Wednesday, June 27, 2012

This Is Africa

Whenever something isn’t going according to our well-intentioned/best-laid plans, and the Americans among us begin to lose their minds with impatience and frustration, our African counterparts calmly reply, “TIA, Ellen.” Meaning: This Is Africa.

It can drive you insane, if you let it.

So before getting into the details of how AMAZING the trip to Mahale National Park was, it’s worth a brief aside to discuss things about that trip that drove me bat-shit crazy. Case in point: transport.

Getting there: Wednesday, 27 June 2012

The powers that be said to be ready to roll at 10am; the Frankfort Zoological Society trucks finally arrives to pick us up at 1pm. 

The team! Look how clean we are! (We wore the same clothes for the duration of the trip...)
[Field book note (henceforth abbreviated FBN): “Must slow the f&%k down or I’m just going to be angry all summer. I need valium.”]

We don’t leave Kigoma until around 1:45 because everyone is suddenly starving from sitting around doing nothing all morning and needs to carb load before the road trip. It is a TERRIBLE idea to eat right before a bumpy road trip of unforeseeable length, by the by…

Bounce along for 4 hours on roads that under the most generous of conditions could be called double-track bike routes in the states. Incidentally, the horn might be the most important safety feature of our Land Rover as we warn folks on bikes, chickens, goats, and small children of our presence and subsequently coat them in a fine layer of red dirt as we blast past. Try not to think about the questionable beans I ate pre-trip should they decide to leave my body abruptly from either of two very humiliating evacuation routes.

Finally arrive at the End Of The Road Village and are greeted like rock stars. Hop on a “speed boat” and we are finally back on the lake en route to the park. The engine is making a strange noise, but I faithfully pump the ball on the fuel line once per second for the next 30 minutes to assure we actually arrive. I’m wet and cold from the boat spray but am completely taken aback by the incredible beauty of the mountains and dense, untouched forest. So THIS is what the lakeshore of Kigoma looked like before everyone cut down all the trees.

Leslie enjoys her 15 minutes of fame with the local kiddos.

Arrive at our home for the next 13 days or so around 6:45. This. Place. Is. Amazing.

Sit around a bonfire on the beach and enjoy a starry sky free of light pollution with The Nature Conservancy, Pathfinder International, and Frankfort Zoological Society staff. Watch a scorpion commit suicide in the flames. Am overjoyed to learn that a few of the folks there are former Peace Corps Volunteers, and fun stories of former glory and escapades ensue. I LOVE LOVE LOVE finding RPCV’s at work in the world and sharing the stories…because you can only really know what it was like if you’ve done it (and African volunteers are the hardest core of the hard core ;)).

Going home: Monday, 9 July 2012 (and the wee hours of 10 July)

Made arrangements for the gear boat to arrive at 7am; it finally arrived at 10pm (PM!!!). Pete and Ben stay back to ride with the gear so they can do water sampling between Mahale and Kigoma (it’s an 11-hour journey…)

Made arrangements for the speed boat to arrive at 10am; it finally arrived at 2pm.

But whatever. We’re on our way. Say sad goodbyes to our new Mahale friends (esp. Hassan, the best cook in Tanzania) and drop by park headquarters on the way home to pick up our frozen samples. Learn that one of the transport vehicles that was supposed to meet us at the village and drive us to Kigoma got tired of waiting and went back to the big city without us. We’re now down to one vehicle and NOT ENOUGH ROOM for everyone. Saskia and Vanessa graciously volunteer to hang back and come with the gear boat (little do they know that they won’t be leaving for another 8 hours…)

Bliss out and enjoy the boat ride. Beautiful park gives way to impacted village, and the lack of trees is noticeable. Sigh.

Arrive at the village, instigate search party to find our disgruntled driver, and magically pack all of our gear into the small truck. AND WE’RE OFF. Again! Bliss out to my ipod and enjoy the sunset over the lake.

One hour into the trip, we find ourselves head to head with a giant dirt mover and no road to cross one of many bridges. Wait one hour while the power-hungry driver spins around manically in the machine, waving at us and nearly hitting road workers with the giant bucket. At some point, he realizes we actually want to CROSS the bridge, so he makes a half-assed path and we’re on our way. Again. 


Drive ridiculously fast since (unbeknownst to us) the last ferry ride of the day crosses the Malagarassi River at 6:30. Driver makes frantic phone call to someone who convinces the ferry to wait lest we get stranded for the night on the wrong side of the river. Close call.

 And we’re off. Again.
This billboard was at the river crossing. We're not actually sure what it's for...
I took advantage of our brief hiatus from the truck to hug this tree.
 Arrive in Kigoma at 8pm.

Gear boat team arrives at 10am the next morning after a long night spooning with random strangers (Ben: “I was the little spoon.”). Pete sampled throughout the night on the hour, so arrived back in Kigoma a complete zombie.

And this is just the first phase of sampling. Kigoma sampling awaits…

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