Sunday, May 11, 2008

Journey from Dar es Salaam to Lusaka, Hour 49 of Train Ride.

As you might have guessed from Emma’s posts, the safari was badass. As she mentioned, I couldn’t tell a stump from a lion, or a piece of machinery from giraffe, so I quickly learned to keep my mouth shut and defer to our guide’s uncanny ability to spot wildlife. If it was worth seeing, he’d let us know.

In Ngorogoro Crater, I kept feeling like we were in Jurassic Park, and when we’d get into thicker parts of the forest, I’d half-wonder if a team of raptors had gotten loose. Once in the Serengeti I couldn’t get Circle of Life stuck out of my head (the main theme song from Disney’s The Lion King).

A short explanation about dik diks. Earlier in our trip when we had been looking into safaris, I had been browsing some of the Africa books and flipped to a page about animals. The picture of a dik dik looked so hilarious I decided that I had to see one in real life. Imagine a deer, then shrink it until it’s about 1 foot tall, then put little stubby horns on it, kind of like Hollywood puts on actors that play the part of devils. Seemed like a little mythical creature. So on the third day, I finally got some Where’s Waldo skillz and spotted a dik dik standing just off the road. They were as ridiculous looking as I imagined. Success!

After seeing all the wildebeest, I couldn’t resist the temptation to look for signs of chase. I wanted to see a cheetah or a lion aim straight for the thickest part of the pack, or a team of hyenas corner a youngling. But with the food source so plentiful, these hunters had no need to work that hard for their food.

The crater was incredible, but the Serengeti’s landscape was stunning in its own right. Small outcroppings of granite speckle the plains. (For Disney generation, think of the big rock that overlooks everything at the beginning of the movie. For nerds, apparently these are big bubbles of granite. The outer layers expand and contract with daily temperature fluctuations and, with time, erosion causes some cool boulders to appear. The large flat areas are from volcanic ash from later eruptions nearby, and the resulting top soil is too thin to support anything but the grass.) These outcroppings form cool oases (sp? Plural of oasis) of vegetation and wildlife.

We stayed at posh lodges. Four course meals and a big buffet for breakfast. Combined with good weather? It was a great week.

Right now I’m living in the gentle-rinse-cycle known as the Tazara train, which connects Tanzania with Zambia. Our first class cabin has most the African pleasantries we’ve come to expect. The fan’s broken, as is the lock on the door, and the lights work occasionally. Maybe 1/3 of people play with our door’s handle as they walk by, checking to see if it’s unlocked. They could easily open it if we hadn’t jerry-rigged a $4 bike lock around the inside. We are very grateful to not be in second class seating, since they’re sitting four-to-a-seat, babies on mothers’ backs, with no place to lie down for 2 days straight.

The train stops often, sometimes for 20 minutes and sometimes for 4 hours. It keeps you guessing, and we often wonder if the train will ever start again. On some of the hills, the train was brought to a creaky crawl slower than walking pace, and I put it at 50/50 whether or not we would start rolling backwards. On the downhills, you’re thrown against the wall when there’s a heart-wrenching jerk of the entire train car, causing a few bruises and choked food.

We forgot to bring Subway for our first meal and were pretty bummed about our mistake. We brought some snacks like cheese and crackers, a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter, but we wouldn’t have been able to make it without the $3 fried chicken and rice they serve onboard, along with the Tusker beer. Dozens of others take advantage of the beer in the dining car, and they often open our door enough to poke their face in to say hello as they stumble back to their room. We hung out it in the dining car for a while, until our chairs broke from the sudden jerking.

We never really know what time it is (I lost the watch in Thailand), so we’ve been whittling the days away between card games and naps. Sometimes we ask how much longer, and usually double that is closer to the truth.

Emma’s been the victim of some brutal allergies; the first day I woke up and could barely see her over the pile of toilet paper she had used throughout the night. She also looked like she’d been punched, with left eye almost swollen shut with a beautiful purple tint. Teasing her about it was quickly discouraged.

The bathrooms are sketchy enough that I’m holding out for something better. We’ll see if I can last.

For all the hilarities, the view has been unforgettable. Blue sky, expansive grasslands spotted with shrubs, small fields of dead corn, the occasional dirt path and grass-roofed hut, sometimes a village or even a dirt road. The young kids wave and run alongside the train every chance they get.


chelsea said...

haha my favorite line is "Teasing her about it was quickly discouraged."


Peter Spiro said...

So sweet!

All those pics and blog posts are awesome.

And those lodges look great.

Uganda looked really fun.

Audrey said...

you should bring a baby dikdik home in your suitcase.

feel better emma!

Mark Blackwelder said...

Wish I could poke my face in and say "hello!"