Tanzania & East Africa goodbyes!
March 21-24, 2006: Nairobi
From Zanzibar, we traveled directly to Nairobi—taking an overnight ferry to Dar es Salaam and then immediately catching an all-day bus to Nairobi. We arrived at Flora Hostel at 10 p.m. It was like coming home. We took a welcomed hot shower and tucked ourselves into bed for a blessed sleep after that grueling stretch of travel.
While in Nairobi, our friend, Brother Daniel, from Oregon, came to have lunch with us at Flora Hostel and then shuttled us around town on all our errands. We drove through another part of Nairobi—a lovely forested gorge and then emerged into a country setting surrounded by farm land, and there in the middle of this pastoral scene was St. Catherine of Sienna, the Dominican parish church, and the house where Brother Daniel lives with 4 other priests and brothers. The house is funky but beautiful with light streaming in from large windows and glass doors that open out to gardens and groves of coffee trees. The gardens as everywhere in Africa are full of brilliant flowers—birds of paradise, poinsettia trees, bougainvillea, and multi-colored periwinkles. We met Fr. Martin and Br. Dominic, as well as Fr. Maurice on our previous visit, and can see why Brother Daniel is so content in his new home in Africa. He is surrounded by spirit-filled, vivacious people and a land pulsating with life.
On our last day in Nairobi, we spent a lovely afternoon with Sampuli, our friend and safari guide, and his family. He drove us to his home on the outskirts of Nairobi where we had lunch with him, his mother, Cecilia, and his brother, John. The rice and stew that he prepared for us was expertly spiced and we savored our last African meal, as well as our time with him. Miraculously, the guitar that was badly damaged on our safari (the neck was crushed when the trunk of the vehicle was slammed on it) was restored and we finally got to hear him sing and play our favorite song, “Jambo, Jambo bwana,” in his pure, rich, lullabic voice, a testament to his talent as a vocalist. We demanded an encore, and he played another of his favorite songs for us, “I have a dream,” on the keyboard. Earlier in the trip, Peter became intrigued by the guitar and has been wanting to learn a few chords and one song ever since. Now, in the company of our musically gifted friend and two guitars, he was itching to try and prevailed on Sampuli to give him a quick lesson. Undaunted by our time constraints, he took Peter aside and taught him the song that he first learned when he started playing the guitar as a young boy, “God is good.” Peter practiced while we showed our slide show of our travels and was able to perform the song for us just before we left! Sampuli’s mother waved to us and blessed us as we departed, so happy to have met and entertained her first muzungus! On our way back to town, Sampuli brought us to his children’s secondary school to meet his daughter, Nice, and his son, Levi. He hadn’t told them we were coming and they were surprised and delighted to see him and meet us. It was an honor to witness the love of this devoted father and his children and to hear of their studies and aspirations—Levi is in his last year of high school and would like to study aviation engineering possibly at Makerere University in Kampala, and Nice is interested in a degree in law (and incidentally, her favorite extracurricular activity, like Peter’s, is basketball!). I look forward to keeping in touch with them as their brilliant futures unfold and pray that God blesses their efforts richly.
We can hardly believe our time in Africa has come to an end, and, as our family prepared to part paths with Marcia, our dear friend and loyal travel companion, we gathered at one of the lounges at Flora Hostel for a prayer service to give thanksgiving for the blessings and miracles of the past two months and to ask for safe-keeping as we embark for Mediterranean Europe and Marcia returns home to Eugene. During the course of the past two months, we have all felt that we have been called two by two by God over and over again to build the kingdom of peace, love and justice. Here are just a few of the ways we have been called to share of our gifts and talents in this glorious yet broken part of the world:
Ø Our time in Kabale at Victory Community Gardens was definitely orchestrated by God. It turned out that each of us had an important skill to offer the project—Marcia in gardening at Grassroots Gardens in Eugene, Steve in land use planning, Carrol in volunteer management from her career at Girl Scouts, me in my background in media and community relations, Peter in his technological expertise, and Paul as a videographer and hard worker! There is no way we could have planned this encounter more finely!
Ø Steve believes that God led us safely to Kabale to work on the community gardens project. We were concerned about our safety in Uganda during the national elections and were considering leaving Uganda early and forgoing our visit to Kabale. The morning after praying about the decision, the bus to Fort Portal, which is enroute to Kabale, was waiting for us at the depot. As far as we were concerned, this was a sign that we were meant to go to Kabale.
Ø Carrol helped establish a nursery school at Enoosaen Catholic Church. Within weeks of her donation, Rosalee and another woman from the church had already begun teaching. The school was named Bertha’s Academy after Carrol’s mother. Carrol is also planning to fundraise for a priest’s home and an orphanage when she returns home as part of a new sister church initiative between Enoosaen Catholic Church and Corpus Christi, her church in Evansville.
Ø Paul reminded us that God works in mysterious ways. We were originally planning to go to Enoosaen in March. When our passports were stolen in Nairobi, we couldn’t travel out of Kenya until we received our replacement passports, so we changed our plans and decided to go to Enoosaen early. This turned out to be providential because the source needed to be cleared before the long rains started in March and our volunteer efforts were needed as soon as possible!
Ø Peter pointed out that we may never have come to Africa had it not been for the bidding from God!
March 15-20, 2006: More Zanzibar
Our days at Kendwa Beach have been spent in a combination of the following: swimming, sunbathing, reading, beachcombing, writing and completing homework assignments, the occasional massage, eating good food, and savoring conversation with each other and fellow travelers. One day when it poured Peter and Paul set up several track and field events in the large thatched restaurant hut on the beach—long jump from the upper outer perimeter of tables facing the ocean, a hurdles course made out of the sand from the innermost ring where the circular couch is located, and a race track on the exterior perimeter of the structure. Even Marcia and I recorded a time for this last event—three laps around the restaurant! While in our rest and relaxation routine, Peter learned how to play a double mancala-like game, and one morning, Paul, Peter and I combed the beach for just the right shells for the game board he intends to build.
Competition for business on the beach can be fierce. On the day we arrived, I got a massage with Doto 1, while Marcia got a massage with Doto 2. Doto 1 did a really good job of working out a pulled muscle I had in my upper leg. On subsequent days, I looked for her but other masseuses approached me in the meantime. A couple of times I got confused by their similar attire and thought I was talking with Doto 1. When I told one of these Doto 1 imposters that I might get a massage the next day, she held me to my word and then tried to guilt me into a massage, which definitely did not put me in the mood for a massage. When Doto 1 did appear a little later, I decided to take her up on the offer and later was taunted by the other masseuse who mimicked my “excuse” that I had a sunburn! That same afternoon while I was reading on the rustic beach recliners made of twine and wood a commotion broke out in the vicinity where Marcia was getting a massage. I later discovered that she was precisely in the middle of this very vocal argument between two warring masseuses. She thinks she ended up going to the wrong masseuse and they were arguing over her business. Apparently, no one was paying any attention to her as this altercation persisted but finally after several insistent shhhhhes, they broke it up and the massage resumed!
Sharing the dream
Our friends, Scott and Jessica, the Peace Corps volunteer and his friend from home, had been enroute to another coastal destination when we met them in Stone Town a few nights ago but decided to return to Kendwa Beach for a few more days on this glorious beach. We have enjoyed many conversations with them about the adventures of international travel, especially in East Africa, concerns about the re-entry back to the U.S. and keeping the experience, mindset and change in consciousness alive in the process, Scott’s work teaching sustainable agricultural practices and our experience working at the community gardens and water projects, etc. etc. They also shared with us the lovely, but very delicate, sea heart (looks like an inflated sand dollar) that they have found snorkeling off-shore. Peter, Paul and I rented snorkeling gear and went in pursuit of the sea heart, but did not find one. We did, however, encounter a sole flat fish, a light blue translucent fish, and a variety of spotted and striped tropical fish, as well as a moray eel-like fish peering out from under one coral head (though it could have been a sea cucumber too!), sea urchins, and magenta and white coral.
My birthday was on the night-morning of the full-moon party and I guess I was meant to usher in the morning in celebration because I couldn’t sleep and finally, because I had no one to party with, I got up early to write! After catching a few hours of sleep, I awoke to enthusiastic birthday greetings. The family was abuzz with excitement about my birthday. At 6 p.m. we began walking down the beach just as the sunset began unfolding over the shimmering Indian Ocean. This superb timing was my dear husband’s contribution to the birthday celebration planning. Just as a painter ignites the canvas with color, so did the sky burst into brilliant reds and oranges, illuminating the clouds of many shapes on the horizon and casting a vivid hue across the blue expanse. A little ways down the beach, we hiked up our pants and skirts and waded through the beach passageway, now flooded by the advancing tide. The strategy was to hug the reef cliff, whose upper cleft hung over us, like the upper roof of a mouth, its surface involuted by the never-ceasing erosion of the pounding surf and burrowing of hundreds of thousands of reef dwellers. Many of the acrylic paintings that were on display at the many beachside shops along the way lay scattered on the beach. Remarkably, the shop owners seemed unfazed by the rising tide, and the paintings remained just as they were as the waves splashed and in some cases engulfed them! Apparently these canvases were virtually indestructible. Though this sales tactic might work for four-wheel drive trucks (you know, “Ford tough”), it somehow seemed strangely out of place as a virtue in a work of art!
We arrived in tact at the up-scale resort at the end of the beach, and, after several security checks and multiple assurances that we were only interested in pizza, we were given visitor badges to wear and finally allowed to enter the premises. We all splurged and ordered tropical drinks, raising our glasses in a gallant toast! Oh, and the pizza was exceptionally good. Baked in an honest-to-goodness pizza oven with real cheese, it rivaled the best in the U.S! But, the big surprise was the home-made cocoa cake with whipped cream frosting served on an elevated cake platter and the choral group that accompanied its procession to our table. All the chefs and waiters joined in a rousing chorus of “Jambo, jambo bwana,” Tanzania’s version of the birthday song. They also sang the American “Happy Birthday to you” song as a second number but it sounded sadly limp after the lively African tune that can be heard blasting from every radio throughout East Africa. I was showered by wishes and blessings from my family and new friends and I reveled in the outpouring of love. On the way back to our hotel, the tide had receded and our path was illuminated by the now waxing full moon, glistening on the surface of the white sands and black sea as if the sand were bedecked in diamonds and the sea was a field of obsidian. Here in the company of family and friends and this glorious spot in the Indian Ocean, I am blessed indeed!
March 14, 2006: Kendwa Beach, Zanzibar
Once again we were compressed into the local bus, a truck with an extra-long covered bed, and transported to Kendwa Beach juncture. We arrived at the heat of the day and trudged down the uneven gravel road to the beach. We couldn’t wait to get settled and plunge into the inviting ocean that glistened like diamonds in the brilliant sunshine. When Steve and I returned from scouting out hotels, Marcia had done just that—walked into the ocean, clothes and all! After finding some used bathing suits, we were a little better equipped and dove into the warm depths for a glorious swim. Marcia and I indulged in yet more luxury—a massage on the beach. The evening was capped off with dinner and conversation in the hotel’s restaurant directly on the beach while the nearly full moon illuminated the sea and the pristine white sands of a dramatically low tide.
March 12-13, 2006: Zanzibar: These are places in the world!
From Lushoto, we traveled by bus to Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, booked our passage to Zanzibar, and spent the next afternoon on the very slow ferry crawling across the glimmering blue of the Indian Ocean to the island of Zanzibar. Both Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar are featured in the Red Grammer song, “These are places in the world,” as exotic global destinations, and here we were experiencing them both in the space of a day, wow! We arrived at the pier at Stone Town just as the sun was setting. This enchanting city—comprised of white-washed buildings, red-tile roofs, and prominent church spires—and the Indian Ocean that surrounds it were bathed in a wave of pink. After confronting several hotels with no vacancies, we found a couple of rooms at the Oasis, a relatively new guest house in town. Each room is uniquely decorated with murals depicting scenes typical of the area—boats sailing on the sea, a jungle forest teeming with wildlife, a pristine beach, a desert night sky twinkling with stars. In addition, in several of the rooms, the beds were lodged in colorful, rustic wooden boat frames.
We spent the next day meandering through the narrow, cobblestone streets of Stone Town, exploring the small curio shops, markets, and bookstores that line this intricate labyrinth, exchanging greetings of Jambo, Habari, and Nzuri with our Muslim neighbors, women, men and young children in typical Muslim garb (women in bui-bui, robes, and hijabu, veils, that cover the whole face except the eyes of married women, men wearing kofia hats and children modeling the appropriate version of each), and visiting the Anglican Cathedral, built on the site of the infamous slave market in Zanzibar in the 1800s. Only the old holding cells remain of the slave market. As we descended into these dark, stark chambers and read about the inhuman practices of the slave trade, it was not difficult to summon the horrors that are contained in these walls. The cathedral, the first Anglican cathedral in East Africa, was built as atonement for the brutality of this chapter in history and symbolizes good transcending from evil, peace on earth from human oppression. In fact, the high altar, where the sacrifice of the Christian church is offered, was purposely built directly over the actual platform where the slaves were displayed and sometimes whipped when auctioned off to buyers. In the overview at the back of the church, visitors are invited to pause and say a prayer of thanksgiving for the abolition of slavery and a prayer of petition that never again will humankind be subjected to the scourge of slavery. Livingstone, the famous African explorer from England, was also instrumental in abolishing slavery in England and helping to build the cathedral in Stone Town. Outside the church grounds are stone sculptures of slaves set into a pit in the ground and shackled by chains at the neck. They very powerfully depict the subjugation of many Africans in the slave trade. Our visit was interrupted by a very ferocious rainstorm that flooded the streets. We couldn’t even cross the church grounds to the next part of the exhibit until the rain subsided.
On our way to one of the many bookstores in Stone Town, we stumbled across a vibrant marketplace. In addition to the bounty of produce, we found many multi-colored spices for sale. I almost blew out my nostrils when I sniffed a pinch of ginger a little too enthusiastically and ended up “snorting” the potent spice!
On both evenings in Stone Town, we winded through the quaint cobblestone streets to the food gardens at the waterfront and ate fish kabobs, French fries, and cabbage salad, as well as Zanzibar pizza, what we knew as murtaboks from Malaysia, a vegetarian concoction mixed with egg, folded into a thin dough and fried in a wok-like pan. The first night we shared a picnic table with Scott, a Peace Corps volunteer, and his friend from home who was visiting him during his tenure in Tanzania. Soon we were engrossed in conversation as we found out that the work he is doing at a village south of Dar es Salaam was very similar to the work we were doing at the community gardens in Kabale, i.e. teaching sustainable agricultural practices. The second night we not only ran into our friends from Lushoto, Lorraine and Robert, but sat next to two young women travelers—one was a fellow Oregonian from Portland and the other was from The Netherlands! Once more we had much in common and found ourselves swapping experiences of the road and confirming the importance of getting out and seeing the world.
March 7-10, 2006: Lushoto, a mountain retreat
We spent a couple of days in Lushoto, a mountain retreat in the middle of the western Usambara Mountains especially during the German colonial administration, recovering from the strenuous travel of the past several days. We were well cared for at Karibuni Lodge by our new friends Julius and Alphonso, the lodge’s proprietor and his staff. In addition we met many interesting fellow travelers. Robert and Lorraine, a lovely couple from Scotland, were visiting their youngest son Andrew. Andrew is working for an international NGO in Tanzania that provides commercial and charitable flying services, as well as radio and Internet technologies to villages in the surrounding area. We also met Fabian, a French woman who has been traveling in east Africa for the past few months, but is soon headed to volunteer for a month at a French-funded development project in a village in western Tanzania. Our first evening we had lively conversation with David, from Los Angeles, and his friend Mookie, from Berlin, Germany. Mookie traveled for the past four years down the western coast of Africa in his camper and is now in his second four-year sojourn through eastern Africa back to Germany. We covered all the typical issues of developing countries, especially those in Africa—misdirected and misguided development aid, the AIDS epidemic and its pervasive impact on local society, international corporations and their control of local economies, and the tumultuous transition to civil society. Despite all these political, social and economic ills, we were all struck by the resilience of the African people. For the most part, they are a people brimming with a hopeful, faith-filled, conciliatory, creative and resourceful spirit.
After many hours confined on buses, we were eager to move our bodies so the next morning, after a lovely breakfast of fresh fruit, bread and eggs at the lodge, we set off on a hike to Irente viewpoint. We enjoyed our comfortable amble through small mountain villages, including a dairy farm renowned in the area that sells home-made wheat bread, cheese, milk, yogurt, jams, and muesli. We purchased food for a picnic and continued through the countryside checkered with small farms clinging to steep hillsides until we reached the viewpoint at the top of a sheer cliff. Peter recommended that I not venture to the ledge but rather secured a nice picnic spot for us a safe distance from the edge, where we nestled contentedly to feast on the delicious cheese, bread and mulberry jam, quite a treat after a long hiatus from these kinds of foods. The panorama that stretched below included jagged cliffs and rocky crags covered in pine forest mixed with tropical vegetation, agricultural fields and distant mountain ridges, among which were the peaks of Kilimanjaro and Meru, though this day they were obscured by a layer of clouds.
March 6, 2006
A hyena’s breakfast
As we descended into the misty caldera of Ngorongoro Crater, it was as if we were entering the lost Garden of Eden. A bed of soft green blanketed the floor of the crater and, as far as they eye could see, animals of all kinds speckled the vast velvety expanse. Our eyes were immediately attracted to a disturbance amidst a herd of Thomson’s gazelles. It was a hyena in pursuit of a gazelle. We watched as the pair streaked through the herd and out through the open plains. “Wow, look at that gazelle easily gaining ground. It will surely outrun the hyena,” we all exclaimed, as the gazelle initially lengthened the lead significantly. Then, all of a sudden, the gap shrunk to nothing, the hyena stopped, there was violent thrashing, and the hyena emerged from the fray, dragging the dead gazelle to a quiet place to lunch. He kind of waddled as he hoisted his coveted catch out of the main traffic of the open plains. We were able to follow a subsidiary path that led right next to the hyena and watched him as he ate greedily. We were all shocked that the tide had turned so dramatically for the gazelle. Peter immediately deduced that the gazelle must have been diseased or injured because otherwise the hyena never would have been able to outrun it, the second fastest animal on the savannah. It was the saga of survival of the fittest played out before our very eyes. Peter sagely summed it up with: “And life goes on in Ngorongoro Crater.” The hyena made short work of the gazelle, wasting no time in devouring his breakfast while furtively looking around at us and any other potential scavenger, who might be interested in stealing his well-earned meal. When another safari vehicle joined us, he looked up with his bloodied mouth and nose and sinister, dark, round eyes and seemed to say in exasperation, “Geez, can’t I eat in peace??!” Before long, he decided he’d had enough of the spectators and lumbered off with what was left of his breakfast in search of a quieter dining area.
A bastard of a bird
As we continued further into the heart of the crater, I thought I spotted a bird on a stump. “Is that a bird?” I asked. No, it’s just a bird on a stump,” Paul said. “Oh, it’s a stump on a bird,” I repeated, scrambling the expression in my intentness, as I still kept my eye on the throne of the stump to try to identify this unusual looking bird. All of a sudden, we exclaimed, “Wait a minute, it’s moving!” as we watched stump and all begin to stalk off. And, Paul says, “Hey, it’s a Kori bustard!” In our state of general amazement and confusion, G-ma says, “A Kori ‘bastard?!’” And I repeat, “Yea, a Kori bastard, that bastard!” And, we all dissolve into hilarious laughter! Still, none of this diversion could detract from the impressiveness of this creature, East Africa’s biggest bustard (can be up to 1.2 m tall) and Africa’s heaviest flying bird (can weigh up to 18 kg). He is enormous, bedecked with a fluffy white neck scarf, a great expanse of grey wings, a cumber bun of white undertail plumage, and a French-style country black cap. His stride is a dignified, almost regal strut, and he seemed unperturbed by our gawking, and we marveled at how a stump transformed into this resplendent bird!
A bevy of birds
Further on, more birds roamed the savannah. A group of 11 ostrich crossed the road. As ostrich mate for life, one appeared to be either single or missing its mate. While one female was grooming herself, she lifted her wing and we were able to see her bare, featherless skin beneath. Secretary birds also promenaded across the plains in their crisp outfits of black pinafores and white blouses. From then on out, these birds became Peter’s default bird of choice and he kept calling out, “Secretary bird!” liberally, when identifying any large black and white bird! Crested cranes, Uganda’s national bird, were also out and about in great numbers this glorious morning. We caught one group in intent foreplay—their golden crowned heads intertwined as they nuzzled each other in tender embraces, a seemingly synchronized performance among the dozen or so pairs congregated. We stopped talking to hear the ecstasies of their sweet coos waft over the tall grasses. It seems that these exhibitions are contagious as these very social, elegant birds can often be found dancing and leaping for joy in a company of up to 60 birds!
Peter was on a roll and called out that he had spotted a lion in the distance. As he examined the sleek, golden body more closely, he said, “No, it’s got spots. It’s a cheetah!” Sure enough, it was confirmed through binoculars that it was indeed a cheetah. He was lying at the precipice of a mound overlooking a valley full of thousands of animals, as far as the eye could see. Plentiful buffalo, zebra, wildebeest, gazelles—a veritable wonderland of prey for a cheetah! Unbelievable!
Hippos on the move
In a nearby marsh we spotted some very large boulders—on the move! Yes, they were hippos and we finally got to see them as active as a 3-plus-ton beast can get! There was a family of a mother, father and baby, and the baby, eager for some hippo play, woke up first its mother and then its father, persistently nudging them. The father was the last to hoist his enormous body up but when he did, the family huddled nuzzling each other roughly, the little one toppling over with all this affection from his giants of parents.
Lions in pursuit
There appeared to be some commotion in the distance. Wildebeests were running erratically and what was that?? Was it a lion chasing them?? Yes, in fact there appeared to be several surrounding the herd. We dashed over to get a better look. Sure enough, there were four female lions engaged in a coordinated attack while two male lions sat along the side of the road, surveying the action. The one mature male with his impressive mane, however, was very clearly the king of the pride as he sat coolly apart from the juvenile male in his company. The younger male, however, twitched with excitement from the thrill of the hunt and eventually joined the female lions to get some hunting practice. It was fascinating to watch the lions launch their strategic effort. One lion followed the wildebeests right out in the open. The wildebeests, quite aware of her presence, watched her as she very nonchalantly ambled towards the herd and got quite close but only until she actually began to lope towards them did they disperse and, as soon as she eased her advance, they would stop their retreat, turn around and watch her, and even begin to follow her in a sort of fatal attraction. These “bewildered wildebeests,” or “bewildebeests,” for short, as we dubbed them, seemed to be hypnotized by the lead lion and under her influence. In the meantime, we could see other lions hiding at various posts in the vicinity, lying in wait to launch the final and fatal attack. We, and equally enthralled spectators in 21 other safari vehicles, watched phase one of the hunt as the female lion isolated a small group from the original herd. From one of these fateful numbers would come the pride’s next meal. Unfortunately, the effort began drifting into the next valley out of our view and we were not able to watch them consummate the hunt. Still, it was amazing to be privy to at least part one of their highly orchestrated effort.
Endangered species without a care
Reluctantly, we continued on into another valley. In this clearing, yet another magnificent panorama unfolded. There, along the side of the road, wallowed four spotted hyenas, trying to escape the heat of the mid-day in a cool mud hole. Several more lay sprawled in the distance, limp from the exertion of the day, their bellies swollen with the morning’s meal. One hyena was so limp he looked dead but, when an impish compadre pounced upon him, he sprang to life, baring his fangs and ready to fight. We were so absorbed in the behavior of these fiendish, dark creatures we almost didn’t notice one of the rarest sightings of the day—On the other side of the van, amidst gazelle, zebra, wart hogs, and the occasional ostrich and stray hyena, was a family of black rhinoceroses! Though usually browsers by preference, this mother, father and baby rhinoceroses ambled among the tall golden grasses of the open savannah, grazing contentedly, seemingly unaware of the peril that faces its species. During the 1970s, there were still 40,000 rhinos in Kenya. By the turn of the century, Kenya’s black rhino population had plummeted to an estimated 400, the victim of intensive poaching for its coveted solid keratin horns.
After tracking one hyena that seemed to be up to know good amidst some Thomson’s gazelles, we bid farewell to our rhino friends and the rest of this magnificent assembly and continued down the road. We seemed to enter a zebra sanctuary. Zebras were everywhere and there were many, very cute young among the fold. One was sitting on the side of the road while his mother grazed nearby. He was watching the traffic on the road intently as if he had been given permission to watch the matinee feature. When we stopped in front of him, he cocked his fuzzy little head, marked with yet immature brown stripes and a tiny ridge of a mane, and seemed to be absolutely riveted by us in our rectangular contraption, the Land rover, Even after his mother began moving on, he lingered to continue to study us, like a teenager so absorbed in a book that he does not heed his mother’s calls to come for dinner. He finally wrenched himself away from the feature attraction to reluctantly follow his mother. Across the road, Paul spotted another baby. All you could see of this little one, however, was one ear peeking out from beneath his mother’s belly, because he was nursing standing with his head upside down! In the distance, a zebra fight broke out, a cloud of dust billowing around the quarrelsome duo. Being a mediator, I couldn’t leave the scene of conflict until it had been sufficiently defused, not that I was unfortunately able to contribute much as a third-party, inter-species mediator!
On a small ridge in the middle of the savannah was a picturesque pool. A family of hippos was splish, splash taking an afternoon bath. Paul and I had to go to the bathroom so we were sent to the rear of the Land rover to squat. In the middle of relieving ourselves, Steve summoned us rather urgently back to the vehicle. I immediately panicked thinking that the hippos had decided to charge! Instead, we were apparently taking too long and our guide wanted us to return to the vehicle, lest a ranger see us outside of our safari vehicle and issue him a fine! Needless-to-say, the urge to go was completely extinguished by this scare!
In the middle of the crater was another soda lake, like Lake Nakuru in Kenya, and there on the azure canvas of the lake was a stroke of soft pink—yes, millions of flamingos and other water fowl had congregated here as well. We stopped to gaze at this magnificent spectacle, and, as we were watching, a flock of blacksmith plovers ignited in flight, their white and black plumage rippling over the surface of the water in a dazzling display of synchronized choreography!
A magical forest adventure
On our way to the forest at one edge of the crater, we greeted a family of wart hogs with several very small and wobbly babies, as well as the far less spectacular female kori bustards (minus the puffy white neck scarf and cosmopolitan cap and attired only in a bland coat of brown feathers). The forest was magical—illuminated by yellow-barked acacia that has an almost neon-like quality. As we weaved through this hobbit-like terrain, we had several surprise encounters with the creatures of the forest—vervet monkeys scampering among the tree canopies, a water buck hiding in a dense thicket, and a troop of elephants meandering through a distant creek bed. We waited for the elephants to catch up and it was worth it. They were marvelous specimens, incredibly large and majestic and of a darker, deeper grey than we had seen before, perhaps made more intense by the brilliant green backdrop of the verdant valley in which they were grazing. Just as we stopped for our picnic lunch, we saw a griffin vulture and wondered if he was waiting for our lunch or had scavenged some other tasty morsel from a resident predator—maybe a leopard—in the vicinity. They weren’t the only scavengers waiting for us. The blue monkeys that we had been looking for in the forest were also at the picnic site. Though they kept their distance, we could hear them squawking as they all threw lots for any crumbs we left behind!