Adventures in East Africa—Part II

As you may recall,  in my blog “Adventures in East Africa—Part I,” I talked about our flight on our chartered airplane from Lagos, Nigeria to Nairobi, Kenya.  It was a very, very long flight because Africa is such a huge continent. When we arrived in  Nairobi, I was in a quandary about what I was going to do during my East Africa visit. 

Unexpectedly, some girls asked me to join them.  We started our tour with visits around Nairobi and Nairobi National Park and Masai Amboseli Game Reserve in Kenya.  The girls were Pat, Susan, Lisa, and Augusta.  We saw so many wonderful animals in such small areas reserved for the wild animals.  As we started to see the animals, we were so excited and stopped to see every animal we saw. 

One of the highlights in Amboseli was seeing a small herd of elephants with three baby elephants.  As I repeatedly tried to drive closer to them, the baby elephants always moved to the side away from us behind the adult elephants, as if to protect them from potential danger.  Another highlight occurred when we observed four lionesses and eleven cubs, half of which were about twice the size of the smaller cubs. The lions walked in single file across our road and across the plains.  Quite a sight!

Now, allow me to continue my presentation of our adventures as we drove into Tanzania on our way to Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park to observe more animals.

After our tour of Amboseli, we drove to Arusha in Tanzania.  In the Peace Corps office in Arusha, we met a British man by the name of Iain Douglas-Hamilton.  A very self-confident, somewhat aloof man, he was studying the behavior of elephants at Lake Manyara National Park.  When we informed him we intended to see Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti, he strongly asserted his belief that Lake Manyara surpassed the other two better-known parks.   After we expressed our concern about lodging and our failure to book accommodations for that evening at Ngorongoro Crater, Iain suggested we stay at Lake Manyara and even promised to put us up at Lake Manyara for free because he felt PCVs did good work, and he wanted to help us.  In turn, we agreed to take him back to Lake Manyara.  We were very grateful for his kind generosity.  

That evening, we dined at the plush Lake Manyara Hotel.  The table settings were fascinating.  The English custom involved two forks to the left of the plate, a regular knife, a fish knife, and a huge soup spoon to the right with a smaller fork, knife, and spoon above the plate.  You know that as a former busboy, I would notice those things.  Situated on a high hill, the hotel residents enjoyed a panoramic view of the bushy trees and the lake.  However, it did not impress me because the trees and greenery looked pretty scraggly and messy.

Thursday morning, we decided to quickly tour Lake Manyara before continuing to Serengeti and visit Ngorongoro on the way back.  At the entrance of Lake Manyara, a ranger informed us we had to go straight to Iain’s house and wait for him.  After much discussion, we decided to turn back and go to Serengeti because we feared Iain’s enthusiasm would impede our early departure from Lake Manyara.  In the late afternoon, we arrived at Seronera Lodge in Serengeti, which was a self-service lodge where we spent the night.

Tanzania established the Serengeti National Park in 1952 in an area that entails 5,700 square miles of savanna.  They claim it probably has the greatest wildlife spectacle on earth, which refers to the great migration of wildebeest and zebra.  In addition, Serengeti is home to a wide range of animals, including the lion, cheetah, elephant, giraffe, buffalo, rhino, leopard, and hyena.  According to Wikipedia, it has 4,000 lions, 550 cheetahs, and 500 bird species.  The great migration involves 1.5 million wildebeest, 200,000 zebras, and 300,000 Thomson’s gazelle in their long journey to find greener pastures.  In addition, more than 8,000 calves are born almost daily during this great pilgrimage.

To help us see more wildlife in Serengeti, since we did not know the places where wildlife most likely went, we hired a guide—Robert.  As we started the new day with Robert, we observed a new animal that we had not previously seen, the Topi, a hartebeest-type of antelope.

We saw more Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelle, hartebeest, topis, monkeys, and baboons.   We were delighted to see a couple of adult male lions, with their beautiful manes, sleeping on the ground nearby each other.  We could almost cuddle up to a lion.  Within only five or six feet, I drove and photographed one of the large male lions lying on its side with its big, brown mane.  How amazing!!  As I drove closer, he raised his head, showed his teeth, and snarled, as if to warn us not to get any closer.  What a thrill that was!!  Robert always urged me to drive very, very close, but I remained somewhat cautious.  In this case, the two lions continued to sleep and ignored us.

Another delight for us was to see a fairly rare sight, we were told.  In a tree, sleeping with front feet and legs straddling a tree branch lay a leopard.  In the tree right next to him lay the leopard’s latest kill, a gazelle.  Almost a hundred feet away in another tree lay a second leopard.  Peacefully, the leopards slept, undisturbed by our presence.  Finally, one of the leopards awakened, stretched, and washed himself.  Then he proceeded head-first down the tree and up the second tree to get the kill.  Numerous times (say, six or seven) he tugged repeatedly without success to drag his prey down from the tree.  However, every time, the gazelle got caught in the branches and could not get freed.  Finally, the leopard carried the gazelle higher up the tree and dined luxuriously.  After observing him for a long time, we left and eventually returned to the lodge.

Throughout the afternoon safari, Robert supplied us with some interesting information.  However, he sounded like a recording as he revealed his secrets in short choppy phrases:  weight, height, gestation period, and such.  For example, a giraffe stands twelve feet high at the shoulder plus another six to eight feet to the top of the head and weighs about 1,000 pounds.  He gave us the Swahili names for some animals including simba for lion, chui for leopard, twiga for giraffe, and duma for cheetah.  When we returned to Seronera Lodge, I was highly pleased and satisfied at seeing the lions so close and seeing the leopards.  I had been afraid we were going to miss seeing the leopards because we were told it was rare to see them.  The only major animal that I remained highly anxious about seeing was the cheetah, also rare to see.

Friday morning, only Susan and I were willing to get up in the morning to venture out on safari at 6:30 a.m.  It surprised me to learn that most people started at 7:30 a.m.  We were fortunate to gain permission to leave so early.  Again, Robert joined us to guide us around.  We began with seeing the usual collection of animals that were so prevalent.  We observed a large lioness stalking a herd of gazelle.  Because she was proceeding ever so cautiously and ever so slowly (a couple of yards at a time), we decided to move on.

Coming around a turn, what did we spot?  Was it?  Yes!  It was a duma! At last, we had seen a cheetah!  Oh, was I thrilled!!  We tried to drive close, but apparently that frightened the cheetah.  It always stayed a respectable (from his point of view) distance from us.  To prevent him from walking away, we circled him with the car.   He always seemed to walk away, making photography very, very difficult at best.  A couple of times, we were fortunate enough to capture side views.  Finally, the duma escaped across a little gorge.  We went on to see an elephant that we observed from a distance.  Perhaps scared by the noise of the car scraping the brush, the elephant ran away.

As it turned out, we crossed the gorge and came upon the cheetah again. We followed him a little longer this time.  He started to hunt and stalk two gazelle, but they quickly spotted him and kept him in sight thereafter.  I was only slightly disappointed that I did not observe the cheetah run.  On the other hand, I felt very grateful and exceedingly satisfied that I had observed  the major animals, including lion, leopard, cheetah, elephant, rhino, and buffalo.  Robert succinctly summed very well up our success at seeing the cheetah by quoting an English-language saying, “The early bird catches the worm.”

Late Friday morning, July 29, we departed Serengeti to drive to Ngorongoro Crater.  The fateful day had arrived!  As we drove close to the Serengeti gate, the water gauge on the car registered very hot.  Foolishly, we filled up the radiator with water and ignored the potential problem.  Continuing on, Augusta expressed her emphatic wish to visit Olduvai Gorge, which I had never heard of before she mentioned it.  Apparently, at this gorge, in the 1950s, Mary and Louis Leakey found the oldest remains of humankind, more than a million years old.  While I didn’t know it at the time, I later learned archaeologists considered Olduvai Gorge to be one of the most important prehistoric sites in the world.  Scholars believed its study helped to further understanding of human evolution.  At that time, I doubted the claim about the age of the find because I thought I had read somewhere that a more recent study at Nok, Nigeria constituted the oldest remains. 

As we drove along the dirt main road, we came upon a small eight by ten-inch sign that indicated the road to our left went to Olduvai Gorge.  So, we turned off the main road to the left onto a country-type dirt road that wound around the countryside.  On the way to the Gorge, we encountered a very rocky, hilly section of the road.   Also, the radiator appeared to be steaming badly, a sign of overheating due to the hot temperature.  Like a dummy, I thought I should see how much water was still in the radiator.  So, I opened the radiator lid after which the remaining water and steam suddenly GUSHED OUT!!  There we were.  In the middle of nowhere!  NO water in the radiator!  I TOLD the girls before we started that I knew nothing about cars!  I felt so embarrassed! I felt so humiliated!!  How could I have been so stupid?  Now I had to fix the mess we were in.  After discussing what to do, Augusta, Lisa, and I decided to walk towards the gorge (we thought), hoping to find some water.  After visiting all the game reserves, we had no idea if we would encounter any lions, wild dogs, hyenas, or any other animals.  Like a scene from a comedy movie, I put the two Fulani knives that I bought in Nigeria, one under my belt on the left and one on the right, to protect us from wild animals.  Now, I was ready.  In hindsight, I probably would have laughed hysterically at myself.

Needless to say, we set out.  Walking about two miles produced only a sign that the guides’ camp was located another five miles. Considering the lateness of the day and the possible danger from wild animals, we returned to the car that was situated roughly about seven miles from the main road in no man’s land.

Eventually, two herdsmen and their livestock happened along.  We quickly looked up the word “water” in Lisa’s English-Swahili dictionary that she happened to have.  We walked up to them and said “lac wa” in the best Swahili we could.  Of course, we did not know any Swahili, or how to pronounce the word correctly, or which syllable to emphasize.  The herdsmen did not seem to understand what we said.  We kept repeating “lac wa” in hopes they would understand what we were trying to say. Finally, it appeared they understood.  However, before they would take us to any water, they asked for shillings, or, in other words, money.  They refused to move without any promise to pay.  I insisted, “lac wa, shilling no shilling, lac wa.”  Suddenly, one of the herdsmen bolted and started walking across the plains.  Lisa and I grabbed a handful of used eight ounce coke bottles, and ran after him.  He walked extremely fast with his long legs.  Lisa had to constantly run to catch up to me and to avoid falling further behind. Meanwhile, while this was happening, the other girls could see us walking until we disappeared from sight.  They were left in suspense until we returned.

Walking for a solid hour and an estimated four miles, the herdsman stopped and stood there.  When we caught up to him and looked down at the ground, we discovered water—a mud hole with water!  How disappointing!  Even so, we dipped our coke and beer bottles into the water as best we could and got as much water and as little mud as we could.  Then we returned to the car after walking another hour.  While this was happening, it got darker and darker into the evening.  This made me very nervous because we were out in the open, just like we had been while looking at the wild animals.  Except we were not in a car!  I did not want to be dinner for the wild animals that might be hunting in the evening.

After getting back to our car, we poured the muddy water into the radiator and paid fifteen shillings to the herdsman.  Because it was such a long wait while Lisa and I were gone, Augusta told me she got out her copy of Winnie the Pooh and read it aloud to the others to pass the time.  Later, she proclaimed, “It saved the day!”

After we poured the muddy water into the radiator, we only managed to drive about five or six miles before our car overheated again, which meant we needed more water.  I was determined I would not stop before I got to the main road.  Finally, we returned to the main road and continued to drive. After a short distance, on the right, we saw a campfire up the incline away from the road.  We headed toward it.  We drove up to the left side of the corralled area.  The herdsmen motioned for us to go to the opposite side of the corral.  We found five or six herdsmen within the prickly bush fence containing their sheep and cattle.  They made the fence to protect themselves and their livestock from wild animals.  After they removed a section of their fence, they let us in.  As we did before, we cried “lac wa” (water) in our best Swahili.  To our amazement, they understood us.  They gave us wonderful, clear water that was enough to fill up our radiator plus several bottles of reserve.  An old man, who evidently was their leader, asked for a watch, flashlight, and bracelet.  He eyed a plastic bracelet that Augusta wore.  So she gave it to him.  He appeared overjoyed and thoroughly satisfied.  Although they invited us to eat dinner with them, we indicated that we wanted to drive on to Ngorongoro. 

We had no trouble getting to the rest lodge a little beyond Ngorongoro Crater.  All five of us were thoroughly filthy from head to foot and extremely hungry when we walked into the lodge.  At the lodge, we met the Martins again, along with Eva and her group, plus others who we knew when we started our East African travels.  We poured out our hearts, telling them about our recent adventure.  After washing up, we ate a hearty dinner.   Thus, the most exciting adventure on our trip ended.  The life lesson I learned from this episode was to persevere and search for ways to succeed, for example, when I lost my jobs for various reasons, to find another HR job.

Saturday, July 30, began with freezing weather.  We were about 10,000 feet above sea level.  Augusta and Lisa announced to the rest of us they were going to stay and visit Ngorongoro Crater.  I declined to go to the Crater because the only way was to pay forty shillings, which I felt I could not afford.  Susan and Pat favored continuing to Mombasa.  Consequently, we had the radiator hose replaced, after which the three of us left the Crater at 10:00 a.m. and continue to Mombasa without Augusta and Lisa.  We three made a brief hour stop in Moshi, Tanzania to see the market and to have lunch.  We arrived in Mombasa at 8:15 p.m. after the long trip. It turned out that we arrived in Mombasa on one of the busiest weekends of the year.  Monday, August 1, was going to be a bank holiday.  As a result, numerous people came to Mombasa.  We were lucky to find room at the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), but I stayed in the men’s wing since there was no Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in town.

Sunday consisted of two primary activities.  One was shopping for souvenirs, and the other was swimming in the Indian Ocean.  All three of us purchased many souvenirs.  In the afternoon, Susan and I went to the beach. It was a beautiful beach with white sand and palm trees lining the beach.  The water was green and quite warm, at least ten to twenty  degrees warmer than the Pacific Ocean in California where I went to the beach.  However, there was a lot of seaweed.  In the evening, Pat returned to the YWCA somewhat disturbed.  She thought we ought to leave Monday to return to Nairobi as a safety precaution in case of any car difficulty.  She even vowed to return by train if we refused to go.  Since Susan wanted to stay longer than Pat, I suggested we leave on Monday at noon, which we all agreed on.

Monday morning, we shopped some more.  Afterwards, we toured Fort Jesus at the edge of Old Town.  I wove quickly in and out of the rooms and walls as well as up and down the stairs like a boy discovering a whole new world.  I thoroughly enjoyed this old fort, a museum, at the time we were there.  It was built at the end of the sixteenth century by the Portuguese, following the best Italian standards of the day.  Its history involved a series of exchanges of control by the Portuguese, a local Sultan, and later the British.  In 1895, it became a British prison.  In 1960, it became a museum open to the public.  Most of the displays illustrated samples of the colorful ceramic works imported from China, India, and Europe.

I was sorry to leave Fort Jesus and Mombasa.  Eventually, we arrived in Nairobi after having some difficulty with the car overheating.  In Nairobi, we found room in the respective YWCA and YMCA.  On Tuesday, I spent the last day in Nairobi looking around and writing postcards.  I was very sad to leave Kenya and the wonderful time we had there.  

That concludes our trip in East Africa. 

I hope you have enjoyed our discussion about Adventures in East Africa and our visits to different game reserves in Kenya and Tanzania where we got up close to lions, baboons, rhinos, elephants, and other wild animals.  Also, you got a chance to hear about our adventure when we got stranded in the middle of nowhere and how we escaped possible danger.

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