Journey to Lake Natron and Back
by John Fuhring
Chapter 13
The White Beard of Great Lengai.

     We rode past the truck and the guys struggling to help it along.  It seemed curious that the truck would be having such a hard time.  The black sand it was in didn't seem that deep or loose.  You know, I can't believe how dumb I can be sometimes.  I should have known there was something wrong because I distinctly remember hearing Danish being spoken when Lisa and Tom stopped to talk with Jan.  Anyway, we continued on for another three or four hundred yards to where lunch was waiting for us.

Lunch stop 5.
2 degrees, 42.315 minutes South Latitude
35 degrees, 58.359 minutes East Longitude
2490 Feet above Sea Leve

     This was quite a nice spot for lunch and a little rest.  We had a beautiful view of Lengai's white beard.  I think you already know that the snow white of the volcano's top is due to white carbonate lava - the only example of this type of lava in the world.  You also know that the Masaai People consider this as their holy mountain and the white lava represents Lengai's white beard.  It was lovely out there, warm, but with a good breeze, the humidity was low and there was plenty of shade to keep you from baking in the sun.

     Yes, it was a great place for lunch and as it turned out, a great place for a Camp too.  Of course, the original plan was to continue on another 8 to 10 miles to a high point with vistas of even greater beauty near the south shore of Lake Natron, but such was not to be.  About the time we expected to be saddled up and ready to ride out, it was announced that the Bedford was having a wee little problem and we'd be spending the night at this spot.

     When Jan came by the camp, you could see from his hands and clothes that he had been working on the truck. He told us that one of the rear axles of the truck had partially stripped it's inner splines.  He thought that perhaps the axle hadn't been placed in the differential properly and the splines had been only partially engaged and that's why they stripped.  Jan was hoping that once he put the axle all the way in, it would be OK since there was still plenty of spline remaining on the shaft.  Well, he soon discovered that indeed the axle splines were partially stripped, but that wasn't the problem.  The real problem was deep within the differential.  The stripping had actually occurred in the differential pinion gear.  That's where the axle splines mate with the pinion gear splines near the ring gear.  Gee, isn't that just the most interesting thing you've ever read?  Aren't you glad I told you?
     Stripped splines in a gear deep within the differential was another problem altogether and somewhat more serious than a simple stripped or broken axle.  The differential would have to be taken apart and that's usually a big job requiring a shop and lifts.  Nevertheless, there is one really great thing about working on trucks that were originally designed for military use, things are easy to get to and can be taken apart with readily available tools.  By early afternoon Jan and the guys had the differential apart and had identified the part that needed replacing.

When the rear wheels ain't movin',
there ain't nothin' movin'.
You dig?

Automotive repair shop
- Africa style.

     The question now was, what could Jan do about repairing or replacing this highly specialized part?   First, there was no way even the most skilled machinist could ever fix that part, it was completely stripped out.  Then too, the truck was at least 20 years old and the Bedford company went out of business many years ago.  A supply of new replacement parts probably didn't exist anywhere in Tanzania and even if they did, we were way, way out in the bush.  I was curious to know what his plans were, but I figured that Jan had enough to do without answering a lot of unwelcomed questions.

     It looked like we'd be broken down for some time.  For the life of me, this whole predicament reminded me of Earnest Hemmingway's "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" and I mentioned the parallel situations to a couple of our people.  Except that none of us was dying of a septic wound, the situation was almost exactly the same (truck broken down out in the bush many miles from the same town of Arusha), hence the title of this chapter was meant to pay homage to Hemmingway's classic.

     While mulling over all this, a disturbing memory came into my mind.  I remembered the times Jan told me about those ruthless Somali bandits that rob tourists and their camps at knife and gunpoint.  I remembered him saying that we'd probably be safe because we'd be constantly on the move.  Oh shit (!!), I wondered if anybody else in our group noticed that we were no longer on the move.  What's more, I wondered if there were any Somali bandits in the neighborhood and if they too had noticed that we were no longer on the move.  You know, I was starting to wish I had one of my revolvers or rifles with me and I was wondering if maybe Jan, Tom, Terry and I should take turns doing armed guard duty at night (Terry and I certainly have done our share while in the military).  I didn't say anything to anybody, but waited to see what Jan would say.  Looking back now, those thoughts seem pretty foolish, I guess.

     Plan 'A' was definitely off.  We would not be camping at the south end of the Lake tonight.  Plan 'B' apparently was to have the flat bed truck come up, unload the camping supplies out of the Bedford and transport them the 300 yards or so to our lunch site.  The other aspect of this alternate plan (I learned later) was to take the Land Rover to a place on the western side of Mt. Lengai where a commercial safari company had a more-or-less permanent camp set up.

     You may know that medium range short wave radio has been used all over this part of Africa for communications for many years now.  I understand that now they even have short-wave E-mail services available.  Almost everybody and certainly every commercial business has  short-wave sets in their vehicles.  In the old days, the radios were big expensive tube rigs that always needed adjusting and would run your battery down in very short order.  Now the radios are small, relatively inexpensive, very rugged, extremely reliable and you never have to worry about a dead battery.  I was amazed that Lisa and her family would take a safari way out in the bush and not have what every other safari company in Africa has, a short wave radio.  But there it was, we had no radio.  With any luck, somebody might be at the nearby camp and maybe they'd have a radio we could use.

     YES!!  there were people at the neighboring camp and yes, they had a radio.  With the radio, Jan got in communications with a really wonderful young fellow who then turned Arusha upside down looking for a replacement part for the Bedford's differential. This super guy found a complete rear axle set from a wrecked truck somebody had in a junk yard.  He took the whole thing back to the Farm (it must have weighed close to a 500 kilos) and removed the needed parts.  He then got in his own Land Rover and drove all the way out to where we were  He did this in the dark that night so Jan would have them the next day.  What a guy!!

Real and wannabe Africans.
The Afrikaner on the right is the guy who saved our asses with replacement parts for the Bedford.
Jan on the left but who is that handsome guy in the middle?
Picture compliments of Stefan Basler

     As mentioned, the Bedford was about 300 yards or so away from where we had our lunch and where we planned to camp for the night.  The flat bed truck (the same one that had been stuck the night before) moved up and ferried the camping gear and food supplies over to us.
Ferrying supplies to Lunch/Camp 5.
2 degrees, 42.315 minutes South Latitude
35 degrees, 58.359 minutes East Longitude
2490 Feet above Sea Level

Setting up camp under Lengai's gaze.
Picture compliments of Dr. Kolblinger
     With the aid of the flatbed truck, a comfortable camp was set up and later some of us went wandering around the area on foot.  I had a GPS fix on the camp and I offered to be a guide back to camp if anybody wanted to take a long hike.  Bernard and Florence went one way toward a river bed and some of the others and I went the other way.  Now I'm wishing I would have gone with them because we didn't get very far when the others wanted to go back - I don't think they trusted my GPS to get them back to camp.  Bernard and Florence collected some really great samples of carbonate lava from Mt. Lengai deposited on stream bed rocks.  I wish I would have brought some back myself.
Sunset at Camp 5.

     Later that evening we had supper and the quality of the food did not suffer despite our situation.  We were running low on water by now and besides, Jan was busy working on the truck so I don't believe anybody took a shower that evening.  Actually we hadn't done much that day to really work up a sweat and everybody was feeling a little hot but not uncomfortable thanks in part to the brisk breeze that was blowing.  The evening was spent pretty comfortably.  Jan didn't ask for anybody to stand guard duty and we were unmolested by bandits.
     The next morning we were presented with the most beautiful scenery as the sun came up.  We were within a few of miles of the summit of 9,500 foot Oldoinyo Lengai, the "Mountain of God" with his beautiful white beard and the sun shining on the mountain this time of the morning was something that I would not have wanted to miss.

Sunrise at Camp 5.
Mt. Gelai on the right.


Oldoinyo Lengai just before sunrise.
Looking almost due west from camp.

Oldoinyo Lengai at first light.

A little closer look

     At breakfast the next morning Tom mentioned that we were a half day behind schedule because of the breakdown.  Originally we were supposed to lay over a day at Camp 6 to rest the horses, ourselves and take advantage of the hot springs there.  Now we would have to skip the layover to make up for the lost time.  Dang!!  Man, was I disappointed to hear that.  I had taken a minimum of clothes and I really needed to do some laundry and besides, I really wanted to see those hot springs.

 Go to Chapter 14

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