My wonderful 2-week trip.
During the trip I kept a journal of my thoughts and reactions, along with a brief description of my experiences.
What follows is pretty much word-for-word what I recorded in that journal.
Copyright © 1994 by Fred Gielow.
THE GREAT AFRICA SAFARI ADVENTURE
SATURDAY, 3-5-94; SOMEWHERE OVER WEST AFRICA. Tourist class seats are never very comfortable to begin with, so expecting to get a good night's sleep in one is rather wishful thinking. I was surprised I was able to drift off several times and I was nearly sound asleep when the lights were turned on, a voice spoke a pleasant "good morning," and I was presented with a little moist towel. Right now the stewardess is rounding up the blankets, but it's hardly morning. Johannesburg time is 2:00 p.m.
It looks like all the pillows have been collected and tossed overboard. Puffy, white clouds extend all the way to the horizon, and from 37,000 feet, the gaps between them reveal little of the landscape below, save endless sizes and shapes of shaded patches of green and brown.
Anticipation of this trip has been so intense, I wonder if the actual experience will measure up or be anticlimax. A map just flashed on the TV screen in the front of the cabin shows we're about to cross the Kalahari Desert. We're twelve hours, thirty-seven minutes into our flight from JFK, covering a distance of 7347 miles. In another hour we should be touching down in Johannesburg.
What is the magnetism in me for Africa and its animals? What kind of spell draws me back time and again to go on safari? What is the allure that so fascinates me about this place?
SATURDAY, 3-5-94; JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA. When our 747 touched down at Jan Smuts Airport, it was close to 4:00 p.m. Passport control was only a reasonably short line. There was no baggage inspection at all. Finally, at the end of the 8000-mile flight from JFK, plus another 1100 or so miles from Ft. Lauderdale, I arrive in the exciting city of Johannesburg, South Africa, and I'm staying at the Airport Holiday Inn!
When I started this trip, connections between flights were fairly close, and at RDU I actually walked off one plane and on to another. In my seat I was able to see the ramp to the luggage compartment, so I watched for my brown, "Safariworld" bag (which was checked all the way from Ft. Lauderdale to Johannesburg) to make an appearance. It didn't in the few minutes before the ramp was lowered and driven away. The inevitable scenario leaped to mind: the bag won't make it to Jan Smuts before I'll be on my way to Nairobi. Then I'll be off on safari, sans bag, and I'll need to get replacements for all the clothes and other belongings I had packed.
As it turned out, the scenario was nothing more than wasted worry. My bag was one of the first to make its way along the baggage-claim conveyor belt. I easily retrieved it, walked out to the curb, and in a matter of minutes was checking in at the Holiday Inn.
SUNDAY, 3-6-94; JAN SMUTS AIRPORT. I'm sitting here in an empty waiting area at Gate 24. My flight to Nairobi doesn't leave for another hour. It looks like a great day: bright sunshine, cool but pleasant temperature, clear visibility.
I thought I'd have an easier time adjusting to the eight-hour time-zone difference than experience to the moment indicates. I stayed up last night to watch a fascinating TV show about African bush people, after which at 9:30 I did a little channel surfing (very little, since there are only four channels), then turned in. I was so tired, I though I'd drop right off and sleep soundly until my 5:30 wakeup call. Well, I got the first part right.
But at about 1:45 my body decided I shouldn't be asleep any longer. I tossed and turned and wondered what to do about the mild headache I had. I also gave consideration to the possibility of a curry-upset stomach, resulting from the chicken I had for supper.
The curry didn't raise a fuss, I took a Tylenol (without water, because of bacteria worries) for the headache, but nevertheless didn't get back to sleep until 5:00 (I know because I kept peering at the clock in roughly five, ten, or fifteen-minute intervals).
SUNDAY, 3-6-94; SAFARI PARK HOTEL, NAIROBI, KENYA. The flight to Nairobi, though delayed in departure, was uneventful. I landed at 2:15 local time (an hour later than the Johannesburg time zone), got through customs fairly easily (but with delays), found the Safariworld guy, and got here to the hotel at something like 4:00. (I saw a half-dozen giraffes within a mile of the airport - the first animal sighting of the trip!)
The Safari Park is not in the city but is about twenty minutes away, located on a large and exquisite fenced-in area with lush foliage, many buildings (all with beautiful rooms), five restaurants, and a series of swimming pools. Turns out, this place is a five-star hotel! As far as hotel deals go, this is terrific. However, I know I'll come across a few cheap hotels along the way, but they'll in no way detract from my wonderful adventure.
After check-in I strolled around the grounds. The birds were chirping. The weather was perfect. Ah, it's nice to be back again in Kenya!
Then I had some options to consider: should I go swimming, should I just walk around some more, or should I get out my new video camera and try it out? It was an easy decision: I took a nap!
The 7:30 "reception dinner" at the Nyama Choma Ranch Restaurant (on the grounds) was very nice. Waiters wandered about with long knives containing different kinds of meats. I had chicken, beef, sausage (actually more like a frankfurter), lamb, zebra, and crocodile! The zebra was better than the beef (which was tough and not too tasty), but the small lump of crocodile was mostly gristle and bone with a little bit of fat and, well, no thank you. Someone said they liked the taste of crocodile. They obviously didn't get a piece like mine.
At 9:00 an hour's program of dance and acrobatics began. The former was so-so, the latter: great! I walked back to my room along a round-about route. The warm evening air was sweet, the stars were out, the breeze was gentle, and a chorus of frogs was making a wonderful racket. Several of the trees were strung with thousands of tiny lights, which swayed this way and that in the wind, creating a real festive feel. Then to bed.
MONDAY, 3-7-94; AMBOSELI SERENA LODGE. My body issued a stop-sleep command at 3:45 this morning. I was restless for a half-hour or so, then fell back to sleep. The 6:30 wakeup call was followed at 7:30 by breakfast, then rendezvous at 8:15 for a briefing by Audrey (Safariworld representative), then our 8:30 departure. My safari mates for this portion of the trip are Jack and Margaret Byers, from Detroit. Jack celebrated his 72nd birthday last night accompanied by a birthday cake, flaming swords, and a half-dozen waiters singing. Coincidentally, it's the Byers' 46th wedding anniversary!
After a four-hour drive we arrived here at the lodge a little after 1:00, grabbed lunch at 1:30, and were ready for our afternoon game viewing at 3:30. We saw a pleasant sprinkling of animals: gazelles, wildebeest, zebra, ostrich, a few giraffes, but nothing really dramatic. That is, not until late afternoon, when we saw large herds of elephants making their way back toward Mt. Kilimanjaro. Our driver, Peppi, speeded the van over the bumpy and dusty roads to situate ourselves close to where he thought they'd cross the road.
The procession was impressing: dozens of elephants, large and small, slowly marching toward the mountain. And when one herd passed, we spotted another and raced to view that crossing. And then another...and yet another! Jack and Margaret counted over 200 elephants! It was a grand spectacle with which to end our first safari day!
TUESDAY, 3-8-94; AMBOSELI SERENA LODGE. It was a rude awakening, another internal wakeup call, this one at 2:10 a.m. I listened to the night sounds - mysterious and exciting, including one I'm sure was a hyena and another that must have been a lion - and I couldn't get back to sleep. Perhaps excitement was partly to blame. I must have turned over more times than a bowling pin. I may have drifted off some time after 5:00 (last clock check: 4:20), but clearly too short a time before the 5:45 wakeup knock on the door.
All bags were packed and I was writing here in the journal at 6:05. This morning we have a 6:30 game drive before breakfast.
TUESDAY, 3-8-94; LAKE MANYARA HOTEL. The drive was cold, but fun. I was glad I had a sweat shirt handy, a little sorry I was wearing shorts. Elephants, ostriches, impala, gazelle, wart hogs, marabou stork, and more posed for our cameras. We had a good view, too, of Mt. Kilimanjaro before the fog rolled over us and curtailed its visibility.
Back at the lodge, after a quick but good breakfast, we were again in the van for a drive to the Tanzania border, with a short souvenir shop stop along the way. I made a selection (zebra and giraffe head wood carvings), engaged in the required bickering, and then thought I'd use one of the many Blockbuster T-shirts I'd brought along to weasel the price down even further. Such negotiation proved absolutely unsuccessful.
The Blockbuster caps, on the other hand, have been a grand success and a real help. I've given one away to the porter at each of my stops so far. I never have change or the right country currency, and a cap makes an absolutely super tip! All recipients have been just delighted to receive them.
When we left Peppi at the border, I was anxious to give him a T-shirt to augment his five-dollar-per-day tip (in US-currency). I knew he'd prize such a gift. "What's Blockbuster?" he inquired when he saw it. I didn't even try to explain.
Passing through Tanzania customs was easy and not very time consuming. Our new driver, Omar, drove us over surprisingly good roads to Arusha, where we had a tasty lunch, a Tanzania briefing, and a driver change (we wore them out at a terrible rate). Justin will be our driver and guide for the remainder of the Tanzania portion of our trip. Good news: during the briefing we learned that the Serengeti is not a vast wasteland suffering from a year-long drought, as we were informed in Nairobi. Rather, it's a lush pastureland resulting from heavy rains two weeks ago. And animals abound!
Back in the van at 2:00 we drove over first good, then dusty, bumpy, sometimes treacherous roads to the Lake Manyara Hotel, which is perched on the edge of a steep mountain and provides a awesome view of the Rift Valley, Lake Manyara, and the Lake Manyara National Park 1500 feet below.
Arriving before 4:00 we had time to look around the lodge and wash up before the 7:30 dinner call. After dinner, a shower to purge layers of road dirt was finally cancelled when it was discovered the hot water wasn't hot. I settled for a "sponge" bath. Now as it approaches 9:00, I long for, finally, a full night of sleep. However, the evening's entertainment - wildly-beating drums, intense shouting (which I'm sure is intended as singing), and an occasional loud whistle, right outside my window - places that prospect in grave doubt.
WEDNESDAY, 3-9-94; LAKE MANYARA HOTEL. At about 9:30 the drumming and boisterous singing came to a merciful end...and it didn't start up again! I proceeded immediately to sleep. When I awoke I wondered what time it was. About two minutes later there was a knock on my door: the 6:30 wakeup call. I had slept all night long! Oh, glorious sleep!
Now the water is hot, but time is insufficient to take advantage of it. The immediate agenda: get dressed, pack up my belongings, eat breakfast, write here briefly, and meet at the lobby at 8:00 to begin the day's adventure.
WEDNESDAY, 3-9-94; SERONERA WILDLIFE LODGE. The morning's drive in the Lake Manyara Park was delightful. Clearly, the highlight was the river of hippos. I could have stayed there hours to watch them sputter and bellow in the water, and of course to video the action. There were lots of animals to observe on the rest of the ride, however: impala, wildebeest, wart hog, and more. The drive was wonderful: top up, mild breeze, bright sunshine, beautiful sights.
We then drove on to the Ngorongoro Lodge for lunch and a breath-taking view of the floor of the crater. With a high-powered telescope on the lodge porch, we could look down and find all sorts of animals. It was almost like another world; the steep crater walls isolate this little hundred-square-mile corner of the world. After lunch, which was very good, we had about twenty minutes for a preview look at Ngorongoro, then we had to press on to reach the Serengeti, which was still a long drive ahead of us.
We drove along beautiful green slopes dotted with herds of cattle and occasionally collections of zebra and wildebeest, then came upon the spectacle of the Serengeti itself, spread out as far as the eye could see. And twenty minutes or so later we were on it, driving along a two-lane, bumpy, dirt/gravel road, laced with washboard sections and pot holes.
Though hardly deep and rich, the grass was green and there was a smattering of animals feasting on it, mostly wildebeests, zebra, and impala. We drove on and on and sometime past mid-afternoon we noticed an increase in the number of animals in the herds. What had been clusters of twenty, fifty or a hundred wildebeests were now hundreds or thousands, and the numbers continued to grow until there were gnus in all directions, by tens, maybe hundreds of thousand!
At one point we saw a long line of them running along almost single file, crossing the road in front of us. As we got nearer they broke ranks, allowing our vehicle to pass through, but the driver stopped so we could view wildebeest mob psychology.
The break seemed to upset the front runners and they scattered somewhat, then coalesced. Those caught on the other side of the road stopped short, causing a real bunching effect as those behind discovered the traffic had come to a stop. We watched all this with amusement, then drove on, allowing the wildebeests to reorganize, reform, and resume their migration behind us.
By the time we reached the Seronera Wildlife Lodge and checked in, it was 6:00. I was looking forward to a nice warm shower to rinse away the day's ration of dust and dirt, but got a disappointment: no hot water. Then another disappointment: no water at all for most of the day. The next opportunity for wetting anything (including the toilets) would be the two-hour period 7:00 to 9:00 p.m., which happened to coincide with dinnertime.
So I sat around in a little dirt cloud until 7:00, then with alternate washcloths I soaped and rinsed. (No washcloths were supplied, so I was glad I'd brought my own.) Then the final challenge: shampoo. Since water pressure was insufficient to get water as high as the shower nozzle, I made do on my hands and knees with my head under the tub spigot. By the time I had been properly sudsed and rinsed, I had nearly passed out! But such are the hardships we brave safari-goers must endure.
Dinner was very good and the restaurant quite unique, designed to merge with mammoth natural rock formations from the beginning of time. After eating I hurried back to the room to attend to another important water-dependent activity. Although only 8:45, water has no longer available. It had either been turned off early or the result of an exhausted supply. A pail of water in the bathroom was intended for washing and flushing, but proved less then effective in the latter capacity.
Assuming I'd have as good luck here charging my camera batteries as I had at Amboseli, I went to the desk to make my request. I could use an outlet in my room, I was advised, but was uncomfortable with the strange humming sound when I plugged it in. I decided my remaining battery power would get me thorough the next day and a half, so I'm putting all my charging eggs in the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge electricity basket.
I note that it's 10:30, so I'd better get myself to bed. Wakeup call tomorrow is 6:30 (half an hour before the next "water-on" window). Besides, I can't stay up a whole lot longer anyway; all the electricity goes off at midnight.
THURSDAY, 3-10-94; SERONERA WILDLIFE LODGE. I awoke once or twice during the night, but was able to drift back to sleep again. Minutes before the 6:30 wakeup call I awoke again, to see a beautiful red sunrise staring in at me through the window. Lovely!
The 7:00 a.m. "water-on" window was closed and locked in my bathroom. All I got when I turned on the faucet was a sickly sucking sound. After breakfast the situation persisted, in spite of a significant need for water, particularly in the toilet department. I called in the problem and also left word personally at the front desk, with hopes the situation would be rectified by the time we returned from the morning's ride, which departed at 8:00 sharp.
More elephants! Although informed in Amboseli we'd see no elephants at all in Tanzania, this morning we saw dozens, many with little babies in tow. The mamas and papas appeared particularly protective and trumpeted a warning to us, displayed flared ears, and charged briefly once or twice.
We also saw buffalo, giraffe, the ever present wildebeest and zebra, a couple of wart hogs, a dik-dik, water buck, a lone hyena scurrying through the grass, and probably the high-light: a leopard sleeping on a branch of a tree. A recent antelope kill was dangling from a nearby branch. We were too far away to get good pictures, but all cameras were aimed and shooting, nevertheless. We spent much of the morning looking for lion, but in vain. I guess the "lion was busy!"
The meals seem to be falling into a pattern, at least lunch and dinner: bread, soup, a selection of salads (cucumber, coleslaw, carrot, or combinations), a number of hot dishes (beef, chicken, maybe pork, and for vegetables: rice, noodles, carrots, beans, tomatoes, that sort of thing), and a selection of desserts (pudding, little cake-like things, fresh pineapple, etc.). The food is good, but nothing terribly fancy. But, good heavens, we don't need anything fancy! Lunch today hit the spot.
For our afternoon drive we played hide and seek with the lions, and the lions almost won. After a hour and a half of searching around every outcropping of rock we could find, we came upon a single lion sprawled out high atop a huge boulder some twenty yards or so off the road. (An assist goes to the driver of another vehicle who first spotted him.) From what we were able to see, however, the lion could have been an old, rolled-up rug. His head, feet, and tail were not discernable from our vantage point.
FRIDAY, 3-11-94; NGORONGORO SOPA LODGE. Shortly after my 6:15 wakeup call this morning at the Seronera Wildlife Lodge, I found there was good news and bad news. First, the good news: my toilet was operational! The bad news: I needed to make extensive use of that now-operational resource.
The problem, fortunately, was not chronic and I joined the Byers for breakfast at the usual time. I decided to be a little more cautious with breakfast food selections and I decided to make use of a couple Pepto-Bismol tablets I had brought along. Then, following breakfast and several more visits to the still-operational convenience, we loaded our bags on the van and were on our way at 8:00.
Again the morning was cool, even cold in the van with the top up, but it was another beautiful day! We bumped our way over the dirt and gravel road and after a few stops for driver-to-driver Swahili conversations (animal sighting locations are communicated very effectively in this way), we made our way to the first "real" lion sighting. As we pulled up there he was, standing maybe ten or fifteen yards from us. He gave us the once over, but didn't seem very concerned about our presence. We spotted a second lion mostly hidden in the grass maybe fifty yards away.
Following appropriate exclamations of awe and a barrage of picture taking, we headed east, to largely retrace our steps of two days before. And as before, there were open spaces with few if any animals visible, areas with a smattering of mostly zebras and wildebeests (but occasionally ostrich, wart hogs, giraffe, impala, hyenas, and more), and a few stretches where we encountered wildebeests from horizon-to-horizon, usually but not always on the move. It was truly a spectacular sight, hard to believe even when you're right there to see it!
But the real prize was found at an outcropping of huge rocks maybe a half mile north of the "main" road. As we got closer, we knew it would be lion. Then we saw it was two, and they were gorging themselves on freshly-killed zebra. We reached for our cameras and took pictures like crazy. Actually there were nine or ten lions in the area; most were hidden behind a ridge of dirt and rocks. And two zebras had been killed for the feline feast. And to make the scene even more exciting, there were hyenas and vultures stalking about, waiting anxiously for their share of the kill. It was together beautiful and ugly, majestic and savage, natural and unreal.
In the center of the outcropping of rocks was a small pool. The general region was quite dry, so the animals faced two alternatives: die from lack of water, or possibly die with a lion at their throat. Not a happy choice.
Another turnoff from the "main" road about noon led us to the Olduvia Gorge, where we received a brief archeological presentation, a tour of the two-room "museum," a drive down into the gorge to see where the 1.75 million-year old remains of Homo Habilis had been discovered, and then lunch from boxes Justin had brought along for us.
Back on the road again we headed for the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge, where we found wonderful accommodations. And hot water! Only after my glorious shower did I see that a water shortage is in effect here, too. I know I took a longer shower than I should have...but it sure was great!
SATURDAY, 3-12-94; NGORONGORO SOPA LODGE. Dinner last night was very good, but an ever so slightly queasy stomach prevented me from enjoying it to the fullest. Then a browse in the gift shop (I got a bunch of post cards) and some card writing later brought me to bed time.
This morning's schedule mirrored yesterday's: 6:30 wakeup, 7:00 breakfast, 8:00 load into the van. But instead of the usual van, a four-wheel-drive vehicle was the designated means of transportation, since it was the only type of vehicle allowed to descend the two thousand feet from the lodge at the rim of the crater to the crater floor. Our driver de jure is Hiruna.
Though sunny, it was another cool morning; cold when you stand up and stick your head through the hatch opening and catch the breeze. But invigorating! The crater floor is a large, sometimes rolling sometimes flat pastureland of rich, green grasses. The roads are not unlike those on the Serengeti, so the need for a four-by-four was in doubt, until we got to the edge of Lake Magadi. There, mud was slippery and plentiful, and a potential quagmire for regular two-wheel-drive vehicles.
We saw more animals: the usual, plus lion, hippo, and elephant, and for the first time we saw rhino, probably eight or ten of them. A total of twenty are said to be in the crater. Though a hundred lions are also reportedly in residence at Ngorongoro, we came across only two, lying in a lazy state in the grass about ten yards from the road. Perhaps the highlight was seeing a dead hippo with a crowd of vultures and marabou storks hanging around. Since the hippo had died of natural causes and hyenas had not yet come across the corpse to chew through the skin (the stench of decomposition will be their dinner bell), the birds could only watch, wait, and anticipate a future feast. It was sort of like watching a bunch of people waiting for a super market to open.
I suppose that by now I'm a little jaded. I've seen so many animals, those here in the crater don't seem to stir up much excitement and awe. Besides, reality could hardly match the super-colossal Ngorongoro climax I had anticipated. My expectation levels were simply impossible to achieve.
After a box lunch eaten inside the four-by-four to prevent pesky birds (kites), from eating our lunch for us, we continued our drive. It was fun to see the storm clouds build along the far rim. The thunder rumbled and the sky grew dark. Then we could see sheets of rain, heavy torrents of rain, come down inside the crater, but far enough away so we got no more than a few stray drops. We didn't even have to close the hatches.
About 2:30 Hiruna asked if we'd seen enough. With limited lion-sighting potential, and since our driver appeared to be struggling with a bad cold, we said we had, and were driven back to the lodge. With heavy clouds blocking the sun, it turned cool quickly and I reapplied my sweatshirt. Back in my room I gazed out upon the spectacular Ngorongoro Crater. The rain clouds finally reached the lodge and scattered their precipitation gently. Twenty minutes later the warm sun was again shining brightly through my window.
Ngorongoro is a little world within a world; a microcosm of all that's wild in Africa. It is a very special place indeed.
SUNDAY, 3-13-94; MOUNTAIN VILLAGE LODGE. As the sun dipped down last night in the west and shadows in the crater grew longer and darker, the realization hit me that my visit to Tanzania was drawing to an end. Another realization also hit me: my stomach queasiness was not drawing to an end. Meeting the Byers at 7:30 for supper, I decided to eat only a roll and some onion soup, then return to my room.
Both ends of my GI tract were complaining and stomach cramps led me to believe my system was going to rid itself of all recent intake. I quickly became worried about three possibilities: 1) I might need treatment in a Tanzanian hospital (not the place to be, I thought, when you're not feeling well), 2) I might not be able to continue on with my scheduled trip, and more immediately 3) I might run out of toilet paper! Quite quickly I consumed two of the three rolls in the bathroom.
With a series of well-timed and expertly-executed swallows, I averted a reverse flow of stomach contents, but the forward flow was nevertheless intense. After a particularly long siege, I stumbled back to bed for some sleep, only to find I was shaking from head to toe with a chill. A piling on of blankets was the remedy for that.
I awoke with a start when the wakeup knock on my door sounded at 6:00. I made a quick check of my symptoms. Stomach cramps: gone. Sphincter: comfortable. Chill: gone. Had I really emerged from this crisis? At breakfast I ate lightly and carefully and consumed another Lomotil, the second or third of a series.
In the van we headed back on the same road we traveled before, and after a souvenir shop stop on route (I bought nothing), arrived here at the Mountain Village Lodge for lunch. Again I ate cautiously.
Deciding to forego the scheduled late-afternoon walk around the lake, I chose instead to engage in a little nap action. The next thing I knew it was 6:15 p.m.
Bad news at suppertime: Margaret now has a stomach problem, probably resulting from the fish she ate at lunch. I think it was Nile perch. Reportedly she has now rid herself of the poison elements and hopefully is well on the road to recovery. So, just Jack and I had supper together, during which I had a couple more stomach cramps. Were they simply after-shocks, or is another quake ahead? I only picked at my food, but as Jack said, of all the places in which we've eaten on the trip, "this is at the bottom of the list!"
MONDAY, 3-14-94; MOUNTAIN VILLAGE LODGE. I wondered if my long nap yesterday afternoon would interfere with a good sleep at night. It didn't! The bed was unusually comfortable, and the mosquito netting all around gave an extra sense of security. Malaria is always a possibility and the Larium I'm taking weekly isn't a guarantee to immunity, as the disease is evolving its own immunity to preventatives.
Up at 6:30 I took a nice warm shower, packed, and had a few minutes to write here before breakfast. Pickup today is 8:30 for the drive to the Mt. Kilimanjaro Airport and our flight to Nairobi.
Although the food here is but marginal, the sleep was truly grand, and it was good to recharge my batteries...both for the video camera and electric shaver. I hadn't been able to charge them while at Ngorongoro.
MONDAY, 3-14-94; MT. KILIMANJARO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT. I hoped to get some pictures here, but picture-taking at an airport is prohibited. The waiting room is nearly deserted. We appear to be the only passengers awaiting a flight, a charter.
Our pilot just approached us, introduced himself, and gave us out rickets. I presume we'll depart shortly.
MONDAY, 3-14-94; SAFARI PARK HOTEL. And we did. Customs checks at each end of our forty-five minute Beechcraft fight were insignificant. Audrey met us as we exited from the plane at the Wilson Airport. A short drive through downtown Nairobi (with a brief souvenir shop stop for the Byers) brought us back to the Safari Park. It's nice to be here again.
There's just time for a Byers luggage repack and lunch before they continue on at 1:30 for the Kenya portion of their trip. It's sad to bid them farewell; I'll miss their company and friendship. I have the remainder of the day free plus tomorrow morning, before I fly back to South Africa.
In the afternoon I took the shuttle bus into downtown Nairobi to visit the City Market. It hasn't changed much, but the meat and fish markets seem even more "fragrant"than I remember. Significantly so! Two hours later I returned to the hotel a hundred dollars lighter and several fine wood carvings heavier. And for the two hours after that I went about searching for a cardboard box in which to pack my precious purchases. I finally found a box, apparently the only box available in the whole Safari Park complex, and it was amazingly the perfect size.
My stomach continues on occasion to agitate for attention, and my GI tract remains unreliable. I sent down another Lomotil charge with a Pepto Bismol chaser in an attempt to quiet things once and for all. At least it got me through the Nairobi shopping trip very nicely.
The dependably-good meals here at the hotel broke tradition this evening. Service was tardy to nonexistent and the taste (except for the soup, which couldn't have been better) was disappointing. A light rain and gusty breeze seemed consistent with the mood. And I missed the Byers.
TUESDAY, 3-15-94; SAFARI PARK HOTEL. I'm sitting on the porch adjoining my room (#106), and I'm able to see many flowers sparkle in the sunlight. To my left is an opening in the lush greenery revealing the Thika Road to Nairobi and its busy traffic.
I slept in this morning and was able to take a leisurely hot-water shower following my 7:00 wakeup call. Breakfast was quite good with a wide variety of buffet selections. Although there were nine fruit juice choices, including carrot, lime, paw-paw, and even cucumber, orange was missing!
After eating, I walked around the grounds with my video camera, hoping to capture on tape the beauty, charm, and well, opulence of this place. I also bought a couple of postcards which I'll write momentarily.
TUESDAY, 3-15-94; JOMO KENYA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT. The big challenge for the morning was packing the painting (of elephants) I had bought yesterday in Nairobi. It can be rolled up in a cylinder, but under no circumstances can it be crushed or folded. So how do I carry this thing around with me for the next week?
The answer (I hope) is to roll it up in a big, fat issue of The Daily Telegraph, which I bought at the hotel news stand (darn thing cost me $2.00). The resulting cylinder is too long to fit in the bottom of my bag, but just short enough to fit diagonally, top-to-bottom, front-to-back. We'll see if all my planning and packing will get the painting home in good shape.
My GI tract appears to be finally getting its act together...along with its general viscosity.
I've now been through ticket check, baggage check, and customs check, and I'm in the Gate 5 boarding area waiting for South African Air #183 to load. That should commence about 2:00 (any minute now), in preparation for a 3:05 departure.
Cancel that viscosity comment above. Fortunately, a rest room is immediately adjacent to Gate 5. Now it seems my future remains for the time being...loose.
The loading operation turned out to be a ticket check, passport check, $20 stamp check, metal detector check, and package X-ray check, and now we're in another boarding area. Ah, such are the hardships we brave safari-goers must endure.
TUESDAY, 3-15-94; JAN SMUTS HOLIDAY INN. The flight here was smooth, but long. I arrived in my room at 7:00 p.m., but that's 8:00 p.m. Nairobi time. The real good news is that I've checked my heavy cardboard box of wood carvings, along with the rolled-up painting here at the Holiday Inn. I won't have to lug them around the Okavango Delta with me. What a relief!
While my Holiday Inn stay ten days ago was a disappointment, now this place has become an old, welcome friend. It's good to be back!
At this moment I'm sitting in the hotel restaurant awaiting my supper order and I'm throwing all caution to the wind. I'll drink my Diet Coke right our of a glass (not directly from the bottle), and not only that, there's ice in it! I'm just flaunting my new-found stomach/GI confidence. Those miserable little bacteria can't get me now!
After supper (chicken on a roll with cheese and a side of french fries) I stopped in the gift shop. I'll be in open vehicles for the next few days, so I decided I'd better get myself a hat. The sun will be merciless. When I mentioned to the sales person I'll be going to Botswana, she responded, "Oh, do you think that's safe?" Her voice and the expression on her face gave me the answer to her question. Not an encouraging start to this upcoming portion of my adventure.
WEDNESDAY, 3-16-94; JAN SMUTS AIRPORT TERMINAL. The alarm I had set in my room buzzed me awake at 5:15 this morning and the back-up wakeup phone call was only a minute or two later. It had been a less than satisfying sleep. All night long there were guerrilla attacks, surprise raids, and heavy fighting in my dreams. I'd been through a few too many battles, and I didn't feel quite ready to start the day.
I showered, dressed, packed, and started out the door, then realized I'd forgotten to shave. Just thinking of other things, I guess. Hotel check-out, a quick breakfast (not very hungry), shuttle to the terminal, flight check-in, now here I sit waiting for Botswana Air #302 to start boarding. That should be in another hour.
WEDNESDAY, 3-16-94; SOMEWHERE OVER BOTSWANA. The flight boarded late, departed late, but I'm told it's only a forty-five minute trip to Maun in this twin-prop plane (21 passengers), although there's an intermediate stop of probably twenty-five minutes for fuel. Much to my surprise, breakfast was served, and even more to my surprise, it was excellent, particularly the steak, pickle, scallion, and cheddar cheese. Speaking of food, I have a theory about my state of basic GI readiness. I think the darn Pepto Bismol is the cause of this condition, not the cure. We'll just put that little theory to a test today.
It turns out the forty-five minute flight took us only to the Sir Seretse Khama Airport, where, refueling or no refueling, we all had to pile out of the plane and do a little dance around the terminal: passport check, customs, check, baggage check, ticket check, baggage recheck, boarding pass exchange, wait in the boarding area, and reboard the same plane...but in a different seat. We picked up a couple of new passengers, and we now have 27. But according to the pilot's most-recent announcement, it'll be another hour and a half before we reach Maun!
And we're in the Maun terminal building, if you'd call it that, at ten to noon.
WEDNESDAY, 3-16-94; MACHABA CAMP. At about 1:00 I hopped in a Cessna single-engine puddle jumper for the forty-five minute hop to a reasonably flat field where we set down. There's no runway, no terminal building, hardly any indication planes land there, except for a limp wind sock, which provides the only clue. After I jumped out of the plane, four tourists who were ending their stay at Machaba hopped in and were off in a cloud of dust.
Then a thirty-minute open-jeep ride through the bush brought me here to Machaba, a Ker & Downey Camp, and a wonderful camp it is! As it turns out, I'm the only "guest" (until tomorrow), so I'm receiving royal treatment: as the jeep pulled into camp, the manager, John, and two assistants were waiting to greet me. It was a nice welcoming party.
A lunch "just for me" was served (but I let John join me, of course), then a little while later it was time for afternoon tea (and a pleasant chat with John's wife, Tina), and then my own personal game drive, with my own personal driver and guide: Willie. I think I might be able to get used to this treatment. (This was Willie's first day back on the job after recovering from a bad bout of malaria. The Okavango Delta is a highly-productive breeding ground for the disease.)
By the way, my Pepto Bismol theory appears to be proving out. I think I'm actually, finally, reaching critical mass!
Our 4:00 p.m. drive stretched (as planned) into a night drive. Willie put the headlights on high beam and shined a big spotlight along the road to look for game. Nearby animals reveal themselves by the bright reflections from their eyes. We saw a few, not many reflections, but when we did, Willie stopped and shined the beacon on the animals for a better look. With all the night sounds, the "rain" of bugs we drove through, and the excitement of the search, the night game drive was quite a thrill.
Back at 7:30, I had only a little while to wash up, change clothes, and write here, before meeting for supper, which was not only tasty, but absolutely elegant. We sat less than ten yards from the river (with its hippos and crocodiles) at a lovely setting with table cloth, napkins, and a lit candle. A nearly log fire set in a concrete pit added both light and warmth to the dinner. With animal sounds all about, there was a true safari feel to the dining experience.
Unfortunately, Tina was feeling under the weather, so was unable to join John and me for dinner, after which we talked but briefly before retiring to our respective tents. But the word "tent" is misleading. While indeed canvas (on all six sides), these tents are heavy on amenities. Through the back zippered mosquito netting is a little compartment (plastic sheet overhead, reed walls, and concrete floor), which houses the toilet, shower, and sink, with hot water. About twelve by twelve feet in area, the tent itself contains two single beds, a writing stand and stool, a luggage bench, another table, a clothes storage unit, and even a rug on the floor. Further, there's an electric lamp, which will operate until the generator is turned off (around 9:30 p.m.), another light, which runs off solar power stored during the day, and a couple of flashlights. One much-appreciated feature: a laundry basket from which the staff retrieves deposited items, washes and dries them, and returns them the same day.
With all the excitement, the unfamiliar surroundings, and the animal sounds, I thought I'd just lie there in bed and drink in the atmosphere. Instead, I fell asleep almost immediately.
THURSDAY, 3-17-94; MACHABA CAMP. I vaguely remember waking a few times and hearing a chorus of interesting animals shouting out in the still night, and once I needed to attend to important business through the back mosquito netting (my Pepto Bismol theory was resoundingly exploded), but I spent most of the night in peaceful sleep. At one awakening I noticed the first rays of light of the new day. It was just after 6 a.m.
By the time I had showered and shaved, someone was at the front zipper of my tent with a tray of piping-hot tea, actually too hot for even me to drink. Moments later I was in the dining tent working on a bowl of granola and a serving of mixed fruit. Then at about 7:00 off we went, just Willie and me, in the four-wheel-drive vehicle for some early morning game viewing.
There wasn't an abundance of game to see (recent heavy rains had filled rivers, ponds, and puddles, allowing the animals to forage throughout the whole region), but I got pictures of impala, wildebeest, zebra, baboons, monkeys, kudu, banded mongoose, and an elephant. More importantly, I got lions! Two females and two cubs were lying comfortably in the shade of a big tree.
We spent so much time with the lions, we were late getting back to camp for brunch, another fine meal serviced with great style and class.
New guests arrived, four of them, around 12:30, and we met and together listened to John's briefing. We also heard about the "hippo incident." Apparently a bull hippo attacked a guest while she was fishing at Pom Pom, another of the Ker & Downey camps in the Okavango Delta (the only one I won't visit). The hippo tore the woman's arm open, but she was rushed to the hospital (by plane) and is reportedly okay.
In the afternoon Willie said we'd go back to see the lions again, but the new guests delayed a little at tea time, then wanted the canvas top removed from the van (not a trivial operation), and finally after we started out, requested to return to camp for malaria tablets, so we didn't have time to see the lions. Instead we drove about in an area close to camp and just enjoyed the scenery, the wonderful weather, and whatever animals we encountered.
Dinner, again by candlelight under the stars, was very good. The steak was oh so tender and delicious. The dessert, described as a "Tina Special," was indeed special: some sort of creamy custard-like pudding, with a whipped cream (I think) topping and wonderful taste. If my stomach had been a little more confident, I would have eaten a whole lot more than I did.
After-dinner conversation was largely dominated by the new guests and it was generally uninteresting (as in boring), so after a while, I excused myself and headed for bed.
FRIDAY, 3-18-94; SHINDE CAMP. Since Willie was assigned to the new guests, who wanted a walk-and-ride morning activity, Oliver was driver and guide for my last Machaba outing. Just the two of us headed off to the Moremi Wildlife Reserve.
Oliver drove slowly along the dusty road and gazed down over the edge of the vehicle at the patterns in the sand along the road. When he spotted leopard tracks he tried to follow them, but there were too many tracks, headed in both directions, and he couldn't tell where they turned off the road into the bush. He searched and searched...in vain. He even found some leopard droppings: a row of little balls, almost like a short string of black pearls, very fresh and solid. Lucky leopard, I thought to myself.
It was just about time to turn around and return to camp when we found lions. Again, Oliver was following tracks. Where they turned off the road, we found two males, two females, and two cubs lying comfortably in the shade of some bushes in a thicket. I think four of the six were the same lions I saw yesterday, but it was great to see them again. Oliver parked maybe twenty to twenty-five feet from their resting place, so I could get some real good closeup videos.
We got back to camp at 10:00, had brunch, then I packed up and was driven to the airstrip to meet the plane due at 11:20.
A short twenty-minute flight followed by a short twenty-minute boat ride got me here to Shinde Camp, which is situated on an island two kilometers by three kilometers in the middle of the Okavango Delta. When the plane landed, we had a brief moment of excitement when a lechwe (which looks like an impala to me) jumped in our path and then out of it just moments before we would have collided. The boat ride offered some excitement, too, along with beautiful scenery. About half way to camp, as we weaved our way in and out of the tall reeds, all of a sudden a lechwe leaped up above us, no more than ten feet in front of the boat, and splashed in the water. There was no way to avoid hitting the antelope and our boat's metal hull banged into its head and back.
In an instant it was behind us, passing under the boat's propeller, presumably. I spun around expecting to see blood and guts churning in the boat's wake, but instead, saw the animal struggle up into the reeds, where he vanished almost as quickly as he had appeared.
The first order of business here was lunch, which after just finishing brunch in Machaba, I wasn't prepared to accommodate. Furthermore, my stomach still wasn't operating at one hundred percent. I had a taste of salad anyway, plus several OJs and a Diet Coke. I had developed a great thirst.
Now at 2:40 I'm sitting on the porch in front of my tent (#5) watching as a wart hog manicures the grass twenty five yards away, and listening to a woodpecker knocking in a nearby tree, and also noting infrequent and lazy thunder rumbling in the distance.
By the way, some good news and bad news, bad news first: I find I'm quite gassy. Good news: gassiness and liquidity seem to be mutually exclusive. I think my GI tract is together again. Stay tuned.
As at the other camp, tea was served at 3:30 and the afternoon activity started at 4:00. For us: a game drive. As we started out (I was with four others, plus the driver, whose name was Brown), it looked like I was in for a long afternoon. We stopped to look at a termite mound. We stopped to look at some bird at the top of a tree two hundred yards away. We stopped just to look around...at nothing.
When we started driving through deep mud, though, things began to get exciting. Then came the water six inches deep. We started slipping and sliding and the four-wheel-drive LandRover skidded and swerved from side to side.
Then we spotted lions on a patch of high ground surrounded by water a foot deep or deeper! Brown headed into the water. The tires spun and kicked up geysers of water and mud, but we made it to the island. Then Brown proceeded to maneuver the vehicle so we were about fifteen feet from a half dozen lions lying peacefully together. As we approached they stirred, some raised their heads, some just gave us the eye.
Then Brown stopped the vehicle and turned off the engine, which would certainly delay a quick departure (if required), but it seemed to calm the big cats. Their heads drooped, eyes closed, and we beheld the spectacle in awe. Cameras were clicking, videos were humming, and we were spellbound visitors thrust in the midst of lion life.
After we'd had a sufficient viewing, Brown started the engine, startling the lions, and he backed the landrover up. Then, instead of steering away from the beasts, he steered toward them and moved the vehicle forward so we were only ten feet from their big mouths, sharp teeth, and powerful jaws. We continued our picture taking with renewed intensity and excitement.
Finally Brown started the engine again and this time pulled away from the pride. But he drove around to the opposite side of the lions, revved the engine and moved so we were no more than five feet from those mighty animals!
I was sitting in the middle row of three sets of seats, at the right side, closest to the lions. On my left was Sigrun and to her left was her husband, Manfred (both arrived at Shinde the same time I did). On my right it was all open; it was where you climb aboard the landrover. There was no door, no bar, no canvas, nothing. I was sitting there with absolutely nothing keeping me from becoming hors d'oeuvres, except lion charity and good will. I began to wonder about the duration of lion charity and good will.
I was embarrassed to find I had slid as far left, away from the lions, as I possibly could. I was squeezing both Sigrun and Manfred against the left side of the vehicle, but I had the distinct feeling I wasn't still quite far enough left. I suppose "far enough" would have been maybe Namibia!
I was videoing like crazy, but not really enjoying such a dependency on lion kindheartedness, and I didn't even know these lions, mind you. The thought occurred to me that sooner or later the lions were going to decide to choose an item from Column A...and I was the only item in Column A! Indeed, such thoughts added to the general excitement and thrill the experience. Indeed, just living through the experience was a thrill!
As you can no doubt tell, our lion encounter was intense. It was heavy-duty, nose-to-nose lion interaction for, maybe fifteen or twenty minutes. It was thrilling, inspiring, and humbling, and at the same time provided just about as much excitement as I can handle in any fifty-two-week period. Clearly, it was the climax of my Africa adventure.
SATURDAY, 3-19-94; SHINDE CAMP. I found to my disappointment that gassiness and looseness are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In exasperation I decided to try another Lomotil. We'll see what results.
Dinner last night was quite good, even though I declined the fish (much to the disappointment of the camp manager) and thus had a vegetarian meal. Afterwards, 9:30 or so, I headed back to my tent to write here and, because I felt so sticky with suntan lotion and bug spray, I took a shower. When I got into bed, I fell asleep immediately.
Some time later (when I was finally able to look at my watch, I found it was 1:22), I awoke to a strange noise emanating from a source obviously nearby. It was a crunching sound, a big, huge, gigantic crunching sound. A heavy surge of adrenaline got my heart pounding and my mind focused. Then there was a strong cracking and shredding sound. It was clear an elephant was immediately in front of my tent, like about ten or twenty feet away, making a meal for himself of foliage, bark, and whatever.
This was all very exciting and fun, until I began to think about how elephants knock over trees. And how they rub up against things...maybe like tents...to scratch themselves. As the scraping and tearing sound continued, along with sounds of chewing and breathing, I decided I should prepare for an emergency.
Taking cover under the bed was a brief consideration, but the wiser option appeared to be making a full-fledged escape, should that become necessary, so I began getting dressed. I fumbled around in the dark, since I had no idea what effect the beacon from a flashlight might have on a feeding elephant. I had no desire to disturb him!
By the time I was dressed and ready for evacuation, the elephant had moved away from in front of my tent and was doing his eating close to the dining tent. I could still hear the ripping, tearing, and chewing sounds, and occasionally I could hear the deep, sort-of-gurgling sound elephants use to communicate. I could even imagine what he was saying: "Hey, guys, meet me at Tent #5. There's some guy in there who's going to panic and make a mad dash out the back door if we make enough commotion! Let's do it!"
I waited to see if the elephant would return. I tried to peer out into the night, but with only the stars and a quarter moon to illuminate things, I could see anything my imagination conjured up. But, sensing that the crisis had passed, I decided to go back to bed. It was then exactly 2:00. I climbed in, fully dressed, sneakers and all, clutching my trusty flashlight by my side, and drifted off.
Later, it sounded like two elephants were using the line of foliage in front of the tents as a buffet line. Oh no, I thought, I knew this was going to happen. I reviewed my evacuation plans. But the eating operations never sounded as close as when I was first awakened, and a little while later the elephants took their search for food elsewhere. I went back to sleep, a little reluctantly, still fully clothed. But ah, such are the hardships we sometimes-not-so-brave safari-goers must endure.
When tea was delivered at the 6:30 wakeup time, I was way ahead of the game. Heck, I was already dressed! That gave me time to look around for damage and talk to my next-door tent mates about the elephant incident. We were amazed so little damage had been caused.
The morning drive was mercifully uneventful. You know, there's only so much excitement a system can tolerate. There were reports the lions were gone.
Back at 11:30 we saw the sky darken and felt the wind pick up. By lunch time we'd had a sprinkle of rain and all of a sudden it was cold. Sereral hot teas were welcomed, to accompany the chicken, salads, and cheeses for lunch.
By 3:30 tea time the sky was clear, the wind had died down, and the temperature was again a comfortable 80 degrees. Our afternoon ride was to be by boat, so Manfred, Sigrun, and I got in and seated. Brown was at the helm.
We buzzed along a myriad of channels, lagoons, and narrow waterways, dodging papaya and overhanging bamboo-like reeds as we went. It was a beautiful trip, peaceful, warm. When we got to Ngobega Lagoon, Brown passed out fishing rods and we all (except Sigrun) tried out luck. Our luck was bad; the fishes' luck was good. We didn't even have a nibble. Then we buzzed back to camp, stopping occasionally to view the red-orange sunset, arriving at the dock after dark. It was a very pleasant ride.
SUNDAY, 3-20-94; MAUN AIRPORT WAITING ROOM. Realizing this was my last day in Botswana, indeed in Africa, I couldn't help but feel a sense of sadness. The long trip and the high adventure were coming to an end.
Up a little after six this morning, I showered, dressed, packed, ate a small breakfast, and was escorted to a mokoro, a canoe-like boat which can carry up to two passengers and a poler. I was the lone passenger in my mokoro; T-Man was poler.
We drifted out on the waters of the Okavango Delta, gliding easily by, sometimes over lily pads, papyrus, and grass. There were a few birds, but otherwise not much wildlife to observe, but it didn't matter. I was drifting slowly, quietly out of the magic, back to the reality of the Twentieth Century. I needed this peaceful time to make the mental adjustment. I needed the tranquility to reflect on the trip, the excitement, and the wonder.
Back at camp I was offered four little sandwiches, but none was appealing to me, although all were carefully prepared and tastily presented. The salmon with capers would surely not sit well in a still-uneasy stomach. Ditto for the fat-laden salami-like cold-meat-with-a-pickle sandwich. The boiled egg sandwich would probably pin the needle of my cholesterol meter, so that left me the asparagus-with-a-ton-of-mayonnaise sandwich, which I decided to eat only because I didn't want to hurt the camp manager's feelings. No luck. His feelings were hurt anyway. "You don't like the cooking here, do you," he said with disappointment. Gosh, the cooking was just fine; it was the selections that were giving me trouble.
The boat ride to the airstrip was very pleasant. The highlight was when James at the helm once made a wrong turn and rammed us into a wall of grass. We weren't at the airstrip more than a few minutes before we heard the charter plane, then saw it bounce into view as it reached a clearing in the bush.
We flew directly over Shinde Camp on route to Maun and the pilot banked the plane hard to the right so I could get a good view. From the air the Okavango Delta looks, at first glance, to be an endless grassy plain dotted with ponds, small lakes, and rivers. It's not until you look carefully that you see the grass is growing in a huge expanse of water. A few islands appear in this brown-and-green carpet, but, except for an occasional tree, their definition is not obvious, as it merges with the vast expanse of grass.
Now at Maun, I'm in my seat (6E) with seat belt buckled and I'm ready to go. The pilot just announced, however, that a plane with a flat tire in the middle of the runway is blocking our takeoff. The length of this delay is unknown. (It turned out to be only a half hour or so.)
Looking around at the other passengers, I sense that they're subdued, even solemn. Perhaps their grand African adventures are likewise coming to an end.
SUNDAY, 3-20-94; JAN SMUTS AIRPORT. The first two flights of my trip home have gone remarkably well. The two and a half hours from Maun to Johannesburg seemed like less than that, and the logistics here couldn't have gone better. The only glitch is that SAA must have plunked my bag down in a puddle of water. The bottom and who knows how much of the contents are soaked.
But everything else is going swimmingly. Customs here was a breeze, I got back to the Holiday Inn with no trouble, I retrieved my stored items (used another T-shirt as tip; what a convenience!), and even found something at the hotel gift shop for Tim. (I had already made purchases for everybody else on my list.)
I'm now sitting in the waiting area, the by-now very familiar waiting area, and this place is a mad house. It's packed, there's a long line of people waiting to get through the X-ray check station, and babies seem to be crying everywhere. No, not crying: screeching, shrieking, and screaming, at volume levels beyond human tolerance.
There's also a lot of raucous behavior perpetrated by some grownups: shouts, cheers, angry calls. This place is a brawl! And that's just fine. It should make the time pass quickly. Already I'm over three hours into my five-hour layover wait.
Loose ends department #1 - Regarding the "safety" risk for passengers to Botswana: As far as I can tell, the fear generated by the Holiday Inn gift shop clerk (see 3-15 entry) was the result of a misunderstanding. When I said "Botswana," I think she thought I said "Bophuthatswana," (an independent territory in South Africa) where political unrest has indeed been a recent and serious problem.
Loose ends department #2 - Regarding my "loose end:" It appears that as my adventure ends, so does my bout with diarrhea. Now that rest rooms are quite handy, my need for them has greatly subsided. It was only when I was on three-hour game drives and boat rides that my need was most pressing.
SUNDAY, 3-20-94; SOMEWHERE OVER BOTSWANA. Over eleven hours after I left Shinde Camp this morning, I note from a map on the TV screen at the front of the cabin that I've just about returned to my point of departure. At least it looks like I'm somewhere in the vicinity of Shinde Camp, only this time about 35,000 feet up. It has been a long trip so far, but a much longer portion of travel still lies ahead.
SUNDAY, 3-20-94; SOMEWHERE OVER CAPE VERDE ISLANDS. Dinner was served around midnight Johannesburg time, and immediately afterward I was one tired puppy, which was just as well, since sleeping in a sardine tin is best accomplished by those near unconsciousness anyway. Around 5:30 a.m. (again Johannesburg time; I have no idea what the local time is) the lights were abruptly turned on and a small box of orange juice was thrust in my hand. A half hour later and 4550 miles into the trip (from Johannesburg), we landed at Sal Island for a pilot and crew change, refueling, and a wait of a little over an hour.
MONDAY, 3-21-94; SOMEWHERE OVER THE ATLANTIC. Now at 7350 miles into the trip, I'm awaken to see the steward's face issue forth a disgustingly happy "good morning," I see a tape of "America's Best Home Videos" (or whatever it is) playing on the cabin TV, and I see it's 12:40 p.m. (again, Johannesburg time).
MONDAY, 3-21-94; LAGUARDIA AIRPORT, AMERICAN AIRLINES TERMINAL. Right now it's 4:37 p.m. Johannesburg time, or 9:37 a.m. NYC time. The South African flight arrived about scheduled time, two hours ago. There was a wait to get through customs and another wait for baggage, but then came a surprise: American Airlines Flight 3355 to Raleigh was listed on the TV monitor as cancelled, and indeed when I spoke to an agent, he said there was a landing gear problem. After not much further delay the agent decided to route me on Flight 1049 from Laguardia to Raleigh, which obviously necessitated transportation from JFK here.
They got a car and driver for me and off we went, along with a couple of other passengers (a woman and her baby), into the middle of a traffic jam. The woman and child were on their way (from Johannesburg) to Toronto and were on a tighter schedule than I was. They didn't have much time to while away in expressway traffic congestion. The only pressure I was under was dealing with the baby, which was in need of a diaper change. Badly!
When we finally got here, we found a serious automobile accident caused traffic to be rerouted, but there was time to catch the Toronto flight, and plenty of time before my flight. As a matter of fact, my plane won't even begin boarding for another hour plus. Devoid of US currency (I couldn't get a traveler's check cashed at JFK because the window was closed), I was concerned about how to provide a tip for the driver. Not to worry! He was most pleased to accept a Blockbuster T-shirt!
So, it looks like it's now just a matter of time before I'll be home. But there is still of question of how much time. My flight to Raleigh only gives me about a half hour to catch my connecting flight. Any delay and I'm in for trouble.
MONDAY, 3-21-94; RDU AIRPORT, AA #467, AWAITING DEPARTURE. My good-luck streak continues. Making the connection was a breeze. If my bag makes it, too, I'll be home free (unless of course we crash)! Before this trip began I made arrangements for a limo to meet me at the airport, so all remaining transportation matters should be well under control.
MONDAY, 3-21-94; HOME SWEET HOME. Ah, back in my own abode once again. It was a great trip, but it's great to be home! The flight to Ft. Lauderdale was easy. I arrived on time, as did my bag, as did the limo driver. We stopped at the credit union on the drive here to get some cash (finally, cash in US currency) to pay the driver (I don't think he'd be too interested in accepting a T-shirt in place of the $35 charge).
I've been thinking about this Great African Safari Adventure of 1994 and I've been wondering: was it really worth it? Was it worth the expense, the seemingly endless hours of travel, the GI uncertainties, and all the other little inconveniences and hassle that accompany such a trip?
Well, I've assembled a set of glorious memories which will forever by my companion. Actually, I suppose the minor difficulties I encountered along the way only make the experience more precious. Any goal easily achieved is a goal less appreciated.
So, was it worth it? Well, during some of the flights back home I found myself studying the maps at the back of airline magazines, thinking about my next trip. I think I'd like to see the animals in Namibia, maybe Zimbabwe (and see Victoria Falls, too) and Mozambique, maybe Kruger National Park in South Africa, and I'd really like to see the gorillas in Rwanda. And the Ker & Downey elephant-back safaris in Botswana sound pretty interesting. Gosh, I'm sure there are still a lot of Kenya destinations to see, like the giraffe farm near Nairobi, the Ark, and so on.
I guess if I'm pondering my next safari before I've even returned from this one, that's a pretty good sign it was worth it. Heck, I think I'd go again tomorrow if I had the chance!