Tanzania was part of our 2004 Africa Safari tour. Adventures are a given, but this one was an anxiety-laden water escapade.
Dressed in our khakis and bush hats, camera and binoculars strapped on as methodically as gunslingers of the old West did their guns, Judy and I were sprayed up with Cutters "safari perfume" and ready to embark on our first full day in the Serengeti (a Maasai word that means "endless plain").
Descending into the Olduvai (ohl- DOO-vigh) valley, we bounced along toward the east entrance of Serengeti National Park, on the usual dirt and gravel roads that pass for thoroughfares on the Tanzania road maps. We came upon a large truck and several safari vans stopped, blocking the road in front of us.
Our guides, Yusuf and Peter, seemed to know what the problem was right away. The Olduvai River, now a swift, deep, and wide waterway had encroached over the road, making it impassable.
Only a minimum of rain had fallen in the preceding days, but somewhere in the mountains, the rainy season had broken out in full force. The road we were on was the only possible route from Ngorongoro into the Serengeti, so there was nothing to do but wait and hope that the water receded. The guys estimated a 30 to 40-minute delay.
As we waited, the stalled parade lengthened with all manner of vehicles and people of all nationalities lining up behind us. Everyone got out of their vehicles and made the pilgrimage to the river to investigate. Driver-guides gesticulated and spoke in rapid Swahili, attempting to make some sense and order out of the situation. The rest of us helped by pointing upriver and down, adding our two cents' worth in a United Nations of languages.
Three hours later, and after one brave (or crazy) soul had waded across to the other side and back again, the road was still invisible. While waiting, we compared notes with other tourists and took the opportunity to meet and visit with the Tanzanian travelers.
Many were on the bus that had pulled up behind us. It was a public transport from Arusha to Mumosa, and we guessed that the prescribed schedule prompted the driver to want to attempt the crossing. But, his passengers rebelled. A Tanzanian teacher from Mwanza said that they told him they hadn't prepared their children to be left parentless, so the bus would need to wait.
With the arrival of the local police and some army personnel, the reckless daredevil safari drivers were forced to cool their heels. So, the walking, talking, and pointing continued.
While we munched on our box lunches, brought along for the day's journey, Yusuf, Peter, and a couple of other driver-guides located an area downriver that looked promising as a passable route. At the same time, an Aussie driver who was stopped on the other side of the river, attempted crossing there. Once he was seen rocking and bouncing across the 3-ft. deep expanse of rapid water, a stream of vehicles followed. We dashed to our vans and made ready to go: windows up, safari top down, and seatbelts unfastened (in case we might need to escape).
Our driver took off overland, through bushes and small acacia trees to get us in position for the single-file, down-stream river crossing from our side. Our front tires hit the riverbank and we were on our way. The water sloshed all around us, rising over the running boards and tires, but Yusuf forged on, skillfully negotiating through rocks and dips on the river bottom and amid the swift current. As soon as we reached the rocky shore on the other side, whoops, cheers, and applause for Yusuf erupted, then we turned our heads to watch as the other van for our tour group successfully followed in our tracks.
Shortly after we were back on the road, another crossing that, by then was nothing more than a small stream, was in our path. There, on the roadside, sat a trashed safari van with its windows broken out. Our guides had learned that this van was caught in the rushing current and tipped over on its side early that morning. The French tourists and their driver had climbed out of the water-filled vehicle by opening the topside doors and were safe.
Nothing looked so good to us as our Serengeti boma did that night.
~ xoA ~