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Published: June 26th 2008
After physical exertion aplenty through Ethiopia and Rwanda, it was time for a more relaxing form of travel through Uganda and Tanzania. The opportunity to Quad Bike along the banks of the Nile proved too tempting, and so a detour to this central African country was required. After several modes of transport and finally the last few kilometres sitting in the back of an open truck, I arrived in Bujagali Falls, where my adventure was to begin. I was fortunate to be the only person on this four hour tour, and my extremely competent guide, Mawazi, led me thorough the small farming villages that lined the world’s longest river.
We proceeded along the ochre-coloured dirt tracks and were enthusiastically welcomed by hordes of children that could hear the noisy approach of our vehicles from some distance due to the usually tranquil environment. These ebullient youngsters, with beaming faces and sharp voices, would run towards the bike waving and shouting “Hello! Hello! Hello!”, and I must have passed many hundreds of such children before my tour was concluded. At one time, I paused to photograph a church covered in the ubiquitous red dust, and a small group of children cautiously approached.
Covered in children - Quad Biking by Bujagali Falls, Uganda
One of my favourite travel photos. Thanks to Mawazi for this wonderful picture.
The eldest one was more brazen and quite comfortable in conversing with a foreigner, but the others advanced more meekly. One little girl, aged no more than five, was fascinated by the light colour of my skin, and gently ran her finger up the inside of my forearm before pulling away in a startled fashion. I was probably the first white person she had ever seen, but most certainly the first white person she has ever come close to. Soon the children had clambered onto the Quad Bike and were posing for the photograph that appears on this blog. This was one of the most enjoyable days of my time in Africa, and one of those rare days that epitomises the memorable adventures that travelling can bring.
After arriving in Kenya, I discovered that my plans to visit Samburu National Reserve and environs would be delayed, so instead of lingering in Nairobi, I headed towards northern Tanzania to visit the famous Ngorongoro Crater. The price quoted to me in Nairobi for a two night Crater journey was a ridiculous $1200, but I was able to organise the same safari in Arusha, Tanzania, for under $300 – again the benefits
of independent travelling making themselves apparent. The group of other independent travellers I joined on the Crater safari also toured Lake Manyara, but instead of visiting this less impressive National Park, I occupied myself in a cultural tour of the small township of Mto Wa Mbu. This involved accompanying a local guide through the local farms, viewing the manufacture of Banana Beer, and meeting local artisans who displayed their wood carvings or paintings. The tour was just concluding when I discerned the sound of singing, and after questioning my guide, he informed me that it was Kantate gospel choir from his local Lutheran church. We headed to the area and found the choir practicing for the weekend’s church service; there were approximately 40 people standing outdoors within a wooden enclosure – most were choristers, but there were also several musicians playing electric guitar or keyboards.
After twenty minutes of listening to the magnificent African voices and the entrancing beat, one of the choir’s organisers invited me to join their ranks and participate in the gospel singing. Not knowing Swahili was an obvious disadvantage, but it did not discourage this most welcoming group of people, who insisted I should share
this rehearsal session with them. So into the line of singers I trod, and was soon mimicking the physical actions that accompanied the words – such as pointing to the heavens and tilling the earth, in addition to deft movements of the feet and legs. Despite my lack of coordination in following these simple moves, this was such a privilege to join this choir for almost two hours, and it was an incredibly beautiful and uplifting experience. At the conclusion of the practice, largely terminated by the darkening skies of dusk, I was asked to provide suggestions on how the choir could improve. My recommendation was to recruit more and louder male voices – a statement which elicited celebratory trilling of approval from the female members – to which I responded in kind – and most of congregation burst into infectious laughter. It was such a pity that I could not remain in Mto Wa Mbu to observe their singing in a church setting, but the Crater was calling.
The following day, we departed the campsite early, and drove upwards towards the Ngorongoro Crater’s rim, passing through some very thick fog and rainforest reminiscent of my recent gorilla trek
in Rwanda. After almost an hour of such scenery, we commenced our descent into the Crater. After rattling along more bumpy roads, we rounded a sharply descending corner and drove beneath the blanket of fog. Suddenly, a large irregular shaped lake sitting amongst broad plains of pale grasses was revealed in all its glory – it was a magnificent moment. Upon reaching the floor of this caldera, we were surrounded by the encircling escarpment, which was perpetually covered in a rolling cloud cover – just stunning.
As impressive at the scenery was; it was insignificant when compared to the abundant wildlife that roamed the area. I sighted lions, elephants, buffalos, rhinos, hippos, zebras, hyenas, wildebeest, pink flamingos and the rarely sighted Serval Cat – to name a few. This was my first safari experience and it almost seemed unreal – for after studying these animals in school, watching them on television, and gazing at their photographs in books – here they were; living, moving and eating in front of me. This was a dream come true. I spent the next four hours standing in the back of open-topped four-wheel drive scanning the landscape for signs of movement, with my
camera held firmly and my face smiling continuously. As enjoyable as the safari was, standing in a vehicle swaying and sliding across the dirt roads is tiring, and I was quite pleased when it came time to journey home.
After returning to Arusha, a town where tourists are preyed upon relentlessly to purchase safaris or souvenirs, I visited the local market, a place not often frequented by foreigners. Whilst walking through the vegetable section and admiring the quality of the produce, in particular the herbs and chillies, a local lad grabbed one of the long red chillies and suggested that I try one. The glint in his eye revealed that I was being cornered for an embarrassing incident – watching a foreigner suffer after eating a hot chilli – and this was confirmed by the small group of local men who now looked on with interest. Knowing the spiciness of the food in Tanzania, I was aware that their tolerance of hot spices was not high, and this chilli would not be as potent as in Ethiopia – a place where I would never consider such a challenge. The group of men watched me with great intent, and the
young lad next to me shifted his gaze between my eyes and the chilli. Now was the time to prove my tolerance of spicy food, and whilst looking straight into the eye of the young man, I bit a third off the chilli and chewed away for a short time before swallowing. The young man’s mouth dropped open and grinned broadly, whilst the group of men started sniggering. After a few moments of inaction, the heat of the chilli suddenly strengthened with alarming speed. Perhaps, I had misjudged the situation…
After thirty seconds of a worrying increase in heat, the intensity levelled out, and though certainly hot, it was bearable. I looked at everyone and smiled – the sniggering stopped and some began whispering to each other. Given this opportune time, I loudly proclaimed my opinion, “It’s hot, quite hot, but not too much so…. Not fruity, more of an earthy taste – and quite a nice taste too…”, as if providing commentary at a wine show. To prove my ability to handle the challenge further, I did not even reach for my water bottle. I continued to scan the scene, but now the locals’ hope for some entertainment
at the expense of the foreigner had been totally dashed, and they slowly dispersed as I walked off waving the remaining part of the chilli to everyone around me as if it were a trophy.
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