Thursday, November 06, 2014

The Gods must be crazy...

After arriving in the Serengeti and being faced with leopards running up trees to avoid the lionesses camping under them, it was with some trepidation that I set up a tent where the guides pointed to the middle of the Savannah with flattened grass so that the big cats couldn't stalk you from the bushes.

It was even more disconcerting when we were told to set up tents ‘elephant stamping’ distance apart, please remove all food from your tent as lions and hyenas would be attracted to it, and if you needed to use the bathroom during the night – do NOT go far from your tent – or just unzip the flap and ‘hang it out’ – personally I’d prefer to be mauled than having a hungry carnivore make a meal out of my prized asset…and yes… it’s substantial enough for a meal thank you!

And to top it all off, when inquiring about how one could be safe from these many creatures whose primary goal was food, my guard produced a bow and arrow. Apparently to own a rifle is too much hassle, cost and paper work, so a sharpened stick is the preferred method. Good logic when applied to a suburban-American Middle School. Bad logic for dissuading a 200 kilo gallivanting big cat.

After setting up the tent and taking the time to survey my surroundings, it’s was amazing being in the middle of this vast, stretching plain with nothing but silence all around....until the most mightiest of thunder storms ripped across the Savannah.

And when it rains, good God how it rains. However, after a couple of weeks of dry, hot winds, the rain was welcome. And after travelling through towns, across bumpy roads and walking along dustier ones, the rain was welcome – as was the electrical storm lightening up the sky. In fact, with nothing to interrupt your vision for, literally, as far as the eye could see, flashes in the sky hundred of miles away could be seen giving the sky a blinking quality like a fluorescent light when it’s first being turned on.

And after several hundred kms so far, I finally had a hot shower. Why bother relying on modern plumbing when some ingenious man simply rigs up a wood fire under a steel drum which collects rain water and bang – you have hot water! So after a night safari in which I saw nothing but a chameleon – quite ironic – it was off to bed in my elephant stamp ready tent, thoroughly warmed and peed out.

No hyena was getting dinner tonight.

Rising early - literally - I was off for a hot air balloon to see the sun rise over the Serengeti. There’s something quite ironic about being told about all the predators you will see roaming the savannah and their dawn hunting habits whilst standing in waist high grass in the middle of the night, but it’s all taken in one’s stride. By the time we got in to the balloon and took off, I was relived. Especially as the lionesses 300 metres away from where we were standing came in to view. I was more concentrating on staying warm and when I could eat breakfast to bother. Ironically they probably were too.

Once airborne the savannah stretched on for miles and miles, with nothing but sky and brown grass as far as your eyes could see.

Floating over ever expanding landscape the sites were, well, a site to see. Baboons challenging each other for territory – sprinting across small creeks and attacking each other before retreating to their islands; lions strolling across dirt tracks, Hippos lazing in the morning sun and the sky and ground stretching out for thousands of miles. In what felt like 10 seconds we were descending back to earth. Here I was expecting some campfire cooked toast with preserves; however, when we arrived it was the full silver service, English breakfast, champagne and a stunning view – in the middle of the Serengeti…albeit I did see some rangers guarding the tables a few hundred metres away with high powered rifles.
I must say that smelling the bacon and sausages wafting across from the bush kitchen only 15 minutes after we saw a pride of lions wandering along the road was a little disconcerting.

Polishing of the English breakfast quite rapidly, I was off down a bumpy road to the visitors' centre to meet the bus to take me to Arusha via a genuine Masai mara village. Stopping off on the outskirts of the tundra, my skepticism was slightly aroused when I noticed that one of the Massai was wearing quite an expensive watch, which he quickly covered with a few bands. Not letting that deter me, I was quite happy to induldge in the jumping, attempt to rustle up some cattle, sit in a mud hit and genuinly be a tourist...
I'm better

I also learned that football is famialir to everyone........

and so is a sh1t haircut!

But it was time to head to Arusha, one of Tanzania’s largest cities and, as Qatar airlines had told me, where my bag would meet me. Finally I'd have some clothes, camping gear and the essentials I needed to be able to actually have a proper trip.

Calling Qatar Airline to double check I got the A-OK: 'Yep, it's definitely in Arusha. We have picked it up off the conveyor belt and have it at the offices'. Grand.

Arriving in Arusha and spending three hours looking for said bag, it was clearly not in Arusha.

Speaking to the Qatar airlines representatives, what was more clear was that they now did not actually know what had happened to it. Honestly, this mob can’t even figure out how to deliver a bag and FIFA is expecting them to deliver a World Cup??

Luckily my sleeping bag wouldn't fit in my backpack at check in back in Melbourne so I had something to keep me warm as we camped on the rim of the Ngorongoro crater, with temperatures dropping in to the low single digits. After putting on all the clothes I had - which was not many - it was also lucky that I had a bottle of whiskey to sip away on whilst I warmed up by a campfire. with the cold weather and having to walk through about a dozen zebras to get to the water source, I declined a shower.

During the night I woke to what felt like a door being slammed in a small room. Something had made me wake up, but I wasn't sure what. Staying quiet in my tent I felt an almost soft vibration from the ground and a thud. Slowly unzipping the tent it was with some amazement that a few metres away was a massive elephant strolling up the hill metres from me. For such a large animal it easily navigated its way through the camping ground between tent – which had been laid out ‘elephant stamp proof’. Anyway, looking back on it I wished I had taken that shower, as our good old friend made his way to the water tank which was collecting the rain and drained it for his thirst.

Next morning it was up early to head down in to the crater in some four wheel drives. The Ngorongoro Crater is the world's largest inactive, intact, and unfilled volcanic caldera. The crater, which formed when a large volcano exploded and collapsed on itself is 2,000 feet deep and its floor covers 260 square kilometres. Driving through the crater you can see for miles, basically until the sides start stretching up again. And with that huge area and all types of animals going on their merry way. The first thing we saw as we headed down were a pack of hyenas ripping apart a zebra carcass while several vultures looked on. Little by little the vultures were plucking up the courage to get close enough to take a peck, but being snapped at for their efforts.

But we wanted to see a kill. So after driving around for several hours seeing lions, elephants, water buffalo and hippos we pulled up at the side of the track where a there were three herds. One of zebra, one of buffalo and a third of wilderbeast. It was a smorgasbord. We waited. And waited. And waited.

Finally, the herds starting getting a little restless. A zebra had wandered off and was munching away on the grass happily, but something was amiss - two large wilderbeast were looking at something the knee high srubbery between them. Attaching my zoom I quickly saw what they had noticed, but the zebra was unaware: a lioness with her eyes on the zebra. After an agonising lengthy wait she pounced, and everything happened quickly.
Luckily for the zebra she timed her run a little too early, and kicking up dust it missed her claws by inches. All at once all the herds started running before, like a flock of birds, swinging back in a big arch to turn and face the lioness. Looking at some several hundred animals staring at her – some with horns – she backed down and wandered off. Better luck next time.

On the way back to the camp site Qatar Airlines called me.

‘Mr Nash, this is (the Bag Fairy) in Kigali. I’m pleased to tell you that we have located your bag and I have given it to the person who you sent to claim it here.’


‘The man you sent to claim it. I have given him your bag’?

‘WTF – I never sent anyone to claim it. And how could they without my claim tag?’

‘You do not have your bag? But I gave it to the man you sent.’

‘I didn’t send anyone! Where is my bag?’

With that he hung up. And try as I did, they refused to take my phone calls. On two occasions I got through and was promptly hung up on when he heard it was me.

But in the morning it was off to Zanzibar to swim in the crystal blue waters of the Indian Ocean and lay on the beach getting a tan.

Lucny, because I still didn’t have any f*** clothes!