Monday, January 29, 2007


So, last we heard, the Voyager was soaked in the Serengeti, and about to be fried by lightening, eaten for breakfast, or carried off in a flood. Did she survive? With her limbs and husband* intact? Oh, the suspense.

Sorry, you will have to hang on a cliff for a while. We are not going back to Africa today. Yes, I realise the drama of this cliffhanger is muted somewhat by the fact this blog is being written. Work with me. Feign fear for our soggy heroine.

We are going to travel somewhere else today: A lake, about 100 kilometres east of Vancouver. Where we went for the weekend. And hallelujah, the sun came out. For the first time in weeks. Don't believe me? Look:

B's parents, my in-laws*, have a cozy log cabin at the lake. My in-laws are lovely people, and they would still be dear to me if they owned no cabin on a lake. But it rocks that they do! And B and I can go whenever we want. We can even bring our unruly dogs. I told you they were lovely. My in-laws that is.

You are likely thinking: "How nice, a weekend spent reading by the fire, walking on the lakeshore with the dogs, playing a game of cribbage, napping." Oh no, not us. We do our familial duty and work hard while there, toiling away at chopping wood, repairing, gardening, cleaning, grinding flour, putting up preserves...and that's all in the first hour.

We even put the dogs to work, harnessing them up to pull thousand-kilogram logs off the beach, which they have to turn into firewood. With their teeth.

It's tough. Oh yes.

* I use the terms "husband" and "in-laws" loosely, because B and I are not actually, legally, hitched. Does that make B's parents my out-laws? And B my parent's sin-in-law?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Nestled All Wet in Their Beds

Christmas Eve, 2006, Kori Bustard Camp, Serengeti, Tanzania.

“Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, had a very shiny nose...”

We are sleepily singing, sitting around the camp fire. Les has strung some battery-operated Christmas lights around an acacia bush. The stars are out. It has been an exciting day of game viewing (3 cheetahs, 11 lions, countless giraffes, hyenas, rare foxes, and more!) in the Gol Kopjes area of the Serengeti, followed by a long drive to our camp.(above photo courtesy of G. Vandegriend)

We drift off to bed in our tents, looking forward to tomorrow: sunny skies, wildlife, and a special Christmas dinner for our last day of camping.

At 2:30 a.m. I wake up and hear the patter of a few raindrops on our tent. Oh shit. We had to cross three rivers to get to this special campsite. The previous week, one had flooded in a heavy rain, stranding people in the northern Serengeti for days. But the skies were so clear when we went to sleep, it must just be a shower. I cuddle close to my Beloved, or as close as we can get while bundled in mummy bags, and go back to sleep.

BOOOOOM! KERAACK! KERBOOOM!! Sweet Mother of God! Thunder and simultaneous lightening right over my head jolts me from sleep to instant terror. A Niagara of rain is pounding on our tent. CRACK! BOOM! CRACK! again. "Holy Crap" I yell. We are camped on an open plain, with only the occasional waist high acacia bush to draw lightening away from our tall tents with metal poles. "Sweetie", I shout at B, who is awake, "What happens if lightening hits our tent?"

"I suppose we would be toast".

In between thunder blasts,we can hear a lion growl and grunt, warning other lions "this is MY territory". We have heard the roar of lions most every night while camping, but our guides Lyimo and Wellking assured us they would not come into camp. Especially with the campfire and several kerosene lamps which are put around the campsite at night. I open the tent flap and peer out into inky blackness. The wind and rain have doused the campfire and lanterns. I have to pee. It is 3:30 am, and no way can I wait until morning. Throwing a blanket around me, I put on my headlamp and run out in bare feet, hoping no cat's eyes shine back at me. The ground cannot soak up the torrential rain fast enough, so water is swirling over my toes as I scamper behind the tent.

Settled back in the tent, I realize there are rivulets running along the floor, soaking into our foam mattresses, and up into our sleeping bags. Then we both have to shuffle and move our pillows to avoid leaking spots from the roof. The thunderstorm seems to be going around in a circle, coming back overhead every 20 minutes. The downpour never lets up. We are wet, sleepless, and separated from lions and lightening only by a little soaked canvas that could collapse any second in the wind. We could be stranded by floods for days. "Merry Christmas," I mutter wryly to B. He starts to shake, and I wonder if he is shivering or crying. Or both. But no, he is giggling, then laughing out loud. He hugs me tightly, smacks a big kiss on my lips, and says between snorts and chuckles:

"Merry Christmas Darlin'."

And I realize again I found The Right One.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

C'mon, It'll Be Fun

To the reader who e-mailed me wondering if I have moved to Africa, and to other new readers, let me explain. Recently I returned from a one month trip to Tanzania. I could not post much from there, due to lizards crawling into motherboards. So for the last couple of weeks I have been recounting some of the journey’s highlights here. I will get back to my life’s regular spindrift in due course. In the meantime, come back with me to Tanzania.

Grab the binoculars and come for a drive to see wildlife.

Trust me, the roads are great.

Or join our intrepid little group for a sun downer picnic at Lake Natron.

You can exchange stares with a, ummm... happy baboon.

Or come for a swim in the Indian Ocean.
And if you come along, why not leave a comment? Make my day!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Pith Helmets and Silver Tea Service

December 23, 2006. Lake Ndutu, Tanzania.

We pull into camp at Lake Ndutu, tired and dirty from a long day of viewing thousands of wildebeest and zebra from the middle of the annual migration, and a visit to the Leakey museum at Oldupai Gorge.

Our camp staff and supply truck arrived earlier. The tents are raised, and hot water waits in the “shower”, a hanging rubber container and hose arrangement enclosed on three sides by a tarp. Today it feels like a luxurious spa, only no spa I've ever seen has such a view: from a bluff above the lake, overlooking acacia trees where huge maribou storks are perched.

While we sit in canvas chairs at the cloth-draped table or around the campfire, nibbling on snacks, we relive the adventures of the day. We can smell the delectable aroma of dinner being prepared. It always includes a first course of delicious spicy soup, made with fresh veggies such as pumpkin or leeks. We put our feet up and watch the sun go down. Ahhh, this is the life.

A platoon of servants cleans our pith helmets and dusty boots, and one of the two dozen kitchen staff brings tea with buffalo milk in a polished silver tea service. Gin and tonics are delivered in crystal goblets. We smoke cheroots in long ivory holders. One servant’s only duty is to keep the gramophone wound… Oh hell, I got carried away there.

We do have gin though, with tepid tonic. Or wine. Even some warm beer. And an I-pod hooked up to little speakers, playing tunes that would really date us if I named them. We are clean, warm, and dry, and getting pleasantly soused. Even without crystal goblets and silver tea pots, this is very comfortable camping. We are grateful. So far on this safari, the camping days have not been this well executed, due to unseasonably heavy rains, road washouts causing last minute route changes, and camping spot mix-ups (read: a big bad commercial safari company bribed someone to get the best spots, even though we booked and paid for them months ago).

We toast the fact our camping luck has changed. Silly, silly us.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Not Enough Cows

December 20, 2006. Lake Natron, Tanzania.

“Do you have brothers and sisters Thomas?”

“Yes, forty-six.”

Huh? I wonder if Thomas has misunderstood my question until he adds, “My father has five wives.”

Thomas is Maasai, from the Lake Natron area. We have hired him to guide us on a hike through the hills above the lake to a river gorge and waterfall. We pass many bomas, or Maasai homes; round huts made of mud and cow dung, surrounded by thorn branch fences. Men and boys tend herds of cows and goats, women build the bomas, fetch water and wood, and bend over cooking fires. Children come running to us, first bowing their heads respectfully to Thomas and to us to be greeted by a touch on top of their heads, before they giggle and chatter. Some of the older ones try to sell us their beaded jewelry, but our wrists and ankles are already adorned with Maasai beads we bought in the village yesterday.

Hiking up the gorge, Thomas offers us his hand as he skillfully leads us up the steep sides and back down to ford the river several times. B is hesitant at first, (What, you never held hands with a Maasai tribesman before?) but as the gorge narrows and the river deepens he clutches on as tightly as I do. Finally we reach the waterfall.
It is cool and clear, coming from 600 metres above us on the great Rift Valley escarpment, and we allow it to thunder down on us, washing away the dust and sweat of the hot hike. Heaven!

On the way back to our tented camp, Thomas points out his boma in the distance. "How many wives do you have?" asks B.

"Only one."

"Would you like to have more?"

Thomas smiles enigmatically. "I think only one. Wives are expensive, you have to have a large herd of cattle to support many wives."

We pass a large boma with a crowd of children waving at us, and Thomas informs us that the man living there has 12 wives. "Twelve? Cool!" says B.

Perhaps Thomas catches something hopeful in B's voice, because he asks him, "Do you own many cows?"

Forget it Sweetie, there are not enough cows in the universe.

Maasai woman

Mount Ol Donyo Lengai, sacred to the Maasai, towers over Lake Natron. I climbed it, but did not make the summit. Too steep!

Lake Natron Flamingos at dawn.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Where the Wild Things Are

Ngorongoro Crater & Conservation Area, Serengeti Park, and Tarangire Park, Tanzania. December, 2006.

Watching cheetahs hunt a wildebeest. Witnessing a baby elephant suckle. Sitting in the middle of the annual migration, with wildebeest and zebra filling the plains to the horizon in every direction. Staring into the languid eyes of a lion in the Serengeti. Rarely, a voyager finds herself in a place that so overwhelms,

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Calm Before...

Thursday, December 14, 2006. Dodoma, Tanzania
It is early, just after 6:00 a.m. We were woken at 5:30 by the call to prayer from the Mosque next door. My Beloved sits naked in bed, shrouded by mosquito net. The hotel room Quran rests on his lap. No, he has not gone over to Allah, it is just supporting his journal, which he is writing while listening to the MP3 player. He squeaks and hums tunelessly, occasionally accompanying himself on air guitar. We have been in Africa five days, and it seems B has already completely embraced the "Hakuna Matata" (no worries) spirit. Our everyday world of work, bills, traffic, and housework is long forgotten.

We have been in Dodoma to visit our World Vision sponsored child. Few tourists come to this arid, flat, unscenic area in the very centre of the country. It is nominally the capital, but most government offices, all foreign embassies, and Tanzania's main buisiness centre are still in Dar Es Salaam on the coast. In three days here, we have seen only one other Musungu (white person). At the market, the shops, the bank, and even at our guesthouse, almost no-one knows any English. I do my best in halting Kiswahili, which is met with huge smiles and friendly laughter. There are no touts trying to sell us safaris, carvings or marijuana. The children do not run after us begging for pens or money. We like it here in this colourful, sleepy town.

We go out to the big Dodoma market, which is just opening up. Women sweep the dirt in front of their stalls, and set up elaborate pyramids of fruit and vegetables. Men hoist vast loads of banana stalks, or bags of grains and beans from carts. We stumble upon the morning fish market, where some of yesterday's catch from Lake Victoria has been brought overnight.

Turning a corner, we come on a heartrending sight: A skinny, dehydrated cat is walking around blindly, a can stuck on its head. Two men are laughing at its ordeal. A third man tries a quick pull at the can, but backs away laughing as the terrified cat hisses and lashes out with its claws. In my head I understand that the life of a feral market cat is of little consequence to people who must struggle to keep their own children alive. But I feel like smacking them anyway. B catches the cat and holds its shoulders while I carefully try to squeeze the lip of the can over its swollen, oozing ears and neck. Now we have drawn a noisy crowd. Surprisingly, the cat goes still as I gently twist and pull. Finally the can pops free, the cat flees, and the chuckling crowd drifts off. Except for one man, who takes my hand with a gentle smile and says "Asante sana" (thank you very much).

Leaving the market with a huge pineapple for breakfast, we are happy. Later today we will fly back to Arusha to meet up with the rest of our friends for the start of a two week safari. We eagerly anticipate some adventure.
That we got...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Out of Africa. Way out.

How did I get from 38 degrees on the white beach at Zanzibar to this? We consoled ourselves on leaving Africa that at least when we got home spring would be on its way. Cruel joke the weather bitch is playing. We flew in last night just as the first snowflakes began.

Internet in Tanzania was either non-existent, the power was out, the connection so slow it was impossible to post anything without timing out, or in one case, a gecko had climbed into the tower and fried the computer. I only got to post to this blog twice, and could not post photos at all. So I wrote in my low-tech "laptop", a spiral bound note book.
I have now added some photos to the two posts I managed to send while in Africa. Precious Gifts and Hakuna Matata.I will document the trip in flashbacks over the coming posts. In the meantime, here is a brief glimpse: