Chapter Two: The Road to Zanzibar Once the Golden Girls cast was infiltrated by new blood, a funny thing happened to me among the group who thought they knew me. I started acting like the "tart" I'm known to be now. I joked. I smirked. I giggled. I danced around in a semi-conscious state. I dove into conversations as if I would always have some valuable comment to make. Patrick was amazed at my transformation, and so began our friendship.
I'm glad the shell cracked, because the next stop was a return to Nakuru for a wee (thought spectacular) safari and the most exciting local interaction to date. Walking from the Kembu camp site, down the dirt road to Patrick's family compound, we felt the Earth rumble and the air split by hand claps, cackles, and the harmonious singing of a massive gathering. They performed but wouldn't let any of us just be spectators to their tribal anthems. We had to not just participate but throw ourselves into the celebration like it was our own, usual crew during a regular jam session. A multi-course meal followed and left our fingers sticky, bellies full, and cheeks sore from smiles. We learned more intimate details about Patrick from his family members than most of us were comfortable knowing, but these juicy tidbits gave ample material for more jokes between those of us on Patrick's friendly side.
The next night, we invited the whole fan damily to dinner as a thank you and to showcase our sad skills in celebration. Yes, celebration. Kool and the Gang style. Then we moved onto Chumbawumba...and almost broke the floor because we got knocked down...and then got up again. I played DJ with Jase and blared the crowd pleasing favorites like Tupac and Marley. I heard my name chanted from behind my disc jockey stance and turned to see Patrick's entire tribe forming a circle and summoning a "break-down" from yours truly. I cut that rug. At first by myself, then against Patrick himself. I'm embarrassed to note he out-shook me to the point that simply coming in accidental contact with his vibrating backside gave me an instant fabric burn. African hips are hazardous. Cross-stitch that into your next throw pillow.
I shook myself silly and soon became the young, giggle-box, whom danced around while eating her jammed toast in the early morning dew, hair askew and sporting the sock/sandal combo for humor's sake. The following few days, I opted out of group activities, like walking safaris and group meals, to become more familiar with those three people I was growing to befriend: the Drago crew. We chopped veggies, avoided hippos, navigated urban Nairobi, and threw back libations while chatting about overlanding, "intense travel," breaking social norms, finding ways to be happy, and getting paid to do what you love. They were some of the most intriguing opinions I've witnessed and found them to satiate the deep questions of my wandering soul.
And then the sun rose slowly, glowing...blazing all tints of the color wheel's warm side...I sat waiting, listening for the Kiswahili chorus and the raising of Simba into the living skies. Yes, you guessed it, we thundered across the appalling dirt roads via unlucky jeeps to the world famous stretching savannahs of the Serenjeti. Good guess; that was a tough one. Rising up the walls of the Ngorongoro Crater and skimming the rim, we experienced some unfortunate coincidences involving all three jeeps that hauled our poised cameras and anxious eyes. The first had a massive diesel leak, making its passengers physically sick and "fuming" mad. The second, my loyal carrier, vibrated down the corrugated roads and lost a connection that kept a tire in alignment. We took the opportunity to frolic around the barren 360• of savannah surrounding the site of "wreckage." Some tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to squat behind some thin and mobile tumble weed while those knowledgeable with mechanics squatted to stare at the damage. I ran around like a headless chicken, looking for a rotting carcass to "munch" on and get closer to the oh-so-musical circle of life. The landscape was perfect for a TIA photo moment, modified for Tanzania as we formed our bodies into the lovable exclamation "T.I.T." The third jeep, which doubled back to aid our car struggles, solved the issue, sent us off on our way, and then crawled behind at a fragmented pace from three flat tires. Seven years of using this company, and we experienced the first three problems Drago has ever had with them. Some said "What freakin' luck." I said, "ALLLLLLRIGHT!"
Those whose company I enjoyed dealt with our mercurial road trip to the National Park with light-hearted optimism. However, the high expectations summoned by the word "Serenjeti" made others bitter and suspicious of anything that wasn't straight out of the Lion King. As if safaris are controllable, predictable or follow a schedule of perfect skies, eye-to-eye encounters, and Kodak/Nat'l Geographic moments. I dropped all expectations and grew to love those times that weren't about the game...hydroplaning for sport on the newly-wet bush roads, listening to "Hakuna Matata" from guide Henry's cell phone, flipping pork chops by torch light on a bush bbq, and screaming in terror when I thought I was staring into the reflecting eyes of a night-scavenging lion by my tent. It was just a buffalo; don't fret. Patrick's baboon-bandit experience left us short of potatoes and bread and left me in stitches. Maria's dust COVERED visage brought a tear to my eye when she took refuge from the wind above the open top jeep. When I hear Serenjeti, I'll probably forget the cheetah that crossed our path, the leopard gnawing at a carcass suspended in a tree, or the hot air balloons floating majestically over the terrain at sunrise. I'll remember the moments that broke the mold...it's the stuff of life.
The Ngorongoro Crater, conceived by a brilliant geological mishap, is the only safari experience a person needs...a wildlife utopia with views to make a shutter finger seize in exhaustion. Bloody faced cheetahs chomping on a corpse, face-to-face elephant stare downs, and wildebeest migrations made my memory card steam, but nothing made me laugh harder than a massive alpha lion doing his business in front of 15 jeeps. I took four snaps a second, making sure I got the perfect illustration to add to the helpful book Everybody Poops...I could make it a flip book.
Though my Crater experience was memorable to say the leastest, I found the best thrills the night before, camping along the rim. There was no protection or fortifications between our wee tent circle and stampeding zebras or a giant elephant knocking down tree limbs. I watched the sunset slowly silhouette the mammoth's body as he balanced on two legs like a circus act, then I took to the "kitchen" (or spot where we put the gas stove range) to comfort our heart-broken cook and tour guides, all four still writhing from the previous day's verbal massacres by unhappy group members. In exchange, they bought me some local spirits and watched my back for stalking animals...which eventually materialized in the form of a massive bush pig. Think evil pig with a skull thrice as tall as it should be. I called it an early night and walked to the abolution block, only to find myself in a face-off with a buffalo...who stopped munching to turn his head and stare my shivering frame down. Patrick came running to my calls for help and accompanied me the rest of the way in the animal kingdom. I sorta miss the possibility of death on the way to the toilet. Gives life a zing. The night was semi-sleepless as I felt the stomping of game inches from my face. That's also zing-worthy.
Exhausted and caked in sweat and dust, I collapsed on the pile of bush camping equipment and smiled as Maggie approached our group in Karatu...it felt like a homecoming. Jase and Helen had spent the previous four days taking her apart and back together...enjoying the lively ambiance of Snake Park, a camp site that borders a hefty collection of massive reptiles, full-grown crocs inclu ded. And it was there that I purged myself of all anxieties cause my the tour group atmosphere. I lounged around while others toured museums. I, again, associated more with the guides than the fellow pax, staying up late and trying my hardest to avoid imbibing the deadly Ma's Revenge at the watering hole. It seemed I was becoming intoxicated by the overland life, where acquaintances become beloved comrades, camp site bars quake with the lively recounting of travel tales, and land traversed gives you a quantitative measure of success each and every day. Once again, age pulls me back from diving towards those apps, and so I'll dilly-dally for two more years, to contemplate those dreams until Drago will put me in the pool.
I awake at sunrise. Something is uncomfortably wrong. The night before involved a decent amount of bar time but not enough to warrant a wake-up call of extreme stomach irritation and a burning throat. I crawled to my tent flap and hovered inches outside to wretch in the most painful manner. Masai watchmen walked by and pretended not to stare as I wept and purged on all fours. This is one of the things I love about Africans...they will avert eyes to help you save face and dignity...even in times like this where a woman is crying, tossing cookies, and stuck leaning out a tent that was turned in the night so the fly and tent flap were no longer aligned. Thank you, Jase, for thoroughly pegging me into my own tent at an inconvenient moment in time. A fire trapped in my throat that I couldn't extinguish with water or biscuits. Potatoes and ketchup for breakfast went down like chunky needles, and I barely moved from my seat on the truck even with the multiple pit stops. And then I exploded. All over Maggie...myself...and others nearby. One of the most embarrassing events I've experienced. Covered in my own regurgitated food, I made a sad speech to my group from the front of the truck, announcing my shame, apologies, and the priceless chance for photographs if anyone wanted to seize the moment. Jase pointed out the vomit that had wrapped around my body, making light of my impressive skills, and I waded in that exposing feeling that eventually makes you laugh in disbelief. Might as well. The shame subsided slowly when I put two and two together...I had the 24 hour stomach flu. Swell.
I was a weak, wobbly, sleepy, hungry mass for the next 24 hours. That is...until I got a glimpse of it, the ocean. All life and color returned to my face, and I couldn't stop singing "Buffalo Soldier" as I threw on my suit and bounced around, erecting my tent in the smooth, white sand. After a month of experiencing the tropics, the altitudes, and the dusty plains of Africa, I saw her sweet coast, and it filled me with all-consuming, all-curing glee. I think I was meant to be a beach baby...or, maybe more accurately, a Zanzi-baby.
Re-living moments on the island of Zanzibar cause an actual physical reaction...my body smiles, some organ crawls up to hug my heart, and something else shakes the sleeve of my mind like an impatient child, begging for a quick return. Luxury came to mind when I saw our fantastic abodes for the week in Nungwi...en suite, tiled floor, queen beds for all, the list rolls on. The beach disappears beneath a creeping tide of beautiful teal, and when it emerges, it sports an eclectic collection of Western visitors, local Bob Marley-idolizing beach boys, faux-Masai warriors, volleyball and soccer aficionados, dhow boats run aground, and miniature sand crabs scurrying from hungry felines. The sunset that met us upon arrival was a vicious display of the world's ability to astound with beauty and hide it away all too quickly. I hope my eyes will always be able to recall that image, even if I burn my retinas from such continual sun worship.
I am so sorry, because I feel bad...for both of us: you, the reader, and I, the writer. I'm sorry for not divulging into an incredible account of this paradise and my week of bliss. You won't get to know those joys that I could very easily describe but choose not to. I know what you're missing, so I'm sorry for your unknown loss. And I'm sorry I know have the knowledge of what that location can do to me, what possibilities it holds, and the satisfaction I reap from being a part of its existence. I choose to leave it to wordless memories, the silence instead representing that inexplicable smile you see on a person across the room, listening to music or eyes closed and breathing deeply. You can know I floated in a gorgeous ocean, scalded my skin in the hot sun, and covered myself with sweat and sand, trying to out-dance the local lords of the dance floor. Magic connections and visual masterpieces, the lifestyle of my soul's dreams; basically, I had a good time. I will touch that sand again. And you should, too.
Goodbye, Jase and Helen, Patrick and Maggie, my Bristolian crack pots. Enter Lucy and Mark, Vesh and Claudia, and some new blood from Ireland, Deutschland, and Aussieland.
Continue reading about this African adventure by reading the next and final chapter: The Pity of an Expiration Date.