The Serengeti

Excerpt from the chapter “The Serengeti”:
Being in the Serengeti with local residents, both large and small, from carnivores to scorpions, who like to bite, made it a dangerous place to pull over if we needed a pit stop. With that in mind, I avoided drinking too much water if the ride would be long because I didn’t want to have to relieve myself next to the door of the Land Rover, along the road, with the guide as lookout. My water consumption on the Serengeti was significantly less than what it was on Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Walking every day on Kilimanjaro was delightful, and always with purpose. I can’t tell you what Zanzibar is like, but I can tell you that spending all day, every day in a Land Rover, after being allowed to walk so much, is not easy. On the Serengeti, I couldn’t walk anywhere of much distance because it was just too dangerous.

The grounds at the first hotel had long, winding paved walkways, and a guide with a flashlight to escort visitors after dark. The best walk I had was around the small paved driveway of the hotel, on my final morning in Africa. The guard there let me walk a few hundred feet beyond the gate, but I was called back quickly; he told me that a black leopard had been spotted in the area, meaning I wasn’t safe going too far beyond his view. It was in this hotel, on the edge of Ngorongoro Crater, that I was woken up in the middle of the night by the sounds of something just outside my window. I heard contented munching and the splat of elimination. Whatever it was, it was outside my room, on the other side of the low-to-the-ground, open but screened
window, and literally six feet from where I lay. It was dark, I had no idea what time it was, and I didn’t want to check my watch because as soon as the animal came into my awareness, I obviously came into his or hers, and it stopped munching. I turned my head to look out the window and the animal moved along on its way. Without my glasses I couldn’t get a good look (I’m nearsighted); I only knew that whatever it was, it was as big as a cow and very dark. Suah told me the next day that it was probably a cape buffalo, quite harmless and clearly enjoying the cool hillside grasses at night.

I remembered an evening in South Africa, on a trip with Alan, where we’d been instructed never to walk back to our room without a guide, who always carried a gun and a flashlight. Ready early one morning, I stepped outside to walk to breakfast while Alan showered, and was immediately greeted by the roar of a lion, “I am the king of the jungle! Huh, huh, huh, huh.” When you hear the roar, you can hear the lion saying this. Seriously.

Regaining my intelligence, I quickly turned on my heel and took the three or four steps back into our room and shut the door. I waited until Alan was ready, and then called for an escort to take us both to breakfast. I found out later that the lion I’d heard was over a mile away but the sound of that roar, the feel of it, came through the air and the ground in deep, palpable waves; so strong, it could have been right next to me.

Back on the Serengeti, we were on a game drive and the Land Rover was stopped on the side of the road. I was standing on the backseat with my head popped out of the roof. It was an exceptional stop—I was delighted to be watching lion cubs jumping like kittens in the tall grass. Truly delight-full. In that moment of watching pure, carefree joy, I felt and heard an out of place, low, deep rumble. I looked at my guide and asked quietly, “Was that you?” Sotto voce, he replied, “No, it is the Mama, she is beneath the car.”

Day 13

Excerpt from the chapter “Day 13”:
Was it some tropical bacteria that had leeched under the nail in the dirt? I was walking around organic farms and piles of nature’s fertilizer, after all. In Burundi, there was discussion of a nasty water-born snail that can get under the skin; it lives in still bodies of water. I hadn’t spent any time in the pool or the lake, but maybe I’d been exposed to it another way?
Research calmed my monkey-mind. Again. Thanks to online pictures and research, my diagnosis was trauma to the nail bed from sunburn. The anti-malarial pills I’d taken for travel in Burundi and the Serengeti make a person highly sensitive to the sun, and I had to take them for 60 days, while walking on a mountain in thin cloud cover, near the equator. Except for the time I spent climbing the western breach and the summit—when I wore gloves—my hands were exposed, including a lot of time with hiking poles, where my thumb was positioned on top, smiling straight up at the equatorial-strong sun. Why only the thumbnails? Yes, it is strange. I was fascinated by the grow-out pattern on both thumbnails for months. Eventually they did grow out vs. fall off. The last bit of abnormal curvature went the way of the nail clipper a full eight months after my return.

Day 12

Excerpt from the chapter “Day 12”:
Since we were at the base of Kilimanjaro, my breakfast table was outdoors, as it was now warm enough. My seat was situated to be staring up at the side of the mountain that is most often photographed. I have to say it again: I am so very pleased to have taken this route; it has been ideal.
We started on our way today, travelling through the rain forest, which was much more humid and misty than it had been on the way in, via the Lemosho Crater route. In fact, when I woke up, the whole ground was covered in mist from the rain forest. Traversing from moorland to rainforest was so nice to do in the mist, and it started to rain lightly near the end, apropos since we were in a rainforest. I saw giant ferns; one frond alone was taller than me. I saw a brilliant green patch of clover and thought of my sister-in-law Stacey, who loves Ireland; I passed on taking a picture since we were moving well at that point.
There was a huge group of people on the trail; we heard them before we saw them. 28 trekkers, mostly students from Ireland, some of their teachers, a couple of doctors who were parents, and 120 porters! I stopped twice to speak with members of the group along the trail. First I spoke with a teenaged boy, who told me they’d raised money as part of this trip; they’d raised a lot actually, to buy equipment for the local hospital. The purchase was inspired by a friend of theirs from school who’d died because the local hospital didn’t have the equipment to save her.

Day 11

Excerpt from the chapter “Day 11”:
Walking around up at the peak you see the glaciers from above; HUGE glaciers. And I could see into the ash pit from a completely different vantage point than the day before—it was much better the day before, up close. I could see Mt. Meru off in the distance. It was a beautiful, clear morning. We have been incredibly fortunate with weather. It’s been cold, of course, but that’s to be expected at this elevation.
Then we started to make our way down and boy was that fun! The trail that most people take up is a steep, long, 100% scree hill and what we ended up doing was, well, we skied down. We had our poles and our feet and thank goodness for gaiters! When Wilson saw that I was enjoying it and I told him I was, he looked for places where we could do more, faster. When we’d come to a big rock in the middle of our trail, then of course we’d have to slow down and step around it but “dust be damned.” It was exhilarating to ski down on my feet from the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro on scree.
Here’s my theory: the reason that Uruhu peak might be smaller is because there is all of this scree on the side and trekkers are pushing it down as we all walk up or scree down.
I saw a lanky young man, well over six feet tall and perhaps late teens or early twenties—didn’t look old enough to shave yet—being escorted by two porters, one on each arm to steady him as he struggled with his swaying gait. If I didn’t know any better I’d think the poor guy was drunk, but it was altitude sickness and this
kid was in bad shape. We watched him approach, asked if we could offer any assistance, but the porters told us they would bring him down.
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Share your thoughts

I hope you enjoyed the story as told through the book and this photo essay.  Please share your thoughts here.

Thanks for travelling with me!  –Deb

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