My African Adventure
By John L. Fuhring
We continued riding north by northeast through very dry and very thorny brush. If I remember correctly, we spotted our first giraffes out here, but what they lived on and what they drank, I couldn't figure. The land wasn't very open so we didn't ride very fast, but wended our way thorough the brush until noon when we rode into a camp set up above a dry stream bed (what we'd call a dry arroyo).
Being an ex-geologist, I had to check out the "geomorphology" of the region. The stream bed had lightly eroded down perhaps six or seven feet into a soft (probably volcanic dust) soil. In the bed of the arroyo there were small rocks brought from distant parts by the stream flow. These rocks consisted of vesicular basalt and gneiss fragments. Some of the gneiss had some of its minerals metamorphosed into tiny crystals of garnet. Gee, isn't that interesting?
It was a bit warm there, but the thorn trees were without any foliage at all and didn't offer much shade, but it was by no means unpleasant. Here in California we have been hearing about and dreading the fierce and deadly "Africanized Bees" that are moving up from Mexico. My first encounter with an African species of bee was somewhat less dramatic. Everywhere at this camp were these tiny (I mean, really tiny) stinger-less little insects. They were not unpleasant little creatures because they weren't interested in bothering us or sucking our vital fluids, but they were interested in the wash basin water and in our lunch. Before too long, their little bodies were in everything, but because they were a species of bee and not dirty flies, picking them out of food did not make the food uneatable.
You know something, I hate fish. I especially dislike fishy smelling and fishy tasting warm water fish. The smell of almost any kind of seafood nearly makes me gag. I'm not putting on an act - I really hate the smell of crabs, shrimp and lobster and most fish (tried canned whale meat from Japan once and it was OK). About once a year I check to see if my tastes have changed and I will bravely try "fish and chips" for dinner. It's about the only kind of fish I can enjoy eating and then only if it's a very mild fish like Cod with plenty of tartar sauce. Imagine my disappointment when I found out that lunch would consist of large steaks of some kind of fried fresh water fish.
Disappointment well hidden, I helped myself to the other things on the menu, but I was still hungry. I took a closer look at the fish and noticed that it didn't smell fishy so I asked about it. Turned out that this was the famous Nile Perch. These Nile Perch critters are huge fish they pull out of Lake Victoria to the east. I looked more closely at the fish being cooked and noticed that the meat was a nice (fish and chips) white with a crispy cooked surface. I thought I'd at least take a nibble. Well, what the heck, it had been at least a year since I'd had any fish and I was due for some by now anyway. You know, the fish was good, as a matter of fact, it was "finger lickin' good" good. I ate my entire portion. Couldn't help but think that if there was some way the Tanzanians could get fresh Nile Perch to California, it would be a hot selling item in gourmet restaurants (maybe it is for all I know).
Had a nice chat with John regarding his work with the railroads there in England and suggested he consider using a GPS system. Did I mention that I had a GPS receiver along and just loved it - oh yeah, I guess I did.
All around us were Masai children herding goats (who were rapidly turning the area into a desert). Naturally, the kids weren't in any kind of school since their culture values children not for what they may become, but for what they can do to herd goats and cattle. Anyway, many of the kids sat at a discreet distance from camp and patiently waited for us to break camp when they would be allowed to share in whatever was left over.
I might mention that Masai children are given only one meal a day, if there is anything left over when they return home with the cattle and goats at night. When you consider that they also shun medical treatment too, it's a hard life, especially for children. Yes, it's a hard life, but I'm told that the Masai prefer it because, in an ironic twist of self imposed social Darwinism, they feel it makes their people strong. By their standards, all other people (like us) are weak and unfit for survival because of our "coddling" of the young, the sick, the weak and the old. Fred Nietzsche would have just loved those people. There is nothing I want to do to change their way of life, but I sure don't agree with it.
We rode until we came to a large, but abandoned Masai Boma. For those who don't know, Bomas come in all sizes, but some of the richer ones look like small villages, but they are not villages. They are actually a large circular compound that contains enough room for all the cattle and housing for the head man's wives and a nice hut for the big man himself. They are indeed the address of a single extend family. That's another charming feature of Masai life - you can have as many wives as you can afford or none at all if you never make it big in this life. Anyway, I got off my horse and went to the entrance of this hut and was most curious to see what it was like to live in one. I stooped to enter when all of a sudden I was seized with this horrible thought that there might be dead people inside. Well, that was foolish because we certainly would have smelled something upon entering the abandoned Boma - right? I went in and found no dead bodies, but raised sleeping platforms made of sticks. It was very dark with only a slit or two to let smoke out when people were living there. I guess the lack of openings and the smoke that always filled the huts are very effective at keeping the flies from all the cattle and their manure from "bugging" the people inside. What a life.
After lunch we began a long ride that took us north to below Mt. Longo then turned sharply to the east. We briefly emerged from the bush and crossed the Kenya-Tanzania "highway." We continued east past a line of hills where the Germans and their native troops kicked the British forces butt's in an obscure little battle during the First World War. To this day (it is claimed) there are still shells and spent ammunition to be found out there. By the way, this whole region including Tanzania, and Uganda USED to be called "German East Africa."
After the "Great War" the whole area of East Africa was "ethnically cleansed" of German soldiers, government personnel, workers and farmers and the region was then administered by the British. The British found these countries very poor compared to their long held Kenya and put very little time or energy (or money) into trying to do anything for this region. Actually by all accounts, the Germans did more to "civilize" and develop this region that the British ever did. From what I've been told, the Germans were pretty rough on the locals and stood no nonsense when it came to obeying their laws or rules. Some whites will tell you the Germans had things pretty well figured out. Anyway, there is a fictionalized account of all these goings on in a popular book called "An Ice-Cream War"
(I read the book since writing the above. It was kind of fun reading about what happened in that part of Africa during WW I, but more than anything, the book left me with a renewed feeling of how stupid that war was and tragic lost opportunities that resulted from it.)
As we rode along the country opened up and we left the thorn tree and scrub brush behind. We started to get into some country where we could have a good gallop. Judith (from Belgium) was probably the best rider in the group and she loved to race me. "Coogah" is a pretty fast horse as is "Queen" and Judith and I would be pretty evenly matched. Truth is, I know how easy it is for horses to injure themselves when they are pushed to their absolute limit (been there - done that), so I was concerned for them. I didn't push either horse at any time, but sometimes I did let them run as fast as they wanted to go (which was fast enough to stay even with Judith - mostly). It was about this time I started developing a large friction sore on my upper calf.
That reminds me. There are some people that believe that plants communicate and make sounds when injured or attacked. If it's true (as people claim) that tomatoes "scream" when sliced, what do grapes say when they are crushed? Actually, nothing very much, they just give a little wine. Now to the point. The saddle I was riding in was very restrictive with lots of leg padding and knee rolls and it was heavily oiled so that my half chaps stuck to the leather of the saddle. The only surface that could slide under this arrangement was the surface between the inner part of my leather half-chaps and the skin on my calf. This soon had my skin scraped raw, it hurt and it interfered with my graceful riding style. Later we wrapped my poor calf with an elastic bandage and it was much better. How's that for a little whining? But, speaking of wine, what's huge and purple and lives on the bottom of the ocean? Moby Grape.
While I'm digressing, I'd like to say something about the two horses I rode on the Safari. I choose Cougar as my horse, but after a couple of days the gals handling the horses asked me if I'd ride the loose horse, Queen, on the next day. Queen is a mare and is marked almost identically to Cougar (both are bays) and built very similarly. In addition, both were race horses and both were used to play polo. As it turned out they had almost identical personalities and were both excellent mounts. Normally I like riding geldings because mares get PMS and can get - well, bitchey, but Queen was a real queen. The girls warned me that Queen would always be pulling at the bit and an effort was made to find me a pair of gloves because they were sure I would get blisters from her pulling the reins out of my hands. I said to forget about the gloves, that I almost never use gloves and have pretty tough hands. I assured everybody that Queen and I would get along just fine and no gloves would be necessary. Well, we did get along just fine. I rode her in a loose rein like Cougar and she relaxed and rode along quietly at all gaits (except when Judith wanted to race). Actually, I liked riding Queen slightly better because she was wearing shoes. Cougar was barefoot and he had excellent natural shaped feet (as an amateur farrier I know about such things), but he acted "ouchey" over stony ground and I hate riding horses that wince when they step on something hard because I feel the pain too (God, what a puss!). Queen, on the other hand, was well shod and didn't act a bit "ouchey" even over the roughest ground.
We rode across some more open country. Should have known we were nearing our second camp because I noticed "Coogah" was suddenly energized. Judith's horse whizzed by and the race was on. We really burned up the trail going about as fast as our horses could go and throwing up a cloud of dust. A couple of emotions were competing within me. On the one hand I did not want to let Cougar be beaten, but on the other hand, I didn't want to have to face angry owners who would be really mad if their horse got hurt way out in the middle of nowhere. I was also concerned about criticism regarding the lack of good sense to let horses run like that. To tell the truth, I just sort of pretended that Cougar was "out of control" and there wasn't anything I could do about it because of his "hard mouth."
After a while the whole matter of who was going to win the race became moot when the trail took a steep and twisty route down to a dry river bed. I was afraid I would cause Judith to take a terrible fall if the horses crowded each other on the twists and turns and crashed together. I was also very worried that the horses would get into soft sand at the river bottom. I've seen and have been on horses that have flipped over in soft footing and know of horses that have ruined their legs running at high speeds in that stuff. At the top of the bank just before the road went down, I got Cougar back under control and stopped him. Judith flashed by and "won" the race. Don't know how far down she got before getting her horse stopped. I waited for the inevitable criticism, but I think everybody was genuinely excited by the race and loved it.
We hadn't gone very far down the river bed when we caught sight of our second camp. Actually, the river bed made a great spot for a camp ground. The left bank (riding into camp) was much lower and more gradual than the right bank. The trucks, the field kitchen and the horses were picketed up there. Way above the camp up on the right bank and in the bushes was located our bucket shower. Again that afternoon I had a refreshing shower a la fresca, but it wasn't nearly as windy and exposed as that former hilltop and the experience was more comfortable.
John had been out exploring around (he hadn't started riding with us in the afternoons yet) and he brought back two beautifully made "weaver bird" nests. One of my scientist buddies at work (Dave Taylor) gave me a book to read (The Coming Plague) which tells all about all the horrible diseases that have come out of the tropics in the last few decades. Thanks to this book, now I'm nearly as paranoid about germs and viruses as my dad was - and I'm not even a doctor. Seeing those bird's nests next to the tent, all I could think of was lice and ticks caring all kinds of exotic and gruesome diseases. After all, we Americans have a saying: "dirty as a bird's nest" when describing something really gross. I couldn't get it out of my head, A flash from the CDC: "Little American Dude Dies of Terrifying Hemorrhagic Weaver Bird Virus." Thanks a lot Dave, you've damned near ruined my life with that damned book of yours!
On a more pleasant note, Jan made an inviting bonfire and the usual chairs and drinks were there for our pleasure. Supper was again very good (that cook was great). Can't remember if it was an excellent beef curry or not, but it was good. Would have liked to have had seconds, but stomach said no. After supper we sat around the campfire. My stomach still hurt me so I wasn't into any heavy drinking and being, shall we say, socially challenged, I turned in kind of early. Again, I listened to my short-wave radio and heard that they were having an Ebola outbreak in Uganda. Slept well on the nice flat surface of the river bed and no walls of rushing water came down the river to disturb my rest. I might add that my tent mate, John always went to bed late and I was always sound asleep by the time he turned in. I got up while he was still sound asleep so, in that regard, it was like having a private tent.
Speaking of sleep, I'm a little (OK, very) hard of hearing and tend to sleep pretty soundly, so I don't remember ever hearing any sounds in the night. Somewhere I read that the wild animals never attack tourists inside tents and I believed it so I never worried about a thing once the front flap was zippered shut.
Last look before leaving
Next morning we set out about nine AM and rode again through open land with some nice gallops along the way. In the mid afternoon we came to a lone outcropping of a dome shaped rock called a Kopje (pronounced copy). All you geologists out there will be thrilled to learn that a Kopje is a small "exfoliation dome" and an "erosion remnant." In other places in the world these outcroppings are also called monodnocks and they are outcropping of core stone. In other words, once there were high hills with valleys and canyons in between that were later filled in and covered over with volcanic ash and sediments. As the ash blows and washes away, the tops of these old hills are once again revealed. Like much of the ancient bedrock that existed before or perhaps because of the extensive volcanic activity in Africa, this Kopje was made up of a metamorphic rock called gneiss. As all good geologists know, gneiss is a rock very much like granite except that the light and dark minerals are found in very definite bands or layers. These layers are thought to represent the layering of the sedimentary rocks from which gneiss originally derived.
We rested our horses under some thorn trees near the Kopje and some of us climbed around it and to its top. As it turned out, it was a rare treat to be able to climb a Kopje because at other places, they are a favorite hang out for lions. Because they tend to be dangerous meeting places for wild animals, the tour guides forbid you to get out of your Land Rover and climb around. It was safe for us to climb the Kopje because there were a lot of Masai people living in the region. The Masai had pretty much killed or run off all the lions in the region (at Ngorongoro, I saw lions run off in panic when a couple of Masai warriors approached them).
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