July 27, 2011

Lurking Danger(s).

This is the story of Andrei and Matty getting lost. In the bush.

On our most recent road trip to Ruaha National Park we carried three guide books with us. Yes, 3. While this surely sounds like overkill, the thinking was -- we have them, so why not bring them. 

En route to the park, according to the uniform advice presented across all 3 guidebooks, we made a quick pit stop in Ruaha's closest neighboring city, Iringa. We reloaded essential supplies before heading off for a couple of days on safari in the park (petrol, drinking water, snacks, and cash...). We noted our exit time (3:30pm) and reset our odometer to clock ourselves headed into the park, we figured we had approximately 3 hours driving time on 120 km of unpaved packed dirt road ahead of us. We feared we were cutting things close if we wanted to get there before dark and set up ourselves to sleep in the park before the park gates close to incoming traffic, but the driving directions appeared to be very straightforward. That is to say, all 3 guidebooks laid out simple, user-friendly directions. At the fork in the road, go either right (the so called never ending road) or go left (through many villages and towns also offering accommodation and meals outside of the park). In either direction, you land squarely at the park HQ and official entry gate. When we hit the first fork in the road, we went right, onto the so called never ending road.

Soon afterwards, we hit another fork in the road. But all 3 guidebooks said there should only be 1 fork in the road?! We went right. Then, doubting ourselves we asked someone by the side of the road and they confirmed - go right to arrive at the park. Another fork in the road. One side clearly would have driven us straight through a village. So we went right. Again, we stopped and asked someone and he confirmed, we were headed in the right direction. Our odometer was just shy of 100km when we hit a T in the road. By no stretch of the imagination could this be called a fork in the road, it was clearly a T. At this point, our skepticism gave way to full blown panic. We could no longer deny we were desperately lost.

I got out of the car and asked for directions. A million and one greetings later with villagers who may or may not have ever seen a white person before -- it was confirmed, we were really close to the park entry gate. Continue up the road this way and you will be there soon. Great. Dark was nearing, but perhaps we could still make it on time.

A brief high - ok we were on the right track afterall, too much unnecessary panic and doubt.

But if there is one lesson I have learned in all of my travels, it is that when it comes to directions people cannot and will not say - "I do not know". They give you the answer they think you are seeking. I could not shake this fear.

We pass a truck several kms up the road - the first passing traffic we had seen in hours. We ask for directions. You are going where? But where are you coming from?! If you continue straight you will arrive into Iringa (the town that we had left 2.5 hours ago...). Suddenly a white Land Cruiser pulls up behind the truck - as per usual with white Land Cruisers, it was loaded with several mzungus (white folks) and a Tanzanian driver. (Chime in the singing angels from on high) Certainly they would know how to direct us.

"Oh Sh*t," he says. Apparently there was no time for further dithering. "Just follow me," directed the Tanzanian driver. And then he took off like a bat out of hell. Our Rav4 could not keep up. The sun was setting (incidentally, this is the most spectacular sunset I have ever seen in all of my life - you know, big Africa sun and all?!) But there was no time to enjoy that, instead we were in a full blown state of panic - we could no longer see our life line out of here.

Just as we began contemplating next steps (could we sleep in the car? who is around these parts? certainly we cannot set up our tent on the road side, right!? are we safe? how much will this cost us?) we arrive at the T intersection we had left many kms ago - and the white Land Cruiser is waiting for us. ThereisaGod! They are all smiling ear to ear. "Um, you guys are seriously lost. In fact, you are about 3 hours away from the Park Gate. It is dark now. We would not recommend driving all that way tonight. We have a camp site just up the road, why dont you stay with us tonight," was the offering. Andrei and I do not even look at each other - yes! we say in unison.

So all is well that ends well. Or so it seems.

Where should we set up our tent? We ask of them. Anywhere is fine, is the reassurance. Great.

As soon as our last stake is struck into the ground, we are then informed that we can expect hippos and crocodiles on one side of us and hyenas on the other side. Oh and also, snakes love this place for some reason - and we have seen spitting cobras and black mambas here just recently. We were left to hope that they prey on the resident rats that were running amok all over the camp grounds, not us.

Let me show you where the toilet is, one white guy offered. It was a basic affair, offering nothing by means of luxury but all the privacy you could ask for. That is, until one girl emerged from the toilet and calmly announced that there are bats living in the toilet. I was surprised, I didnt see them hanging from the thatch roof. Oh no, she says, they are living INSIDE the pit toilet and they fly up at your *ss when you are squatting over the toilet. That announcement officially marked my last visit to the toilet...

But despite the lurking dangers, we could not have been more thankful about this unexpected rescue and hospitality. I wish those guys a lot of good kharma in their future endeavors and adventures.

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