Nairobi and Serengeti

Warm pink clouds encircled the flat, open mirror-image of sky and tarmac upon a dawn arrival in Nairobi.  Children along the dusty, trash-strewn highway held bouquets of meticulously wrapped paper cones.  Not knowing what was inside, I declined their smiling “buy one, buy one” chant, and continued on foot into a smiling, greeting, waving downtown three-tiered market with innumerable carvings, beads, and bags.  The red beard garnered yells of Jesus, Osama, A salam a lakum, etc., from passing Dalla-Dalla’s side-door dangling buskers [pimped mini-buses with stickered sayings like “Critical Beat Down”, “Da Hippie”, and “World Changers”;  pictures of Xzibit, Snoop; and mudflaps proclaiming “God is our Defender”, “Amazing Grace”, and “Jesus Saves”.

Click for full slideshow

Click for full slideshow

To and In Arusha:

A man chopping down a tree. Colorful robed Maasai sitting, walking, herding, riding bicycles, holding staff or spear, machete holstered.  A herd of Zebra.  The rough gravel road choked by dust as we passed beneath wind bearing thunderheads.

Endless stream of beggars, bicyclists, and banana toters—women with unwavering head-baskets, men struggling with overloaded wheelbarrows.  Islamic devotees in impossibly white robes, sleek professionals in dark suits, white collars protruding, pass a man going against the cloudy morning flow with a crutch and three boxes under the other arm.  The touts are aggressive, I usually have a following.  Happy to have definite plans to fly into Serengeti and stay with Dennis, definitely not interested in a safari.

Towering white thunderheads in the distance, a softened orange mosque tower, haze obscuring the southern hills, Mt. Meru peaking out for the first time to the North, circling swallows against the grey-purple sunset sky.


The silent smooth advance of the herd to the water-hole is a wonder.  We coasted to a stop immediately in their path–ears flapping wide, trunks nonchalantly plucking brush–we are soon surrounded.  A young male passing a few feet behind the bumper, a mother and baby directly in front–so young the trunk is still prehensile, and needing a nudge up the road berm.  A few trumpets, a splash, a drink, and the elephants continued their solemn steady march.  At a small road-dam a lioness is intently staring at a fraction of the wildebeest migration intermingled with zebra.  She soon gave up her watch and lay down in the grass, mouth open, indulging the four Land Rovers.  The hippos opposite formed a flotilla–dried snouts, eyes, and sun-caked backs just out of the deep water.  White birds perched on their platform, just as immobile, needing less agility than the birds perched on the knobby knees of Giraffes.  Warthogs running tail up, impalas gracefully bounding, ostriches heads to the ground, water-buffalo’s bulk, tree top baboons, and too many antelope-like ungulates to remember or differentiate.  All this in the first two hours of game drive after landing in Seronera.

From the Twin Otter Ngorongoro Crater is perfectly round, with its rusty-white lake-bed in the center.  Lake Manyara’s thousands of flamingos took flight in an undulating pink wave below, banking as we banked back to the west.  Dropping altitude to land, we skimmed the Gremeti River with bathing elephants and hippos as long as the river was wide swimming and resurfacing.

The stench hit us hard halfway back to Fort Ikoma, Dennis’ abode wedged between game reserves and the park.  Even the crocodile seemed to want to get away, sliding along the bank from the hippo pool.  Bloated to cartoonish proportions, intestines bursting from its yellowish split hide, was the dead behemoth–source of the smell.  Though close to gagging, we paused long enough to document the sordid underbelly of the Serengeti.

Dennis’ house, on the next hill from the old German fort with its wall and white tower, is part of some unfinished army barrracks.  While barbecuing, enjoying the wooded plain view, the Maasai watchman Dominic [a.k.a. Gene the Machine for his attire and leopard killing skills] pointed out two elephants strolling through the trees.  I fell asleep to the strange sawing call of a leopard.

Today we are back in the Defender to check on a pilot project to grow chili peppers in order to protect locals’ plots of corn from marauding elephants.  Chili oil mixed with motor-oil apparently does the trick.  Crowned cranes, many zebra, water bearing children, and a few hitchhikers along the way.

The continuous low rumble of the lions roaring unconsciously conjures images of flesh-ripping claws and teeth.  We sit on the porch with our whiskey speculating on what was just killed.  Half an hour after the roaring ceased, we heard the hyenas.  Nearly every evening we hear the unmistakable sound of the lions proclaiming their territory.

Watched the inauguration in the local bar/store/shack with a dozen locals and two South Africans on a seven inch screen.  Powerful rhetoric and images, enough to make one overcome that modern American ambivalence:

“Even in AD 2000 [or 2008], who among us is so cynical that he doesn’t have some good old corny American hope way down deep in his heart, lying dormant like a spinster’s ardor, not dead but just waiting for the right guy to give it to?    ….”A very modern and American type of ambivalence, a sort of interior war between your deep need to believe and your deep belief that the need to believe is bullshit.”  –David Foster Wallace  “Up Simba”.

The whole place cheered Bush’s departure by helicopter, one man joking that it seemed to take long enough.

The African savanna holds such place in our unconscious, so many images seen and propogated, that being here can be surreal at times, so beautiful and awe-inspiring.  Incredible that such an unparalleled ecosystem is in tact and thriving, with so many opportunities for interaction.  I am very thankful to be here.

~ by Scott Hamilton Peters on January 25, 2009.

2 Responses to “Nairobi and Serengeti”

  1. Wow. Sounds like you don’t even have to go looking for Africa–it just kind of envelopes you.

  2. I still have no idea how you afford all of this traveling you do; share your secrets!

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