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Around the Northern Circuit.


Game Warden

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Game Warden

Part 40.

 

A large sycamore fig tree grows alone on a small bluff that reached out into the water. Some of us choose to sit in the shade underneath: I just laid back in the sun. Hippos vented only metres from the bank their grey hump backs protruding from the water, widely spaced nostrils spraying water snuffing and huge bodies splashing down in the cool. Bright yellow birds the size of sparrows flicked from the branches hopped on the floor infront of the vehicles: a sign reads ‘Don’t feed the wildlife.’ or something similar – Swahili and English but who could resist these brightly coloured chaps? Dennis brought over some packed lunches and told us to be careful and we thought he joked with us. Chicken leg roasted now cold with rubber skin and tough dark meat. Sandwiches of some kind coleslaw, bread limp and squashed inside a cellophane wrap. Cadbury’s chocolate blended for a high melting point. A stubby banana shaped like a giant thumb. A muffin cake a little dry: I throw crumbs to the floor and wait for those birds Dennis warned me of. Drink from a juice box. That was lunch at the lake. And then did they come. Suddenly I’m in shadow which covers the whole of me I look up expecting clouds but it is eagles, three or four of them with the most enormous wingspans of speckled golden brown feathers, dark almost black wingtips and they circle then swoop with a precision and speed that is fast enough to produce this swishing sound through the air. They dive down and Elisabete gets up and runs to the car as do the others leaving me alone on the grass. They sit hunched up eating in the Land Cruiser whilst the stuka divebombers attack my head and I wave my arms and look up to see them circling and coming down again again and I shoo them away. Only in Africa: oh man. The conversation goes something like this: they in the car, ‘Come here quick.’ me by the lakeside ‘No way. No damn way, this is amazing.’ for I’ve never been attacked by eagles before. I keep eating and they keep diving swishing over my head so close does my hat flap in their slipstream. One comes so low grabs at the Tupperware box and scatters its contents but makes off with talons only grasping air. I grab everything together and still won’t move but keep cramming everything in fast. Muffin in my right hand as I chew on fibrous chicken meat. Swish so loud and I look to see this eagle in a classic attacking pose that I’ve seen documented in books on TV – legs outstretched talons open wings swept back and head arrow to the target; in milliseconds do I notice his black beak and yellow area around his nostrils: it takes this whole muffin from my grasp so quickly do I not have time to flinch – the talons close and it is away with my dry cake and all I felt was the scuffing of its claws as they closed upon my skin and I am in total awe of his accuracy. They in the van look down like wow as I turn as if to say did you see that? and if only I had the camera or someone managed to get it on film. Pigeons in the park with scattered breadcrumbs will never be the same again.

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Game Warden

Part 41.

 

And so do I finish, my lunchbox empty now and they know – they see from a mile away or something amazing, nothing is left for them bar crumpled cellophane, crushed juice box and banana skin none of which is appealing and they are up in the air current spiralling away for other prey not me. Dennis comes to sit beside me and I can barely speak. ‘Were you not afraid?’ he asks and how could I have been? There was no time to even think. ‘Eagles. Eagles.’ I repeat and ‘No, they were black kites.’ he says and I’ll never know the difference anyway. ‘I have never experienced anything as intense.’ I tell him for it was just like a falconer bringing his bird in with meat on his glove except I wore no glove and that bird’s talons could have ripped through my hand: only now do I appreciate this. These are not birds raised for display but wild hunters of the air. That was my close contact, my close encounter. Elephants and water buffalo. Hyenas. This is why Africa excites me so. I talk a while with Dennis, we pass a water bottle between us and shade our eyes from the sun. I ask about him, him about me and we are no more than six months apart in age and he has a young daughter too. ‘It must be hard then being a safari guide?’ I ask him, these weekly trips away and often longer he says. ‘I miss my family.’ he confides in this moment of bonding and I nod for I know that feeling. ‘I never want to leave. Not here. Never.’ and we both look at the Hippos crashing in the water. ‘Tanzania is the most beautiful place on earth.’ he says and at this exact moment I honestly believe it so.

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Game Warden

Part 42.

 

On leaving Ngorongoro the rough laid road heads north northwest leaving the crater in the rearview mirror for a short time can I still see it and then is it gone. Past the entrance to our overnight campsite and I will take some amazing memories of this place with me: not least being trapped in the toilet by those hyenas during the night. On either side low trees with flat canopies, small acacias – the ground barren and sandy between them: giraffes wander past us and we stop to let three amble across the road – their strange gait and rubber necks, one turns to look our way and I take his photo as he sticks out his tongue and I suddenly think how much like cows they are. Cows crossed with dinosaurs. Rebecca explains that the older they are the darker the brown patches, like liverspots on my grandfather’s hands. One then is ancient for his patches are black and the yellow brown and he is sunburnt all over. Camelopardalis – camel leopard and Ibrahim calls out the latin name from his book. ‘A camel laid down with leopard and had giraffe baby.’ he says and I’m not the first one in with a magic mints comment this time.

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  • 3 weeks later...
Atravelynn
Actually, Around the Northern Circuit, and A Week Climbing Kilimanjaro (In a condensed form here on Safaritalk) predated this forum and were originally part of a book project which I intended to publish with all profit going to small grass root projects in Tanzania. However, unable to attract any interest from likely publishers I would have had to pay for it all myself and end up not making any money at all. So it was from this manuscript that the embreyonic plans for www.safaritalk.net were drawn up, and here we are a few years later, raising a few dollars for good causes - possibly moreso than any book would have ever made.

Ah, so this helps explain the origin of safaritalk. Ironically as I was reading this, I have on in the background a radio show about the origin of the universe. I understand the origins of safaritalk better.

 

Now I have through 42.

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Atravelynn

Matt,

From exciting events in nature you so eloquently describe all the way to the camaraderie when it was time to relieve the bladder, you have made a valiant effort to answer your own question. "How can you ever hope to describe this feeling to anyone else? To those who have never been on safari? It will change your life."

 

Your concern for the rhino you saw and the lingering question if it would be around the following year is sadly still very pertinent. Perhaps even moreso today.

 

The black kite scenario was right out of Alfred Hitchcock!

 

The Latin term for giraffe and your description as part leopard and part camel is perfect and brings me back to my first sighting in Africa.

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Game Warden

Part 43.

 

I am going wild like some kid on his first trip to the zoo. One sees the last of the rising volcano’s sides to the left and all the time does the Land Cruiser drop down the road constantly curving and potholes bounce us around, standing atop the bench seats photographing everything with both the Nikon and digital slung round my neck. Ahead of us does this great vision of the plains unfurl: miles upon miles of flat parched landscape and this is the famous Serengeti: some mythical entity from B.B.C documentaries and David Attenborough voice overs in that hushed polite tone of his. Serengeti, from the Maasai word Siringit – endless plains. I cannot believe I am here. Big sky country – it’s what our American colleagues would call it: a vast blue fishbowl of endless vision; this three hundred and sixty degree vista with cumulus skudding on through. I have seen this road before in a black and white picture: I recognise it now like somehow I have always known it, the endless road to safari, without deviation this road goes on forever. Upon a map it would just be one arrow straight red line in the wilderness, together Brock and I had marked it so. Trucks throwing up clouds from tyres and a perfect flat horizon splitting the image in two. That picture. I am in it. We are within the Great Rift Valley and here it is assumed that man originated. The cradle of life. We are scheduled to visit Olduvai Gorge on our return and I get excited to see the turn off that will take us there. Olduvai Gorge. Louis Leakey.

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Game Warden

Part 44.

 

I hoard things. Old magazines. Time. Life. National Geographics picked up from junk stores and boot sales, second hand markets and bric a brac stalls. There’s something about the smell of old books and magazines, the musty scent of history and learning. I have brought one with me to Tanzania. The National Geographic, Vol. 127, No. 2: February 1965. On page 194 the article starts – ‘The Leakeys of Africa. FAMILY IN SEARCH OF PREHISTORIC MAN’. And it is this great write up of Louis Leakey’s life, his family, the discovery of Homo Habilis, (man with ability) from almost two million years ago. Pictures of the Gorge itself. We will be there soon and it is my intention to take this edition and have my wife photograph me with it at the spot were Leakey discovered those ancient remains.

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Game Warden

Part 45.

 

There must be a million zebra and wildebeest in front of us the horizon dark with game and interestingly enough most of them are concentrated on our left as we drive north. Ostrich run alongside us flapping their useless wings, suddenly changing direction and veering away from us. We all stand, glacier glasses tight on, numerous safari vehicles pass us coming south and with them billowing clouds of dust and grit thrown up which we drive straight through. The smell is that now familiar scent of African wilderness and other than the rattle of worn springs and deep tread tyres conversing with hardpacked surface you can hear the braying of the zebras and grunting noises of the wildebeest. Occasionally does a hyena poke his head up from the grass camouflaging him to look at us. The great migration is an annual event where almost three million head of game pass in a large circuit between the Masai Mara and Serengeti and in January the concentration of animals including the zebras, wildebeest and Thomson’s gazelle is situated in the southern boundaries of the Serengeti and towards the north of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area from where we have just come. The animals follow the rain, the grazing and here now are there square miles of grass: square miles of game. One can never hope to see them all. The wildebeest use this area, the Serengeti short grass plains close to Ndutu as their birthing grounds and it is estimated that within a three week period ninety percent of the calves are born. Even despite the threat of predation, the sheer number will assure high survival rates.

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Game Warden

Part 46.

 

These huge dung beetles flit towards us and we duck as they pass overhead: the sound is that of a helicopter’s rotor blades spinning and they must be the size of my index finger. Out here it is unlikely we will see lions. Cheetah maybe and I’ll count myself lucky if we do. That’s what Rebecca explains for the lion is intelligent: we are not yet inside the boundaries of the national park and they know the Maasai are here. Maasai cannot enter the National Park itself. It is believed that lions have an inbuilt fear of the red Maasai robes, the shuka blanket – to them it means death. Centuries of hunting; the right of passage. Killing a lion. They know. We will see them inside she reassures us. The Maasai were not indiginous to East Africa so Rebecca explains and who am I to question her knowledge? Apparently over a number of centuries they moved south slowly through Africa and when confronted by this vast flat area they named it Siringit. A German mispronounced the word by all accounts and thus today we know it as the Serengeti.

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twaffle

Thanks Game Warden for getting back to your report. You must have seen some wonderful sights. Are your photos part of your gallery, I have never got around to looking in the gallery.

 

Do you have plans to visit East Africa again or are you, like me, hampered by the costs of raising children?

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Atravelynn

Glad you have continued, Matt. I never knew about the mispronunciation by a German. Interesting tidbit. Do you have the picture of you and the magazine? Maybe that's coming up.

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Game Warden

Part 48.

 

I sleep a little, the road long and straight though rough, featureless bar like a million odd animals and the Land Cruiser pitches from right to left. Outside my window is the greatest wildlife spectacular on earth and yet inside my head is darkness. I’m too tired to dream. And I think that is the problem when combining safari immediately following Kilimanjaro. I was too tired to really appreciate things: I needed more time to recover. Next time. I’d pulled my hat down across my eyes, my sockless feet upon Rebecca’s headrest and my left arm was getting burnt it the sun. I am woken by Elisabete saying we’re arriving at Naabi Gate and to cheers from Dutch who leans forward and slaps my forehead. I take a photo of the park’s prices on a large wooden board and then we park up and Ibrahim once more is to the offices with our permits. In the meantime we follow a wooded trail that is surely safe though somewhat dated by its crazy paving: I think tourists have walked here since the seventies. We come to a look out point where I take some wide angled shots overlooking this vast expanse of grasslands in front of us which are strangely empty. Devoid of life. It doesn’t look right. Something is wrong. ‘Behind us, over there, look,’ and I point so Rebecca gets my drift, ‘Three million animals. Here nothing.’ and she just shrugs and Dutch jokes that we could have saved a fortune and camped outside the gates. There is a shop and some toilets and whilst the girls investigate that Dutch and I head inside. Displayed on racks: a number of overpriced maps looking to have been drawn by ten year olds and books and postcards like we aren’t going to take enough pictures ourselves. But more importantly a secret back room stacked with beer and chocolate and so between us do we haul out this crate of bottles, Tuskers and enough Hobnob type biscuits to last us a week. The guy at the counter cannot believe we want so much alcohol and stranger still wants to pour them out into glasses and what the hell are you talking about so I think but I keep my mouth shut just holding a wadge of dollars for him to take. ‘You take cans, not bottles.’ he’s going: he won’t accept the cash from me. ‘Dennis!’ I call for we need his help perhaps something is lost in translation. Apparently with bottles if you take them away it is almost double the cost: there’s no way I’m paying that and I guess they get a back hander for all bottles returned as in the old days when I collected soda bottles for ten pence a shot. (Or whatever it was.) The guy’s still on about the cans but we’ve just spent five minutes clearing his cool box and the cans are warm upon the shelf which isn’t good business sense when it’s a hundred degrees plus outside. And I’m getting annoyed and the guy is undecided as I wave the notes once more. A whole crate and can he resist? and then Dennis is backing our cause by offering a personal assurance that the empties will be returned with the crate.

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twaffle

It is so nice to read your report, I am still enjoying it so thanks for keeping it going.

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Game Warden

Part 49.

 

So whilst the others are delayed by those trinkets in the shop we make back for the van carrying the alcohol and a carrier bag of biscuits to where Rebecca and Ibrahim wait. Ibrahim doesn’t drink so we’ve sorted him with some Coke for which he is extremely grateful. We crack off tops on the wall and knock bottles together, cheer ourselves and start drinking. Climb up in the van and stand on the seats: drink in the sun as the others return and all the time am I urging Ibrahim to go so with a jolt he reverses out and we are away saluting the others with raised bottles that froth up and point the way forward, wind in our faces, the whole Serengeti and Africa in front: as in a scene from ‘Apocalypse Now’ all that we miss is Flight of the Valkeries or some Jimi Hendrix riff blasting from the stereo.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Now I’ve read this. Maybe it should be a book anyway – the first part of The History of Safaritalk. I had no idea so much alcohol was needed on safari.

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