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Perils of Polly: 'Yes, this is a good stuck'

Posted: April 4, 2013 - 5:51pm
Photo courtesy Polly Crawford A lion cruises the road on the rim of Ngorongoro Crater.
Photo courtesy Polly Crawford A lion cruises the road on the rim of Ngorongoro Crater.

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.

No one should go on a safari without getting stuck. It’s part of the experience, right?

But it’s still a hassle, and I don’t really think our driver, David, wanted to get stuck. He stopped in front of the mud hole, and Mary and I shook our heads. I don’t care if we do have four-wheel-drive, there’s no way we would have attempted it. And we told him so. And we wouldn’t be getting out to push!

But David must have that Alaska “four-wheeler” mentality where getting stuck is all part of the fun. We had about 30 feet of good black mud to drive through, but we didn’t even make it 10 before the tires were spinning.

Then there’s the rest of the story: we had no shovel, no winch, and no tow rope. We were in the middle of nowhere on a “shortcut.” He tried his phone but didn’t get any service.

“I have some power bars,” Mary quipped.

“And we have lots of water and cookies,” I added.

David contemplated the predicament. He nodded his head. “Yes, this is a good stuck.”

After a little bit, another Land Cruiser pulled up, looked at us, and hauled out a shovel. They dug a while, with Mary and me shaking our heads in amazement. There was no way a shovel was going to help! They finally quit and the other vehicle drove right through, but in the grassy water part instead of the mud.

Another vehicle came and did the same thing. We were beginning to think spending the night there might be a real possibility. Night is when the lions and leopards hunt.

Finally a third vehicle showed up, and they had a cable! After much talking in Swahili we couldn’t understand, they attached the cable and pulled us out. Then David discovered, much to his embarrassment, that one of the hubs had slipped out of four-wheel drive. We found out later that one of his colleagues had gotten stuck there the night before and actually did have to spend the night—with his two clients.

So now it was on to Ngorongoro Crater — where we were supposed to see the last of the “big five,” the endangered black rhino. The other four are the lion, leopard, elephant, and water buffalo, and we’d see many of those species!

Yes, Ngorongoro Crater is full of animals, and yes, we did see the black rhino. But I don’t believe anything can compete with the Serengeti. The Crater’s claim to fame is that the animals are all residents instead of migratory, so they can be counted on for tourist viewing.

One of the coolest places was a lunch area by a hippo pool. In addition to about 20 hippos lounging in the water, the air was filled with kites, a type of small raptor. David warned us not to leave the vehicle to eat because the kites would get our food. But it was just too hot, and we assured him we were totally capable of guarding our food from birds.

We took our lunch boxes and chose our pocket sandwiches to eat. I hunched my shoulders around mine and stole bites from it carefully, constantly watching. Mary was doing the same thing, but was not quite as lucky. She looked around for the birds, saw none, but as she raised her sandwich to her mouth, a kite swooped from nowhere and snatched the entire sandwich. David, back in the car safely eating his lunch, had the “I told you so” grin.

Late afternoon we were heading back up the steep road out of the crater toward our lodge when suddenly a lioness appeared on the edge of the rim road. Not expecting to see a lion here, we snapped and videoed for miles as she walked on the side of the road, hopping back into the woods whenever a car came in the opposite direction. She couldn’t have cared less about us trailing her.

The Rhino Lodge provided more excitement with waterbucks mating right off our deck and an elephant walking through the courtyard. How could it get any better? Our eight days were coming to a close. We spent our last night in Arusha and then headed to Kilimanjaro Airport with a splendid view of Mount Kilimanjaro, its ice fields shining in the equatorial heat. Both of us were choked up with emotion because of the spectacular nature of this trip — the best I’d ever experienced.

But we weren’t done. Uganda was next.

Our two-hour wait at the airport extended to five hours, an ominous beginning. We emailed our Ugandan car rental to let them know we’d be about four hours late. No response.

Finally in early evening we arrived in Entebbe. Our rental car with its driver, Ali, was right there so we breathed a sigh of relief. He’d been waiting the whole time.

As we climbed into the tiny Rav, we glanced at the tires and scowled. They looked pretty worn out. At least our luggage did fit in the trunk, along with the tent, sleeping bag, and stove they provided. Ali showed us an inventory, and it looked like everything would be there if we decided to camp.

With sweat pouring from my head, camping was not on my list of great desires at the moment, plus it was getting dark already, so we told Ali we wanted to exchange our money at the Grand Imperial Hotel, and stay at the Silver Springs Hotel — both recommended by a Ugandan dentist we’d had lunch with while waiting for the airplane.

We really didn’t understand the nature of our request, and had to remember Ali was just a driver and not a guide, which meant he would do what we asked even if it was unrealistic.

Entebbe is about 20 miles from Kampala, but it was to take a hair-raising three hours. After the first five minutes I looked at Mary, my eyes wide in disbelief, and said, “I’m so glad I decided not to drive!” It was to prove to be one of the best travel decisions I’ve ever made!

Look for more of Polly’s perils on next week’s Recreation page.

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