08 November 2005

Safari (by Jocelyn)

by Cecily
(My sister's in Africa visiting our dad. And her friend named Anne. Here is what she has to say about Tanzania):

It's raining again, and I am sitting on the balcony again, watching it rain. The rainy season in Rwanda had not quite begun, and so everything was dusty and dry and golden, with only bits of green in the wetter spots. Here, it is still like a garden; I have found each a nice contrast to the other.

It took us much longer to drive to the Serengeti than we had thought it would; instead of two leisurely partial days of driving, it took us all of the hours of daylight on our first day driving to get to Mwanza on the shores of Lake Victoria, and much of the next day to get from there to Seronera.

I thought of Stanley and Livingstone and Burton and Speke and that other one, as we approached Lake Victoria. Not too long ago, a Rwandan man showed me decisively on a map the Source-of-the-Nile-in-Rwanda. There are, of course, sources of the Nile all over the place; in fact a whole watershed full of them, I would imagine. Makes me wonder just what those guys were looking to find, when they set out on their Quests for the Source, and whether Lake Victoria was ever enough of a Holy Grail for them, or whether they always felt unsatisfied. (I'm sure there are a lot of biographies about this in my future, waiting to be read.) I imagine Livingstone's journeys cut short by an enormous summer thunderstorm in Ethiopia - "This is it!" he cries, drenched by the rain that's about to flood the river, "I've found it! The Source of the Nile!"
But I digress.

Crossing the border from Rwanda to Tanzania took a long time. It is not that the Rusumo Falls border crossing is particularly high-traffic, but there was of course the requisite amount of standing in line to fill out papers, and the early-morning line of trucks waiting to cross that we had to navigate around.

On the other side, everything was different right away.

Okay, no it wasn't. But the landscape did change quite soon. The densely-packed farms with their banana trees and living fences, villages every mile, and people everywhere pushing bicycles loaded with water jugs and bananas, the children thronging their way to school, the steep hills and narrow valleys - these all all petered out almost immediately to be replaced by scrub woodland (the sort that looks as though it's exhausted from regrowing itself too many times) with occasional farms. And then as we drove east, the land flattened and the dirt stayed red. The woodland (some places fuller and better grown than others) changed to plains with enormous trees (some of them baobabs, Adansonia digitata, some of them not); the hills were made of exposed, weathered lumps of granite. There are not so many villages along that road, and not so much traffic on it, though more than half of it is paved. It is pretty empty country, is Western Tanzania. I mean - relatively speaking.

Driving is driving, I guess; not very exciting, either while it's happening or afterwards. So we did a lot of that, and then we stayed in Mwanza, which is a biggish town, and then we went on the Serengeti.

I feel a little dumb, trying to say anything about the Serengeti. I'm sure other people have said it better.
We found Anne (who is, for those of you interested in Anne, in glowing good healthy and apparently quite happy doing fascinating good work; as beautiful and amazing and fun as ever). Anne has a lot of fantastic bones at her house; all different antelope skulls with long curly horns, big beefy cape buffalo and also giraffe legs, looking like machine parts. I covet them, of course; knowing just how illegal it would be for them to have left the park in my possession, and knowing that I would never do that, does not make me any less covetous.

So, then, we went to a lodge and stayed there and drove around looking for animals for a few days. And found some! A few cheetahs, dutifully photographed and whatnot for Anne's Scientific Information. And so many other things.

We saw a pride of lions eating a zebra in the early morning under an acacia tree, with a bunch of hyaenas circling around. The lions would growl at the hyaenas, who were stealing a leg here and a chunk of skin there, making their hyaena noises (which, in contrast to what I had imagined, they make with their noses down almost to the ground) - until finally the lions had eaten enough and gave up and left or were driven off, leaving the hyaenas to chase each other around and jackals to lick the ground. Man, oh man are hyaenas ever beautiful and fascinating.

(In case anyone was wondering, these hyaenas were the spotted variety, Crocuta crocuta - the kind that people once thought were hermaphroditic, where the females have higher testosterone levels than the males, and false scrotums.)

We saw hippos out of water in the afternoon, a little suprisingly. A mother and two young 'uns eating stuff by the banks of a scummy pond. The mother had an oxpecker-dug hole in her side (with the oxpecker still poking his beak in sometimes) that looked ouchy. Anne says that someone published a paper recently suggesting that oxpeckers do not only eat the parasites off the large herbivores; they also seem to enlarge and keep open the parasite holes, and eat the flesh of the hippos (or whatever) directly. I say in response, a wildlife researcher is a wonderful companion to have in the Serengeti.

We a saw a porcupine that had stayed awake too long, rushing all waddly for cover in the early early morning in the shortgrass plains; warthog mamas and their little piggy babies running around; gazelles and antelopes and buffalo and jackals and all manner of neat birds; and then the elephants.

The managers of the lodge we stayed at, who are friends of Anne's, are Elephant Enthusiasts. And so I saw a lot of elephants. And I loved them! All huge and beautiful and intelligent - elephants often return to the bones of dead relatives and pick them up and touch them, and elephants sometimes bury their dead.

We watched some (a few mothers and several offspring) drinking when they had broken into a well near the lodge. The older ones with the long-enough trunks would kneel to reach down and suck out water. The little ones would suck it out of the mouths of their mothers and siblings.

We saw twenty-some of them, early one morning, heading off quietly and purposefully to god-knows-where across the plains. Anne took lots of pictures; we drove in circles around them for half an hour, and they looked at us, but just kept on going.

The most amazing part of looking at the elephants, though, is when they look right back at you. We sat one evening, drinking beer in the Land Rover parked right next to some elephants eating at sunset; we looked out at the elephants and drank beer, and they looked in at us and ate grass.

I'm back in Rwanda now; we are off to look at gorillas tomorrow, and then I will return to Virginia on Tuesday.

It has stopped raining. The sun has come out. I hope that all of you are well and happy.

No comments:

Post a Comment