Africa

A good park for beginners

That’s what Mr Nixon said about Lake Manyara National Park.

Our relationship with Mr Nixon was only a few hours old, so we were not yet sure what to think. By the end of the week we would trust him with our lives.

An “island” of pink flamingos on the bed of Lake Manyara. The lake is broad and shallow, growing in the rainy season and shrinking in the dry season.

An “island” of pink flamingos on the bed of Lake Manyara. The lake is broad and shallow, growing in the rainy season and shrinking in the dry season.

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

“They say that,” he commented, “but it is more likely that we’ll see them climbing in the Serengeti.”

I still 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.

The early Tarzan movies were filmed at Lake Manyara.

Ernest Hemingway came here as well. He called this region of alkali water and fig and mahogany forests, "the loveliest I have seen in Africa.”

The dirt road into Lake Manyara National Park. Lake Manyara sits in the Great Rift Valley and is one of Africa’s largest lakes. Like Israel’s Dead Sea, it has no outlet. Unlike Israel’s Dead Sea it is shallow and alkaline.

The dirt road into Lake Manyara National Park. Lake Manyara sits in the Great Rift Valley and is one of Africa’s largest lakes. Like Israel’s Dead Sea, it has no outlet. Unlike Israel’s Dead Sea it is shallow and alkaline.

Mr Nixon parked our Land Cruiser just outside the ranger station and pulled the brake. “Let me get the papers.”

A few minutes later he returned. “Come look at this.”

In the grass behind our vehicle were piles of poop. “Elephant droppins,’” he said. “About a day old.” He took a stick and stirred the gooey mass. “Look at the seeds. The elephants eat the fruit and spread the seeds. The birds come down and eat them from the droppins.’”

“That’s a pretty good strategy for the plant,” I said.

“Ugh,” said Vicki.

“Exactly.” said a grinning Nixon.

Lessons in wildlife from Mr Nixon.

Lessons in wildlife from Mr Nixon.

The elephant who had left the droppins’ was nowhere to be seen, but we hadn’t traveled far until monkeys appeared on both sides of the road. A bit later, Mr Nixon pulled the brake and a troop of no less than 200 baboons passed by our cruiser.

It was impressive, but we drew back just a little. Their sheer number, weeping sores, and toothy dog-muzzles were intimidating.

A troop of baboons passed by. They are a little frightening.

A troop of baboons passed by. They are a little frightening.

Most of the afternoon we rode with the cruiser’s top popped up. Vicki and I could stand between the seats for a 360-degree view. Mr Nixon steered and taught us about the buffalo, impala, gnu, zebra, and warthog.

“But I love the birds,” he said on many occasions.

Our Toyota Land Cruiser had a pop-up lid that allowed us to view the surroundings in the shade. It is a good thing there are no seat-belt laws in Tanzania.

Our Toyota Land Cruiser had a pop-up lid that allowed us to view the surroundings in the shade. It is a good thing there are no seat-belt laws in Tanzania.

As we discovered, Lake Manyara was not the place to witness tree-climbing lions or even herds of elephants (although we did see some, maybe even our pooper!), but instead it is the place for bird lovers. More than 400 species can be found in the park. Some migrate through on their way from distant corners of the earth. Others make this region their permanent home.

We took turns peering through Mt Nixon’s binoculars from our 4-wheeled canopy. His stories of their habits and eccentricities was throughly entertaining.

Most memorable for me were the flamingos that gathered like an island of pink in the shallow waters of the lake. Bee-eaters, herons, ibises, storks, and, of course, the pelicans also caught our eye. It was a bird-watchers paradise, a perfect place to begin an African safari.

A yellow-billed stork comes in for a landing. His gear is slightly askew.

A yellow-billed stork comes in for a landing. His gear is slightly askew.


If you would like to read more about the area of Lake Manyara, check out our observations from a previous visit here.


IMG_4385.jpg

Our usual haunts are in Israel-Palestine, but our current experiences in East Africa excite the senses. Might other Bible Land Explorers be interested in a safari-style excursion? If so, let me hear from you. I may try to work this into the schedule on a regular basis. Contact me at markziese@gmail.com if you are serious.

For our more standard packages in the Middle East, see a list of future trips here.

Required reading for explorers (part 4)

Out of Africa seemed out of place.

The book jacket is lovely, no?

The book jacket is lovely, no?

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.

Of course, my knowledge of Karen Blixen’s (aka Isak Dinesen’s) Out of Africa was derived solely from Sydney Pollack’s 1985 film adaptation of the book. Even after all these years (and I only saw the film once) I could still hear the oddly accented voice of Meryl Streep repeating the phrase: “I had a faahm in Ahfrica.”

So I hesitated to pick up the volume.

But the determination to tackle NatGeo’s list overpowered what may have been the memory of an immature adolescent, so I threw myself into the recliner, tome in hand. Immediately several things became obvious. Let me highlight just two.

The film adaptation of the book cast Robert Redford as big-game hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Meryl Streep as the author Karen Blixen. Image from    here    (accessed 3/14/2019).

The film adaptation of the book cast Robert Redford as big-game hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Meryl Streep as the author Karen Blixen. Image from here (accessed 3/14/2019).

First, Blixen is a captivating storyteller.

Her first-person narrative whisked me away to British East Africa. I found myself confronted by the odd pairing of an unruffled existence and the primitive struggles of life on a 4,000-acre coffee farm. There in the Ngong Hills of Kenya’s yesteryear . . . I slowed down. I raised and released an orphaned fawn. I was introduced to the complexities of Kikuyu and Maasai cultures. I suffered a plague of locusts. Trembling, I squeezed the trigger on my rifle and shot a charging lion.

These stories are rolled out not as one narrative but as many, knitted together loosely in five “books.” All but the fourth is themed: they are vignettes elicited from a “dry and burnt” landscape “the colour of pottery.” Out of Africa is out of time, or at the least, not bound by it. Blixen gathered her experiences between the years 1914-1931 and published them as memoir in 1937. Nearly a century has passed and they are no less vibrant.

Second, Blixen is a bold survivor.

She tells her story without explanation or apology.

One must look elsewhere to find the details of her personal life—quite painful—highlighted in the Pollack film. In the book, she simply appears as colonial-era owner-manager of a 4,000 acre coffee farm. Only hints suggest how she acquired the farm, how painful her marriage was, how she physically suffered from her husband’s infidelity (neurosyphilis, heavy metal poisoning), and later, how her own affair with big-game hunter Denys Finch Hatton developed and was tragically cut short. That is not the stuff of this book.

Karen Blixen and Denys Finch-Hatton. Image from    here.

Karen Blixen and Denys Finch-Hatton. Image from here.

What the reader does find is a person of privilege who struggles with repeated loss. She does so with the kind of ebullient courage that qualifies this book as a story of extreme adventure. She attempts to hold the farm together for her own sake and for the sake of the community of squatters and workers who occupy it. Blixen’s colonial mindset is evident in her choice of language, no doubt, but it is a mindset tempered by respect and affection for the cultures and people who labor around her.

One may be tempted to compare Blixen with Hemingway, but that would be a mistake. While the two moved in similar circles, shared a love for the same region, and clearly read each other (Hemingway praised Blixen’s work following his reception of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954**), they expressed themselves differently. Both dallied with tragedy. Hemingway did it using crisp and sardonic prose. Blixen is efficient as well, but is also fluid and warm and playful.

Blixen and her workers. From her farm, c 1920. Image from    here    (accessed 3/15/2019).

Blixen and her workers. From her farm, c 1920. Image from here (accessed 3/15/2019).

Pardon the long quote, but you must sample this:

“Out on the Safaris, I had seen a herd of Buffalo, one hundred and twenty-nine of them, come out of the morning mist under a copper sky, one by one, as if the dark and massive, iron-like animals with the mighty horizontally swung horns were not approaching, but were being created before my eyes and sent out as they were finished. I had seen a herd of Elephant travelling through dense Native forest, where the sunlight is strewn down between the thick creepers in small spots and patches, pacing along as if they had an appointment at the end of the world. It was, in giant size, the border of a very old, infinitely precious Persian carpet, in the dyes of green, yellow and black-brown. I had time after time watched the progression across the plain of the Giraffe, in their queer, inimitable, vegetative gracefulness, as if it were not a herd of animals but a family of rare, long-stemmed, speckled gigantic flowers slowly advancing. I had followed two Rhinos on their morning promenade, when they were sniffing and snorting in the air of the dawn,—which is so cold that it hurts in the nose,—and looked like two very big angular stones rollicking in the long valley and enjoying life together. I had seen the royal lion, before sunrise, below a waning moon, crossing the grey plain on his way home from the kill, drawing a dark wake in the silvery grass, his face still red up to the ears, or during the midday-siesta, when he reposed contentedly in the midst of his family on the short grass and in the delicate, spring-like shade of the broad Acacia trees of his park of Africa.”***

In the end, I am glad that I picked up this volume. I will proudly place it on my bookshelf of extreme adventure.

And drink some tea.

Karen Blixen pictured on the flap of the book jacket.

Karen Blixen pictured on the flap of the book jacket.


*If you would like to see the list of 100 extreme classics, see National Geographic Adventure Magazine (May, 2004). http://www.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/0404/adventure_books.html (accessed March 11, 2019).

**Clara Juncker. “After You, Baroness!”: Ernest Hemingway and Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen). The Hemingway Review 35/2 (2016): 87-109. https://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed March 11, 2019).

***From chapter 4.

James goes West (part 3)

James goes West (part 3)

I warned you early on. Caution is needed when exploring the legacy of James the Great. From the bunk where I am perched* it is the stuff of national epic. And when it comes to epics, the roar of the anthem can drown the melody of truth.

Stork swarm

Stork swarm

Swarms of giant storks were suddenly everywhere. They were beyond counting. In the hundreds? For sure. Thousands? Maybe. Some circled slowly overhead, great wings outstretched. Many more rested, nested, and clattered their bills from poo-spangled trees. 

Serengeti chicken

Serengeti chicken

Safari operators often speak of the "Big Five." This is a linger-longer from the blood-sport days. The phrase does not identify Africa's largest species, but rather the five most difficult/dangerous animals to hunt on foot.

Noah's ark (sortof)

Noah's ark (sortof)

In the story of Noah's Ark, a portion of the living world finds sanctuary in a pinch. I thought about that as our rig bounced down the steep track into Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania.

Tarangire

Tarangire

Zebras and wildebeests drank the muddy water, flicked their tails, rolled in the dust, and fussed with each other. It may have just been in my head, but somewhere I could hear the soundtrack of "The Lion King" playing.

Taking a safari

Taking a safari

We pitched our duffels and then ourselves into Saidi's knobby-wheeled truck. Saidi found the gear and we lurched forward. Our aim was to encounter the wildness of East Africa, God-willing, in a bloodless way.

Fingerprints on a frosty pane

Fingerprints on a frosty pane

Great sheets of ice flanked our walk on Kibo's rim. Aside from the fact that we were tripping along a corridor that was 19,000 feet in the sky, it could have been someone's gravel driveway. Or one of Jupiter's moons.

Kili's flattop

Kili's flattop

We beat the sun to Stella Point, but not by much.

I found a comfortable rock and sank into it like a sofa. A local appeared out of nowhere and extended a plastic cup my way. I couldn't remember his face. Was he from our group?

Then I let myself believe it

Then I let myself believe it

I caught her in my headlamp. She might have pretty in another place but she was beyond defeat here, maybe even beyond consciousness. She was draped between the wings of two laboring guides. Her head was lolling. Her toes were dragging. That little Piper had stalled.

The big push

The big push

Three other members of the team had walked out of camp an hour earlier. We assumed they were already pressing the envelope on the ridge above us. It was now our turn.

The most interesting man in the world

The most interesting man in the world

Ernest Hemingway dangled a riddle of death at the front end of his short story, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro." But what kind of epigraph is this? A freeze-dried window decoration? A chewy historical tidbit? The most interesting man in the world may have solved the riddle.

It has an odd ring

It has an odd ring

The old king climbed into the icy womb of Kilimanjaro. On his finger was the ring of Solomon. His porters carried a vast treasure. None of it has ever been found, of course.

15K+

15K+

It was one of those nice mattresses with a heat-reflective layer that is supposed to keep you snuggly warm even if you choose to bed down on an iceberg or glacier or such. It also shared many qualities with a Wham-O Slip-'n-slide.

Starry night

Starry night

The icy peak was silhouetted against the night sky. But the longer I looked, the more I saw. And the more I saw, the less I noticed the mountain of our obsession. It was stars--sweet Jesus!--the stars that dominated this glorious night. They were everywhere, from horizon to horizon.

Mush balls

Mush balls

West African fufu has a an unusual odor and taste. And that's just the upper end of the experience. This is why I shuddered when they brought in the East African ugali.