Tarangire is a good warm-up park to get people used to being on safari and to waste loads of film on far off shots of animals they will eventually see two meters from the truck. Everyone does it.
We saw the usual antelope, zebra, giraffe, wart hogs, and some entertaining elephant. That evening in camp, a surprise, a Dane was shuttled in to joined our group.
We had a great afternoon game drive. The trip down the precipitous road to the crater floor is spectacularly scenic, it feels like the entrance to some sort of lost world from the movies and the animals do little to dispel that sensation. Herds of buffalo and zebra abound and a few hours into our drive we stumbled across a large pride of lions right next to the road.
There were about 8 large females and at least 10 cubs. We watched with fascination as a zebra blundered up the road, oblivious to a lioness hiding on a bluff just above. The big cat bounded down the small cliff and gave chase to the zebra who just barely managed to get away.
That was the highlight of the day, but we also saw a mother and calf rhino negotiate a gauntlet of camera wielding Land Rovers on their trip from one meadow to another.
All thoughts of these being just larger versions of my cuddly housecats vanished as pieces of the wart hog would pop loose from the fray and one of the lions would raise it's bloody face and chase it. Earlier in the day I'd been thinking how much fun it would be to jump down and pet one of the cubs, but watching them devour the carcass in minutes I can only wonder just how safe the Land Rover is, and ponder what it was I was thinking when I tracked these animals on foot all over the Okavango Delta.
It turns out though, lions aren't really very efficient hunters. They are too big and slow to chase down most game animals and instead rely on cunning and tactics. When we came across a group of 10 females who were relaxing with cubs. A lead lioness trotted down the road and we quickly lost sight of her. After she had been gone a few minutes two others took up the hunt.
They had spotted some wart hogs across the plain and slowly began to move closer, approaching from downwind to avoid being smelled. I watched through binoculars as they dropped to their bellies and disappeared from view. Only occasionally could I glimpse a tawny head as the grass swayed in the breeze.
Without binoculars I could see what the plan was. The leader had circled around and now approached boldly from upwind. She charged the largest wart hog who turned and bolted -- right into the clutches of the two lionesses that had crept to within a few meters of its position.
The wart hog dodged and weaved knowing it was quite literally running for its life. But two other lionesses joined the chase, and one of them managed to knock the unfortunate beast from its feet. Once down it was all over. The lions pounced on the wart hog and started devouring it as the rest of the pride came pouring across the field to join in the feast.
The whole process was fascinating (and horrifying) to watch, but in the end I was left to wonder how many warthogs it takes to feed a pride of 20 or so lions?
Speaking of leopard, it took us only about another hour before we spotted one in a tree-- with it's kill! Leopards carry their kills, in this case a small antelope, up into trees to protect them from lions, hyenas, and other scavengers. Even vultures have a difficult time navigating the branches to snatch a bite away.
Part of the fun of being on safari is never knowing what you'll see, there can be hours of boredom followed by something spectacular that is over in an instant. It's also amazing how quickly you get used to seeing what would be incredibly at home. On this safari we saw close to 100 lions. It got to the point where if they weren't doing something interesting, we didn't even slow down. Sad in a way how quickly things become familiar.
The other big piece of being on Safari is the company. On this trip I got lucky and at random drew four really fun people. On the long drives between parks we'd sit crammed in the back of the Land Rover with all our gear and sing folk songs in any language someone could remember the words. As we sat around the card table waiting for the cook to serve dinner we'd compare cultures and try to translate jokes from home. All in all, it made for a great trip.
My plan had been to leave the group at this point and hitchhike across the Serengeti to the town of Mwanza on the coast of Lake Victoria. The ferry from Mwanza to Kampala is the one where in 1996 a 430 person capacity ferry sank killing 600+ people. I had no idea what the schedule was, or even if it was running again, but if possible, I thought it would be an interesting journey. Failing that, my backup plan was to take a bus from Mwanza to Kigali in Rwanda and see the gorillas there.
None of that was probably in my own best interest and I'm sure it was good that I couldn't find a ride across the park. (Although I did come close to catching a ride in the back of a truck. It was carrying an unrecognizable piece of heavy equipment to a town that wasn't on my map, now that's hitching! Unfortunately they couldn't get a through permit for the park and their backup plan wasn't clear.)
I rode with the group back through Ngorogoro to the town of Manyara and then was faced with getting a ride back to Arusha. Things weren't looking so great because we'd earlier seen the last bus of the day broken down on the side of the road. That is, they weren't looking so good until my safari guide arranged for some "police assisted hitchhiking." Of course, it's not like it was a real cop, just a Tanzanian officer.
These guys are the most worthless police force I've yet encountered. Not only doesn't the government trust them with an assault rifle or even a pistol, these guys don't get any weapon at all. Instead they get a little stick emblazoned with a silver badge. This seems to be their "authority scepter." Their purpose in life seems to be to stand in the road and wave their authority scepter at passing vehicles. Lots of the times people don't stop. After all, they don't have weapons, a radio, or usually even a vehicle, so it's not obvious what they are going to do to you. When a vehicle does stop there is a lot of chatting and inspecting of papers and usually the exchange of money or at least some cigarettes. If anything serious really needs doing in Tanzania they call the army.
The plan for me in Manyara was for this cop to wave his authority scepter at passing vehicles and then try to talk anyone who stopped into giving me a lift. Ok, maybe Tanzanian police aren't so bad after all... Before I got to try this trick though the bus we'd earlier seen broken down came by and I decided to go with a known quantity and hopped on. This started to seem like a mistake when they stopped for an hour at a nearby service station to repair a wheel, but despite a lot of disconcerting clunking and clanging we eventually made it to Arusha.
Some where along the way I must have built up some good African-transport karma though, because it was an uneventful 10 hour bus ride to Butogota. And then, on the pickup truck ride to the park headquarters n Buhoma, I was able to bargain the guy down low enough that I had enough money left over for dinner.
I'm faced with a choice. Hope that my hotel will float me and stay in Kampala till Monday when I can get some cash, or spend every last shilling I have on a bus ticket to Nairobi. I'll be completely stuck if I need any money for shenanigans at the border, or, if I can't get money from an ATM in Cairo. As I walk around town pondering all this, I catch a newspaper's headline, "Ebola-like outbreak confirmed in northwest Uganda." I think I'll be leaving now...
It had been since Boulder that I'd had a haircut, and since Zambia that I'd shaved. To be honest, I was worried about Africa's supposed 80% AIDS rate and the lack of alcohol dips for the scissors. Silly as it may seem, I was relieved when my Nairobi barber did my hair entirely with clippers and fitted a disposable blade to his straight-edge razor.
Nairobbery, as it's called, is the undisputed crime capital of East Africa. The hotel staff were aghast when on my first night when I made to go out wearing a watch. "You can't do that," they admonished, "the street boys, they'll cut it off you in moments."
Pick pockets and razor artists abound. It's common to be bumped in a crowd and then find you are holding only the straps of your pack. They slice it off you and run. As worthless as the Tanzanian police might have been, at least they were benign. Not only aren't the Kenyan police helpful, they are an active part of the crime problem, frequently shaking people down for bribes.
Law and order on the streets of Nairobi are in the hands of the people. It's not uncommon to see would-be thieves beaten half to death, and not unheard of to see them beaten all the way to death. As I was fleeing my flea-bag hotel for something with flush toilets and hot water, I saw what on first glance looked like a Chinese parade dragon, a long chain of people twisting and undulating across the streets. As I took cover though, I noticed the body of my supposed dragon was beating it's head with a stick. It was a group of security guards chasing a thief. The guard in the lead would mercilessly beat the thief until a bob or a turn would break him free for a moment. But like the warthog fleeing the hunting lions the thief really had no chance, it would take only a moment for another guard to catch him and resume beating out the rhythm of this violent dance on his head. Justice in Nairobi can be swift.
At night I'd craft my routes to always be in view of at least one of the ubiquitous security guards. They were off-putting in their severe uniforms, often with helmets and batons, but I'd great them in colloquial Swahili, "Aya, jambo sana, mambo vee-pee?" which would always crack them up and guarantee me safe passage, at least to the next corner.
After a few days in Nairobi I tired under the burden of constant wariness. Really I had no problems, but it did sour my last few days in Africa. Tourism is a big part of Kenya's economy, and currently in a slump. Gee, I wonder why? But with only a few exceptions, I had a great time in Africa, and I was almost nostalgic about leaving.
I flew from Nairobi to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates where I had an all-night layover. The chances of sleep looked grim as all the chairs were intentionally built with armrests making them hideously uncomfortable to lay on. But around 2 a.m. I found a free lounge for American Express Gold card holders so my old yuppie-scum id card scored me a comfy couch to crash on and a free cup of coffee in the morning.