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July 4, 2013 / samwilson60

“Happy as a pig in shit!”

These were Sam’s words within minutes of making it to camp the night we left Arusha. We’d taken the dirt road south, knowing that a good wild camp was all we needed to life our spirits. Our chances were looking slim and we’d actually decided to settle for a basic campsite in a village called Kolo, near some highly recommended rock art, but then couldn’t find that either. We drove straight through what we had marked on the map as the campsite without seeing anyone or anything so continued through the trees towards the rock paintings until we hit upon a dry river bed. We both had the same thought the instant we saw it but Sam was the one to word it so delicately. This was the perfect wild camp we’d been looking for all along and not only was Sam “happy as a pig in shit”, he was apparently also so excited he “forgot to wee”. He eventually remembered his bladder only after bouncing up and down the sand collecting firewood and doing a few more lengths with the camera, his glee obvious even in silhouette. Not even a herd of approaching cattle, with almost as many accompanying children, spoilt the moment for more than a moment.

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Just as we’d laid the fire (after conversing with each and every cattle herder as best we could), we heard a car approaching. Unexpectedly, and quite amusingly for us, it was a family of Europeans based near Arusha, also looking for the elusive campsite. They clearly thought about joining us (and who could blame them) but eventually decided they’d try a little further, only to turn abruptly into the trees just the other side of the river bed. We assumed they were improvising too until one of them drove back past (sent back out to the village for food) and told us we were metres away from the real campsite. A weary “You’re not missing anything” was enough to have us lighting the fire and pitching the tent precisely where we were.

The next morning was no less surreal. We continued to the rock paintings car park, expecting at some point to be issued a permit or a guide or both and perhaps to be berated for having scorned the campsite. Instead we saw no one, not even the other Europeans, and found our own way all the way to the rock paintings car park. The only thing here was a sign informing us that we should allow 90 minutes to visit the area. Undeterred by the lack of further authorisation or instruction, we followed anything that could pass as a footpath up the hill to some promising looking rocks. In record quick time, we like to think, we’d found all three rock painting sites and had at least as many stops to admire the view down the valley.

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We were confused that the route suggested in English was so obviously different in Swahili. It was only afterwards we registered there wasn’t a map of either.

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Back at the car there were signs another vehicle had been around but we saw no one until we were back on the main track leaving the village. From here we had a leisurely drive to and through Dodoma – officially the capital, it made Porto Novo look like New York City. The only even slightly stressful point was well out the other side, when the road construction picked up again and we were looking for somewhere to camp. It’s always tricky when you have machinery and a half-built road between you and the bush, so we just grabbed the first real chance we got and dodged a few thorny shrubs as far as an inviting-looking baobab.

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There was a guy milling about with an axe/shovel but apart from glancing over and nodding a greeting, he was not to be distracted from whatever he was doing and we took this to be a sign of acceptance. Eventually he did come over but to say what we will never know. He was very jolly and equally talkative but after “Hi” and “How are you?” we’d exhausted our Swahili and were left floundering. He definitely had a lot to say about the baobab we were perched under, but again no idea whether his concerns were for our wellbeing or its. With sufficient sign language we believe we managed to convey our intentions to sleep there and leave for Iringa the next morning, and he seemed happy enough about that. He seemed most excited by our mention of “tomorrow”, apparently the only English word he spoke, but we didn’t see the conversation flowing any better by morning so skipped camp more or less at first light and completed the morning caffeine rituals at another, equally attractive baobab a kilometre or so down the track.

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One Comment

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  1. Peter Cullen / Jul 5 2013 7:41 am

    Camping under my favourite African tree. Lucky, lucky, lucky!!!

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