BOOKS 65 TRAVEL 64
Donald Greig is thrown off-course and gets an extra adventure before watching the wildlife in Northern Tanzania.
Dar es Salaam (meaning ‘haven of Peace‘) was not where I wanted to be. Yet here I was in the Tanzanian capital. feeling anything but peaceful as I grappled with my limited Ki~Swahili in an effort to reach the airport‘s one public telephone enticingly positioned behind a glass partition. The girl at the counter threw me a glance and continued her conversation.
There is no place for impatience in Tanzania. Time is oflittle consequence and speed and efficiency are luxuries denied to all but the elite. So I waited. and eventually the receiver was passed through the small hole neatly cut in the bottom ofthe glass wall. I was heading for Arusha. a small town 200 miles to the north which nestles in the foothills of Mount Meru. a dormant volcanic cone which last erupted in 1910. A last-minute change of ﬂight plan had meant a detour via the Dar es Salaam. and when the airline representative on the other end of the phone told me that nothing could be done until the following day. I resigned myselro an unexpected sojourn and handed the receiver back to the pseudo-telephonist. ‘Twenty shillings.‘ she barked. and fora moment I wondered what she was talking about. She wasn‘t amused when I told her I hadn‘t changed any money yet. but there was little she could do apart from wait.
A chance conversation with a local girl at the bureau dc change secured me a haven for a few hours. She had just returned from visiting her boyfriend in Beirut. Her Welsh father had died four days previously and her Tanzanian mother. possibly mistaking me for the boyfriend. wanted me to go to the cemetery with them. My macabre sense of curiosity was tempted. but instead. I
let her teenage brother show me the backstreets of Dar es Salaam at 60 miles an hour in the springless front seat of his car. and then introduce me to a ‘business colleague‘ he was about to lynch for not paying up. Dinner was an unceremonious affair. skewering bits of meat (mutton. goat?) at a makeshift pavement barbecue. and the evening was rounded off. appropriately enough. by a drink with a friend who made false passports. Not bad for an unscheduled 14-hour stop-over.
The following morning I secured a seat on the first flight north. As we descended through the clouds l peered for a glimpse of Kilimanjaro. but this magnificent sight was denied to me until my departure. when the pilot obligingly circled the top of the mountain at 19.500 feet.
As the focal point of'I‘anzania‘s northern safari circuit. Arusha is accustomed to visitors. most of whom stay for two weeks. branching out for a couple ofdays at a time to safari parks in the surrounding area. But although frequented by tourists. the area is empty compared to its Kenyan counterpart just a few hundred miles to the north.
Mount Meru National Park is a twenty minute drive from Arusha. and. like all Tanzania‘s parks. is best reached by four-wheel drive Land Rover. Once there. you can follow the trails around the base of the mountain or walk. accompanied by an armed guide. A three-day trek will take you to the top of Meru. roughly 15.000 feet high. climbing through tropical rainforest and camping en route. Although physically demanding. the experience is memorable. and a good alternative to scaling Kilimanjaro (a feat to be attempted by only the fittest). On the lower slopes we skirted a herd of buffalo. avoided a poisonous snake and watched giraffe grazing twenty feet away. Our guard entertained us with tales ofrescuing unsuspecting tourists from the jaws ofa lion or whatever else came to mind. As amusing as he was. his presence was a necessity not to be scorned. Less enjoyable for me (but a source offun for the rest ofthe group) was the army of ants which decided to hitch a lift up the mountain. via my shoes. socks. and shorts.
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Ngorongoro Crater. the largest intact caldera in the world and an active volcano some eight million years ago. From the rim to the crater floor is 610 metres. and the two tracks. one for going down and one for coming out. are both impossibly steep. virtually impassible during the wet season. and pock-marked with pot-holes and boulders. In many places there is hardly enough room for a Land Rover. with only the bushes between you and the sheer drop to the crater ﬂoor.
Ngorongoro boasts magnificent scenery and quantities ofgame rivalled only by the Serengeti Park further north. Accommodation is available in the lodges on the crater rim. or at campsites on the crater floor. Having enjoyed the comfort and security oflodgcs elsewhere. I was intrigued by the thought of camping in the open. with nothing to prevent the animals from coming up to the tents. Rhinoceros. giraffe. lion. wildebeest. zebra and elephant are all here. and in only the dim glow ofthe firelight. the noises ofthe night seemed unnervingly close.
From Ngorongoro it's a short drive to Tarangire National Park. Tanzania's most northern park before the Serengeti and the Kenyan border. It is filled with magnificent old Baobab trees. many hollowed out at the bottom by locals. who climb the insides to reach the honey produced by nesting bees at the top. The Baobabs are prehistoric in appearance. complementing the eclectic features ofthe animals. The park is also filled with tsetse flies: their bite and sting leaves you scratching for days. Because of this, the Masai have avoided grazing their cattle here. and the animals are undisturbed by any permanent human presence.
Of the many species in Tarangire, the most notable is elephant, which were present in large herds. At one count we reached almost 200. including many young, their trunks waving aimlessly before them and legs still uncertain of the ground. The massive adults are to be taken seriously. especially when with their young. An inadvertent turn found us blocking a baby from its mother. which trumpeted and charged as we drove off as fast as possible. For all her bulk and size. she moved quickly over ground that was proving tough for a four-wheel drive vehicle. Although the charge was mock. we didn’t forget it quickly.
64 The List 28 February— 12 March 1992