The 2003 Classic Safari Challenge
A three week marathon drive across the heart of Africa.
The Lost World
The sky is ablaze
Dawn breaks over the far rim of the world’s biggest volcano crater with a brown smudge, turning quickly to purple. Before you have poured the tea as you dare to put your feet up on the railings, amid the full silver-service, the sky is ablaze.
Reds and oranges force their way over the lip of 100 square miles of fully enclosed Africa, a circle of light reflecting on the mirror smooth lake down in the shadows This is worth getting up for…
Swallow up, it’s time to get the show on the road. We are in the fleet of 4x4s, just as the sky turns yellow, for a 2,000ft descent of rocky rough gradient so steep it’s first gear for most of the way. One hour later, the day is in full swing for those involved in life’s daily struggle for survival. Mick Darcey is among several to spot a lion having breakfast, just feet away from his Landcruiser, snatching a half-alseep Wildebeest. A jackal pinches a leg and runs off through the grass. Minutes later, the whole killing and clean up scene is over… buzzards and eagles soar overhead. Move on.
Four rhino amble along, one takes a dislike to Sandra de Ferranti’s hat, or is it the perfume, and has an angry, full-blooded charge at the Landcruiser… another near miss, says the guide from behind the wheel, who instead of taking avoiding action, just turned off the engine… and sits motionless.
Hippos laze in their early morning bath of spring water, belching and chewing at the same time, resting on each other, an enormous congealed mass of hippoblubber, just feet from us all in the water’s edge of another pool.
Feeling lioned-out, after recent Safaris? Not quite, more come strolling into view followed by their rivals, several elephants, munching on grass, and begin to cross the road. They stop in the centre, giving us a stare as if to say, my territory - go no further. What an amazing start to the day…just when you think it can not possibly get better, and all the time, the remarkable African early-morning light is changing into yet another blistering hot day.
This place is a lost world, thanks to the upheavals of millions of years ago, this chunk of Africa is hemmed in by the rim of steep rock all around, so animals are forced to live and die in the 100 square miles shoulder to shoulder, almost… and the dusty tracks that take us around give us a vivid show of what it’s all about - forget David Attenborough, you have to see it for real.
The lunch session was pretty chaotic, to be fair, as Air Markland was trying to make it’s maiden flight, and just filling enough Land Rovers with the right bums on seats to hump it up the hill to the dirt landing strip was proving a fraught time all round. Explanations now needed: Paul Markland has entered the travel business overnight, reckoning he should organise a giant air-lift to get us back to Arusha. A fistful of dollars, he promises, at most.
Four 13-seat single-engine aircraft are found, one is as far away as Mombasa, and deals struck over a mobile phone. We found ourselves at the end of the dirt strip, one windsock, one corrugated iron hut, and that is Ngorongoro Airport. We wait, and we wait, two planes take off, leaving 12 of us who for some reason had not the quick wits to elbow onto one of the earlier flights. Along come a bunch of nomads, Masai complete with red robes and spears. Would they show us how the jumping up and down on the spot dance goes? They demonstrate. Very good, now it’s our turn. Nigel Broderick elects to be official photographer.
Syd Stelvio gets right in there, jumping up and down, and all is going pretty damn impressively in the height-stakes, until his trousers fall down, followed, by the following up jump, with underwear. The warriors have never been mooned at before, and did not know quite what to make of this. The second part of this obscenity failed to be recorded by the Photographer, as Nigel was rolling around on his back in laughter at the time. The very proud locals, however, saw nothing funny, and just put their hands out for top rate payments, like 10 dollars, per person. As Nigel was the only one with any dollars, he had to do the negotiating, so, poor Syd could at least have the last laugh.
The flight was quite something. We breezed down the dirt, the thumping engine of the single turbo-prop Cessna Caravan skimming the grass, hardly finding the energy to do much more…. up long, and slow, only bothering to gain enough height to crest the rim of the crater. And so we all left behind a land that time forgot.
We headed west, out and over the Serengeti, skimming over the heads of wildebeests on the annual Migration Rally. Drop a right wing, arc down even lower, and run up a river… here we see the dramatic wildebeest crossing, thousands of animals heaving down muddy banks, slashing through, and scrabbling up the other side - only for one to meet the jaws of a lion, waiting for a late lunch. We saw it all… Magic moments like this are never forgotten.
The Mountain of the Gods is circled, several times, so often we are almost choking on the fumes of sulphur from this slumbering volcano, and then its down the side, and up the great Rift Valley, skimming over waters so low we have pink flamingos in great waves out on either wing. The two altimeters on the dashboard give up reading anything at flamingo-height, and with wheels barely touching the water, the engine strains as we begin to climb up out of the valley for a run back to Arusha. Some pilot effort this, pioneer Kenyan ace Berryl Markham of “West With The Night” fame would be proud of gung-ho flying like this. What a day - our ghast was truly flabbered.
Just when you think it can not possibly get better, we get a hot action-packed day…everyone is now in the bar recounting it all and swopping tales, and everyone is in agreement with Roberto Chiodi - “Fantastic, best day of the whole event.”
Final thoughts? When your time is up, and it comes to the day of reckoning, and you come hand in the time-card for the last time… put in for the best job of the lot in the forthcoming after-life. You should come and join Syd in this… let’s all be hippos. Look at this way: A) Nobody else out there will try and make a meal of you before lunchtime, which in these parts, is tops. B) Nobody will mind if you put on a bit of weight. C) You get to sleep around in the sun all day with your mates - usually in the bath, with group sex on tap. D) And… You can belch and fart in the face of your best mates. Yep, nobody bats an eyelid. Utopia.
Three cheers, then, for Paul Markland, a successful example of organisation - a bit of nip and tuck, but it has left broad smiles on everyone, and pleasing all of the people all of the time is always a tricky ambition. But on this event, most people really do appear most pleased, most of time.
One more day to go, we are to get back behind the wheel, we have a long bumpy, pot-holed road to get to two-hours north of Mombasa for the final watering-hole at Hemingways. With a timed section as a sting in the tail. Many a slip between cup and lip, and the cups are now waiting, pending final slip-ups. The last and final hard slog now beckons - carrying us to the Indian Ocean.
That’s all for now. Bed time, mateys… but the chorus of blasted frogs outside are making a right royal racket and it’s so damn hot, even the fan in the ceiling creaks in protest, as if to say going round in circles is all so much damn effort. Cor, after nearly 20 days crossing the heart of Africa, don’t we all know it.