"We are prone to judge success by the index of our salaries or the size of our automobiles, rather than by the quality of our service relationship to humanity." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Monday, August 2, 2010
A safari, a hot shower, a vest, and one unforgettable smile
Thursday afternoon, Kennedy and our safari driver Sam, picked us up. Sam, a large teddy bear of a man with a warm smile to match, stood next to an old tan Toyota Landcruiser that looked as if it had seen a charging elephant or two in its time. Some of the black framework had been painted - with a brush, but it looked tough and rugged with its two spare tires on the back. I remarked that it seemed a tad excessive... (more foreshadowing? Yep.). He wore khaki trousers and a plaid shirt. Once the bags were in the car and all five of us loaded, he slipped on a khaki, multi-pocket khaki vest, gave us all a toothy grin and we were on our way.
The Twiga Hotel, while in a beautiful setting, was anything but restful. Knowing that it was one night, we all sucked it up, looked past the ants, tucked in our mosquito nets extra tight, and enjoyed our first look at television (albeit in swahili) in three weeks.
Needless to say, it wasn't the best night of sleep ever. With the morning, we were excited to begin our hike through the Udzungwa mountains. Along the 6.3 km hike, we saw a variety of monkeys and medicinal trees (including one that, according to our guide, "Is like Veee-agra. So to give energy to your friend." After passing a large pile of dung, our guide nonchalantly informed us that there were elephants in these mountains, along with leopards and deadly mamba snakes. Awesome. Luckily, the fiercest thing we saw were the long and wide stripes of soldier ants, carrying eggs through the forest.
Once we descending the mountain, we had lunch in a small village, and drove back into Mikumi. We arrived just after dark at our tented camp. I wasn't sure it was possible to be darker than Bagamoyo, but the camp's generator was the only power for miles around. Tiny lanterns dimly lit the walk and one could make out the thatched-roof main building. A tiny woman, in her sixties and with a charming South African accent, called up to us and we went in to register. She explained a few ins and outs, and sent us down a stone path to our tents. The tents were actually hung on top of a wood-planked raised deck, under another thatched roof. Each tent contained two beds, a full bathroom, and all of the accoutrements of a normal hotel room, minus the solid walls. It was beautiful and a welcome treat. Two words: hot shower. My first since arriving in Africa. Heaven.
We ate a wonderful dinner involving the absolute luxuries of real butter, dairy, and chocolate mousse, before moving to an open deck where we could hear the call of a bushbaby (a small, large-eyed primate) and the shine of a flashlight revealed one in a nearby tree. Charles, one of the proprietors, explained that they would eat out of your hand. He grabbed some dinner rolls, called them over, and we watched as they fed just a few feet away. The generator would be turned off at 10:30, so we left the dining area and were escorted to our rooms by a masai in full costume carrying a lantern.
Sam stopped the truck near a beautiful tamarind tree. Thinking that it was a rather nice looking tree, I pulled out my camera to take a picture.
"Lion." Sam whispered.
We took another sunset game drive that afternoon, this time viewing hippos, crocodiles, birds, and baboons before dinner. On Sunday morning before heading back to Bagamoyo, we took one last game drive and saw all of the animals we had the day before. Again, the lion was elusive. So, we went back to the main gate, took some final pictures and were about to load into the car.
"Tunaweza kwenda, Sam!"
"There is male lion. Eating lunch."
"Yes. A buffalo was killed by a truck this morning. I saw it. Drivers had already cut off its legs for steak. Now, a male lion is eating."
"Well, what are we standing around, taking pictures for??? Let's go!"
The trip home was rather eventful. We needed both of those spare tires. The first was replaced in a tiny village. While we stood near the truck, the villagers all came out to watch Sam change the tire and to stare at us. I was able to talk a little bit with a few children. Most were shy, but one little girl and her stunning shy smile took my heart. When Sam was finished and we went to load into the car, I gave each of the kids a fist pound or a high five and took my seat. The little girl ran up to my half-open window, stood on her tip toes and reached her hand toward mine, saying no words. I gave her another high five, said "Baadaye!" and watched as she smiled from ear to ear and returned to her friends. It was one of those moments, miniscule and larger than life at the same time.
Someone once told me that Africa has a way of hooking you when you least expect it and, once hooked, it never leaves you. I think I'm there.