Godfrey had been in a meeting with the president (!!!) all day and hadn’t had the chance to have lunch before picking us up for Mikumi. He had a headache, and I was glad I’d packed Panadol, a bag of salted cashews and Lays. The tea at his house did the trick, and he quietly crunched chips as he drove out of Dar es Salam, Brian strapped safely into the passenger seat where he promptly fell asleep, and Huz and me in the back seat.
I didn’t realise the city was so big. It took a pretty long time to reach the outer precincts and eventually a fork in the road. The perpendicular road led to Arusha….. (I almost stretched out my arm towards it….)
A policeman waved us down and motioned to Godfrey to stop along the side, and as he walked towards the car, my heart started thumping for some weird reason and my imagination went into overdrive.
He peered at Godfrey and asked him where he was going, glancing at us as he did so. Godfrey explained we were going to Mikumi. Then he asked who we were and where we were from. It was just a routine security check, but while he inspected our passports, Godfrey whispered that he was probably going to think of a way to get some money out of us. Sure enough, though he found no fault with our passports (much to his disappointment), he found it objectionable that Godfrey was driving around with just a photocopy of his drivers’ license and not the original. There ensued a discussion in Kiswahili, with Godfrey pooh-poohing the policeman’s half-hearted contention and sticking to his ground until he realised there was no way he could intimidate Godfrey into giving him anything. Not understanding any of it, I relaxed only when we were waved off and moved on, none the poorer.
The road was long and as we were in Anna’s car, we had to choose from her CD’s for road music. Apparently she liked ballads and romantic songs so we alternated between Kenny Rogers and Lionel Richie as we whizzed along the highway, and though it was dark except for the car headlights, I could make out the shapes of trees on both sides. I was lulled into dozing, but opened my eyes every now and then to check the time or to listen to the conversation between the men, and occasionally put in my two-bit. It turned out that Godfrey would pick up Anna on the way, from a place called Morogoro, a small town about an hour and a half away from the park. And there was yet another change of plan. Though we had special permission to get into the park AFTER the gates had closed for the evening, we were told that it would be unsafe to reach there after 11 o’ clock since the generators were turned off then. So now we would have to spend the night at Morogoro.
By this time, I was feeling thoroughly adventurous, and every new development brought a thrill. I was hurtling through space in the middle of the Tanzanian countryside, unable to get a grasp of my surroundings because of the darkness, but it didn’t matter. The only thing familiar was ‘Say you, Say me’ and ‘Endless Love’, and of course Huz sitting next to me. I put my hand in his and smiled in the dark. Staring ahead through the windshield, I noticed a strange glow up ahead and suddenly we were engulfed in…..
……FOG….! The world turned phantasmagoric and I imagined I saw luminous eyes of strange beasts through the tall grass……fireflies were flashing around and playing tricks with my head.
I marvelled at the road. It was a smooth drive without even a single bump, and Godfrey drove fast, covering the distance between Dar and Morogoro rapidly. Even so, I think it took us a little over four hours to reach the town. That’s about twice as long as it takes to reach Hyderabad from Karachi….and I find THAT to be too long.
Godfrey called up Anna to find out where she was and we made our way over a potholed side road to find her standing with two people outside a guesthouse. She got in the front seat and settled the now awake Brian onto her lap, said goodbye to her friends and we set off to look for a place to spend the night in.
I’m not sure anymore, but I think the hotel we found to stay in was called ‘Morogoro Hotel’ (well, let’s just call it that.) Felt great to get out of the car and stretch my legs in the parking lot, and we collected our bags and made our way over to the reception, behind the desk of which was a rather disconcerting sight of predator and prey.
We were assigned separate rooms, Godfrey’s family and us, and we walked through a tubelit inner courtyard to get to the building that housed the rooms for rent, with a plan to meet again in a few minutes for a quick dinner. It was eerily empty, and our footsteps echoed along the corridors that afforded some further peculiar sights….
An attendant led the way and transported our bags and unlocked a door for us off an empty corridor.
A very basic room, and a far cry from the luxuries of the Kempinski, but really neat and clean…I realised it’s been a long time since I stayed at a cheap hotel…..but somehow, that thrilled me. Weird, I know. And the smell of cheap soap in the bathroom reminded me of trips up north, way back when….
Over a dinner of stew made with a tough old chicken and rice, I got better acquainted with Anna, who told us to use bottled water to brush instead of tap water as we parted ways for the night. We obeyed without asking why and went to bed straight away, considering we had to be up again at 6:30 in the morning, Huz making sure we were completely surrounded by mosquito netting.
It took me a long time to fall asleep, and when I did it was only to wake again every half an hour, or so it felt. On top of that, there was a rooster somewhere outside, utterly convinced dawn was about to break at what seemed like 4 am, and therefore started crowing at regular intervals forthwith. So I was awake, my head on the hard little pillow, when I glimpsed the sky lightening through a chink in the curtains, and I got up to see what I could of the outside world.
We got dressed and went to have breakfast downstairs in a dining hall with a quaint array of breakfast goodies. I was beginning to really enjoy a cup of Africafe, though it was accompanied by arguably the worst omelette in the world, despite being made with the best intentions. But I filled up on fresh juicy pineapple and was happy, and soon we were checked out, back in the car and on our way.
Daylight brought pretty cool revelations. Apparently, Morogoro is built on flat land at the base of green hills. And the entire drive from there to Mikumi was probably one of the most beautifully scenic I have ever laid eyes on.