‘Nogorongoro’ is an attractive Maasai word said to have come from the sounds made by traditional wooden cow bells.
One dusty expedition Landy behind the other, we’ve once again climbed out from the heat of the Rift Valley floor, this time to stand on the 200 metre high rim of the largest and most perfect volcanic caldera in the world, formed during the fracturing process that created the Great African Rift Valley 15 to 20 million years ago, the Ngorongoro crater is now world famous as a wildlife sanctuary and is often referred to as the 8th Wonder of the World.
It’s close to the start of the rainy season and we have the floor of the crater virtually to ourselves. Our Nikon expedition cameras capture it all. Lion, elephant, black rhino, spotted hyena, bushbuck, eland, wildebeest, zebra, cheetah, gazelle and buffalo, not to mention the vultures, tawny eagles, secretary birds and the world’s heaviest flying bird, the kori bustard.
It’s a veritable Garden of Eden made even more special by being hosted that night by the delightful managers Innes and Danel Pruissen at &Beyond’s Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, surely one of the most unique safari lodges in Africa (www.andbeyond.com). For us it’s a welcome break from our normal smelly bed rolls, small tents and Rift Valley expedition stew. The &Beyond Foundation partners our expedition’s humanitarian work and with them we visit the local hospital where every mum in the maternity ward receives a life saving mosquito net. Through the Foundation we also distribute malaria prevention educational material, LifeStraws and Rite to Sight spectacles for the poor sighted – doing what we came to do, it makes our expedition all the more worthwhile. Will keep you posted.
Land Rover Dispatch 65 – In search of the last hunter-gatherers
‘Count the legs and divide by four. This is the birthplace of the great wildebeest migration’, says expedition member Brad Hansen (nicknamed Bula Matari) over the radio of the lead Land Rover, as surrounded by tens of thousands of wildebeest and zebra, we cross the short grass plains of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. A cheetah kill and a lion pride add to the excitement of our journey. But our next objective lies South of here. To remain true to the expedition we must reach Lake Eyasi before nightfall, and then wake before sunrise to meet with the Hadzabe, Tanzania’s only remaining tribe of true hunter-gatherers who still hunt in the Rift Valley with bows and poisoned arrows and speak a Khoisan-type click language.
Land Rover Dispatch 66 – Two baboons as the bride price
We found a guide during the night and reached a small Hadzabe encampment at sunrise. Just a few make-shift huts of bent sticks and leaves next to a big baobab below a rocky outcrop in which they also used small caves as dwelling places.
Just like the San people, the Hadzabe are friendly and full of fun, clicking away in their strange language (Hadzame, along with Africa’s other dying Khoisan languages, might represent one last fading echo of the first human voices to have carried across the African savannah). 11-Year old Tristan Holgate (the expedition mascot on this leg) is in his element as they teach him how to use the fire sticks. A wrinkled old man mumbles from beside the fire. Our guide tells us that when the old man dies they will shoot a Dik-Dik and place it next to his body, so attracting the hyena to come at night and eat the corpse.
Arrows and bows are prepared and the dogs run ahead as we leave on foot to go on a typical Hadzabe hunter-gathering mission. I ask what their favourite food is. ‘Baboon’, comes the answer, ‘the meat has magical powers, and when we get married we kill two baboon and have a feast.’ Will keep you posted.
Land Rover Dispatch 67 – Eating rat
The heat beats down, the bush is dry. The Hadzabe women dig into the ground with sharpened sticks. There’s excited barking from the dogs. In a second one of the hunters shoots an arrow through a ground squirrel which, using a piece of bark, is tied like a trophy onto a young boy’s waist. A bird is added and then several rats. The women dig for roots and a man climbs into a tree for honey. The hunter-gathering is done with quick, purposeful movements – every person in the team knows just what to do. Old, dry roots are gathered for firewood, tubers are sucked for moisture. Back at their camp we are invited to join the feast – it’s my first taste of roasted rat.
I send Tristan off to the Landy to bring a knife and our last piece of wet and fatty biltong. I cut a piece for each of the Hadzabe. The fat will make us vomit, says one, we’re not used to beef. The others laugh and put their biltong pieces on the fire to roast. The Hadzabe endorse the Rift Valley expedition scroll with drawings of trees, rocks and animals which depict their personal names. For us it’s a rare privilege. Life’s a great adventure, isn’t it?
Land Rover Dispatch 68 – Another sipfull to the calabash
Chapter 3 of our Great African Rift Valley Expedition comes to an end with the adding of a sipfull of Lake Eyasi water to the traditional calabash that now contains water from every iconic Rift Valley lake stretching from the Red Sea on the Horn of Africa all the way to Eyasi on the Southern end of the East African section of the Great Rift Valley. Behind us now is Djibouti, Ethiopia’s dangerous Afar Triangle, the Rift Valley lakes of Southern Ethiopia, Turkana – the world’s largest desert lake in Northern Kenya, and all the other East African Rift Valley lakes, to now include Eyasi and its small, fragile population of hunter-gathering Hadzabe. It’s proving a magnificent geographic and humanitarian adventure.
The next Rift Valley challenge is the Western or Albertine Rift which starts in Northwestern Uganda. And so, as the rain clouds gather over the Eastern Rift, we celebrate our last sunset of this chapter with Nicolas and Fabia, the delightful owners of Chem Chem safari lodge on the Eastern shore of Lake Manyara, who are also assisting with the humanitarian work attached to the expedition.
Land Rover Dispatch 69 – World Malaria Day
We race the expedition Landies back to Nairobi, truckers have blocked the border on the Kenyan side so we walk through, stamp our papers and get a guy on a piki-piki (motorbike) to detour us through the backstreets of the Namanga border post back onto the Nairobi road. In Nairobi Thomas Hansen and the Vestergaard team who supply us with top quality PermaNet mosquito nets and LifeStraws, put on a celebratory curry. We park the expedition Landies with Sergio Fernandes.
Once again it’s South African to the rescue as Sergio puts us onto the flight home and a break for the East African rainy season. Ahead of World Malaria Day, 25th April 2012, we also need to use this as an opportunity to build up the support for the United Against Malaria campaign. You can join the winning team to fight malaria by buying a United Against Malaria bracelet from your nearest Cape Union Mart store. Please make a difference. Will keep you posted.