On February 18th 1980 I was at Seronera in the middle of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. I travelled here with Audrey, an American woman from Utah. I have described the journey from Arusha here.
This was one small settlement in the middle of over 5000 square miles of the park; otherwise I believe there was only a second proper lodge at Lobo, and one or maybe two tented camps. Seronera was the centre of the Research Institute, had an small airstrip and a petrol station, a drivers's hostel and a "Somali Hotel" which provided food for the workers. There was also a tourist lodge built high up on a hill of boulders (kopje) which had the most wonderful views across the plains and the bluffs of the Seronera valley. It was the season for wildebeest and at any moment you could see thousands of them spread across the plains with their attendant zebra, and hundreds of other animals. In the end Audrey and I spent a week here, every night in a different place, negotiating deals with the manager of the lodge who rarely had many visitors and liked our trade in the bar. We were able to go out for a wildlife drive with a group of British tourists, and made one or two other excursions. Because Seronera was a village, you were able to walk in the immediate vicinity and this was one of the great attractions to staying there.
After a couple of days I started to look for rides out. I wrote this in my notebook:
Sitting under an acacia on the northern road out, trying to get a ride to Musoma or Mwanza. The hottest part of the day has already passed, and I am beginning to give up hope of a ride today, and will return to Audrey at the petrol station and the hope of a cheap hotel room tonight. The crickets churr around me in the grass, the flies buzz around my face, a lark sings from a nearby dead tree, a starling chirps above, a flycatcher which has been here all day swoops on some insect in the road. The breeze in the trees, a tapping which might be a woodpecker. A distant generator, an occasional car going to the village.
View in the Serengeti: My pictureAnother day in Serengeti and I love it, I'd love to be able to spend a fortnight here with a car and money, for this country is so beautiful and hard of access. Last night awake I saw the Southern Cross for the first time in Africa, then after dawn the light was so beautiful and the air and trees so full of birds. Green grass plains turning yellow and occasional lines of flowers rather ordinary, flat topped acacia trees and thorn trees, one or two low hills all green, and the little kopjes of rocks and varied trees, home of lion and hyrax, from the top it seems you can see for fifty miles. Earlier from under this shady acacia I watched a small herd of wildebeest with attendant zebra walk through the valley, buffalo and topi browsing even nearer; some giraffe ambling close, inspecting me and eating acacia tree tops, some impala peeking out of bushes; some Grant's gazelle playing; warthogs here and there including three I surprised on the road; crowned crane flying over; a big flock of sacred ibis; some lovely hawks and falcons. You can go on and on and it's all beautiful.
Another day I was again out at the road junction and I saw what appeared to be a bus approaching. I had heard rumours of a legendary bus which went once a week across from Arusha to Musoma on the eastern edge of Lake Victoria. No-one knew when the bus came or would even admit to its real existence. I rushed back to the lodge to get Audrey and my pack but when I got back the bus was already pulling away to the west having driven straight through.
Finally one evening in the bar Mr Kassam stepped out of the shadows like Peter Lorre and asked if he could be of any help to us. He was an Ismaili trader from Mwanza delivering a shipment of meat, I think, to the lodges in his pickup. I ended up sleeping in the pickup that night and the next day he drove us to the other lodge at Lobo in the hills towards the Kenyan border and Masai Mara. For supper that night it was a bottle of Dodoma and a bottle of Sauternes. But Mr Kassam got ill, perhaps malaria, and we had to wait for his driver to arrive. We left with him lying on a mattress on the back of the pickup, and me perched on the wheel-arch in the sun for seven hours. There was always plenty to look at as we passed, such as a lioness crouched watching a very large herd of topi, the country always beautiful, and different when we were going through the swampy black soil country which gradually gave way to the borders of Lake Victoria. We passed by his simple home in the suburbs and visited the office which was ostensibly a stationery shop, though that was certainly not where the money came from. His wife and daughter arranged for us to stay in the Indian-style Deluxe Hotel. We did the local Sunday thing of visiting the zoo on an island in Lake Victoria, bizarre and sad after being a week at Seronera. Sunday was the day of rest, Africans and Asians all out promenading, the Asian women wearing their jewels and best clothes, something I didn't see elsewhere in Africa.
|Hyrax at Lobo, 2008: Picture by bah69, CC|
|Picture by David d'O, 2009, CC|