Day of the Crocodile

8 11 2012

Day of the Crocodile

I travel between Dar es Salaam to Arusha on a regular basis now. The road is long , hot and can be dangerous or boring. But every time I came, I always noticed this sign mentioning camping at the Pangani River. This sign is right on the road in an area that seems almost like a desert. Dry, stony and flat. Right up till it takes a noticeable change of direction as the stark contrast to this landscape of nothing into the Kilimanjaro Range. Beautiful mountains rising out of the flat terrain up at a steep angle mostly too steep to hike but not quite suitable for climbing . Usually 2000 to 5000 ft. Beautiful. Sometimes the clouds get stuck right on the peaks creating the illusion that these mountains are much higher.

But the sign to the Pangani River is on the “other” side of the road. The dull boring brown side. But I was ahead of schedule so I ventured off my route to a path definitely not often taken. In fact it looked like no one had been down this road in many months. I was right. The sand was so deep in places it was almost impassable for my motor bike. I found the “campsite” sitting right on a little river. It was only about 40 ft wide at its widest point and sometimes as narrow as 15 ft. I met a middle aged man name Fredrick who spoke broken English, so as usual we had a broken Kiswahili conversation. I found out they were proud of their cabins, but that I could tour the river in a canoe if I chose. I did.

It never occurred to me to ask Fredrick some basic questions, like how deep was the river, where did it go, where did it come from and that kind of stuff. But I can’t tell you how stupid I felt as I moved from shore upstream when I realized I also did not ask him about crocodiles and hippos. Much less snakes and fish. Now I have seen my share of the discovery channel so I found myself scanning the shores for breaks in the tall reeds that might give clues to access points that Crocodiles or Hippos might be using. They were everywhere. As I paddled farther and farther up the river the wildlife became more apparent. Black and white monkeys with long hair were Columbus monkeys. Huge eagles nest and of course I noticed every log bobbing up and down in the river. My paddle went down and hit the bottom sometimes at 5 feet, other times not at all. The river had a nice strong current so I was getting a work out and my arms and back were feeling it. However, my neck was getting the real workout.
I panned the horizon looking for anything that might forewarn me of any danger. I would like to tell you how I bravely paddled hoping to see croc s, pythons and hippos. But honestly it was the last thing I wanted to see. I was feeling stupid for not asking Fredrick If it was even safe out here in a boat that sat so low in the water. I think a large bass could knock me out of the boat. I saw something up in the trees and it looked like rags moving around. It was the Columbus monkeys. They were going crazy. Now I have seen enough Tarzan movies and watched enough discover channels specials to know that this alerts them to a predator. About that time to might right the brush moved loudly about 10 feet into the reeds. Reeds that were only 15 feet away and 7 feet tall. Heck anything could be in there. My imagination was in high gear. I was clearly afraid and frankly felt stupid. If anything happens to you out this far in Africa it is just tough luck. The nearest hospital is about a hundred miles away and there is NO rescue or even police for that matter to address any first aid needs. I am sure that Fredrick swam like a rock. I continued to paddle and looked back up at the monkeys when just behind my right hand shoulder something was coming. I turned to see the splash and the long unmistakable Crocodile talk slip from the bank into the water. Heading behind me. I did not like that “heading behind me” part. I guess it is better than heading right at me but let remember this Crocodile was heading where I came from and wanted to return to. To my fearful mind this guy was just gaining a strategic advantage. I paddled onward but now I was not only scanning the horizon in front to me, but looking behind me constantly for any ripples or waves. About that time I heard low moaning and splashing ahead of me and I just knew that meant hippos. Sorry folks, this guy is checking out. I could not handle being in the water in a 6 ft canoe with Crocs and Hippos. I turned around paddling at a strong rate making good time as the strong current was now with me. Every blade of grass that moved against the current and every noise from the bank became a predator of historic proportion to my racing mind and beating heart. I then decided to start scanning the trees above me for possible pythons. This got ridiculous. I could not watch all the directions that my fearful mind wanted me to watch. So I just stopped.
Stopped panicking that is. I floated down the river back to the section without all the excitement. Or so I thought. After I passed where I had put in I paddled and drifted onward. No sounds of animals, monkeys or otherwise. Then I rounded the corner and there were a group of young Masai swimming naked and bathing in the river. They were laughing and splashing each other. As they saw me coming they shouted and wanted to swim out and let me give them a lift. At least that was it sounded like in broken English. But I decided that I did NOT want to get wet with my hiking boots on and with a few strokes went pass them as they tried in vain to catch me laughing and swimming bravely. A few hundred yards further another Masai was sitting on the bank and we both seemed to understand each other pretty good. He told me that he hunted there, pointing at an area near the river and told me to come there he would use his bow and arrow. Needless to say I turned my canoe around and headed back to the area I put in knowing that there was a small bridge near. Of course I first had to stop and talk to my bathing Masai and try to communicate as best I could. They wanted to know where I was from and where I was going. I ended those pleasantries as quickly as possible and headed back anticipating the hunt. Wow hunting with a Masai. I had forgotten all about the Crocodiles and Hippos. I was wondering what we were going to hunt. Somehow being with a Masai hunting ,I was not worried as long as he was not pursuing a lion or leopard or something. I WOULD ask him some questions before we started.
I jumped from my canoe told Fredrick I was going hiking. Well I was. Hiking through the bush to find a Masai to go hunting with. I don’t tell Africans about my proposed adventures since they are never supportive and mostly discouraging. They are always telling me I am going to get killed. That includes everything from going to the ATM alone, riding my motor bike and talking to Muslims. Needless to say I do not listen to any of these fears. The ATM is where my money is, the motorbike is my means of getting around spreading the Gospel and the Muslims are the mission field, personified.
Across the bridge I went and realized these darn reeds were so tall and thick I could only follow the trails and frankly, they were narrow and the reeds WAY over my head. What to do? I came to a clearing and noticed in the distance a tree. I trotted to the tree and climbed up as high as I could and began yelling and waving in the direction the Masai, named Lancer? was in. I began to think he could not hear me until I saw the distinct red and purple plaid shurka he was wearing and he waved back enthusiastically. He came with his children. I will include some pictures in my album titled Pangani Masai. It turns out that he did not have his bow and arrow and besides since he was grazing his cattle and goats, any antelope we might hunt would stay away. So much for understanding him. I asked if he had a cell phone, yes some do, and he said no. So any hope of scheduling a hunt was out of the question. And then he told me he lived a day’s walk from there and that he came for the good grazing. I was disappointed. But all in all what an adventure. Crocs, monkeys, Hippos. Nah, no hippos. Just turned out to be cattle. Turns out, the locals later told me, they had Hippos but only during the rainy season about two months from now.
All and all it was a good day. Met with some great pastors to schedule meetings for next month to teach discipleship and take the leaders out witnessing, spent some great time on the Pangani River and then spent the rest of the day praying not to run out of fuel as, evidently no fuel had been delivered on this highway in about a week. Hey, welcome to Africa. You take the good with the bad.  I call it a good day.




2 responses

16 11 2012
Alice Stanback

Wow! You should have this blog edited, turned into a book, and published. Very good! Exciting and scary! LOL!

16 11 2012

“They are always telling me I am going to get killed.” I seem to remember some other people in Tanzania telling you that you were going to get killed!
So glad you are in His hands 🙂

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