The Time Traveler's Pinchbeck

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July 21st 2013
Published: July 27th 2013
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Behold Tanzania! Behold the Serengeti! Behold Ngorongoro Crater! Behold Pinchbeck relaxing on the beach with a beer in his hand and sea urchin spikes in his foot!

We drove into Snake Park, presided over by the infamous Ma, getting to know the new people on the trip as we went. Snake Park takes in snakes captured locally to avoid them being a danger to people and to stop them from being killed, so we also had a wander around the snake enclosures they have there, including seeing a Black Mamba. It is sometimes referred to as the Seven Step Snake, as that is approximately how many steps you will be able to take if one bites you, before you keel over and die. Nice.

They have quite a number of different snakes there, with details on all of them, how they kill their prey etc., and after a while it does creep you out a little bit. Thankfully though, to take your mind off them, they also allow you to hold a baby crocodile, something else that I never thought I would do when I started this trip. Although small, you could feel the power in the little beast as you held it, and held it tightly I did. Not the sort of thing you want to be bitten by. The smile in the picture is actually a grimace while I try not to get my fingers snapped off. As well as the reptiles, there are a number of birds that are there and some monkeys too, generally ones that have been caught and are either being rehabilitated or were too much of a nuisance to the locals but that they didn’t want to destroy.

We said cheerio to Snake Park – we would be back in a few days – and made an early morning start to get to one of the absolute highlights of the trip… Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti. Driving up to the crater in the early morning light gave us a real sense of excitement, and, as we came to the top of the crater rim and looked down onto the plain beneath us, it was pretty justified. The crater is pretty incredible when you’re on the rim, as you can see the grass, the water, and the moving specks that are a multitude of animals. Once you’re on the plain itself, you can see the crater walls all around you, and those specks have now become zebra, wildebeest, rhino, elephants, ostrich, gazelle, hyenas and lions. Oh, lions... How we love you. We saw a group of four or five being very lazy in the morning sun, lounging around and pretty much doing bugger all, which gave us a pretty good photo opportunity.

After a spot of lunch, complete with a warning from the tour guides not to eat outside of the vans as the birds would take the food out of our hands, and a subsequent confirmation that is exactly what they do when it happened to one of our group who thought they knew better, we made our merry way out of the crater and headed into Serengeti National Park. Our next lion experience was to come the next day, and it was rather special.

Our driver had got word of some lions in part of the park, so we made our way over and before long could see a few heads sticking out of the grass. Here be lions, we thought, and continued watching the few that we could see. As we watched, another head popped out of the grass. And another, and then several more. And then more. Before long, we had counted sixteen lions in the grass before us, some adult lionesses and some young males, slowly stalking some wildebeest that happened to be the other side of us. Lions are truly fearless, and while they are now no doubt a little more used to humans and cars being in the park, it was quite clear, as they walked amongst the safari trucks we were in, that they saw us as absolutely no threat to them. Or, rather, that it was us that should be fearful of them and definitely not the other way around.

They walked next to the trucks, sat in the shade of the trucks, all close enough for us to put our hands out of the windows and touch them – if we wanted to lose our hands, that was. We watched them stalk their prey very gradually, taking their time, the adult lionesses teaching the young ones, but sadly (thankfully for the wildebeest!) we didn’t get to see an actual hunt; the wildebeest got spooked and noticed them long before they were in striking range. As they moved we drove on ahead of them to get some more photos. Our driver, for some reason, thought it would be a good idea to back into a ditch, despite our cries telling him not to. Needless to say, we got stuck, and he had the idea that we would either have to get out and push, and another driver said he should let some air out of the tyres to get more grip. Either way meant getting out, and the lions were back amongst us, so we opted for the safe choice of just sitting there in everyone’s way and let them have their wander past us. Obviously I would have been brave enough to get out, but I didn’t want to show the others up in the truck. Lions gone, air let out, off we tootled to our next encounter…

It was very hard to see what we were supposed to be looking at, up in a tree about fifteen feet off the ground or so, until our eyes picked out the leopard lying on the branch and then picked out its two cubs, one of which went from this fairly low branch to the upper reaches of the tree as easy as pie. After many more photos, we went back to find the lions who were now lounging around in the shade, then saw more hippos and went out on our way back to Snake Park.

And here, dear friends, disaster struck. True, mind boggling disaster. After charging my camera at the bar, and having a few drinks at the bar, and buying a Snake Park t-shirt at the bar, I managed to go to the bathroom and leave said camera and t-shirt in the bathroom. And then walk out without them. The next morning found me and some of the others hunting around the campsite trying to find my one true love (the camera, not the t-shirt, though it was very nice), but alas, it was nowhere to be seen. I really don’t know what happened to it – most of the other people staying there were overland tours and I can’t think someone would take it and not hand it in, but there were some others at the camp as well that perhaps had looser morals than most. Thankfully I had made sure I backed up all of my photos the night before, so all was not truly lost.

Trying to ignore this sad turn of events, and cursing the dishonest souls that exist in this world, we headed to our next location in Tanzania, Zanzibar. Zanzibar, it turns out, is bloody hot. Hot and humid. But it is also the birthplace of Freddie Mercury, so it can’t be all bad 😊 This was a bit of a break from the tour and we had a few days to ourselves to do what we wanted to.

In no particular order, we went to Stone Town and did a spice tour, seeing where they grow all your favourites like pepper etc., with a tour guide who had learnt most of his English through watching Ali G (to the point that he called himself Ali G and often dropped into a Cockney/general London accent), went to see the outside of the house Mr Mercury was born in, visited a proper beach resort which had lovely air conditioning and where we had a final meal (Italian, tasty) with some of the people on the trip, including the Chant sisters Nicole and Fallon, on the trip since the start, went to Mercury Bar to say goodbye also to Mitch and Cassie, swam in the sea many, many times, and lounged around drinking cocktails and reading books.

At the beach resort, unknown to me, the tide going out actually brings the sea urchins close into the shallows. For the uninitiated, sea urchins and spiky little shits that move slowly along the sea bed. It is not cool if you step on one. I know this, as I did exactly that. Running out into the ocean like a giddy school boy, sun shining on my bald bonce, grinning from ear to ear, I forgot to look down and nearly screamed as sea urchin barbs impaled my naked foot, piercing it with their hooked ends, burying themselves deep and quick in my poor, innocent foot. Limping back to the beach lounger, aided by my harem, I lay back and attempted to be brave while five bikini clad women attempted to pry the barbs out of my foot with tweezers. They were interrupted by a local though, running to the rescue to pour paraffin on my foot and then rub it with papaya juice. Apparently it’s a traditional cure, and I must say it did stop it from being painful. The barbs took a total of about two weeks to work themselves out of my foot. It was a painful experience that turned into an uncomfortable one at times when walking, and I vowed to always look before I swam in the future…

The next stop was another campsite and another goodbye, this time to our South African friend, Anita. This country had seen too many goodbyes for my liking, and we had all come to know each other well and it had gone too quickly.

But, as Freddie would tell you and I, the show must go on. We departed, and headed to Milawi.

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