Tanzania

A short trip to Ngorongoro – Contributed

Kenya and Tanzania – February 1988

1-TZBorderPainting88mumBeautiful and promising wall-painting in a petrol station at the Kenya-Tanzania border!

The trip in a few words.

Itinerary

Nairobi City (Kenya) – Ngorongoro Crater (Tanzania) – Manyara Lake (Tanzania) – Nairobi City (Kenya)

Participants

[1] 4WD – driver; [2] Xray – wife and game spotter – in Land Rover; [3] ScoutSpirit – driver; [4] PinkShade – partner and story teller; [5] Khanga – mum of PinkShade – in Isuzu Trooper.

2-NbiDepSafariNgoro88The team getting ready, early in the morning, around the Land Rover (PinkShade missing)

 The trip in detail.

Saturday, 20th of February – Towards the mythical crater – Getting in the mood and freezing!

In two cars, on a beautiful Saturday morning, we left Nairobi for Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Manyara. A light spirit invaded me as we set off. Initially nothing special to mention, except for the very good road conditions up to Namanga, on the border between Kenya and Tanzania.

After passing through the Kenyan and Tanzanian border posts we were on our way to Arusha. The landscape was quite green despite the dry-area type of vegetation. We tried to spot Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru, but the clouds were totally hiding the mountains, not as usual just the top.

For lunch, we stopped in Arusha, briefly visited the Mount Meru Lodge, and refuelled. We eventually found ourselves on the road to Babati and Dodoma. It started to rain, so we rushed to Makuyuni on a zig-zag-track mixed with some parts of the old road – roadworks in progress!

Along that road we encountered some young Maasaï boys. They were dressed in black khangas over their shoulders and around their waists, their faces painted with white clay. Huge ostriches feathers were held on the back of their heads with headbands. They seemed to appear from nowhere, walking in small groups, an impressive and beautiful sight. I had never been lucky enough to see these young, newly circumcised boys in Kenya [6].

3-TZTowardsCrater88mum-1A cultivated area on a wide plateau, before the entrance gate

At Makuyuni, we turned right, towards the lake and the crater. The traditional Maasai became scarce, and after the climbing above Manyara Lake we saw almost nobody, but that was the start of the collective cultivation: a vast plateau stretching out as far as the eye could see, all broken up into long and wide rectangular shapes. It might be a good thing for Tanzania, but it is a very disappointing landscape for those who wish to discover the wilderness.

We passed the entrance to Ngorongoro Conservation Area [7] and started the long climb to the rim of the crater, which peaks at something like 2,600 m. As we passed the gate we started drinking the usual mate [8]. From the viewpoint, the inside of the crater was striking and everybody was surprised as it somehow didn’t match what each of us had imagined. We all agreed that it was much better than our expectations, quite GORGEOUS in fact.

Friends had described the crater to me so, I expected it to be small, crowded, with animals standing shoulder to shoulder. I had been told that it was much like a zoo and that I might be disappointed. Thank God, it wasn’t like that at all! It was big but not too big, just the right size to be impressive, but still on a human scale! We spotted buffalos and some patches of other undetermined beasts, but they did not cover the whole crater floor like a wall-to-wall-carpet. We wanted to go down immediately to see it all from close, but, as it was late we chose instead to rush to the campsite because it was getting dark.

4-TZviewInsideCrater88mumFirst view coming up the outer rim of the crater… almost at dusk

 The “Simba” campsite wasn’t that easy to find. We spent one hour driving around the crater looking for it and arrived at 8 PM on the dot; the temperature was already freezing. There was a lot of soft and thick grass for our comfort, and a lot of cold and rough wind for our misery! We then forgot about it all, and after unloading the cars, we started to cook as soon as possible. Of course the gas-cooker wouldn’t stay alight with such a wind, so we settled it on the grass in between a few crates, to keep it away from the thick grass. After the meal, we felt warm again for about 10 minutes, but started to freeze again very soon. So we disappeared into our tents, and inside our sleeping-bags.

5-TZNgorongoroCampTree88 copyThe Simba campsite as we discovered it on the next morning…

 Sunday, 21st of February – Visiting the garden of Gods – Getting down the rim and enjoying!

I froze at the beginning of the night, Scout Spirit froze a tiny bit in the morning, and Khanga froze the whole night! X-Ray sweated the whole night and 4WD was apparently alright! I was told later that Khanga didn’t get the sleeping-bag that was meant for her. Obviously X-ray got it!

Anyway, the sun came up and heated our tents and surrounds, but three of us (no names!) stayed in their beds. That is why we were very late going down into the crater. Well, not only that, we also lost some time by having two punctures on the way out of the campsite. This brought us to the Park’s garage or workshop. We had to go there anyway to meet the warden and ask permission to go down without a guide.

6-TZCrater10Lions88mumThe pride of lions that 4WD and then Khanga spotted…

 At 11 AM or so, we descended from the rim to the bottom of that old volcano and by the time 4WD stopped, he already had spotted ten lions! He didn’t tell us where just to tease us. And it took us nearly a quarter of an hour to find out what it was. Khanga spotted some funny beige things, many of them, and thanks to her we saw the lions that 4WD was talking about.

We also saw very far away a big black-maned lion walking across the plain. We watched him for some time, a very nice sight, in fact majestic. After a while, I realized that he looked quite thin and I wished we could have seen him better because I wasn’t sure that he was alright. We had with us a rough map of the crater, quickly drawn by the warden when we were at the office and we discovered that we could do a circuit. So we left for the North-East.

That itinerary gave us great pleasure as there were a lot of ponds along the track. This meant we saw many water birds and amongst them, a few of the famous Abdim’s storks. We saw three more male lions on the bank of a big pond, beautiful black-maned lions. We spotted a lot of Grant’s and Thompson’s gazelles, and zebras and wildebeest. As we wished to eat our picnic, we spotted a hill that we thought would provide us with a perfect view. On climbing the slope, we encountered the biggest herd of buffaloes we’ve ever seen. They were drinking around a waterhole, surrounded by hundreds of cattle-egrets, ibises and crowned-cranes.

7-TZCrater3BMLions88mum-2Three black-maned lions lying by a small pond

8-TzCraterYellowTerOrchid88-JJYellow orchid found on the hill (4WD’s picture)

9-TZNgorongoroLake88 copy

View of a big pond at the bottom of the crater

As we sat down, we noticed a male ostrich guiding his seven chicks along the foot of the hill. The buffalos had already finished drinking and moved off quickly. As 4WD threw his bone (from a chicken) away, a kite dived to fetch it, but missed! ScoutSpirit and 4WD played with him for a while, throwing the bone in the air again and again. After several misses, the kite managed and left, obviously exhausted, with the bone in his claws as a trophy. After that, we continued our game-drive around the top of the hill where we saw fantastic flowers such as red hibiscus and yellow orchids in the high grass. We reached a point where we had a view over the eastern side of the foothill, and a herd of elephants appeared, great! Not far from there, we came across another lion on a sandy shore and another elephant, standing alone in some low bushes. All that from that one hill. What a lucky and happy time!

From there we zigzagged between the shore of Lake Magadi and small tributaries where some spotted hyenas were lying and rolling in the mud, as disgraceful as usual! One golden jackal passed by and as we went East, and lost sight of 4WD’s Land Rover, we nearly drove over two sleeping rhinos. We waited there for 4WD and X-Ray to join us but they had spotted some maybe– cheetah, so they were waiting for us to come [9]! In the end, we all met up to watch the rhinos for a while.

A little bit further on were two more rhinos, and lots of wildebeest and eland. Scout Spirit thought that he spotted some tiny bat-eared foxes and Khanga pointed out two lion-cubs. We curved downwards to the West to join the track climbing out of the crater. The light was splendid, just GORGEOUS of course! I don’t know what was spotted and then lost, but the point is that we used this very stop to start the mate. Khanga became friends with a small Bustard. She could approach it so closely that she shot a picture with her 35 mm and it came out quite nicely. After that, we were able to get quite close to some hippos, another fantastic view.

In the late afternoon the lake and the mountains were covered by a gentle yellow light. There were plenty of water birds, mostly Egyptian geese and ibises. To the West, the yellow fever trees were also brightly illuminated and as we drove through them we met some elephants again. It was a pretty magical time! But while we were surrounded by magic we realized that some of our suspension leaf-springs were broken! We had to get to a garage so we started to climb up the rim very slowly, staring down at the crater, beautiful in the last sunrays. We went through a thick forest with lianas and then along a rocky track with wonderful flowers and plants on all sides.

10-TZCraterBustard88mum-2The famous bustard, good friend of Khanga!

11-TzCraterAegyptianGeese88Egyptian geese feeding and resting near a pool

12-TZCraterYellowFever88mum-2bThe big yellow fever trees (acacias) in the evening light

13-TZNgorongoroCrater88 copyYellow fever trees near a spring and crater’s rim

14-TZNgorongoroZebras88 copyZebras grazing the abundant grass near the tree

15-TZCraterUp88mum copyA mythical view climbing up the rim of the crater – much faded picture alas

We reached the garage where we had to collect the tyres at night, but now needed to also ask for repair of those leaf-springs! It was of course too late for any repair to be done, but the tyres were mended and after some discussion about prices, we went away with what they called a “good price” which they agreed to because we had picked up some words –essentially numbers– of their excellent Tanzanian Kiswahili.

After that, in the dark, we drove pole-pole [10] to the campsite and started to prepare our meal. It was quite late again. But the ascari [11] had already prepared a really huge fire for the evening and we were better off than the day before with such a wonderful source of heat combined with the calories from our dinner. On top of everything, the wind finally dropped and we felt much warmer and more comfortable than the previous night.

Monday, 22nd of February – Such a tough transition – Getting out of bed roasting and boiling!

On that night, nobody froze, maybe somebody sweated, maybe somebody snored? But we didn’t really want to know about that. Soon after a glorious breakfast, 4WD and ScoutSpirit went to the garage and Khanga, X-Ray and I stayed at the campsite, cleaning and packing up. We also got slightly burnt while talking in the sun in our swimming suits at an altitude of 2,600 m! When 4WD and ScoutSpirit came back with the car repaired, we packed up both cars and left. It was too late to think about a way back through the Serengeti [12]. So we decided to go to Manyara for a game-drive and the night.

16-TzCampsiteNgoro88-2At the campsite after breakfast.. 

We were still on the rim at around 2 PM. We had a particularly unpleasant picnic lunch there because we had chosen the spot quite badly. First of all, there were no trees to offer shelter, and the grass and bushes were high enough to hide the great view. Then, hundreds of biting flies invaded the place, a total nuisance! On top of that, the Land Rover got stuck trying to climb over the ditch towards the picnic spot. It was then pulled out by the Trooper (polite return for the help received in Shaba [13]).

After this not-so-brilliant rest we rushed down the slope towards the park gate. Just after the gate, as the forest ends, we found migratory European storks, impressive clouds of them, hundreds in the sky and hundreds on the ground, for a total estimated at about 3 thousand! We felt a deep emotion gazing at this extraordinary meeting and thought that some of them might even come not far from our home back in Europe!

We reached Manyara at 5 PM, just in time for the traditional mate! Once out of the car, we were very surprised by the heat. We went for information and for the usual entrance and camping fees and then we rushed for a late game drive, hoping secretly for a view of some of those lions hanging from the trees, the speciality of Manyara National Park [15)! But none were to be seen. Instead we saw lots of baboons in the forest and then water birds and hippos near the river. Not much more to see except a jackal, a few zebras and antelopes. This seemed rather dull after the diversity and abundance of wildlife in the crater, but the sight of hippos in the shallow pool was tremendous. As usual we had to hurry out of the Park as it was closing down. Again the mild yellow light of evening was so enjoyable…

17-TZTowardsManyara88mum-2On the dirt road towards Manyara…

18-TZboard88-JJ copyImportant sign board to read at our arrival… (4WD’s picture)

19-TZManyaraSprings88 copyManyara Springs, near the entrance…

20-TZManyaraMabel88 copyPinkShade and X-ray watching the hippos…

21-TZManyaraHyppo&all88mumAt dusk at Hippo Pool, so quiet!

22-TZManyaraLake88 copyManyara Lake with flamingoes in the far…

Baboons were occupying most of the campsite, so we had to choose within what was left! Again the meal arrived somehow late, but everybody was happy and much refreshed by a cold shower. It didn’t take time before we were all feeling very hot again as the temperature was quite high. The heat put us in a sleepy mood and helped us to go to bed early.

23-TZManyaraFrançois88mum copyScoutSpirit preparing the camp fire to cook our meal

Tuesday, 23rd of February – If only it could never end – Getting back near the farewell!

The baboons seemed to quarrel all night and none of us had a good nights sleep! This may help you to understand why these safaris are so tiring. It is not the travelling on bumpy roads in the heat and dust, looking for the right track and avoiding the ditches, pools or rocks, or trying to stay in the middle of the road when it is slippery like black-cotton mud. It is not the buying, preparing, cooking, packing of food, water and other survival supplies or doing the washing up, not even the setting up of the tents and sleeping attire. It is simply and basically the lack of sleep! And you would think, when people say they haven’t slept, that it was because of some exciting events or noises, the sight of lion’s footprints around their tents or the roaring of them in the neighbourhood or the belly rumbling of an elephant nearby. But you never ever think, nobody dares to say it as it is, that it is because of cold weather, hot weather, shouting baboons or persistent mosquitoes. Yes, these are the most common reasons for sleepless nights in the bush! Remember this clearly.

Well, anyhow, in spite of that short night, we woke up as early as possible in order to go and look for those famous lions and enjoy the dawn. We covered the entire length of the Park, up to Maji moto [16], number two. We saw nothing special except an unusual sunrise on the mountain’s slope on our right hand-side. Around us, there were very big baobabs, herds of gazelles, many giraffe and even some hippos out of the water grazing peacefully. It looked like the beginning of the world, a magnificent and quiet world, just before the baboons and the men took their place in the evolution!

At the hot spring (Maji moto), a ground hornbill greeted us from a big rock and flew away noisily. It was 9 AM and we were sweating like hell. I guess that is why the place is called “hot springs” since there was, by that time, no water really springing there!

24-TzManyaraHornbill88-JJA ground hornbill taking off (4WD’s picture)

25-TZManyaraMorningBuffalos88mumBuffalo!

26 TzManyaraSunset88-3A beautiful African scene at sunset

27-TZnearMtMeru88mum-3A clear Mount Meru, appearing on our way back!

Well, as we had to reach Nairobi on the same day, we quickly turned back towards the campsite for a big brunch. Yet it was a nostalgic meal as is every last moment before packing and leaving a nice place. We were interrupted in our nostalgic mood as we noticed that the baboons, probably wanting to show us disapproval for camping there, had jumped on our tents, and had opened one of our boxes and spread everything around with their dirty hands and feet. We really didn’t approve of their idea of using our tents as trampolines, especially our brand new one which looks now and forever “used”, much used! Near 11 AM we were all ready, the Land Rover had even been washed! So we moved off on our return journey.

This was such a clear day that we felt absolutely sorry to leave. We headed for Arusha where we hoped to acquire some meerschaum-pipes and khangas. [17] After some circuits around the town –roadworks still in progress, we arrived at the very place where the shops were. A man was selling raspberries, a treat that is not to be found everywhere! When we had enough of hanging around, losing the others, looking for them, finding them again, we took off for Namanga where we had to stop for the customs and police checks.

Once on the Kenyan side, we went for a drink and stayed until dark because we couldn’t bring ourselves to end this safari. We all knew that it was most probably the last safari of this kind together as 4WD and X-Ray would leave Kenya for Ethiopia very soon. But ScoutSpirit and PinkShade planned to go and visit them there [18]. Anyway, the prospect of not living in the same country anymore was a bit hard to overcome. That is how we ended up in the Maharajah’s restaurant on Muindi Mbingu Street, in Nairobi, hungry and speechless. But despite our continuous efforts to appear cheerful, we were all half-asleep over our excellent dishes. We were sure that that night we would fall asleep very fast, and baboons could have danced on our bellies, or shouted in our ears, none of us would have noticed them.

THE END

PinkShade

[1] 4WD (four-wheel drive): as he can make his way through everywhere and possibly through every situation. 4WD is an ancient nickname of the well-known today’s Bushsnob!

[2] X-ray: as she has a very accurate eyesight and the ability to spot before anybody any living creature for miles around in the bush!

[3] ScoutSpirit: as he is so calm and well organized that you could always count on him to provide what you did not bring or to have some spare place in his boot to host your things even If very heavily loaded!

[4] PinkShade: as she used to wear particular sunglasses that makes you see everything pinkish and also because she tried very hard to see the positive things although sometimes very anxious in that period of her life!

[5] Khanga: as she is very keen on this typical East African cloth, and passionate for the birds of the same name (guinea-fowls)!

[6] More information on Maasaï circumcision under “Upset Maasaï” by BushSnob, in this blog (link : https://bushsnob.com/2016/07/16/upset-maasai/)

[7] NCA: “the jewel in Ngorongoro’s crown is a deep, volcanic crater, the largest unflooded and unbroken caldera in the world. About 20 km across, 600m deep and 300 km2 in area, the Ngorongoro Crater is a breathtaking natural wonder (Wikipedia + NCA’s official website = http://www.ngorongorocrater.org/).

[8] Mate: see “Swiss-Uruguayan Eastern Safari Rally” by Pinkshade, in this blog (link : https://bushsnob.com/2014/09/24/swiss-uruguayan-easter-safari-rally-kenya-16th-to-20th-april-1987/)

[9] There were no cell-phones in those days. We had to guess what to do!

[10] Words in italic are Kiswahili terms that we adopted as we found them more expressive or poetical than ours. Pole-pole means slowly, cautiously.

[11] Ascari is a Kiswahili word for a security guard.

[12] And through “Olduvai Gorge”, an interesting archaeological and paleontological site where the famous Leakey family made important discoveries.

[13] See “Easter Safari Rally” by Pinkshade, in this blog (see above)

[14] Dudus are the equivalent of troublesome insects or pests in Kiswahili!

[15] MNP: “the Park is a “Man and Biosphere Conservation Area” since 1981 and consists of 330 km2 of arid land, forest, and a soda-lake which covers as much as 200 km2 of land during the wet season but is nearly non-existent during the dry season. Its name comes from a plant called Emanyara by the Maasai (Euphorbia tirucalli) used for hedges to protect the cattle” (Wikipedia + MNP’s website = http://www.tanzaniaparks.go.tz/).

[16] Maji moto literally means “hot water” and usually indicates some hot springs.

[17] A khanga is a typical East African cloth (150 cm wide by 110 cm long) made out of light and colourful fabric, with a border all around, a symbol in the middle and bearing a Kiswahili saying. A post on Pinkshade’s mother Khangas’ collection is being prepared on those beautiful pieces of East African culture.

[18] A future safari to Ethiopia, to be read soon in this blog, hopefully!

 

SMS Königsberg’s gun

Apart from nature I am also interested in African history so this is the first post that I dwell on the issue to tell you about an interesting series of somehow related events that took place in East, Central and Southern Africa during World War I (WWI). I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I did searching for information and writing it.

We spent last week in Pretoria, having a break from Zimbabwe, and doing some needed shopping. While there I took the opportunity to visit the Union Buildings not to meet the President of South Africa but to check on a piece of artillery that I once read it was there. Luckily, after checking the various guns placed there, I found it and it prompted me to write this post.

IMG_5019 copy

Wrong gun. One of the guns at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

Let’s go back in time to the 1900’s, most precisely 1906 when the SMS Königsberg was launched and became the lead ship of her class of light cruisers in the German Navy. It was named after the capital of the then East Prussia and it was armed with a main battery of ten 10.5-centimeter (4.1 in) as well as other smaller guns.

In April 1914, the Königsberg was sent to German East Africa to take over patrol duties along the Indian Ocean coast. Its crew prepared for a tropical spell and many brought hunting guns to enjoy this activity that was common at the time. It arrived in Dar es Salaam on 5 June and its size and impressive appearance gained it the nickname Manowari na bomba tatu, or “the man of war with three pipes” among the local people.

The arrival to the area of the HMS Astraea, Hyacinth, and Pegasus of the British Navy (probably related with the deterioration of the situation in Europe) created concern in the Germans who, suspecting that the intentions of such unexpected visitors were to blockade the Königsberg in the German East African capital, on 31 July 1914 it went out to sea as soon as it could. The Königsberg, being a faster vessel left the three slower British ships behind until it broke contact and continued to Aden where news of the start of WWI reached it.

Ordered to attack British merchant ships, the cruiser remained in the Indian Ocean and sunk the SS City of Winchester, a merchant ship and only civilian casualty. Coal availability soon became the Achilles’ heel of the cruiser but somehow it got enough of it to enable it to seek refuge into the Rufiji River delta, recently surveyed by the Germans, as its engines were in need of an overhaul.

Aware of the presence of HMS Pegasus in the area, the Königsberg left its hiding place in a sortie and surprised and sunk the Pegasus on 20 September 1914 in what is known as the Battle of Zanzibar. After this event both the Königsberg and its loyal supply ship the Somali entered the delta of the Rufiji River to wait for the needed repairs that were to be carried out in Dar es Salaam.

While the two German ships were camouflaged inside the delta, following the Pegasus defeat, three more British cruisers; HMS Chatham, Dartmouth, and Weymouth arrived to the area and located the Königsberg and the Somali. However, not knowing the way into the delta, they were unable to steam into the river to attack them so they decided to set up a blockade. The battle of the Rufiji River had started!

The British attempted by air and sea to destroy the German ships but failed, as they could not get close enough for their guns to be accurate and the planes brought in were not able to cope with the heat. Seeking a safer position, the German ships moved further into the delta. However, the situation was deteriorating as the Germans were experiencing, apart from shortages of coal, scarcity of ammunition, food, and medical supplies. To the impossibility of escaping from this tropical prison, diseases such as malaria started affecting the crew so the moral fell to an all time low.

A short-lived hope was brought about by a plan to re-supply the Königsberg through the arrival of a German merchant ship loaded with supplies and pretending to be Danish in the hope to get through the British blockade. As the freighter approached East Africa, Königsberg prepared to come out fighting to meet it. Sadly for the Germans, the ruse was discovered and the “Danish” ship forced aground. Although still safe from their enemies, the Königsberg and the Somali were trapped!

To break the stalemate the resourceful British brought two monitors, the Mersey and Severn. These large gunboats of shallow draft were built before the start of WWI for the Brazilian Navy and taken over by the British at the onset of the war. As their intended use was the Amazon River, they were considered suitable to enter the Rufiji River and their voyage from the UK justified!

On 11 July 1915, the two monitors got close enough to severely damage the Königsberg, forcing her crew to scuttle it. The guns were removed and converted into field artillery pieces and coastal guns and, together with the ship’s crew, joined Lieutenant Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck’s guerrilla campaign in East Africa. One of these guns remained with the German Navy as it was mounted on the SS Graf von Goetzen in the German fleet in Lake Tanganyika.

Could that gun been the one seen at the Union Buildings at Pretoria? It may be but it is unlikely, as it is believed that it was taken to the Belgian Congo (now Democratic Republic of Congo). It is also believed that the gun at Pretoria is a hybrid of pieces coming from several different guns. Further, the plaque stating it to have been captured by South African forces at Kahe, East Africa on 21st March is also almost certainly inaccurate as the “Kahe gun” was blown up and severely damaged by the Germans before being captured.

The story of the Pretoria gun ends here. However there is a follow up that started with the mounting of the gun on the SS Graf von Goetzen, a participant in the Battle of Lake Tanganyika. However, this is the subject for the next post!

 

Note: The fate of the ten guns of the Königsberg have been thoroughly investigated and an outstanding report can be found @ http://s400910952.websitehome.co.uk/germancolonialuniforms/militaria/koenigsberggun.htm. I acknowledge this site for some of the information contained in this post.

 

 

 

 

 

Police Road Block (Tanzania)

There is nothing unusual about a police roadblock in Africa. I have dealt with many in different countries and in different situations. Luckily I never got fined or needed to bribe my way through. The occasion I have been closest to a fine was driving between Muguga and Nairobi in the early 80s. I was caught in double radar trick. This is a simple, crafty and frequently practiced manoeuvre that involves placing two speed traps separated by a few km. You pass one and then, thinking that you escaped, you speed away only to be caught by the real thing a few km further on. On that occasion the policeman had even written the fine but I still managed to get off the hook, I do not know how or why he let me go! A colleague in Kenya said I manage to say the right words in most situations, and my own family fully agrees! I do not know!

In 2010 I went to Arusha for a meeting to discuss a cattle vaccine that was very successful among the Maasai of Tanzania. The meeting over we had the Saturday free as I was flying out on the Sunday. So, we decided to go for a drive to enjoy the countryside, to visit some Maasai manyattas where my veterinary friends needed to do routine check-ups at and end with a visit to the snake park, nothing too exotic.

We left in Beppe and Lieve’s ancient but still serviceable Nissan Patrol with Lieve driving and Beppe as our navigator. I was in the back seat, chatting away with them, trying to catch up on several years of news. After a few km driving towards Moshi we came to a police road block. “Nothing unusual” I thought and my companions agreed, remarking: “They are always here”. There were several cars queuing and also quite a few police officers in sight.

After queuing for a few more minutes, a polite police officer approached and he explained that they were performing a roadworthiness inspection on vehicles “today we are looking at fire extinguishers” he declared. The exchange of looks and a few familiar Italian words in the front seat indicated to me that we may not be within the expected roadworthy condition. After all, the car was quite old and I have never come across anyone who checks their fire extinguisher at regular intervals. It is just there, normally at the feet of the passenger. Well, in our case it was not even there!

Calmly we all argued with the policeman that this was not a very useful check-up, that we were vets in a great hurry to deliver a calf and other plausible excuses that we could think of at the time. No results. The police stood his ground and continued to demand to see our fire extinguisher. Calmly, Beppe got out of the car and walked slowly to the back. Lieve and I waited; we could only talk to each other in English so we remained silent. Noise of objects being shifted around came from the back and, after a while we could here Beppe’s “ecco!” (Italian for “I found it”) and we relaxed a bit. Beppe closed the back doors and walked with the extinguisher towards the police, smiling. “Here it is, bwana” and then added “it is a bit old but still good”. What an optimistic remark! It was a rusty cylinder, once red, with arather defaced label, consequence of many years of dust rubbing against the car tools and the jack. We all nodded our approval and waited for the outcome.

The policeman, unmoved, had a look at the piece of rust and declared that it was totally unsuitable and, worse still, that we could not drive the car until we acquired a new one that followed the Tanzania road specifications that we clearly ignored. There was apparently no “fine and go” involved but a prohibition of movement on the spot! We pleaded in various ways to no avail and then got rather frustrated with the situation and asked what the solution was, fearing the possible bribe. “You can buy a new one” he announced. “But where?” we said in a pathetic choir and added, “there is no shop/petrol station here”. “You can buy one from me now” he said. We looked at each other and could not help a chuckle but kept our straight faces as much as we could. We asked the cost and tried to bargain but it was not possible so we asked him to bring it while we collected the money.

Beppe was still outside, holding our rusted tool while the policeman walked towards the sentry box, and opened the door. We could not believe our eyes: the box was full to the brim with extinguishers!. He picked one and came back to offer it to Beppe. The latter, in a last ditch attempt of avoiding buying the item at an inflated price proceeded to compare the kind of fires that each could put out in what I thought was a probably unfruitful but clever and brave attempt, nonetheless. It was clear that he had hatched the plan while we waited for the policeman and had spent a great deal of time reading the damaged label. He held both in his hands and explained that both could put off petrol, plastic and electric fires but that ours could also stamp out fabric fires! Beppe grasped the opportunity and declared “Mine is better than yours as it can control more kinds of fires”

For the first time the policeman showed hesitance and Beppe seized his chance: “no need to buy an inferior product” he declared with aplomb and conviction. The policeman recovered fast and suggested that we checked the functioning of our rotten tool. Beppe removed the safety pin and pressed the trigger. Nothing happened. He tried again and, again, he got nothing. A third attempt that involved violent shaking of the extinguisher and hard pressing produced about 3 cm of a substance resembling yellow toothpaste! Without saying another word, Beppe threw the rusted cylinder into the nearest ditch, collected our money, counted it, paid, got the new cylinder, gave the policeman a handshake and quietly got in the car. “Let’s go” was the only thing he said. We went and, for a long while none of us had anything to say and then we all burst out laughing.

We moved on with a new extinguisher towards an enjoyable day together.