Stanley Livingstone Expedition 2008: Part Four
Apparantly I needed a bit of a break from the story.
Dodoma to Tabora
In the leg between Dodoma and Tabora things began to get complicated. By this point our days were very much a routine –wake up, break camp, walk, make camp, eat Jafari’s wonderful food, night watch, sleep, wake up- and what gods there be decided it was time to shake things up for the poor little Stanley Livingstone Expedition team, way out there in the middle of East Africa.
The days following Dodoma saw us walking through harsh desert, where everything bites, stings or stabs, where huge rocks deposited by ancient glaciers loom up from flat sand and snarls of impenetrable thorny brush. The going was hot, sunny, dry and by the end I suspected even the rocks were venemous.
In a reversal of the theme thusfar, one of our first nights out the party came to us rather than vis versa, with a drum-bearing, dancing and singing crowd arriving at the schoolyard we had claimed for the night. There are pictures somewhere of my attempts at dancing. You will never see them.
There was a conversation that we repeated so often and with so little variation it has become near emblematic of the trip in my mind. It goes thus:
“Safari wapi?” (Essentially, where are you traveling.)
And here comes an expression, a sound really, that I have not heard outside of Tanzania. “Eh?” they say, but in a tone so comically exaggerated that the the word represents not mere confusion, but the utter bewilderment of shock and profound disbelief.
“Kwa migu.” We would reply. By foot.
One particular day sticks in my mind: the heat and the sun and the miles under our boots wore me to little more than an automaton, placing one foot in front of the other with no conscious thought, no light behind my eyes. Exhausted we stumbled to a halt, checked the GPS, and decided we had gone far enough. Our intrepid team leader flagged down a passing blue pickup and suddenly this pack of dirty, sweaty, dead-tired mzungu were all scrambling into the bed of the pick-up, giggling like overexcited children at the promise of beer. When they let us off at the first bar down the road, the bemused driver and his passenger would not even accept a tip.
It’s a friendly country.
The first day we decided to attempt 20 miles, the trailer broke again- and this time it was more than just the hitch. A good chunk of the team waited under a rare shade tree while the rest hunted down an emergency camp. Per usual we drew an audience with our mzungu shenannigans- this time, a small group composed entirely of silent, staring children. I took the time to unbraid and brush my hair, to the kids’ deep fascination. Our camp that night turned out to be a nearby schoolyard, right at the base of the western wall of the Great Rift Valley.
We proceeded to Manyoni, where the trailer could be fixed. There we camped inside the barbwire fences of a wildlife officer’s compound, the headquarters for that region’s anti-poaching unit. The campsite was in a grove of cashew trees that buzzed with preoccupied bees, beautiful and peaceful and just the right distance from town. We even set up a sun shower, which was improved courtesy of the ingenious Ken (such luxury!). We took a day off there while the trailer was under the proverbial knife and relaxed, ate, and chatted with the officers.
“Ever friendly, the officers took us into their guard house to show us a lion pelt -a fresh kill- which they were salting on the floor. The lion was one of three which had managed to eat 16 people in the Singita region recently- all during the day, all pulled right off the road.”
“With the other two still roaming around and our usual armed guard absent because of his daughter’s wedding we decided to climb onto a Tanzanian bus rather than walk the many very empty miles between Itigi and Kigwa.”
But before we rode the bus, we had to get from Manyoni to Itigi. Along the way the so-called “young stallions” of the team –James, Gabe, Francis and I- managed to walk twenty miles a day for two days straight, a feat that left no walker without blisters. I even got blisters inside my blisters, which was impressive to me:
At the end of the last twenty miler we found ourselves stumbling into a village where we could get beer and soda with .4 miles left to go to make twenty. Being that our trek could easily have been described as an eternal hunt for “beera baridi”, we marched .2 miles past the beer and then turned around on the dot and, surrounded by laughing village children who wanted to join in the fun, forced our tired legs to run .2 miles back.
And then there was beer. And it was good.
“The decision [to take the bus] was reinforced the day we walked into Itigi from Manyoni- that morning Ken sighted Dik-Dik and gazelle. ‘Where there are gazelle,’ I mused, ‘there are things which eat gazelle.’ Unsurprisingly another few hours brought us to two sets of very distinct, very recent and VERY unmistakable lion tracks- a large female and a cub.”
“All in all that was a banner wildlife day- three snakes (a baby green mamba that James fended off with the sole of his boot while trying to get a picture, a big fast snake that Francis called a ‘Sand Snake’, and a big black mamba sighted by the support vehicle behind the team), the dik-dik and gazelle, a walking stick bug almost as long as my forearm, hyenas calling all night (per usual for bush camp), lion tracks, and a baby cobra in camp the next morning.”
The morning the baby cobra visited camp, curling itself on a high rock and hissing at us with hood spread, was the morning we boarded the bus for Kigwa. I came off that bus with the fervent belief that I’d rather face down the man-eating lions than get back on a Tanzanian bus ever again. It was an ancient beast that slammed over broken dirt that could barely be called a road on shocks as dead as Shakespeare and at the Tanzanian bus driver’s indomitable and inevitable “I AM FASTER THAN ANYONE RARR” speeds. People were packed in so tightly that the center row was filled with those left standing- and those left standing, for half of the many many hour drive, were we young mzungu. When we finally got a seat in the ever-shifting bus roster, we found ourselves in the very last row, where we flew three feet in the air over every jolt and landing each with a spine-shattering crunch.
I wanted to kiss the ground after that one.
It didn’t take many more days of work to find ourselves in Tabora, where we set up camp within the guarded walls of a Catholic school in the middle of the city. It is odd, but despite all that happened there (which had us staying not one night in the city but three) I greatly enjoyed Tabora.
That, however, is a story for my next entry.