Stanley Livingstone Expedition 2008: Part Two
Read Part One here
The First Leg: Bagamoyo to Morogoro
After only a single night on Zanzibar we bounced back to the mainland and immediately headed north to Bagamoyo, where the rest of the team waited.
We spent that night with our last mattresses and hot showers for weeks, and savored such luxury appropriately. The next morning, we paused only long enough to fill up on breakfast, view the old German ruins about the town and wander through its museum amidst a group of Dodoma schoolchildren.
Our ever-knowledgeable team leader posed a quandary about the door above, which confidentially proclaims upon its sign that “Through this door Dr. Livingstone passed”. Problem is, according to the historical evidence, Dr. Livingstone never visited Bagamoyo. Lies! It was then that another team member spoke up: they had heard that the door was actually an import from another town Livingstone had visited, and had been brought across the country to the church. Ahhh. Not lies, then; just tricksy.
Our historical education needs fulfilled for the day, we set our backs to the sea and began to walk.
It was funny to think that this simple (yet by no means easy) one-foot-in-front-of-the-other was supposed to take me all the way across the country. I’ve always believed I could do just about anything if I could only break it down into manageable steps, but I’ve never had the concept so literally embodied.
It poured the first day, and for the first and last time on the trip we squelched through deep red mud with our shirts and hair plastered to our flesh.
On the second day something bit my hand, resulting in intense burning and itching after, which progressed to include difficulty breathing and lightheadedness. Fortunately we stopped right when things came to a head and the symptoms receded with the slowing of my heart rate. Having never been allergic to anything before in my life I didn’t recognize the incident for what it was. Instead I put it aside in my head, with the exception of a short mention in my journal during that night’s watch: ”…at one point, under the hot African sun and around ten miles through the day I found myself whimpering and fighting for air. My lungs felt tight and small in a way I’ve never experienced before and my pulse, uneven and scared. I told no one, which was probably unwise, and finished the day on foot which was also unwise. I may try to be wiser in the future.”
It would be an incident hardly worth mentioning if that were the end of the story. The next morning, however, as we began walking and the heat and exertion kicked my heart rate and blood flow up a few notches my hand began to itch, then swell and turn red, then burn so intensely I beat the tender part against my leg just to feel a different sort of pain. At one point we sat down for a break and I could visibly mark the progress of the swelling and redness across my hand and up into my wrist in the first ten minutes of the break. Being a creature not endowed with a very logical nor powerful sense of self-preservation, I continued walking, and that was when whatever poison was in my arm continued to migrate through my body until once again laying my lungs to siege. From one step to the next I went from normal breathing to labored to downright rough to the pulmonary equivalent of sucking a milkshake through a coffee stirrer and then nothing. Nada. Zilch.
By then James and Robert had laid me down and cooled me off, and as yesterday my breath returned with a slowing heart rate. I was summarily kicked me to the car for the rest of the day. Call that health incident number one for the trip.
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“There is a bird I’ve seen once (others have seen it too) which has possibly the quirkiest flight pattern I’ve ever watched. It’s a dark critter with a long forked tail which beats its wings a few times, so quickly as to be near subliminal, then lets itself fall for a few spare instants before beating its wings again and smoothly rising a few inches. Its overall flight path is level, but the bird itself moves in a sinuous vertical s-curve, its tail arching gracefully up and down after it… its entire body follows that path with a seemingly supernatural grace, like it’s swimming through the blue sky instead of flying.”
A few days later we found ourselves in a bar at the intersection of two roads. Team member Ken, our only mzungu (white person/foreigner) who was fluent in Swahili, got into deep conversation with a Masai man at said bar, and later informed me that said Masai man was very interested in the possibility of purchasing me. Apparently a mzungu wife is quite the appealing thing- in fact, I would receive two other offers from the Masai before we left the lands in which they were most prominent.
”I have a litany of lists marching through my head. ‘Things to write home about’, ‘things to remember’. ‘things to buy for family and friends’, ‘things I wish I brought but didn’t’ (ALOE!), ‘the exact order I’m going to use the toilet, shower, clothes washing and other luxuries in Morogoro’, etc.”
A day as an expeditionary worked like this: you’d wake up at 6AM and begin the process of breaking camp, eating breakfast, and getting ready to go (by the end of the day James and I could finish the first and last of those requirements in ten minutes or so, leaving time to dwell over breakfast). At 7:30 we headed out, backpacks on.
At first we walked an hour and then took a twenty minute break, but by the end we started each day with a two-hour walk, then reverted to the one-hour-twenty-minutes model for the rest of the day. We would cover enough ground to feel satisfied- sometimes nine miles, sometimes twenty- before arriving by camp and reversing the process of the morning: setting up our tents, getting comfortable for the evening, and eagerly awaiting team cook Jafar’s often miraculous dinners.
When in the bush we dug our own choo and gathered firewood, but if we were close enough to a local village we typically stayed at schools and found someone local to pay to do all our odd jobs, in hopes of putting money into the local economy.
By some strange miracle it was decided that I have the neatest writing on the team- my mother always told me to be neater as a child, so that should make her proud. I was thus dubbed the keeper of the daily log, and got to record things such as miles walked, wildlife spotted and other events of the day every evening just before dinner. In this process I developed great sympathy for say, court reporters and secretaries.
Each night was broken into two-hour night watch shifts beginning at 8 PM and ending at 6PM, and every other night I took a shift. During that shift I’d keep the fire going and keep an eye on the camp, lest we have visitors either animal or human. Then it would be morning, far too soon, and we’d start all over again.
“Sunday, the trail was studded with chunks of glittering mica and the air snowed butterflies. It would have been quite enchanting it it werenn’t for the constant uphill and the exhausting heat (and sweat and toil and all that grand stuff). While it’s certainly not easy it is getting easier, and I almost regret that I won’t have all that many miles under my boots tomorrow [when we get to the main road and catch a daladala to Morogoro].
Morogoro marked the end of the first (and shortest) leg of the trip, and was a more than welcome relief. We showered and such the first day and the beautiful Nuru, a friend of expedition leader Jim Owen’s, consented to braid my hair rasta-style so it wouldn’t be such an annoyance on the trail. The next morning the youngsters on the team –James, Francis, Gabe and I- loaded into the expedition’s Toyota with driver, Chief-of-Staff and all around awesome guy Fuad and headed to Mikumi National Park. Bring on the wildlife pictures!