Part II, The Jeep Safari
By, John L. Fuhring
Before I go on, I want to tell you about something. A discomfort in my throat had started the last couple of days of the horseback safari and it was starting to concern me. Sunday evening I got out my bright flashlight and went over to the little chip of a mirror in my hotel room and looked down my throat. Oh nuts!! I could see these pure white spots on my left tonsil indicating that I had strep throat. The pain wasn't severe and I wasn't feeling sick, but it did worry me that I might get really ill and not be able to get competent medical treatment. Wasn't much I could do except make the best of it because my safari began in the morning. As it turned out, I was accidentally cured of the condition a couple of days later. Just goes to show you that not all accidents turn out bad.
Monday morning I was up early so I'd be prepared to load my self and my stuff on the Land Rover when it arrived. Vehicles kept showing up and stopping out on the street and I looked eagerly at each one to see any sign of my Safari company or any of the "Australians" who would be in my party. I dared not stroll too far from the entrance to the hotel because the hawkers would surround me and try to sell me stuff, want to carry my luggage or sell me another safari. I have to admit, I was really intimidated by those people. The whole time I was waiting, I was worried that there might have been a mix-up and maybe they were waiting for me at the Trade Center. Finally a Land Rover showed up bearing the safari company's logo and more or less on time, but with only two people in it (besides the driver/guide). At first I didn't think this was my party because the two bwanaas in the vehicle had anything but Australian accents. The driver assured me that I was the one he had been sent for and so I climbed in.
No Australians on this trip and no pretty young women, ah but so what - they wouldn't have been interested in me anyway. I was pleased to learn that, although my safari comrades were from "foreign parts," they could speak some English.
Reinhardt (yes, Reinhardt) was from England and he is a thoroughly likable chap. The fellow may have been British, but his name obviously couldn't have been more Teutonic. To make matters even worse with regard to his ethnic and national identity, he wore a sweatshirt with some German soccer team's logo on it ( the Duetchlanderuebermiesterwaffenschmidts, if I remember correctly). I'm sure he wouldn't dare mention his name or wear that sweatshirt back home at a soccer match or the British "football hooligans" - would - have - his - ass!
My other safari comrade was from, Saints be Praised, St. Patrick's Emerald Isle. Sure an' begorre, it was himself, Paul from Dublin town on the banks of the Liffey. It really pleased me to have a Irishman on the safari. Years ago (many years ago) when I was young and fit, I rode my bicycle all over Erie, kissed the Blarney Stone, drank bitters in the pubs and everything. The truth is, I feel more at home in Ireland than I do in California (there's more English speaking people per capita - and that's no lie) and I've hardly ever met an Irishman I didn't like. Paul was certainly no exception.
We drove to the Trade Center where my companions went in to pay for the trip and arrange to drop off some of their stuff for safe keeping. I remained with the Land Rover and watched over our stuff although I'm sure it would have been quite safe even if it were the Crown Jewels. Finally everybody returned and our cook joined us too. We drove out of the guarded security of the Trade Center's parking area and we were on our way. We headed south by south west on the main highway and I was surprised at the good quality of the paved road. The "international" highway between Nairobi and Arusha is paved and in pretty good shape (mostly), but this highway was as good as any two lane road in America.
This wonderful highway took us many miles to the south west of Arusha. We turned off at the entrance to the Tarangire National Park. This was my first sight of riverine Africa as the route around the park took us above and then down to the Tarangire River. We saw all kinds of wildlife from the jeep, but, to tell the truth, it wasn't nearly as exciting as seeing the same creatures from horseback. The scenery really was beautiful, especially looking down at the animals near the river from high bluffs. The river wasn't really flowing because of the drought, but there were stretches of shallow water along its course.
As we descended into the more humid regions near the river, we encountered the dreaded tsetse flies. Since I was little I had it in my head that tsetse flies were tiny and rare. They are not tiny and they are not rare. They are as big as a large horsefly and they have tiger stripes on their long abdomens - you can't possibly mistake them. Near water, they are everywhere and buzz right into the Land Rovers. The dang things are armor plated and pretty nearly crush proof. Swatting them does no good, they just fly away. One thing I did learn though, relatively few of them carry the dreaded trypanosomiasis (or trypanosomosis) parasite that causes deadly sleeping sickness in man, horses and cattle. Unlike mosquitoes that carry malaria, you really know when you've been stung by a tsetse fly as their mouth parts are about as subtitle as a large nail.
To protect myself from the tsetse flies, I wore khaki colored clothes with long sleeves. I was told that bright colors and especially the color blue attracts them. I also tucked in the bottom of my pants into my socks, pulled up my collar, buttoned the top of my shirt, always had my safari hat on and liberally applied a very effective insect repellent originally developed against Alaskan insects. I never felt even one fly walking on me, but Reinhardt was stung at least twice by them (that I know of).
Actually Reinhardt's chances of coming down with sleeping sickness is pretty slim even though he was exposed through two stings. Naturally, the more you are exposed, the greater your risk becomes and so it was with some interest that I noted the elaborate precautions our driver/guide took to prevent stings. I don't know what our actual risk was, but say we stood a one in a hundred chance of a sting resulting in sleeping sickness. Those are pretty good odds and when you consider that any one of us are unlikely to be stung more than a couple of times in our entire lives, basic precautions are all that are necessary. On the other hand, our guide will be potentially exposed hundreds of times in his life and therefore he had better take extraordinary precautions. Anyway, just look at the picture of our driver in his leather jacket, head wrapped up and can of insect repellent nearby. He was scared of those damn things and I didn't blame him.
After making the circuit at the Tarangire Park, we got back on the highway and traveled back north to the crossroads town of Makuyuni. The "Central Business District" of this town is very similar to other East African towns, but in addition, this town has a filling station and some larger tourist shops and there are electric power lines in the town. Yes!! the filling station had electricity and a very modern looking enterprise it was too.
At Makuyuni we turned to the west and headed toward the village of Mto Wa Mbu. On the map the "highway" we were entering looks like a major secondary road and so it is - for Tanzania. The contrast between this road and the really excellent paved road we were leaving couldn't have been more stark. Only jeep trails in the far, far back country of the Western U.S. are as rough or in as poor a condition as this major secondary road was. As a matter of fact, the road was so bad in places, our driver paralleled the road by driving across country since open country was easier on his passengers and the Rover's springs. Speaking of springs, all the heavy trucks are all wheel drive and all of them have two or more sets of spare springs attached to the outside. Even most of the Land Rovers carry two spare tires.
As rough as this road was, it was rather typical. I don't believe there is a road grader in operation on any dirt road anywhere in the whole country. I have no idea how the few good roads got made, they must have brought a crew and all their equipment in from Kenya or something. Tanzanian roads are not for wimpy axles, weak suspensions or light duty running gear and yet drivers bomb along at frame bending speeds and throwing up huge clouds of dust.
Speaking of driving fast on these roads, I've seen Land Rovers and all wheel drive trucks, with their wheels bouncing clear off the ground, drive right through a crowded village or through herds of goats and donkeys. Somehow donkeys, cattle, goats and people, including little kids and old people, are able to scramble out of the way. There is no contesting the right of way of rumbling, bouncing trucks and everything must quickly get out of their way or be instantly killed. On these roads, as in all of Africa, it's survival of the fittest and any human, burro, cow or goat must instinctively get to safety or they do not survive to pass along their genes to the next generation. Darwin really didn't need to go to the Galapagos Islands to see "natural selection" at work, on the other hand, he lived before there were trucks on African roads.
Our first overnight stop was at the large village of Mto Wa Mbu. This town is located at the northern end of Lake Manyara and its name means Mosquitoville or something like that (actually it means Mosquito River). Our cook hadn't bothered to pack a lot of food and other supplies so he started buying things from street vendors. There wasn't anything he couldn't find. The ubiquitous bags of charcoal were there, bags of baked bread were there, bananas, watermelon, fresh chicken and everything else he needed he could buy right off the street - all it took was money.
Mto Wa Mbu is quite a place. Your typical East African one room shack stores are found in abundance in the large business district. In the town, I could see a good sized "resort" surrounded by a wall that looked to me just like that Native Village scene in the original King Kong movie of the 1930's. There were several one room shack hotels and there was this rather large and nice campground. We made for the campground gate.
Actually, the campground was very nice (relatively speaking). It had nice lawns on which to pitch the tents with shrubbery separating the different parts of the camp. Even with everything so dry, it looked pretty nice. When the shrubs and flowers come into bloom, I'm sure the place looks beautiful. There were some showers and toilets near the walled entrance and a large dance hall nearby. It turned out that this was the nicest campground we stayed at during the entire safari.
We were expected to pitch our own tents, but this first night the guide and the cook set them up for us while we watched and learned. They were nice sized tents, but easy to erect once you got the hang of it. I selfishly took a tent for myself, but poor Paul and Reinhardt had to share one. I'm sure the "blokes" weren't crowded, but still, imagine for a moment - an Irishman and an Englishman sharing a tent without killing each other. Boggles your mind, doesn't it?
When I was at the Naaz Hotel I learned that hot water for bathing was not to be taken for granted like it is here in America. Hot water is available for limited times and then only after somebody makes a fire under the boiler. For all the bureaucracy they inherited from the British, the Government does not nor can it possibly enforce any kind of health regulations regarding bathing or toilet facilities - you are just damn lucky to have anything at all. The shower stalls were made of crudely set concrete with very dirty looking walls and floors. They probably weren't all that bad, but only looked that way because of the staining from the local water. Still, I rather doubted they ever got scrubbed out on a regular basis. The showers that worked had only one valve to turn off or on the tepid water and you had to toss over the handle around so you and your neighbor could turn on or off the water in your respective showers. Oh what I wouldn't have given for Jan's bucket sprinkler shower on this trip.
The toilets were like nothing I'd ever used. Basically they were porcelain bowels set into the concrete of the floor - some were round, but most were oval shaped. Actually they were much more sanitary that your standard bowel toilets because your naked butt never touches anything. Surely we have all hear horror stories of how people have picked up "the clap" or even AIDS from sitting on a contaminated toilet seat - I know people who swear that's how they caught something nasty and get mad when you roll your eyes. After coming off the riding safari, where we performed the same toilet maneuvers over a little hole in the ground, I found those facilities perfectly fine. Guys just had to real careful they didn't pee on their pants when doing "number two."
Lighting in the camp was a mixture of kerosene lanterns and a few dim electric bulbs. The camp had its own generator that ran for a few hours at night and was used to light up the dance hall and a few lamps around the showers and toilets. The light was so bad you had to use your own lighting when using the toilets. I took my nice big flashlight (or torch as they call them) with me and hung it up by its ring on a hook on the door so I could see what I was doing and where I was stepping. I did my business, ran some water to flush the facility and then bumped the door. To my horror, my good flashlight fell off its hook and made a beeline for the bowel in the floor. Sure enough, before I could grab it, it went all the way down into the hole and landed face up with the light shining on the ceiling.
Oh no!! What could I do? I just couldn't bring myself to fish it out of that nasty hole - it would be unclean forever, yet I needed my flashlight for the remainder of the safari. After agonizing over it, I remembered that the flashlight was waterproof and only the outside would be contaminated and the outside would be easy to scrub up with my dishwashing detergent. I didn't have any choice, I had to fish it out. If you have ever cleaned out the sheath of a gelding with your bare hands, the nasty feeling I had was ten, no a hundred times worse when I went to fish out my flashlight.
This whole sorry incident reminded me of something that happened many years ago at a outhouse. I opened the door just as a guy was throwing a twenty dollar bill into the open hole. I asked "why in the world did you throw a $20 bill down the hole for?!?" He explained that he had dropped a $5 bill in as he was pulling up his pants and didn't think it was worth going down into the hole for just $5. Made sense to me.
Anyway, I took my disgusting flashlight over to the sinks and started scrubbing it over and over again until I was sure it was purified in the sight of man and God. I still have that flashlight and it still works just great for all it's been through - still, I wash my hands every time I touch the damn thing.
Our camp began to fill up as it got toward sundown. There were all kinds of people there, including people from a couple of "overland safaris" and their incredible huge safarimobiles. A lot of the people at the camp were young and after sundown the big hall filled up and there was lots of music and dancing going on. Being socially challenged, I wasn't interested so I returned to my tent, spread out my mattress and unrolled my bag. Dinner was served by lantern light. The food was perfectly all right, but it was a far cry from the horseback safari in terms of quality or skill in preparation. Afterwards I hit the sack early and had a pretty good night's rest. My sore throat was somewhat worse and I was beginning to worry that it might develop into a real problem out here in the bush.
Next morning we got up early and had breakfast. I learned that Reinhardt practices about the most unhealthy habits of anybody I've ever met. He smokes those foul English "fags" (cigarettes to us Yanks) and he avoided all food that contained fresh fruit (like mangoes and bananas), whole grain cereals and anything else that might be considered even remotely healthy. Oh well, he'll probably live to 90.
After breakfast was over we struck the tents, loaded up the Land Rover and started on our way toward the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater. We climbed up the steep slopes of what once was a huge mountain and we had some beautiful views of lake Manyara and the greenery of the park on the northwestern shore of the lake. Way down below we could see Elephants (if I remember correctly). It seemed like a nice little Park, but we were after bigger things and didn't have the time to take it in. By the way, I understand that the polo players in that part of East Africa plan to have big tournaments on the large, flat, grass covered surfaces near the lake. Should be just perfect for polo, but I wonder if they can protect the horses from the tsetse flies.
We stopped for diesel fuel at the sprawling town of Karatu. This is an interesting town (sort of). It didn't look so much like your typical East African village, but rather more like a town in the desert South West of the U.S. It had high voltage electric lines running through it and it appeared that some of the businesses had electricity. The volcanic soil in and around the area was bright red from all the iron in it and a lot of things seemed to be stained with the color.
After filling up, we continued to the rim of the Crater where we stopped and enjoyed the view looking down into Ngorongoro. Passing through this area, we could see what looked like plantations that might be for growing tea, but everything looked so dry and nothing seemed to be growing. Later we had lunch at Naabi Hill Gate visitor's center at the entrance to the Serengeti National Park.
The visitor's center is very nice with clean toilets and water for washing up. There are plenty of shaded picnic tables, concession stands and altogether very pleasant surroundings. The Government has troops there and they make sure they collect the $20 USD per person per day from the drivers. Also, if you are without a certified guide, you must hire one there before you are allowed in the park.It was about this time I told Paul of my experiences with Larium and how I decided to go without protection from malaria. Paul told me that nobody from Europe or Africa takes Larium, but takes Doxycycline instead. He said that it's just as effective against malaria, doesn't have the dangerous side effects and is real cheap, but you have to take it every day without fail. He handed me a pack that would last me until we got back. I wanted to pay him for the stuff (remember my Larium cost me over $100) because I figured that he had just given me $10 or $15 worth of the stuff. Paul just laughed and said to forget about payment since the stuff is so cheap. I didn't know it at the time, but Doxycycline is an antibiotic. As soon as the next day I noticed my sore throat was no worse and might (I hope, I hope, I hope) be slightly better. Well, it was better and continued to get better daily and now I'm sure it was because I was taking the Doxycycline.