10-Jan-2004 -- From a sudden fit of Friday afternoon lethargy and increasing disillusionment from a hectic week, I decided it was a perfect weekend to get away. I packed up a few cans of beans, some rice, a 6 pack of beer and various bits of camping gear along with the trusty GPS and maps, and headed off in search of 2° South and 34° East. The mountain bike was tossed in on top of everything else and contributed nicely to the cacophony of noise already coming from the back of the landrover. I felt guilty at leaving behind by usual confluencing buddy (Dave Erickson), but I continued under the supposition that guilt eventually goes away.
The Confluence lies about 8 km north of the Grumeti River, which forms the northern boundary of the Serengeti's Western corridor. To get there I decided the funniest way (which ranks highly in my opinion) would be to travel through the park out the western-most gate (called Ndabaka), circle around some of the settlements near Lake Victoria and back inland towards the Confluence. I started down the Western Corridor on Friday evening and camped along the edge of the Orangi River in the dense fig tree forests, which are alive this time of year with the chorusing of frogs and cicadas, not to mention the distance grunts and roars of lions and hyenas. I was shocked that evening to be visited by a very bold genet, which wandered straight into camp completely undetected under the cover of the riotous night-time noise. I initially mistook its shadow for one of the larger more dangerous carnivores of the Serengeti. As an apology of sorts, we shared a boiled egg, which she quite happily ate off my foot to save it from getting all gritty on the ground!
The next morning was highlighted by having breakfast with the crocodiles and hippos living in the river before heading for Ndabaka Gate. From there I bought too many mangoes from an elderly woman in Bunda, before finally getting to within 5 km of the point. The area around the point is primarily agricultural and is populated by the Wasakuma tribe. I left the vehicle parked next to a maize patch, where a man was guarding his crop against baboons. He agreed that the roof of the landrover would make for a comfortable vantage point and in exchange he would look after the vehicle. Assured by our mutual agreement, off I went with the GPS mounted on the handlebars of the bike with a few trusty coils of duct-tape.
I followed cow paths and tracks through a patchwork of crops, which were bordered, by acacia thickets and forests all cackling with guinea fowls and birds. As I got closer to the point it became clear that it was on the hill overlooking a valley leading into the Serengeti. I rode as far as I could up the hill and arrived bright red and breathless at Mzee Matinde's house. He and his shocked family feigned interest in what I was up to. I am sure it only proved their suspicion that I was totally and irretrievably demented. His children agreed to look after my bicycle while I climbed the mountain and rattled off a few pictures of the area. It is a beautiful spot… the views north and east look out over agriculture, south gives you glimpses of the Serengeti through the mountains, and west is the rest of the hills.
I returned to Mzee Matinde's house to find my tires well watered by the farm dogs and the children in a hive of excitement. We spent almost an hour taking turns riding the bike and taking silly digital pictures. Mzee Matinde and his wife wanted nothing to do with taking images of themselves, although they were in hysterics watching their hooligan children.
On the ride back I came across a fantastically old man who, by all accounts, looked like he had survived since the German occupation of the area pre-world war two, also on his bicycle. In the typically friendly Tanzanian way, he asked me where I was coming from, so I told him I lived in Seronera (over 100 km away) and was heading home. He almost fell over. For a moment I thought I might need to display my total lack of CPR training. Luckily he recovered, and told me that I was very lost, it was way too late in the evening, and that I was never going to get home tonight. He very kindly invited me to his house for ugali (maize meal) and to spend the night. I assured him that my vehicle wasn't too far (although in my excitement I failed to get a waypoint on it) and that I was actually driving home tomorrow. He was a bit more relaxed about the idea of a vehicle waiting for me and wished me a "safari njema" (a good safari), which is exactly what it was.