Gandhi’s Limo

I have discovered the cure for claustrophobia: riding a daladala. If I can manage that without a panic attack I can do anything.

Travel in this country is always an adventure. I’ve already mentioned the fact that nothing is ever a trip from A to B. But it is more than that. No trip goes as planned, and no matter how well you think you have arranged things, all journeys, whether the 25k trip to Dar to run errands, or the 5 hour bus ride to Mikumi, seem to take an entire day. So if you are going somewhere you have to be sure to make it worth your while.

We really have had just about every kind of travel interruption you can imagine. There was the tire puncture. And the time we ran out of gas in the middle of nowhere, because the gas gauge on the van is now broken. There are traffic jams like I have never seen. 30 minutes to drive five or six blocks. Taxis inevitably charge us double the price because we are foreigners, and even when we know the price and try to bargain down, we never pay what the locals pay.

Then there are the daladalas. Our last trip back from Dar was perhaps the craziest. An energetic doorman was happily encouraging us to get on his bus, headed to Mbezi. “Go on,” he says, pointing to the bus that was already full to overflowing. He prods me on, I climb the steps and attempt to push my way into an absolute wall of people, and make room for not only me, but Rachel and Gemma behind me. And the bags of groceries (and beer) we are carrying. Madness. The only good part about that drive was that it was sufficiently crowded that I didn’t have to worry about holding on anywhere. The crowd held me up.

Friday we caught the bus to Mikui National Park, about five hours south-west of Dar es Salaam. A benevolent visitor to the school offered us a ride to the bus station, saving us the cost and hassle of two daladala trips, and about an hours worth of time. The bus there was crowded, but we all had seats (Rachel & Gemma really only had half seats.) We were overjoyed by our successful journey.

We made up for this, however, while driving through the park. We were riding along on one of the elephant transepts, helping to gather data on the number of beasts and vegetation and water over a particular area (we did help a little, but mostly we were just company). Much of this work is done in the more remote, less touristy areas of the park. Where the roads aren’t as good. And bridges… well they don’t always exist. In an attempt to drive in and out of a korongo (dry stream bed), our vehicle got stuck in an inconveniently Land-Rover-sized rut in the middle of nowhere and we had to dig up a small part of the African landscape to get out, keeping an eye out for lions the whole time. We have collectively decided to write that one off as a valuable experience. I’m sure there is a lesson in their somewhere.

Rather decidedly stuck.

Monday morning, we were dropped off at the park gate at 6:30 am, to wait for a bus to arrive. There is no real schedule. Buses drive by. Some stop. Some don’t. We waited in the unusually cold morning for someone (anyone) to stop for us. Everyone drove by. Similar to the day Dave and I waited for a bus in Beau Vallon and then just started trying to flag down any random car that passed, we began to consider hitching a ride. That’s when the travel fantasies started.

“If you were to hitchhike, what kind of vehicle would you be willing to ride in?” Rachel asked.

She started by suggesting a truck, driven by a mother with her babies, where we could just hop into the flatbed, would be an ideal and safe ride.

Gemma went one up on that, and thought a bus full of nuns would be our safest bet.

But Matt had it figured out. “I’m holding out for a limo,” he said. “Driven by Gandhi.” Apparently Matt was looking for both safety and comfort. No compromises.

I said nothing, but was thinking how nice it would be if we could get a ride with a safari guide, in one of the many Land Cruisers that were driving by us into the park. The main problem being they were already full of tourists, and they had this pesky “safari in the park” agenda that didn’t fit with our schedule at all.

Yet unbelievably, about 15 minutes later, a Land Cruiser pulled over. The driver spoke with the three locals who were also waiting for a bus, and agreed to take them to Morogoro. We were feeling sad and rejected, when he suddenly turned to us and asked “Hey, where are you going?”

Which is how we came to get a drive from the gate of Mikumi all the way back to the market at Mbezi, in a cozy Land Cruiser we affectionately nicknamed “Gandhi’s Limo.” Luckiest travel day ever, and proof of the power of positive thinking.

Cozy and happy in our "limo."


10 things I learned on safari

Safari is over. This makes me really sad. Seven amazing days visiting the parks of northern Tanzania. I cannot recommend it enough.

Now, my bachelor’s degree is in biology. My thesis was in behavioural ecology. (Behavioural ecology of Sable Island seals, not Serengeti lions, but still, there is a point here.)

I have dreamt of going on safari for many, many years. There were things I wanted very much to see. And I believed my background made me the perfect safari tourist. Educated and curious. However, as it turned out I still had much to learn.

In no particular order, here are ten things I learned while on safari:

1. Zebras have bad backs.

Zebras, resting on each others poor backs

Which is apparently one of the primary reasons they were never domesticated like other horse-like species. It has been tried, but they can neither carry a load nor a rider. Also, I believe they may be too stubborn to take orders anyway. Good on you, zebras.

2.Giraffes are much better camouflaged than I ever gave them credit for.

You might not think it by looking at them out in the open, but they blend incredibly well into the trees. Numerous times we were almost on top of them before we saw them. Sneaky buggers.

3. Lions are surprisingly lazy.

Particularly the males. At least the lionesses hunt now and then.

Maybe this shouldn’t be a surprise. They are cats, after all. But they sleep and sleep and sleep. All a girl wants is a picture. Stand up. Pose. Roar. Just once. Pretty please?

4. I never want to lose a fight with an elephant.

this big guy just kept coming closer...

OK, maybe I knew this before safari, too. But boy was it confirmed. From a distance they appear peaceful, even graceful, despite their girth. But then two elder males get between your jeep and the young, and stare you down. And you notice just how big they are. And you hope they are not angry.

5. Leopards climb trees.

Note taken. Will devise a new escape plan.

6. Hippos stink.

Literally, not figuratively. If you can get past the smell, or just hold your breath, they are interesting enough. But phew! The stink. “Water pigs,” D was calling them. They play around in stagnant water. Splashing and swimming. Fighting and playing. Not to mention urinating and defecating. Ick.

We did get to see one swim, though, and can they ever move. Again, very surprised.

7. Crocodiles are bigger than I ever imagined.

Biggest croc I have ever seen - or imagined

In theory I knew a croc could be much bigger than those I had seen to date, but there is something about actually seeing a large croc that gives me shivers just remembering it. He was in excess of three meters long, and must have been ¾ meter across. He could have eaten me for lunch, and still wanted dessert. We actually saw crocs that had killed two gazelles. Madness.

7. It takes six lions about 45 minutes to devour one zebra.

Actually six mature lions would probably do it in half that time. This was one lioness, 3 young males, and two cubs. From killing to a shell of skin and bones in 45 minutes. It was fascinating to watch. (Perhaps what I really learned from this is I have a very twisted sense of “entertainment.” Poor zebra never hurt nobody.)

8. Cats are awesome.

They really are. All of them. I could watch them for hours. And takes hundreds of photos. Hundreds.

pretty kitty

9. Wildebeests are sexy.

Don’t laugh. OK, laugh. I don’t care. They are. All sleek and lean and shaggy and awkward and, well…  horny. Enough said.

What a sexy beast

10. Africa has the best birds ever.

The colours, the sizes, and even the names. Beautiful. Creative. Funny.

Oh, yes. And the 11th thing I learned on safari: Bring toilet paper. And be prepared to squat. Cause this might be the best toilet you get.

Sometimes, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do...