Africa Vignette Series


At the end of the month we’re heading to the Maasai Mara for the annual wildebeest migration. Between now and then, here is a blizzard of little African vignettes. They are just short little bits, not in any particular order, not particularly edited. Maybe they’ll entice you to visit too one day. Hope you enjoy them. All the photos in this series are from

10 Tanzania

Godfrey’s Land Rover is solid as a rock with two seats, then two more seats, then a bench, then storage behind. Bars extend top to bottom at several strategic locations, for passengers to grab while lurching along bad roads. A panel pops out above the roof and pivots on four legs. That allows you to stand clear of impediments to viewing (unless you’re a basketball player) and gives shade from sun and rain, too.

So we stand up in the pop-top and survey 60 or 80 wildebeests, each looking like an ungainly mix of ox, antelope and horse. Godfrey reckons this herd (which passes through and doesn’t live exclusively in the crater) at about 1.6 million strong, but he says fully a quarter, some 400,000 may die in their annual migration. Looks like they replenish themselves fast, though. There are more moms and kids in this herd than anyone else.

They sound like sheep on testosterone.

One side of the hill asks a question, “Mmmmmm?”

The other side answers, “Mmmmmm.”

Up and down. Tonal. Godfrey suggests they’re introducing themselves by their other name, “Gnuuuu. Gnu. Gnuuuuu.”

There are always zebra around wildebeests. Here they stand, shaking and twitching like neurotics. They get the Day One Most Dispirited-Looking Beast Award. The little ones, and even some of the bigger ones, have an unfledged, unbecoming brown fuzz.

Two ostriches, a male (black) and a female, (brown) cut solitary profiles way out in the field by themselves as the silliest bird in creation comes close by, the crown crane. With a fanned out bright yellow  and red wattle, they’re entirely preposterous.

Suddenly, up from the brush beside the creek, a Coke’s hartebeest bolts right in front of us, dramatically and nakedly all by himself, straight across our path and out onto the plain. These antelopes weigh around 300 pounds but this one bounds light as a gazelle half his weight. Indeed, the Coke’s is one of the fastest antelopes, and an endurance runner. The hartebeest is sort of a white collar wildebeest, presentable and cleaned up, without the straggly mane. A wildebeest with a clean shave.

This entire series of vignettes will reside here, in the Africa section. If you enjoy them please have a look at my two travel books, Common Sense and Whiskey and Visiting Chernobyl.

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