Journey to Lake Natron and Back
by John Fuhring
The next day I awakened at dawn and took a picture from the window of that same bedroom I slept in all the other times I've stayed at the Farm. This morning Terry made a quick exit and he was gone before anybody knew it and before anybody but me had a chance to say goodbye. I guess a rapid exit was the way he wanted it although I would have liked to have given him a more formal goodbye. Later on Bernadette and Stefan were driven through Arusha and down to the Kilimanjaro Airport by Lisa's husband, Mr. Schovsbo. Dr. Kolblinger must have been quite exhausted because he slept through lunch and through the departure of Bernadette and Stefan. I thought he'd like to say goodbye to them, but he was completely zonked out. None of the remainder of our group were scheduled to leave this day.
Dawn after returning to the Uto Farm.
Bernard and his daughter, Florence were eager to see more of Africa so Mr. Schovsbo contacted a safari company while in Arusha and arranged a luxury stay at a resort above the Ngorongoro Crater. Florence asked me to go too. I was very touched and grateful that they weren't sick of my company by now and maybe I should have gone with them - I was tempted. The truth was, I had already seen Ngorongoro and I was lonely for friends I could talk to (human and animal) back home.
Since Mr. Schovsbo would be in Arusha on his way to Kilimanjaro Airport, I asked if he'd check with the KLM office and see if it would be possible to move my departure date up a couple of days. Very graciously, he did that for me and found it would be only $150.00 to change the ticket. Whoopee!! For just a few bucks I could leave for home the next day.
That evening we had a wonderfully flavorful steak dinner in the dining room of the Farm House. It was kind of a bittersweet moment for me. Bernard and Florence were at dinner as was Tom and Dr. Kolblinger. Janice was very gracious and apparently had forgotten my less than nice manners from a couple of days ago. I knew that after tomorrow I'd be seeing the last of everybody, but I would be going home and it was indeed a little bittersweet.
In the morning a Toyota Land Cruiser came by the Farm and took Bernard and Florence away. Adieu mon Cher, bon voyage. A little later Mr. Schovsbo took me into Arusha to the KLM office and then to the Davanu Bus office. I paid the $150 to a very competent native KLM clerk who knew just what he was doing and I was very pleased that the transaction went though so smoothly. Then Mr. Schovsbo went into the Davanu office for me and came out with a ticket for the bus. He said I owed him $10.00. Ten dollars!?! how can that be, I paid $25 for the ticket last time. He kind of chuckled and said that that's what they charge the ignorant tourists, but the locals only have to pay $10. I laughed and said that even at $25 it's still a bargain, but I was grateful to him for saving me 15 bucks.
I want to tell you something. Mr. Schovsbo is one of the finest gentlemen you are ever likely to meet. A highly intelligent man and a master of all languages. We had the most wonderful conversation on our way into and around the town of Arusha. He told me the absolutely fascinating story of how he got to Argentina as a young man and how he and Lisa got to Africa. He told me about life in Argentina under the Peron's and about Evita and I finally started to understand what that was all about. What a wonderfully interesting life that man has led, encompassing the modern histories of Europe, South America and Africa. What a wonderful thing that he had the intelligence and understanding to comprehend the history as it unfolded around him. His present understanding and knowledge of international events is far beyond that of most Americans living in my media saturated, but still information starved country.
Mr. Schovsbo left me at the very comfortable and modern Novhotel there in Arusha I waited in the TV lobby for the Davanu bus that would take me to international airport at Nairobi. There is really great TV coverage over satellite all over Africa now. I watched TV there at the Farm before I left (they had the generator going) and now I was watching the international soccer games at the hotel. The place was packed with people, mostly natives, who were just glued to the action. Soccer is a worldwide passion that few people here in America know about or appreciate.
The media anywhere in Europe or Africa is so different than what we experience here in America. You step outside the borders of our commercially controlled media and all of a sudden you are confronted with a new reality. News is pretty much presented as raw data and unfiltered by what the commercial networks wants us to know or thinks it knows what we want to see. In addition to seeing the bloody bodies of innocent Jewish children and their grieving parents, you also see the bloody bodies of Palestinian children and their grieving parents and you will actually see live footage of people in the streets as they fall nerveless (and many times lifeless) when stray bullets from American made tanks and rifles hit them. And this coverage is from sources such as the BBC and European CNN - stuff we just don't see over here.
Once on the bus and after departing Arusha, the trip back to Nairobi was long and uneventful. There was only a couple of people on the bus and certainly nobody to talk to. I really had to hand it to the bus driver, he could definitely make that old thing fly. According to my GPS receiver, we would hit 80 miles per hour at times and I just wondered how he could control the old bus and avoid obstructions and slower traffic that might be around the next blind corner, but he did. We hadn't gone very much past the Uto Farm when I was regretting not spending the extra money to fly in and out of the Kilimanjaro airport. With the rip-off the Kenyan government charges for a "transit visa" and the 5 hours of travel time plus the very real danger of a high speed crash on a very narrow, crooked and poorly marked road, it is not a good an idea to travel like that. Maybe for one's first trip to Tanzania, flying into Nairobi and taking the bus is a great way to see the countryside, but doing it twice or more is really dumb.
Roadside businesses taken from our moving bus.
Once at the Jomo Kenyatta Airport outside Nairobi, I made a beeline to the very nice KLM lounge where I had a good (and inexpensive) little dinner and enjoyed my last African beer. They called us out early for extensive security checks and then we waited, and waited and waited in an airless, overcrowded and hot room. It seemed like an eternity in that little hell, but finally we boarded the jet for the trip to Amsterdam.
The flight to Amsterdam was quite comfortable with good food and drinks. I think I even slept a little - maybe. We landed a little after 6 AM just as the sun was coming up. We would have landed a little earlier because we made very good time, but planes are not allowed to land at the Schiphol Airport before 6 AM. I was dead tired, but I had to kill about 5 hours so I looked into a little tour of Amsterdam. The day was beautiful out. No rain and warm, sunny weather. They probably don't have more than 2 or 3 days like that in any one year, but I decided that I didn't want to go to the hassle of going through their customs, immigration and security going out and then coming back in again. I also didn't want to have to stow my luggage and the price of the tour was kind of steep. I looked over all the sights on the tour and decided it wasn't worth it. Instead, I found a rest area where they had very comfortable lounge chairs and took a snooze. That was so sweet. When I woke up I was surrounded by Muslims men, women and children who had also discovered the comforts of this lounge.
It was only about 11 AM local time so I went to a cyber cafe and rented a computer for a few minutes. I was able to check my E-mail and found out that my dear aunt Helen had died. I sent an E-mail to my sister Mary Ann to tell her of my flight number and arrival time. She was able to relay the information on to my wonderful niece, Jennifer.
At last it was time to board the KLM flight directly to Los Angeles. It was a nice flight and again the food was good. They were very generous with the drinks and I have nothing but the highest praise for KLM. The airplane raced the sun as it sped west (West With the Day - kind of catchy, don't you think?) and we arrived at LAX in the afternoon of the very same day I landed in Amsterdam. I got through that huge long line at customs at long last and, out in the street, here came Jennifer and Roger with my car. I couldn't stop to thank them as they deserved, but had to throw my stuff in my back seat and drive out of there. I can't express how grateful I was to see them and for all the trouble they had gone for me.
It was about 6:30 PM, with that same sun in the sky, when I got to the stables where my horses live. It's doubtful they were very glad to see me, but I was really glad to see them and, though they really don't like it, I put my arm around their necks and squeezed. When I knew they were OK and after cleaning their corrals, I sat outside the tack room and watched the San Rafael Mountains change colors and grow dim as the sun went down. That day had lasted around 23 hours and this was my first sundown since then. Surprisingly, I wasn't all that sleepy, but by the time I got home and went to bed, I slept long and hard. Next morning I awoke at my normal time (5:30 AM) and felt great with no "jet lag." I showered, dressed and went to work that morning. After what I had been through, I felt that I needed to get back to work as soon as possible so I could get some rest.
So now we come to the very end of the story. I was home for several weeks before I could bring myself to start writing up this story. I had such mixed feelings about the whole thing that I just couldn't get started. You know, I'm still trying to sort out my feelings regarding this Lake Natron safari. In the final analysis, I must admit that trip was not fun. I did not have an enjoyable experience and in that regard, for me, the Lake Natron Expedition was an expensive failure. On the other hand, I am smart enough to know that not all worthwhile things are "fun" or enjoyable at the time they are experienced.
In short, I think I can sum up my feelings by saying that (for me anyway) this trip was not fun, but it was an adventure. Good adventures, real adventures are never fun at the time they are experienced. The very best ones are frightening, dangerous, difficult and quite painful. Its only after the adventure is over that you can take relish in telling about the more gruesome aspects of the trip. No story of how much fun you had lying on a beach or how fun it was partying in the grand ballroom of the QE II is really worth telling about or listening to. I'm not saying that the telling of this story was worth listening to - that is for you to decide, but I had fun writing it up and remembering the experiences now that the adventure is over.
Someday I may go back to Africa to do some traveling on my own, but right now I think that this will be my last guided African safari. If you have read my Movie Story, you might have noticed that the subtitle is: "Why Fools Have More Fun" and it's true that to expose yourself to those adventures that make life exciting and worth living, you must let yourself be led into foolish situations from time to time. That was the case when I went to New Mexico for that movie and such was the case with this safari. Once the thing has been experienced, you are inexcusably foolish to do it again in the same manner. The manner I am again referring to is just this: when you place yourself in a subordinate or otherwise non participatory position where you are not a full member with voting or even consulting privileges, you can get yourself into situations that make you uncomfortable, scared and you may even be in physical danger - and the worst part of it is that you are not allowed to say a thing about it. This I had to do when I was in the Military many years ago, but now I want to know what's going on and be included when problems are discussed along with their possible solutions. I do not want people whispering behind closed doors or talking in Danish so I won't hear or understand what they are saying. I want to have an input too and especially if it affects my safety or comfort. Many people can't or won't operate their businesses so that "guests" and other outsiders have a say in things. That's fine, I understand and I probably wouldn't want every Joe Blow telling me how to run my business either. Fine, but I don't think I'll ever go on something like this again where I am not at least a junior partner in the enterprise. But, didn't I say something like that after my Movie adventure? Yes, maybe I did.
I want to say something about the safari company that put on this ride. I have stated elsewhere my admiration for Lisa's family's Afrikaner skills and am how greatly impressed I am that they were able to pull this trip off as well as they did under the circumstances. Having said that, I need to tell you that their lack of shoeing and foot care skills, their lack of emergency radio communications equipment, their reliance on a single navigational technique, their inability to supply remounts should the animals become exhausted or injured and their lack of detailed knowledge of the terrine made this safari for them and for us, A RIDE TOO FAR.
Should they ever put on a ride like this again? NO! Not if they are simply offended by what I have written and dismiss everything I say as the worthless ramblings of a disgruntled little shit. If they can not or will not take any advice, then I would suggest they never try anything like the Lake Natron trip nor ever expose their guests or horses to anything like it ever, ever again. If that is the case, I would only recommend their Kilimanjaro Ride. The Kilimanjaro Ride is fully within their ability to do very well.
I'll tell you what I think though, I think that this smart, highly talented and adaptive family is fully capable of learning (even from fools like me) and I think they indeed will get the proper equipment, and yes, the outside skilled help necessary to do this kind of trip properly. By June of 2003, with some hard work, good planning, expert technical support and needed additional equipment, they may be ready to do the Lake Natron Expedition the way it should be done. I hope so, and I wish them luck, but it's unlikely I'll be there to see for myself because I think I'm going to do something quite different for my next vacation.
Happy Trails Everybody,