You’ll notice that despite the opportunities for literary reference, I’ve mentioned none of my favorite authors: neither Hemingway nor Markham, Blixen or the rest of the Out of Africa crew these past couple of weeks. Tarangire, Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro are the setting of Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa; Markham, Blixen and the others flew these rivers and lakes to the north.
The reasons are two-fold, and pretty straightforward: as much as I love Hemingway’s writing, Green Hills is enough to make you hate the man. As a memoir, it’s painfully racist and sexist; oblivious of the value of life, human or otherwise, except for that of the author’s privileged hunting companions. Sure, he goes on about the beauty of the landscape and the magnificence of the animals. He kills a rhino, and in incensed that his companion Karl (“a terrible hunter with infinite luck”) has killed a bigger one, so now feels the need to go out and kill one that’s even larger. Same for the kudu. He spends a few pages talking about how raw a deal the natives have been given, then walks all over them just the same (then goes on to feel blessed that they “consider him their brother”). And don’t even get me started on his attitude towards women; I cringed every time he dictated how “the little memsahib” (his wife) should spend her time while he was out in the bush.
Okay. I’ll calm down now.
The reason I haven’t evoked Markham and her gang is closer to the heart. For me, so much of that writing is about flying, and it’s been hard to look out over these hills without wishing I were flying over them. Wishing you were flying when you can’t is a painful thing. And I wasn’t. Until now.
We’d spent the equivalent of two full days driving the roundabout way from Arusha to the northern reaches of the Serengeti, and it would be another full day’s drive to complete the triangle. Instead, Gary has arranged a treat for us: a charter flight back.
It was only a 45 minute drive to Kogatende, so we allowed ourselves a late start (for Gary, “late start” means a 6:30 wakeup). Poked around the remains of the last campfire, took group pictures and exchanged email addresses before piling into the Land Cruisers one last time.
The wooden sign on the dirt turnoff read “Kogatende Airstrip and Toilets”, where (on the airstrip) a shiny Cessna 208 from Regional Air was waiting for us. I introduced myself to Steve, our pilot, and wasted no time taking up the invitation to scramble into the right seat. Steve is Tanzanian, but trained in Canada and has flown all over the US, so we had plenty to talk about on the hour-or-so flight east.
I’d never been in a 208 before, and they’re a fabulous example of what happens when you take one basic design to an extreme. You can see the evolution from the dinky little two-seat C-152 trainer up to this 12-seat turbine-powered monster: the basics are the same; everything’s just bigger. Much bigger.
With everyone piled in back, Steve fired up the PT6 under the cowl (“whirrrrrrrrrrr-fwoom!”), lined us up on the 3000’-odd foot strip and pushed the power lever forward to the “go fast” position. Smooth acceleration up to 80 knots, then easy back on the wheel and, after a couple of gentle bounces, we were up. Flying. It was lovely.
The rules of the charter company dictated that we climb to 11,500 feet, so we didn’t get to trace the outlines of the hills, or skim riverbeds, but Steve did indulge us with a few sightseeing detours: we circled Ol Doinyo Lengai (“Mountain of God” in Maasai), an enormous – and active – standalone volcano, then turned south to peer down at the soda lake in the Empakai Crater, a prime breeding ground for flamingos.
Descending through the clouds into Arusha, we caught a glimpse of Kilimanjaro (and Hemingway’s famous snows) in the distance to the east. Steve squeaked it on expertly and taxied us to the terminal, where we said our goodbyes and exchanged contact information.
We’ve got one full day in Arusha, kicking around town and visiting a non-profit project or two, then it’s off to Amsterdam for another layover, then home.