an official guide and since our vehicle was probably not up to the road anyway, we booked a guided tour in a Land Rover. The day long excursion was spectacular and our Serengeti guide was right, we saw rhinoceros; in fact we saw a mother and her young. A young male lion whose leg had been chewed off by a hyena was being cared for and  protected by the pride. It had sur- vived for some months. The guide thought it would sur- vive to maturity but did not know what would happen to him if  the dominant male thought him a threat. He would probably be driven off by the dominant male and succumb to hyena. The day trip, although expensive by our standards, was well worth the time and money, the guide was knowledgeable and well spoken, our com- panions friendly and fun, and we even began to lose our low-budget traveller’s disdain for people on guided tours.

Freedom Has Its Price

Passing through a small village between our camp at Ngorongoro and Lake Manyara, we were surprised to have small children throw rocks at the car and for adults to avoid us. I don’t think they were malicious, I am not even sure that they thought of us as people. Travelling by bus, we had been part of a community travelling by a car we had become outsiders.

Lake Manyara

Our next camp was at Lake Manyara, a large sodic lake famed for its bush elephants, tree climbing lions, and bird life. Full grown lions lazed in the branches of a large tree, like giant house cats on a deluxe scratching post, flamingos coloured the lake pink, and giraffe grazed the acacias.  Apparently, the lions climb trees to escape the incessant attention of flies. We camped that night at a designated camping spot. It was a small clearing in the dense bush near the lake. Again we were the only campers. About nine o’clock in the evening, we heard strange whooshing and cracking sounds coming out of the darkness. Something large and noisy was moving our way, so we opened both ends of the tent in preparation for a quick escape if necessary. Not wanting to be blundered into, we placed a couple of lit candles on plates in the middle of the tent so that we glowed like some strange, blue, luminescent, giant grub. We sat just inside the entrance, peering into the dark. The sounds came closer and eventually we could make out dark lumbering shapes as a heard of bush elephant passed close by. The whooshing sounds were made by small saplings as they bent under the passing bodies of the elephants and then sprung up again as the elephant passed, the cracking, from stems too brittle to bend. It was a memorable last night in the game parks. They were the initial reason we had come to Africa. They were everything we had expected and hoped for, but despite this they were slightly anticlimactic and would be only one small part, perhaps the least important part of our memories of Africa.

Departure

We returned to the Nairobi city park yet again. The car rental had depleted our cash reserves and we calculated that we had just enough to get home but nothing left for side trips. We heard about bargains to be had on Egypt Air. If you booked at the last minute, you could get dramatic discounts on the airfare. You had to fly via Cairo, but stopping in Egypt did not seem a great hardship so we negotiated a flight from Nairobi to Cairo and then from Cairo to London. The cost saving was dramatic and left us with enough money to enjoy a few days in Egypt. We arrived at the airport to find a very long line up for the Egypt air flight. The late booking deals must have been a good strategy because the plane was full. It was so full that they were weighing both luggage and passengers to calculate their payload exactly. A young Aussie was rudely surprised by this. He was working his way around the world creating hand-tooled leather items to sell to his fellow travellers and had tried to hide twenty or thirty pounds of leather working tools in his leather jacket to avoid excess luggage charges. When we last saw him he was trying to distribute his tools among several fellow passengers, most of whom he did not know. Despite the crowd, the airline allowed us to carry our inexpensive but precious Makonde carvings as hand luggage. The total weight of passengers and luggage must have been close to the plane’s limit because we spent some hours on the runway waiting for the barometric pressure to rise enough for take-off. We sat, knees under our chins, shoulder to shoulder, sweating because the air conditioning was not working and as the plane finally taxied down the runway, it seemed a fitting finale to our budget safari through East Africa.
Giraffe, grazing on acacias! Alone on the savannay, except for... A black backed jackal scavenging after the fire. African metaphor? Sunset on the Serengetti. Leopard Lion and zebra. Wildebeest and crested cranes. Masai woment moving camp. Lookig into Ngorongoro crater from the rim. Ngorongoro rhinoceros. Baboon. Tree climbing lions of Lake Manyara. These could have been our visitors of the night before.

 

Middle Class Safari

We rented a white British Ford Sunbeam from a local agent. It was only two-wheel-drive, but its tires (including the spare) were in good shape and it was the dry season so we felt that it could probably handle the roads. We felt a profound sense of freedom. We had our tent, our stove, and supplies; we had our own vehicle. We could go where and when we wanted; we could stop where and when we wanted; we controlled our own schedule.

Masai Mara

West of Nairobi lay Masai Mara National Park. Contiguous with the great Serengeti Park of Tanzania, it is part of the great migration route. We were told that the great migration was over and that our best game viewing would be in the northern Serengeti and Masai Mara so we headed west from Nairobi. We left early and it was not long before we were seeing giraffe, antelope, and wildebeest. South from Narok, we followed a one lane dirt road towards Kline’s camp where we planned to spend our first night camping on the untamed savannah. Small herds of antelope, giraffe, and buffalo were scattered across a dry, rolling, grassy, acacia studded landscape.

Our First Camp

It had been a long day. we arrived at what we  thought was Kline’s gate on the Tanzanian- Kenyan border about dusk. At a border and park checkpoint, we asked for the location of the campsite that we had been told was avail- able. Just ahead we were told. “See that buf- falo standing by the road, turn left there; you can camp.” We had read that Cape Buffalo were dangerous and could charge without provocation so we asked, “Isn’t that a Cape buffalo?” “Yes, yes”, was the answer“, turn left, you camp there.”           We drove to the buffalo, turned left, found a level spot and pitched our tent. We were the only campers, there were no facilities, the border guards were gone. We learned later that Kline’s camp was much further away and that we were not at a designated campsite. A small herd of buffalo gathered around a water seep kept a careful watch on us. Based on their reputation, we felt that they deserved an equally careful watch from us. It felt strange. We had been in Africa for over a month, we had camped before but this was our first night in the “wilds” of Africa. We were truly alone for the first time on our trip, our only company, notoriously ill-tempered Cape buffalo. Should there be trouble, we had nowhere to turn for help. We were camped some distance from the buffalo, but as a precaution we left the car running until the tent was up and dinner was ready. We left both the front and back entrances open for quick escape. By the time dinner was ready, all we could see were eyes reflecting the light of our flashlight back from the dark. We turned off the engine and headlights and ate dinner by candlelight. Just after dinner, an eerie glow appeared on the horizon. It couldn’t be sunset because it was in the southeast. The red glow grew brighter and brighter, wider and wider until it seemed to stretch from horizon to horizon. We were watching a wild grass fire. We watched for a long time, trying to tell if it was coming towards us. Finally about ten or eleven o’clock we decided that it was not getting any closer and went to sleep. The next morning, the buffalo were gone, but the grass was still golden brown and the birds were singing so apparently the fire had missed us.

Seronera Lodge

We headed off to the near fabled Seronera lodge in the Serengeti Park. We took our time, looking for game and enjoying the scenery. About mid morning we passed through the blackened landscape left by the grass fire of the night before. The abundance of animals was surprising, but they were mostly scav- engers like fox, jackal, and hyena. The remains of a wilde- beest laying amidst the ashes of the grass fire seemed a metaphor, the promise of independent nations rising from the remains of colonialism. Before finding a campsite, we went into the lodge to see how the moneyed class lived. After staying in council rest houses and low budget rooms, the opulence quite stunned us. I remembered our strangely dressed companion on the S. S. Chauncey Maples and wondered what he would have thought of it; if he could even have believed the cost of a single night’s accommodation. We arrived at our campsite before dusk. Again we were the only people there, but this time there were rudimentary facilities and no buffalo. As we ate dinner, we watched giraffe graze the Acacia trees until silhouetted by the setting sun. It was nearly a full moon and as the moon rose the Acacias cast shadows from the moon towards our tent. This was the Africa of our imaginings.  About midnight, I crawled out of my sleeping bag, slipped on my sandals, and stepped outside into the stillness of the night. The Acacias still cast moon shadows, but they were much shorter and the moon hung large and luminescent above my head. As I moved away from the tent, I was sure that I saw a large male lion sitting in the shadow of an Acacia. Undecided as to waking Barb and retreaating to the car or going back to the tent, I returned to the tent and lay awake, continuing the debate. Sleep eventually ended the debate.

Game Guide

The next morning we hired a game guide to help us find game. Since we were using our own car, it was relatively inexpensive. Our guide seemed impressed that we were camping by ourselves but did not seem to think that it was dangerous. Dressed in the green fatigues of a park warden, he was young, articulate, and well versed in the natural history of the area. He knew the animals, birds, reptiles, and even many of the insects. He could identify the trees, shrubs, and grasses. He explained the seasonal patterns and their effect on the vegetation and the pattern of the great migration. We told him of the grass fire and he described the impact of grass fires and grazing patterns on the vegetation and of the vegetation on grazing patterns. He found lion, cheetah, and leopard. He found all of the large mammals except rhino and some ungulates which were no longer in the area. Before leaving us, he told us where we would be sure  to find crocodiles and hippo, and he recommended Ngorongoro crater if we wanted to see rhino.

Cultural Dualism

Even more than his game finding skills, we appreciated the chance to talk. He was a Masai, employed by the lodge to guide tourists. His English was excellent and we asked where he had learned it. It turns out that like the Canadian government trying to assimilate the first nations people, the Tanzanian government was trying to force the assimilation and settlement of the nomadic Masai. He was one of the subjects of the Tanzanian assimilation experiment. He had been forced into boarding school. He was required to wear western clothes and shoes, to speak English, and to study the standard Oxford syllabus (he also knew that Canada produced salmon and wheat). Unlike the First Nations children in Canada, he was allowed to return home on weekends and holidays. When he finished his schooling, he returned to his family. The Masai, he said, had created a new ceremony to honour the return of their children. It was “the pants burning ceremony” in which the returning children would don their traditional dress and burn their school uniforms. While he wore a guides uniform and slept in a dormitory when at the lodge, he would return home and join traditional Masai life during his off hours. He saw no contradiction in this and took great pride in his Masai heritage. As an official guide, he emphasized that were not supposed to leave the car, but since we were camping and would have to leave the car to camp, he would tell us the trick that would allow us to walk, unbothered by the Tsetse fly. “Tsetse flies are greedy,” he said. “If you walk behind something big,  they will attack the big thing and ignore you. One of you can walk behind the car while the other drives, the flies will chase the car and leave the other alone.” As soon as we were on our own we tried it. It worked.

Masai Lands

The area between the tsetse fly prone game parks and the fertile uplands was of use only to the semi-nomadic Masai and here they still followed their traditional way of life. They lived in semi-permanent compounds of wattle and daub huts surrounded by a wattle fence, armed with acacia thorns to keep predators out and cattle in. They followed the grass, moving their herds to new areas as the grazing became depleted. Moving from compound to compound, they carried their possessions on the backs of donkeys or the heads of their women, and repaired or rebuilt  their compounds on arrival. We had shared a bus and had seen their compounds, women and boys herding goats, and men guarding cattle but only from a distance. We had snatched a few images with our telephoto lens, but had actually met none except our guide. On our way to Ngorongoro Crater, we came across and elderly Masai with a pronounced limp, he was herding goats along the road. This was unusual because we had only seen young boys and girls herding goats. The men and older boys herded cattle. As we tried to pass, the goats would run down the road, leaving the man behind. If we slowed the goats would slow and the man could catch up. We offered him a ride. He had very little English, and we had very little Swahili, but were able to explain that we would follow the goats until it was time for them to leave the road and that we would then stop and let him out to take charge of the herd again. He sat in the passenger seat so that he could keep an eye on the goats while Barbara sat in the back. His spear would not fit in the front so he somewhat reluctantly let it lay across Barb’s lap in the back. After a kilometer or two, the goats turned off the road onto a trail. We stopped and our passenger got out. He bowed, said asante (thank you in Swahili) and limped after his goats. We could see his compound in the distance and as we drove away, I regretted that we did not ask to visit the compound or to take pictures, but the story of the tourist in the hospital still haunted me.

Ngorongoro Crater

Driving east from camp, the dull green slopes of Ngorongoro crater and surrounding lava cones rose 2500’ above the gold and brown of the savana.  That evening, camped on the rim of the crater, we looked down on a microcosm of the African savana 1500’ below us. The high elevation was enough to make the evening quite cold, and we were glad to be carrying the extra clothes that we had needed in England in the spring. Tourists were not allowed on the crater floor without an official guide and since our vehicle was probably not up to the road any- way, we booked a guided tour in a Land Rover. The day long excursion was spectacu- lar and our Serengeti guide was right, we saw rhinoceros; in fact we saw a mother and her young. A young male lion whose leg had been chewed off by a hyena was being cared for and  protected by the pride. It had survived for some months. The guide thought it would survive to maturity but did not know what would happen to him if  the dominant male thought him a threat. He would probably be driven off by the domin- ant male and succumb to hyena. The day trip, although expensive by our standards, was well worth the time and money, the guide was knowledgeable and well spoken, our companions friendly and fun, and we even began to lose our low- budget travel- ler’s disdain for people on guided tours.

Freedom Has Its Price

Passing through a small village between our camp at Ngorongoro and Lake Manyara, we were surprised to have small children throw rocks at the car and for adults to avoid us. I don’t think they were malicious, I am not even sure that they thought of us as people. Travelling by bus, we had been part of a community travelling by a car we had become outsiders.

Lake Manyara

Our next camp was at Lake Manyara, a large sodic lake famed for its bush elephants, tree climbing lions, and bird life. Full grown lions lazed in the branches of a large tree, like giant house cats on a deluxe scratching post, flamingos coloured the lake pink, and giraffe grazed the acacias.  Apparently, the lions climb trees to escape the incessant attention of flies. We camped that night at a designated camping spot. It was a small clearing in the dense bush near the lake. Again we were the only campers. About nine o’clock in the evening, we heard strange whooshing and cracking sounds coming out of the darkness. Something large and noisy was moving our way, so we opened both ends of the tent in preparation for a quick escape if necessary. Not wanting to be blundered into, we placed a couple of lit candles on plates in the middle of the tent so that we glowed like some strange, blue, luminescent, giant grub. We sat just inside the entrance, peering into the dark. The sounds came closer and eventually we could make out dark lumbering shapes as a heard of bush elephant passed close by. The whooshing sounds were made by small saplings as they bent under the passing bodies of the elephants and then sprung up again as the elephant passed, the cracking, from stems too brittle to bend. It was a memorable last night in the game parks. They were the initial reason we had come to Africa. They were everything we had expected and hoped for, but despite this they were slightly anticlimactic and would be only one small part, perhaps the least important part of our memories of Africa.

Departure

We returned to the Nairobi city park yet again. The car rental had depleted our cash reserves and we calculated that we had just enough to get home but nothing left for side trips. We heard about bargains to be had on Egypt Air. If you booked at the last minute, you could get dramatic discounts on the airfare. You had to fly via Cairo, but stopping in Egypt did not seem a great hardship so we negotiated a flight from Nairobi to Cairo and then from Cairo to London. The cost saving was dramatic and left us with enough money to enjoy a few days in Egypt. We arrived at the airport to find a very long line up for the Egypt air flight. The late booking deals must have been a good strategy because the plane was full. It was so full that they were weighing both luggage and passengers to calculate their payload exactly. A young Aussie was rudely surprised by this. He was working his way around the world creating hand-tooled leather items to sell to his fellow travellers and had tried to hide twenty or thirty pounds of leather working tools in his leather jacket to avoid excess luggage charges. When we last saw him he was trying to distribute his tools among several fellow passengers, most of whom he did not know. Despite the crowd, the airline allowed us to carry our inexpensive but precious Makonde carvings as hand luggage. The total weight of passengers and luggage must have been close to the plane’s limit because we spent some hours on the runway waiting for the barometric pressure to rise enough for take-off. We sat, knees under our chins, shoulder to shoulder, sweating because the air conditioning was not working and as the plane finally taxied down the runway, it seemed a fitting finale to our budget safari through East Africa.
© David E. Moon, 2014  All rights reserved
Giraffe, grazing on acacias! Cape buffalo, notoriously unpredictable. Alone on the savannah, except forů. A black backed jackal scavenging after the fire. African metaphor? Sunset on the Serengetti. Leopard, zebra, wildebeest, and crested cranes. Masai women moving camp. Looking into the Ngorongoro crater from the rim. Ngorongoro rhinoceros. Baboon The tree climbing lions of Lake Manyara. These could have been our visitors of the night before.