(This is the next installment in my series that began here about our return trip to Tanzania after 15 years away.)
“Fike salama!” (FEE-kay Sa-LA-ma) is what you say in Swahili to someone who is leaving. It translates as arrive safely or peacefully. It’s a thoughtful wish when saying farewell anywhere in the world, but especially so in places where arriving safely is not taken for granted. Whether impassable roads, vehicle breakdowns, animals, or weather – in Tanzania you never know what obstacles you may encounter and what kind of peril or delay they might impose.
Our time in Tanzania coincided with the season known as “the short rains” which were apparently magnified by the fact that it was an El Nino year. During our safari we encountered exceptional conditions and situations – the kind that warrant an earnest prayer along with “Fike Salama.” Our driver, Alex, was undaunted and reminded us several times, “You’re only stuck if you never get out.” Here, we are experiencing a slight delay…not stuck mind you.
Not only was Alex an excellent driver for us, he was helpful to others when luck wasn’t on their side. We started joking that the tour company should be renamed, “Serengeti Select Safaris and Towing Service.”
It was ominous to come upon this sight on our very first day in a remote part of northern Tanzania.
This passenger bus was about a quarter of the way along its 12 hour journey. After seeing another safari vehicle cross successfully we followed after. Once on the other bank, the bus drivers asked Alex to try and pull them out. He made several attempts, but the bus’s front and back wheels were both sunk too deeply in mud. The man who scored a ride with us was delighted though, as we could take him directly to his destination – his job at the tented camp where we were headed for the night.
Another day we came across this tourist vehicle. Our driver was able to pull them out within a couple of minutes. You can imagine how this stoked the “sense of adventure” for the children with us!
And these unfortunate people had driven the front wheel of their truck right into an aardvark hole. Our driver had done the same thing once so was able to coach everyone through the “rescue”.
After much digging and pulling by us, it was determined that a second towing vehicle would be required. At least the impressive wildebeest migration herds were all around us keeping things interesting while we waited for someone to come by. Eventually Alex and another safari guide hitched all the vehicles together and got the truck out.
You might be thinking that is sufficient proof that things can be treacherous in Tanzania. I agree, but I can’t finish this up without also telling you about the misfortune of this massive water tanker.
While at Tarangire National Park, a heavy rain fell and sent a surge of water down this usually dry river bed. This tanker, which delivers water to the lodges, had tried to cross but was washed down stream and tipped on its side. We watched the human and tractor efforts to dig, push, pull, and lift for a long time. There was great cheering by tourists on the bank and workers in the river bed once it was finally upright.
That success was temporary however as they were not able to get it up and out of the riverbed before dusk. That night, another rain fell and the truck was once again washed downstream and this time it wedged deeply into the mud.
It used to be “no news is good news,” when people went traveling in Tanzania. A change since our departure in the 90s is that because of cell phones, people want and expect to know when their family and friends do reach their destinations. We were intrigued that it has become standard practice to text the people you parted from once you arrive. It didn’t seem to matter the distance – walking a half mile home from a visit or driving hours to another city -if we failed to check in, we would receive a call or text asking after us.
With a good driver and vehicle, it’s easy to view the above situations as part of a fun adventure. But I’m also aware what a luxury that perspective is, when in fact arriving safely is something to announce and appreciate.