Taken for a ride

The driver in the stocking cap chose his route carefully. The sedan was not built for this kind of terrain. Time and time again we felt the thud of the frame bottoming out. The driver stopped, started, reversed course, chose a new tack and continued up the so-called street.

The headlights captured mounds gravel, garbage, and building materials. Their eerie shapes were revealed for just a moment before slipping back into the dusk. I began to think that we we not on a road at all but in a construction zone.

This is how Jimmy Hoffa felt on that day in 1975 when they took him for a ride.

Areas of Arusha are quite poor and undeveloped. This is an market area known as Nagaratoni. It was a short walk from our destination. Image from    here    (accessed September 25, 2019).

Areas of Arusha are quite poor and undeveloped. This is an market area known as Nagaratoni. It was a short walk from our destination. Image from here (accessed September 25, 2019).

No one but Mr Sam (and Mr Safe, if there ever was such a person on the other end of the phone), knew our whereabouts (see our previous post here). The dangers of assault, kidnapping, corruption and other violent crimes are very real in Arusha. Tourists are ripe targets. And of course I was carrying tip-money from two months of work in Israel-Palestine. Stink!

I reached for Vicki’s hand. We squeezed. Hearts fluttered.

The morning light revealed our true situation. Jungle had stolen the shanties on our right and buried them under a rotting mat of vegetation. The street was now a track of mud. It was near its end. The same was undoubtedly true for us.

A high concrete wall running to our left was punctuated by a black steel gate. We pulled up to it and stopped. Our driver, who had yet to speak, honked his horn. The gate began to open. I thanked the good Lord for my life and prepared to meet the men with guns who were undoubtedly waiting on the other side.

Instead it was a little man in a uniform. He had a flashlight in his hand.

We pulled into the compound known as Ilburu Safari Lodge.

The contrast between the space inside the concrete barrier and outside the concrete barrier was stark. Behind us was a sorry slum. Before us was a brightly painted lodge. The grounds were manicured. Flowers were in full bloom, everywhere.

The reception area and restaurant at the Ilburu Safari Lodge.

The reception area and restaurant at the Ilburu Safari Lodge.

We eased out of the car. A lean man with glasses and a scarf was waiting. He stepped up.

“Mark and Vicki? Welcome to Tanzania. I’m Mr Saif.”

He did exist!

“I’m so sorry about what happened this morning.” He rattled through a series of events that started with a car problem and ended with a phone problem. We were not quite sure what to believe but we were so relieved to be alive and unrobbed and unmolested that it didn’t matter.

Mr Saif paid the “taximan” and escorted us to the reception desk. On the way we told him about Vicki’s lost bag. He assured us that he would work on it.

“There is no plan for the day. Get your rest. I’ll see you tomorrow morning and you will meet your (Safari) driver.”

We thanked him, bought a bottle of water at the desk, and headed for the room. Our relief was palatable.


Arusha 3.jpg

If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver outdoor academic experiences in the lands of the Bible. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities. See our list of future trips here.

And by the way, I promise to meet you at the Tel Aviv airport.

An Uncomfortable Arrival

An Uncomfortable Arrival

I hoped it was Arusha when we slipped in. It was hard to know in the dark. The tinting film stuck to the “taxi” windows, bubbled and peeling, made it even more disorienting. There were few working streetlights; those that did work revealed a shantytown in eerie hue. The driver, grimfaced under a stocking cap, looked straight ahead and never spoke a word. Vicki was unnerved.

Where the safari started

Where the safari started

Our flight into Zanzibar settled on the runway after midnight. I looked out the window. It was dark and soft like the inside of a smudge pot and there was little to see except the flashes of the ground crew. A tug swung around. Its lamps illuminated palm fronds just beyond the pavement. Dense vegetation completed the backdrop.

Notes from Karanga Camp, Kilimanjaro

Notes from Karanga Camp, Kilimanjaro

The following observations and reflections were made on the afternoon of July 22, 2019. On that day I reached Karanga Camp (elevation 12,992 feet) by foot. The camp rests directly under the peak of the Kilimanjaro.

Ants in your pants

Ants in your pants

Look out for the Siafu! This species of carnivorous ant swarms in massive numbers, eats animal protein, and has dedicated soldiers with serious pincer-style mandibles. An unfortunate encounter with the siafu in an East African rainforest made us all a little jumpy.

Rookie mistakes

Rookie mistakes

Two lessons here. The first is this: don’t brush your teeth. The second is akin to the first: don’t ever think you are faster than a black mamba. Follow these two rules in order to get the most from your foreign travel experience.

A good park for beginners

A good park for beginners

The sign at the entrance read “Home of Tree Climbing Lions.”

I thought it best to keep one eye skyward at all times. Having 400 pounds of tooth and claw fall on your head would be terrible surprise. It also would make an end to a lovely safari that Vicki and I and Mr Nixon had planned in the East African country of Tanzania.

Required reading for explorers (part 4)

Required reading for explorers (part 4)

I was surprised to find it listed among National Geographic’s top 100 adventure stories of all time.* I thought it was more of a swoony period romance that limped along like a broken cricket. It was certainly not the stuff of extreme adventure..

Boy, was I wrong.

Required reading for explorers (part 3)

Required reading for explorers (part 3)

Rachel Levin’s first book, Look Big and Other Tips for Surviving Animal Encounters of All Kinds (New York: Ten Speed Press, 2018), offers an interesting take on our North American friends from the wild side.

Naturally I lost my bearings

Naturally I lost my bearings

Gordon lifted the oversized compass to his face. The transparent plastic flexed in his hands, making his nose appear to wiggle. His voice was less animated. His words came out deliberately.

“Turn the bezel until the arrow is in the box.” He turned the disk on his plastic demonstration model. His nose wiggled again.

Jesus Trail 2019

Jesus Trail 2019

There are many ways to experience the biblical Heartland. One of them is to hike the Jesus Trail. Unlike the turnpike of millions, the Jesus Trail is the road less traveled. Here the groups are small, the pace is slow, and the priorities are different. Read more about out 2019 hike.