Thursday, July 27, 2006

Excuse me, is it all right if I panic?

Mikumi National Park - about four hours' drive inland from Dar-es-Salaam. The wet season, few tourists, but I have a couple of days off-duty, so I go. Driven in a Toyota van by a wild driver, and accompanied by my houseboy, Juma. Great place, we went further and further into the reserve and ended up skidding off the road on a nasty black oily soil. Miles from anywhere, late afternoon. Wild driver and Juma try to dig the vehicle out, and just get filthy.

I start to walk the seven miles back to where I had previously noted a Ranger Hut. And then, I think: this is not Hampshire. In Hampshire you might get bitten by a tick if you are wearing the wrong socks, but here, in Mikumi NP, there are irascible warthogs and grumpy water buffalo and lurking leopards and god knows what else waiting to jump your bones and suck the vital juices from you. Suddenly I am nostalgic for the safety of my native land.

Amazingly, while I am back at the vehicle wondering how it will be to spend the night cuddling up to the wild driver and Juma, amazingly I say, a Land Rover appears: it is a Belgian guy showing his visiting family the delights of Mikumi. He wants to help but has no tow rope, so I jump in to go find means of rescue.

We stop at a camper in a clearing and walk towards it. A German couple are inside in flagrante delicto - even big game palls after a time when the hormones are pumping. A loud cough and a diplomatic pause later, and these darling lovers, loins girded, lend us a tow-rope.

Fast forward to the moment when I plus wild driver plus houseboy are on our way back to the entrance to the park. Wild driver takes a bend too quickly - yet again (sigh) - and once again we slide into immobility. F...k! But at least we are closer to a metalled road this time.

And then, German camper comes by, stops and offers the following "Do you make a habit of this?" I am full of admiration for his English, his woman and his towrope.

Listen, when the Wanderlust, la bougeotte - or whatever you call that need to visit exotic places - tugs at your sleeve: consider this: for all its boring ordinariness, England is a place where nothing can seriously bite you.

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