Unified’s Tristan Ledger takes us through his travel adventure through the lands of Tanzania.
You’ve just landed on an isolated dirt runway surrounded by acacia trees and rocks. After an hour-and-a-half flight over terra incognita, head lolling from a day of travelling with no sleep, you warily get off the aircraft. The midday heat barely registers as you take your first steps in a place few are lucky enough to visit.
I can tell this will be a moment I never forget. 19-year-old me has made it – all the way to Tanzania.
The sun’s effect is scribbled all over my face as a jovial lady with a novel accent introduces herself. She mentions food and a shower – the only two things on my mind – whilst laying out the ground-rules of living in the bush. She explains torches are of paramount importance when out after dark. Shine the beam at the animal’s eyes, and hope to whatever one believes in that light alone will scare them off.
The drive to the camp is filled with black-and-white stripes, brown-and-yellow patches, and lots of antlers. Teens from East Sussex don’t normally get to see these creatures in the wild, yet here I am. There are no shadows, for the sun is directly overhead – another sign of just how far from home I’ve come.
A month beforehand, my great-uncle – and my ticket to the Serengeti – said over a patchy Skype-call: “We’ll sort everything out. Don’t worry, just make sure your boots can withstand the thorns out here.” “Do I need malaria tablets or injections?” I asked, barely subduing the panic I felt having Googled the affected areas and realising I’d be in one. “No, no, no, don’t worry about it, we’ve got the antidote on-site. Nobody has ever died from malaria here.” A sheepish “Ok…” is all I can muster in response.
The reason I have flown 4,000 miles to the edge of the Serengeti is for an internship, and part of it is spent with an anti-poaching organisation my great-uncle works with. Today’s task is visiting the Serengeti’s rat runs and setting up camera traps to help locate poachers, but there’s a catch. Due to the heatstroke-inducing climate, an early start is key.
My alarm goes off at 5:20AM. I lie in bed thinking about how little I want to get up. Trying to keep in mind the reasons for waking at this previously unheard-of time doesn’t help rouse me. I drag myself to the shower thinking ‘holy-flipping-moly am I glad I rarely do this.’
During the drive towards the poacher hotspots, Ben, the head of the conservation department I’m working with, tells me: “We can’t get to everywhere with the Jeep, so we might have to walk a bit to find the right spot. Oh, and there are gonna be a tonne of tsetse flies.”
I can’t remember which ones those are and ask him to elaborate. Hugh, Ben’s reserved right-hand man, butts in with: “The big black ones with the nasty bite on ‘em. They can give you sleeping sickness.”
We arrive at the first site, and sure enough a cloud of tsetse flies envelops us. We quickly attach a camera to a suitable tree, log its position, and escape in the Jeep.
Finding the second after losing a drag-race to an ostrich, we set the camera up. It’s in an area dotted with wizened old trees, house-sized boulders, and mountainous ranges on the horizon.
We make for the final location. It’s now midday. The heat, flies, and tiredness are starting to dampen my normally cheery spirits, so I ask what we’ve got for lunch. “Leftovers from last night’s barbecue.” Ben says, taking a paper package out of his bag. I open it. Bread. Nice, it’s a sandwich, good start. The possibilities for what deliciously meaty filling I might uncover are endless.
It’s a cold fried egg with cucumber. Slime on slime. Horrifying.
This revelation sparked a dejection I couldn’t imagine being topped. Then we drove through another swarm of tsetses. “Huh, life can get worse.” I thought, while using my sandwich to bat off the flies.
We arrive at the third location. I am told “We’ve got a bit of a hike for this one, about three kilometres.” Finding the spot forty minutes later, we put the camera in place, and all is well. At least, it is until Ben realises we’ve left the logging device in the car. Whoever’s job it is to find this camera… will not.
We start to head back but run into some elephants, forcing us to take a detour through some head-height grass. Such grass, funnily enough, is an ideal hiding spot for just about everything. As we’re walking through it, an antelope receives its cue to scare the heck out of me.
After that quick, life-flashing-before-my-eyes session, I remember the saying “an optimist is someone who gets treed by a lion but enjoys the scenery.” and so I do just that. We happen upon a riverbed. The mineral content is so high that the water is marbled with blues and reds. A cheesy, yet apt, Jane Goodall quote pops into mind: “It was wildest, untouched Africa, and it was magic.”
Picturing the looks from Ben and Hugh, I decide against sharing.
But Tanzania is truly a beautiful place.