I woke up in the morning in the heart of African soil. It was still dark outside. I had planned to meet the driver at 6 a.m., went on safari early that morning. The sky gained light and the earth added colors as the Land Cruiser drove on. The billowing clouds over the horizon were a marvel with their red coloration.
Dazzling sunbeams traveled skyward from the horizon opposite the red clouds. The sun started to rise. As a Japanese, I could not stop my feeling to pray towards the rising sun. I stood up in the second row of seats as the Land Cruiser drove down a bumpy road. Feeling the crisp morning air from the gap below the raised roof, I closed my eyes with my hands pressed together in prayer.
The clouds hovering over the horizon has changed from red to the rosy pink of dawn, as I looked back. I took in the panoramic view that spread 360 degrees around me, feeling the open air. It might have been more accurate to call the area around our hotel an open forest than a meadow. We had not seen any animals that morning. The sky was turquoise, without even a single cloud above our heads.
Out of the blue, a guineafowl jumped onto the road to greet us, and began running ahead of us as if to see who was faster. The bird took flight in the course of the race, whirled right and flew away.
The car stopped after about a 30-minute drive from the hotel and the driver said, “Let’s go to the hippo pool.” I followed him. It was one of the few places in the national park where we could leave our car. In the morning sunlight, hippos were bathing, crowding the muddy water. At a glance I estimated well over a hundred of them. “Pool” expressed this scene brilliantly. The hundred-plus hippos kept their eyes and ears above the water in an area smaller than a swimming pool at a decent resort hotel. Some lay atop each other.
According to the driver, crocodiles live in this marshland, too. But they stay underwater and keep themselves invisible in the morning while the ground is cold. The driver informed me that crocodiles and hippos live together in the small pool, but the crocodiles do not eat hippos. Whatever the case, I was relieved to find no need to worry about crocodile attacks. I walked to the shore. The scene, vigor and sound overwhelmed me as I watched the herd of hippos close enough to touch the water.
When one hippo cried out, all the members of the herd responded. Another opened its big mouth to yawn. And another stood up and, with tail flapping emptied its bowels. After enjoying this amazing place for a while, at the driver’s insistence we hopped on to Land Cruiser to travel the same road back to the hotel.
On our way back, we came across many animals that seemed to have already started their day. Five giraffes crossed the road just ahead of us and the driver brought the Land Cruiser to a halt. I stood up in the car for the occasion, and enjoyed playing a staring game with the giraffes for a while.
Then we ran into a flock of ostriches. They walked away slowly, swinging their big buttocks and moving their two slender legs back and forth.
We met warthogs too. The comical-looking animals reminded me of the movie The Lion King. They played with impalas, as if they were chatting something. The warthogs looked as if they would start singing “Hakuna Matata” like they did in the movie. I slipped into a fun daydream as I imagined the herd of hippos in the pool joining them in chorus of “Hakuna Matata.”
Our car reached the hotel entrance after climbing a small hill. The hotel was built on a slope behind the hill, in the middle of the national park. The cottage-type structure had no barrier like a fence to separate its premises from the world outside, so security guards always escorted guests who left their cottage at night. Last night I came across three dikdiks (an animal that looks like an antelope or a deer) on the way back from dinner to my cottage. Their eyes gleamed red when a security guard directed a flashlight at them. Strangely, they didn’t move. The guard told me lions occasionally show up as well. .
Hyraxes (small animals the size of a rabbit) dropped by to greet me while I was having breakfast at the hotel restaurant after the early-bird safari. I took a stroll within the hotel grounds after breakfast. There was a swimming pool next to the restaurant. I found an observation platform with a sweeping view of the great Serengeti plains on the opposite side of the pool. I sat quietly on the lookout point for some time and I felt myself melting into Mother Nature when I closed my eyes for meditation.
It was shortly before 10 a.m. local time and it was time for me to leave for the airport. The sun was high already. The sky was turquoise. A large variety of animals showed up on our way back to the airport, as if to say goodbye to us. We ran into a big family of elephants and a herd of giraffes. Zebras and Gnu closed the series of farewell appearances. They didn’t cross the red dirt road or block our car. It’s more accurate to say that our Land Cruiser drove across their habitat, blocking them along the way. Dark brown animals rose up one after another, and hurriedly moved out of the road to a grass patch as the car traveled through their land.
My flight was scheduled for 11:05 a.m. and it was already past 10:30. Thinking we had to check in for a domestic flight at least 30 minutes in advance and feeling pressed for time, I confirmed again and again with the driver, saying “Are you sure we’ll make it?” The driver replied, “Yes, no problem.” I began to get anxious. The Land Cruiser traveled on and on, but no airport came into view. All I could see was herds of Gnu.
Finally, I spotted a decent-looking flat shack with several Land Cruisers parked nearby. It looked like an airport, but I saw only two small Cessnas parked on the red soil.
I was scheduled to depart in just 20 minutes. Led by the driver, I stepped out of the car onto the red dirt runway and began walking toward one of the Cessnas. A Caucasian pilot in a white, short-sleeved uniform confirmed who I was in a British accent. “Are you Mr. Yoshito Hori?” I answered “Yes.”
Without realizing exactly what I was doing, I said goodbye to the driver gave him a tip. Guided by the pilot, I boarded the 10-passenger plane. Four passengers were already on board. The pilot climbed into the cockpit as I got on, and started the engine. “It’s earlier than scheduled.” he told us, “but all the passengers are already here so we’ll take off anyway. Please fasten your seatbelt.” No check-in procedure, no flight attendant. The plane took off after verbally checking the passengers’ identities.
Zebras were leisurely munching grass at leisure as I peered out through the small window. The Cessna plane left the ground as if floating after rattling and bouncing down the red dirt runway. My cellular phone was getting a signal even in those conditions. So I tweeted whatever thoughts came to my mind as the plane took off.
Viewed from above, the Serengeti was extraordinary. On the ground, I saw thick vegetation, but the arid, brown earth was the only thing I could make out from the sky. The dry land appeared to stretch endlessly. Frankly I wondered how people could leave such a vast ground untouched. I saw no manmade objects whatsoever.
Our plane flew directly above the Olduvai Gorge and approached a mountain with a two-tone carpet of green and yellow. We flew close to the ground, then neared the Ngorongoro Crater and flew over the volcanic lake. After the crater, a farming area appeared on the east side of the lake. Coffee plantations and corn fields lined the area. High peaks then presented themselves nearby. But clouds kept me from confirming which one was Kilimanjaro.
After flying over these landscapes, the Cessna landed on a red dirt runway in Arusha. I waited for my connecting flight in a lounge lined with plastic chairs. It was called a “waiting lounge,” but it had only a roof to shade us from the sun. The lounge made me feel like taking in an open-air aerial show at an airfield with nothing but Cessnas. But hardly any planes took off.
I re-boarded the same plane after a while and this time I was the only passenger. I positioned myself immediately behind the cockpit and I could see all meters. The seat offered me a sweeping cockpit view as well. The Cessna flew nonstop for two hours against a head wind and in a heavy rain that started midway through. The streets of Dar es Salaam came into view as the plane descended under the clouds and I saw a properly paved runway. We landed on it after making a big left turn.
The driver who met me there three days earlier was at the airport to pick me up. I took my hat off, changed from a T-shirt and jeans to a suit, put on black socks, and changed into black leather shoes in the car as we traveled to the venue of the World Economic Forum. My mental state had already switched to that of a business person.
May 8, 2010
Written in a waiting lounge at Dar es Salaam Airport