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

3 Tanzania

Tanzania generally comprises the former German East Africa. Germany came late to the Scramble for Africa, as the Europeans’ colonizing land grabs came to be known, and left early, because it was stripped of its colonies after the Great War. Its important colonies were only four – today’s Togo, Cameroon and Namibia along the west coast and today’s Tanzania, in the east.

For a while, German Chancellor Bismarck hung back from colonizing Africa with plaintive realpolitik: “Here is Russian and here is France,” he said, “with Germany in the middle. That is my map of Africa.”

Bismarck was no cosmopolitan, hardly a product of the European salon. A provincial, a scion of Prussia, he declared “The only healthy basis of a large state which differentiates it essentially from a petty state, is state egoism and not romanticism.” And by 1884, as Britain and France were madly laying their African stakes, a sense the Germans called Torschlusspanik, or “door-closing-panic,” took hold in Germany, a fear that it might be left out. Traders felt mercantile pressure from their British and French rivals, and let the government know it.

Maybe it was best to get while the getting was still good. Bismarck reexamined, applied a dose of egoism and with the support and urging of business interests from Hamburg and Bremen, Bismarck instructed the German explorer Dr Gustav Nachtigal to seize Cameroon, Togoland and Southwest Africa, which is now Namibia.

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.

Vignettes from Africa I – Driving to Nairobi

Here's a short series to be posted over several days, random short experiences in Africa. Not necessarily in any order, just observations collected over time.

Two hours 25 minutes beyond the lip of the Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania, we found a tarmac road. Open-backed, full-polluting Tatas tore across the flats outside town.

The run-up to Arusha was shady, tree lined, graceful. Then after the coffee plantations, ramshackle stalls like "Lucky Feed M ill." "Lucky Family General Store." "Moona Pharmacy." ("Moona is an obscenity in Finnish) "Beuty Saloon."

We got a driver in Arusha named Moses, and he said we'd make Nairobi by 4:00. Arusha called itself the halfway point between Cairo and the Cape. Maybe so, but I wondered, so what?

A few years ago a United Nations conference was postponed here because a snake fried the wiring of the Arusha International Conference Center. Made it too hot to use.

Over at the Mount Meru Hotel they’d be happy to arrange tickets for you on Air Burundi or Sudan Airways – whichever you’d like.

Moses stopped in at a little bar he knew for us to change the rest of our Tanzanian shillings into four Tusker premiums, and we sure did roll into Nairobi right at 4:00.


The most delicious thing in Nairobi was a three-day-old newspaper. It was nine days since we'd seen one. Walking back from the newsstand, a fight broke out right in the middle of Kenyatta Avenue. We stepped around the pile of people and settled into the ex-pat bar at the New Stanley Hotel, called the Thorn Tree.

Several cold Premium beers later, Maurice, a man from United Touring Company, came stridin’ in like the guy in those Keep On Truckin’ cartoons to settle a debt, clutching a one hundred dollar bill and a five.

Caught up, Premium braced and a hundred bucks richer, we felt like stepping out. They tell you not to brave the Nairobi streets at night. But the cabs wanted five bucks for two blocks’ walk, so we said screw 'em, and we walked to a place called Trattoria for Italian dinner, and then walked back. Most of the people on the streets were security men with clubs.

Next: Flying to Zimbabwe

Adding Insult to Injury (from Crocodiles)

This photo, from the Rwandan border town of Gisenyi, is as close as we got to the UN/NGO-dominated town of Goma, Dem. Rep. Congo. U.N. charters flew in almost constantly. Click the photo for a larger version you can actually see.



To and from Gisenyi, long haul trucks from the Indian Ocean ports of Mombasa and Dar es-Salaam brought goods to supply eastern Congo. Congo itself, mind you, fronts the Atlantic Ocean. But the state of its infrastructure is so dismal as to require the eastern half of the country to be supplied from the other side of the continent.

So it’s no real surprise to see this article from the AP: Wildebeest roadblock? Highway planned in Serengeti. Along with the crocodiles in the Mara River, it’s one more obstacle the wildebeests really don’t need.


Right now the annual wildebeest migration across the Masai Mara is in full swing. Here are a couple of sites tracking wildebeest movement:

Annual Wildebeest Migration
The Great Migration

Ngorongoro Crater Wildlife: From the Eventual Book


Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater is the caldera of an ancient volcano, 610 meters from rim to floor and a massive 310 kilometers in circumference. Safari lodges perch on the rim, and at the time of our visit there were five, the one where we stayed and three others, plus one for the private use of Abercrombie and Kent safaris.

The story is told that when Kent set out to found his tour company he knew Kent Tours lacked that certain magic. But Abercrombie, now, there's a name that spoke of aristocracy, so Mr. Kent's tour company became Abercrombie and Kent. There never was an Abercrombie.

At 8:00 at night, at the entrance to the crater – a pole pulled across a rutted track – there's 20 minutes of inane paperwork to be done by Very Important Clerks. I guess it was impossible to put those papers in order beforehand, or handle them more quickly.

Driving in, and traveling to the right along the rim, Mirja bolted upright. A leopard! Lying right there in the road! It was gone in a flash but it took good eyes to spy one at all, stealthy and rare as they are. That was thrilling.

Continue reading

Safari Story

The annual wildebeest migration across the Masai Mara has begun fully a month early this year. Says, "The front-runners of the Great Migration have arrived in Kenya’s Masai
Mara National Reserve earlier than expected. The herds, which usually
start arriving in mid to late July, entered the Mara on the 15th of

We hope to be visiting the area about this time next year and we'll share the planning process on CS&W. For now, here are a few migration resources:

The Migration Made Simple
The Great Migration
Annual Wildebeest Migration

Governor's Camp publishes a monthly game report.


Near the Masai Mara, about a hundred thirty miles west of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Ngorongoro crater, in Tanzania, covers roughly a hundred square miles. It's some 2000 feet floor to rim, about ten miles in diameter, and home to 25,000 large mammals, including this really incredible prehistoric monster thing. We'll tell you about our visit there later this week on Common Sense and Whiskey.

Criminals and Dotted Black Spots by the Topturn in Tanzania

Rhino Perhaps you saw the news item about the arrest in Kampala of Idelphonse Nizeyimana, suspected to be complicit in killing of Tutsis during the Rwandan genocide. He has been taken to the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda (ICTR) which is in Arusha, east across Lake Victoria in Tanzania.

Arusha is northern Tanzania's regional hub, near Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Kilimanjaro International airport and maybe two hundred fifty kilometers due south of Nairobi by a decent road. About a hundred eighty kilometers west of Arusha is the Ngorongoro crater, which, Wikipedia tells us, "is the world's largest unbroken, unflooded volcanic caldera.
The Crater, which formed when a giant volcano exploded and collapsed on
itself some two to three million years ago, is 610 m (2,001 ft) deep
and its floor covers 260 km² (102 square miles). "

We visited the crater more than ten years ago and I've just come across our itinerary:

"FRIDAY:                    Arrive
by KQ643 at Wilson Airport ETA 1355 Hrs then transferred by charters Ex-Wilson
Airport to Kilimanjaro Airport. Upon arrival, after completing Immigration and
customs formalities you will be met by UTC driver guide and drive to NGORONGORO
SOPA LODGE for dinner and overnight.

SATURDAY:                    After
breakfast descend into the crater in a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Soon the dotted
black spots you have been seeing from the topturn out to be herds of animals
Picnic lunch by the Stream. In the afternoon, after a magic day, you return to
NGORONGORO SOPA for dinner and overnight.

SUNDAY:                    After
breakfast descend into the crater in a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Soon the dotted
black spots you have been seeing from the topturn out to be herds of animals
Picnic lunch by the Stream. In the afternoon, after a magic day, you return to
NGORONGORO SOPA for dinner and overnight.

MONDAY:                    After
breakfast descend into the crater in a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Soon the dotted
black spots you have been seeing from the topturn out to be herds of animals
Picnic lunch by the Stream. In the afternoon, after a magic day, you return to
NGORONGORO SOPA for dinner and overnight.

TUESDAY:                    After
breakfast, descend into the crater in a four-wheel drive vehicle for AM crater
tour. Then ascend again from the crater. Lunch enroute then drop off Nairobi."

It's true. The dotted black spots from the topturn really were animals.

We'll publish a little story about our trip there tomorrow.

(Photo of rhinoceros from See many more animals in the Animals & Wildlife Gallery.)

var addthis_pub="libsmr"; var addthis_brand = "CS&W"; Bookmark and Share