Friday, January 19, 2007

Pith Helmets and Silver Tea Service

December 23, 2006. Lake Ndutu, Tanzania.

We pull into camp at Lake Ndutu, tired and dirty from a long day of viewing thousands of wildebeest and zebra from the middle of the annual migration, and a visit to the Leakey museum at Oldupai Gorge.

Our camp staff and supply truck arrived earlier. The tents are raised, and hot water waits in the “shower”, a hanging rubber container and hose arrangement enclosed on three sides by a tarp. Today it feels like a luxurious spa, only no spa I've ever seen has such a view: from a bluff above the lake, overlooking acacia trees where huge maribou storks are perched.

While we sit in canvas chairs at the cloth-draped table or around the campfire, nibbling on snacks, we relive the adventures of the day. We can smell the delectable aroma of dinner being prepared. It always includes a first course of delicious spicy soup, made with fresh veggies such as pumpkin or leeks. We put our feet up and watch the sun go down. Ahhh, this is the life.

A platoon of servants cleans our pith helmets and dusty boots, and one of the two dozen kitchen staff brings tea with buffalo milk in a polished silver tea service. Gin and tonics are delivered in crystal goblets. We smoke cheroots in long ivory holders. One servant’s only duty is to keep the gramophone wound… Oh hell, I got carried away there.

We do have gin though, with tepid tonic. Or wine. Even some warm beer. And an I-pod hooked up to little speakers, playing tunes that would really date us if I named them. We are clean, warm, and dry, and getting pleasantly soused. Even without crystal goblets and silver tea pots, this is very comfortable camping. We are grateful. So far on this safari, the camping days have not been this well executed, due to unseasonably heavy rains, road washouts causing last minute route changes, and camping spot mix-ups (read: a big bad commercial safari company bribed someone to get the best spots, even though we booked and paid for them months ago).

We toast the fact our camping luck has changed. Silly, silly us.


Diana said...

If camping were like that, I'd even want to go!

Boo! Hiss! on the evil corporation and their bribing, stealing ways.

Voyager said...

Unfortunately, camping mostly was not like that!

Yes, bribery and corruption are common in Tanzania, like many third world countries. It makes it hard for the smaller local operators like we used to compete and keep prices reasonable.