Editor’s note: Polly Crawford was a reporter and associate editor of The Peninsula Clarion from 1985-1988, when she wrote “Perils of Polly.” She also has written a series of “Peril” columns about Australia, Asia, Central and South America. Her perils continue in Africa.
“You want to go to Africa?” I’ve asked that question of friends and family since I was 20 years old. My sister had already gone to South Africa with her husband, but I had my heart set on the Serengeti of Tanzania which would require a yellow fever shot and she wouldn’t get one. So I never got a taker until last year.
Mary Green of Soldotna, my horseback and camping buddy for the past 15 years, said, “I’ll go!”
Thrilled, I immediately began planning so I could lock her in! We got our frequent flyer tickets last spring, had one change, and then it was done. She confided to me right before going that some of her friends, after reading my other Peril columns, advised her not to go with me! I laughed. “You’re in now!”
We planned for a full board eight-day safari in what they call the “northern circuit,” which includes Tarangire and Manyara National Parks, Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti. But I wanted to “experience” Africa, and I knew a full-board safari wouldn’t do that. As I told Mary, “A full-board safari isn’t going to get me any perils!” So we decided to rent a car in Uganda, drive to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to track gorillas, and then drive and camp — without reservations — through the other national parks there. We’d end on the beaches of Zanzibar.
A couple weeks before we left, I began having second thoughts about a self-drive in Uganda. I knew I could handle left-side driving — I’d done that in Australia. I knew I could handle the national parks and countryside. It was Kampala I was worried about, and we had to go through the middle of it. There was no other way.
My mother was adamant about not driving. She was convinced the country was still back in the days of Idi Amin, or at least the Lord’s Resistance Army would get us. I told her my research indicated Uganda was one of the safest countries in Africa. Upon reflection, that really isn’t saying much. They’ve had peace in northern Uganda since … 2010? Two years of peace. Hmmm …
Mary also expressed her concern, and then another friend, Jim Bennett, who had just returned, said, “DO NOT DRIVE IN UGANDA!” I’m SO glad we took his advice and hired a driver. We’ll get to Uganda later, but I’ll say this: having a driver made the perils a little more tolerable, although still perilous!
With yellow fever vaccines and malaria pills incubating in our blood, we climbed on a plane on January 25 and 29 hours later arrived at Kilimanjaro Airport. We were greeted by David Anatory who was to be our driver for the next eight days. He drove us to the town of Arusha and down a rocky, slum-sided back “street” to a gate which opened to a nice lodge complete with swimming pool. It was after midnight by now, but they knew we were coming.
A pleasant room with two mosquito-netted beds greeted us, but when we went to wash up and brush our sweater-coated teeth from the long trip, no water came out of the faucet. Welcome to Africa. Familiar with this scenario from my time spent in South America, I scooted out the door to find someone who could turn on the water. All lights had been switched off and the outside was totally black. I tripped around in the dark until someone heard me. “We need water!” He grunted, and about five minutes later the water was on. Apparently they turn it off between 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m.
Our safari began at 9 in the morning. No time for jet lag here! We have animals to see! Within an hour or two we were at the entrance of Tarangire National Park, videotaping vervet monkeys. David pushed up the rooftop of our Land Cruiser safari vehicle, and we were off, standing in the hot wind, playing I Spy. First it was warthogs, then impalas and bushbucks. Beautiful lilac rollers, tawny eagles, Abyssinian ground hornbills. Wherever we looked we saw birds and animals.
After lunch with David throwing stones at the vervet monkeys so they wouldn’t steal our food, we finally rounded a corner to elephants — lots and lots of elephants. Elephants hanging out on the road, crossing the road, blocking the vehicles. Big elephants, little elephants, baby elephants. Elephants ripping down trees and eating grass. Elephants spraying themselves and scratching themselves.
We also saw our first lion hanging out with a buddy on the top of an old termite mound. They were a bit far away, but we did see, and even take a picture of, a lion on our first day of safari.
While Tarangire is most known for its elephants, it’s also known for its tsetse flies. Black and blue flags (don’t wear black and blue in Africa!) coated with poison are positioned throughout the park and David stopped the car and told us to put on our Deet bug dope. Yeah right! We soon learned tsetse flies could care less about repellent. They’re like horseflies, and they bite and hurt like horseflies! The only problem is that some of them carry a deadly disease called trypanosomiasis or sleeping sickness.
Sure enough, within an hour a tsetse fly zeroed in on Mary’s foot and bit her. It itched and swelled up and I watched her closely to see if her eyelids would droop! Then she discovered about 10 other swelled up and itching bites on her arms and legs. They didn’t look like mosquito bites — more like chigger bites. We never did find out what they were and I never got any.
Mary didn’t fall asleep so we went to our next safari lodge — a tented camp called Maramboi — complete with wildebeests, impalas, zebras, and warthogs right off our swimming pool deck.
We still have a couple weeks to see if either of us contract the often fatal Trypanosomiasis, as I, too, was bitten later in the trip. Yeah, these were some perils!
Check next week’s Outdoors page for more of Polly’s perils.