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Caracal

My First Glimpse Of Africa- June 1973

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Caracal

East African Airways Flight EC661 was due to leave London Heathrow at 9.00am Saturday 2 June 1973 and scheduled to arrive in Nairobi at 8.55pm. I had a room booked for that night at the Safariland Hotel and was to be collected at 9.00am Sunday 3 June for a 5day/4night safari to Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara and Amboseli. Then a few days in Nairobi before flying back to Oz.

After early morning Heathrow farewells to Mum and sister I went through Passport Control and waited……..and waited…….. Problems with the VC10 (anyone here remember Hush Power?) led to cancellation of the morning flight and I was provided with a hotel room to while away the day and wonder whether my much anticipated safari would eventuate.

I’ve heard worry is interest paid on trouble before it occurs but I was reckoning trouble was already occurring.

 

However later that day I got a message there’d be an evening flight. I arrived in Nairobi at 6.20am.

After a whirlwind look at my unused hotel room I was sitting in the safari company’s office being told that unfortunately there was no other booking for my safari and the company could not justify the use of a safari van for one person. I knew the safari was conditional on a minimum booking of two so I saw my safari evaporating into thin air. Then to my delighted surprise I was asked if I would mind very much being taken by Patrick the driver/guide in the Toyota Crown instead.

In no time we were heading out of Nairobi and crossing the Athi Plains.

 

I was starting to drink in the African landscape - the dominating expanse of sky - the seemingly endless horizons - the scattering of flat topped acacias - when suddenly there was an ostrich running parallel to the car before veering off across the plains. Then I started to take in the wildlife - wildebeest, hartebeest, zebras and the dainty and beautiful Thomsons Gazelle with their side stripes and flicking tails were all abundant but not necessarily always immediately obvious to me. When Patrick pointed out giraffe I could not at first see them with their patterned hides breaking up their outlines in the dappled shade under the acacias.

 

Ahead lay the Tanzanian border and the highlands with Longido, Mt Meru and , of course Kilimanjaro looming and brooding over the land.

 

We'd stopped a number of times to view the wildlife but a sudden clunking signalled a stop for mechanical reasons. Whilst Patrick crawled under the car to inspect the damage I got out to stand, stretch my legs and look around. I turned back to the car attracted by the sounds of hammering and Patrick’s muffled voice. When I turned around again I was looking straight at three Maasai moran with their red shukas, ochred hair and spears reflecting shards of sunlight. I tried some sign language then called Patrick who got out from under the car and proceeded to speak rapidly to the Maasai finishing with a spit on the ground. The Maasai then turned and strode away. To this day I still wonder where the Maasai appeared from and what Patrick said to them - he never would tell me.

 

The village of Mto-wa-Mbu (“river of mosquitoes”),nestled below the Rift Valley Escarpment, was vibrant, chaotic, colourful and brimming with life. People walking, talking, gesticulating, and jostling between stalls packed with vegetables, fruits, dyed cloths and other merchandise.

 

Leaving the village behind we climbed up the escarpment with tantalising glimpses of Lake Manyara and, after reaching the top, we passed through the cultivated fields of the Iraqw.

 

As we approached the Ngorongoro Conservation Area another dramatic change occurred. We left the fields behind and entered a forest. Lush green, luxuriant growth with the trees and bushes clothed in curtains of creepers. A troop of baboons was gathered around the road like some welcoming party and we paused for elephant and buffalo beside the road.

 

Being short on sleep I was getting too tired to take in much more that night and after arriving at Crater Lodge was only too glad to turn in and hit the bed after dinner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

June 4th 1973

Woke early and really knew I was in Africa when I walked out of my cabin to find three zebra eating the grass outside. I then took in the view and what a view. It was still early and surprisingly cold with some mist and cloud around but looking down to the crater floor far below Lake Magadi looked like a mirror reflecting the early morning light.

 

After breakfast we left in a 4WD for the crater. We passed Michael Grzimek’s grave, where his plane crashed after colliding with a vulture. The inscription read:-

 

MICHAEL GRZIMEK[/b]

12/4/1934 - 10/1/1959

He gave all he possessed for the wild

animals of Africa, including his life.

 

We then headed down the steep descent of 2000 feet to the Crater floor. On the way down I saw my first black backed jackal - an animal always interesting and enjoyable to watch.

As soon as we started to cross the crater floor we came across a herd of the handsome Grant’s gazelle - the males of which have the longest horns of any of the African gazelles. Then followed large herds of wildebeest and zebra. Towards the lake hyaenas and vultures were gathered around the carcase of a wildebeest with jackals hovering.

A black rhino grazed peacefully with a largish calf alongside and later we watched another rhino with an impressively long horn.

A pride of lions with six cubs was relaxing in the grass.

A lone golden jackal looked far from golden and positively scruffy compared with the blackbacked that I’d seen.

 

The morning passed quickly and all too soon I was standing having a picnic lunch gazing across the crater floor looking at the scene and the herds and wondering how different my view was compared with that of Dr. Oscar Bauman, an Austrian and the first European to reach the crater arriving there on 18th March 1892. Apart from one other vehicle that I could see I like to think that it was not too dissimilar.

 

As we started to head back passing regal looking waterbuck and more herds it occurred to me that the wildlife had been apparently unconcerned and undisturbed by our presence.

Even a forlorn and morose looking buffalo just stood and stared as we headed to the exit road.

 

Back to the Lodge then to Lake Manyara Hotel arriving about 3.00pm.

 

Another incredible view with the lake lying alongside the bottom of the escarpment 800 feet below.It seemed unreal to sit on the balcony and, through my binoculars, watch elephants lion and rhino in the park below. I could well understand why Lake Manyara was such a favourite and so admired by Hemmingway.

 

 

June 5th 1973

Patrick and I were the first to enter the Park and were greeted by baboons at the entrance.

Soon after entering and in the forest area we gave way to a nice herd of elephants crossing the road.

Still in the forest we sighted (rather Patrick pointed out to me) a leopard sitting on a fallen tree branch some distance off the road. I got a good view through my binoculars but a hopeless photo as all I had was a pocket sized Kodak Instamatic.

By this time I had the clearest feeling that Patrick felt both let down by, and disdainful of, my camera.

He probably had a point because looking at the photo only I know that the blurry yellow smudge in the centre is a leopard.

I was told that this was the first leopard seen in the park for a year. I was surprised by that statement and, whatever the truth of it, count myself fortunate to have seen this leopard and leopards on each of my subsequent trips including seven in 2000 (3 in Ruaha including one on a walk and 4 in South Luangwa).

 

Other wildlife seen that morning included more elephants, warthogs, hippos, impala, dik dik, giraffe, buffalo and lions (the latter were lazing on the ground and not in their famed tree climbing mode).

 

A satisfying morning was followed by lunch at the hotel and an afternoon poolside but spent mainly admiring the view and viewing the animals in the park below.

 

 

 

 

 

June 6th 1973

Still captivated by the view I was rather reluctant to leave Lake Manyara but leave we did and, after stopping at Arusha and lunch at the dusty border town of Namanga we turned off the main road and entered the Masai Amboseli Game Reserve.

We were greeted by impala, giraffe and Grant’s gazelle before reaching Lake Amboseli which was a dry dustbowl with shimmering mirages.On crossing the plains there were animal tracks everywhere and outlines of wildebeest and zebra appeared through the shimmering heat waves.

This was the Njiri Plain that Joseph Thomson arrived at on 14th August 1883 and described in

“ Through Masai Land” :-

“………How can such enormous numbers of large game live in this extraordinary desert?

A curious illusion is produced by the damp, heated air rising from the sands. This gives a marvellously

beautiful waving motion to the black-and-white stripes of the zebra,which seem to quiver up and down…….”

 

After checking into the Lodge the afternoon drive produced more great sights:-

3 cheetah

Family of 5 warthogs trotting with tails raised

Pride of 12 lions lazing except for the cubs who wanted some action

Family of 4 bat eared foxes searching for food

Herd of wildebeest approaching then giving a wide berth to the lion pride

Plentiful zebra and gazelle.

There were baboons around the Lodge on our return. I always find them fascinating to watch.

 

After dinner I chatted with an American whose vehicle had broken down that afternoon.He and his guide had a 5 hour walk back to the Lodge sticking to the main road rather than cutting a straight line through the bush because of the dangerous wildlife - my note of this adds:-

“Guide was really scared. They came across many rhino and circled great distance around them.”

 

That night in my cabin I listened to the sounds of the African night - recognising the lion’s roar and the hyaenas whooping and trying to imagine to which animal or bird the other sounds, that I didn’t then recognise, might belong.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

June7th 1973

Soon after setting out on our early morning game drive we came across a lone rhino and a short while later we stopped to watch a group of four rhinos.

 

Grants and Thomsons gazelles were numerous and we unexpectedly found ourselves to be beside a Thommie fawn hidden by a clump of grass. It was lying curled and quite still as dictated by instinct.

We moved on promptly to avoid attracting attention to it or disturbing the mother.I hoped that it would survive to adulthood.

 

Further on two male lions got up from their rest, stretched and then started walking purposefully in a set direction. We followed for a while then went ahead and came to hyaenas tearing at a wildebeest carcase.Blackbacked jackals and an eagle were waiting in the background.

As the lions approached they quickened their pace, broke into a run and then charged scattering the hyenas in all directions as they took over the carcase.

 

Wildebeest seemed to be a favourite prey as we found the pride of twelve at another wildebeest kill.One of the cubs was tugging at the hair on the wildebeest’s tail whilst the adults were feasting.Jackals and vultures were an interested and anxious audience.

A Secretary Bird and many more of the ubiquitous wildebeest and zebra completed the drive back.

 

After breakfast and as the temperature rose the clouds around the top of Kilimanjaro cleared.

It seemed surreal to be standing on a hot dusty plain looking up at the flat snowcapped top of this majestic mountain with a belt of thin white cloud around its waist.

 

The further game drive took place in front of this amazing backdrop and featured giraffe, gazelles,antelope and two large herds of elephants, one drinking and playing in the water and another eating lush grass.There was also a large herd of buffalo by the swamp.

 

Lunch at the Lodge was followed by the drive back to Nairobi via Namanga, Kajiado and Athi.

After a farewell to Patrick I had dinner at the Safariland Hotel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

JUNE7th to 11th 1973

The following 3 days were spent in Nairobi and I did a lot of walking and talking finding the city and its inhabitants friendly and welcoming.

The Coryndon Museum, the Snake House, the busy market, the New Stanley, the Norfolk, wide streets with bougainvillaea hedges, the black kites and conversations with Kenyans who were eager to exchange thoughts and ideas and to learn about other countries. In those conversations it was clear Kenyans from some tribes felt disadvantaged.

 

On 11th June I took a BOAC flight to Mauritius then Qantas to Melbourne. During those flights I thought over the whole experience - the wildlife, the landscapes, the skies, the people, the sunsets, the sounds and the smells of Africa. I knew I’d be back sometime but didn’t know that my return would not be until 1996. In those intervening years I thought of Africa.

 

I may have left Africa but Africa never really left me.

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twaffle

This is a lovely recollection, did you write a journal?

 

I remember those BOAC flights on the VC10 and the route through Mauritius, brings back such memories.

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Caracal

Thanks Twaffle.

Wish I had written a journal for that trip but had to rely on a few jottings in a notebook, the itinerary, and some very poor photos to jog my memory. That's why it tends to be heavier on impressions than particulars.

Have written better records of subsequent trips and photos have improved somewhat but they still leave a lot to be desired.

Your photos of Crater Lodge and the view from the Lake Manyara Hotel with the swimming pool are just as I remember.

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Atravelynn

Your notes must have been very complete to assemble such a detailed report. Some questionable luck at the start turned into much luck at Manyara with the first leopard in a year.

 

We all had instamtics back then.

 

I bet you are glad you have this down so your memories are no permanent record. Thanks so much for sharing this with us.

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Pangolin

A pleasure to read your recollections.

 

Now for a report on 1996 :mellow:

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pault

I thought I had found a hole in time, but then it wouldn't be on the Internet would it?

 

Very interesting and enjoyable to read. One of the interesting things is that most of it could have been written now, with only a few minor changes (few people walk and talk their way around Nairobi like that nowadays for instance, and the parks of choice might be changed).

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Bugs

Very special.

 

 

Thanks Caracal.

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Caracal

Lynn - my notes are on 7 pages of one of those flip-over notebooks of the type that my secretary used for shorthand

dictation. Now that is going back in time! Yes pleased it's now more organised and appreciate yor comments.

 

 

Pangolin - glad you enjoyed it.

Hmmm .......... might dig out my 1996 photos and see if any pass muster.

 

Pault - Yes I found Nairobi to have a very different atmosphere in 1996. I retraced steps then but also tacked

on some more parks and Vic Falls.

 

dikdik - Pleased you found it of interest.

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Caracal

@@dlo – You’ve had me fossicking around finding this old thread so I’m “counting you in” as I revive it!

Initially I was just going to refer you to it but then I thought I’d add some photos such as they are - unfortunately none of Amboseli. Remember I’m no photographer and back in 1973 all I had was a Kodak Instamatic so they’re a bit of a record and that’s all – but I still value them as aides de memoire of my first footsteps in Africa. When I posted this thread I had neither the ability nor knowledge to scan, upload and post these old photos. Some I've subsequently posted elsewhere but I thought I'd gather them here.

 

4th June 1973 – Ngorongoro Crater

 

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5th June 1973 – Lake Manyara NP

 

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This next one is tricky - if you strain your eyes and look very carefully you might just make out a vague yellowish blob atop that dead branch just off centre - that believe it or not is the leopard I saw much more clearly with my naked eye and better still with my binoculars!

 

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That's all folks!

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dlo

Thanks for doing this @@Caracal. This was as fantastic as I thought it would be. I've done the drive from Nairobi to Arusha 3 times and reading this just brought back so many images in my mind. Mountain biking in Mto-Wa-Mbu, baboons were also the first sight at Manyara and everything about the Crater which I love so much. I can't even imagine only 1 other vehicle at the Crater and I too am always reluctant to leave Manyara. You mention Namanga and I immediately remember ramming my head into a huge pipe as I try to escape all the Masai hawkers. :)

 

The pictures are great and no need to apologize. Some of my favourite photos are probably pretty terrible to some of the great photographers on here but as long as it tells me a story I keep it. Thanks for posting this I am definitely "in".

 

Btw I also have a leopard on foot in Luangwa.

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