Our safari over, we land at a more standard western hotel in Arusha than the safari lodges (some are beautiful) and tented camp (worth experiencing for one night, not the two that we did) which were our homes for our time in the game parks and areas. I focus on Serengeti here for the obvious reasons.
I could have also written glowingly about Lake Manyara (especially the flocks of spectacular yellow beaked and billed pelicans) and Tarangire (with its elephant herds), though Ngorongoro Crater surprised us, given the hype, offering us nothing new or particularly interesting, save the crater itself.
After checking in, we sit down with Zadock on the warm veranda for some fine fellow-feeling and farewells of well-wishing and hugs. We hope to keep in touch, and tell him that should there be a high-school exchange program for his boys (but 7 and 4) to come to the US, we would try to help out.
Off the next morning to the tiny airport of Kilimanjaro, which, incongruously, serves big jets, the exit procedures unfold smoothly enough, except that our plane departs late. This causes us consternation, as we, somewhat foolish by necessity, need to make a forty-minute connection in Nairobi on the way to Johannesburg. We gave ourselves so little time because otherwise we would have had a six-hour layover and therefore arrive in Johannesburg in the middle of the night. Not recommended. The lateness of our tauntingly named Precision Air flight makes us, after running baggage-laden through the airport, arrive at the gate just after the flight closes. A few expletives later, we regroup, jump through many hoops, and after a night in Nairobi, and various unexpected bureaucratic adventures, we semi-miraculously take off at 8:45 AM on a commodious South African Airways flight, with a relaxed and accommodating crew, straight to Johannesburg, and its gleaming first-world airport.
Entry into South Africa is easy, as is procuring our rental SUV, and, GPS working splendidly, we head off for our four-hour drive to the Drakensberg Escarpment, where we are to spend several days exploring some of the reputably greatest hiking in the world. On the way, driving on excellent roads, we pass, successively, depressing shantytowns, which in their density cast the ones in Arusha in a less desperate light, industrial zones with grim supporting towns nearby set strangely in an American midwestern-looking landscape, and open farming plains lush with crops. We approach the escarpment after the beautiful sunset — especially ooed-and-awed-at by Gideon – disappeared, leaving its residue, the darkness. Passing through poor areas on the outskirts of the major city of the region, I am a bit on guard, horror-stories abound about crime here, but nothing feels the slightest out of the ordinary.
Soon, we arrive, after a hilly, windy climb, at our hotel in the Drakensberg, the Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge, which immediately charms us — only about six hours behind our original schedule, and none the worse off for our unexpected Nairobi (mis)adventure.
In fact, better off. We were afforded a glimpse of Nairobi, which is manifestly so much better developed than it was ten years earlier when I went there to shoot material for Worse Than War, the PBS documentary based on my book on genocide. New road system, massive commercial development, modern apartment blocks. Despite the enormous slums (including the world’s largest), Nairobi seems to have turned a developmental corner. The sense of despair about Nairobi and Kenya I had taken home with me a decade ago was quickly and, I hope, justifiably updated into a more positive, albeit certainly incomplete, picture. This experience was yet another reminder of how dated knowledge about, and views of, things quickly become, and often how happenstance is our access to new information. We were also better off for our Nairobi visit, because not only did Sarah and Gideon gain an impression of this major city, but also, to Gideon’s delight, he (and Sarah) added, unexpectedly, another country to his (and she to hers) roster of countries visited. Our rule is that you must leave the environs of the airport for a country-touchdown to count. We were in Nairobi overnight!
As Gideon would say, that’s legit.