Monday, August 9, 2010

maasailand dreamin'



(mwali on rhino)

i don't feel like being back on the hill.

i don't.

i am sulking.

i am spoilt for life.


people, the best way of traversing maasailand is on horse back. and that's a fact. walking is slow and long. driving leaves tracks for years and engulfs you in clouds of dust. it jolts the spine. whereas on a horse, you can pick your way through thickets, silently, flushing lesser kudu. you can play with zebra, if you have the wind right. you can sneak up on gerenuk, with their strange long necks and giraffe wander out to get a closer look at you. sand grouse or yellow necks fly suddenly from the horses feet. you can stop and watch the mountains and the clouds edge across the sun. and you can never get lost on a horse. they will always find their way back to camp. always. it's the only way. more than anything, the horses love it. the place matches their wild spirit.


northern maasailand is a vast wild area, tangle wood drear, lying between tanzania and kenya, belonging to no one, through which the maasai still wander following their herds. it stretches out like an ocean, undulating and changing light with each minute. you can sit and stare at it like you would at a fire. it rolls away in front of you, leaving the impression of gentleness. but once you step off into it, it's anything but gentle. its a sea of dust and acacia. waterless. a desert. the thorns try and grab you as you squeeze past the crooked acacia branches. squat snake tracks lie on old dried up lakes. you think of them as you pick your way through long grass. the wind is ceaseless. sometimes raging, sometimes gentle but always there. at midday, as you sit in camp, sheltering from the sun, dust devils twist and turn far away into the white sky.


it is so silent out there at night. the silence is punctuated only by the mournful whoop of hyaena or the staccato yelp of jackal. lion are silent in maasailand. they are clever. they know to keep quiet. they share their space with maasai and their cattle. maasai do not like lion. they poison the cattle carcasses. and i dream in maasailand, oh best beloveds. its a land of dreaming. clear and vivid dreams, as alive as the waking hours. the lines are thin between dreaming and wakefulness. sometimes you think you can hear the stars creak on their axis, it's so silent. the wind on canvas lets you imagine you are in a little boat far out at sea. camping in maasailand makes you feel very small. and right. it reconfirms that no one can own africa. you want to. you dream of it. you pretend it's all yours. but if you try, it'll kill you in the end. you can only pass through it. momentarily.


we packed the landrover high, bales of hay, horse food, hooch, nyama, fruit and vegetables. safari c took his holland & holland, not for hunting but in case we had to shoot a horse... we loaded our fine steeds onto willie's little blue canter truck, aptly named The White Horse, painted in curly red letters above the windscreen and trundled northwards.

to make the horse camp, we tied a rope from branch to branch, high up in the crooked tortillas branches, and attached the horses on halters to this, long enough rope so the horses could lie down and couldn't tangle themselves up. amneey, mwali, mammedi and steven made an askari rota to keep watch on the horses through the night. hyena circled the flickering horse camp fire at night. nosy jackals snuck in close. my horse, the legendary apaloosa, De La Rey aka The General, lay down each night and perfectly ignored these pesky predators. he knows the bush. he ain't afraid of nothin'. the other horses snorted and pulled at their ropes. it was only on the last night that lion called from far away. i think the little spotty horse would've stood up if they had come closer. . . .


the day starts early. good tanzanian coffee is delivered with a gentle "hodi hodi" from claus or juma to your tent around 6, at first light, when everything is still cool, pastel and gentle. you stumble out your tent, barefeet, stepping on a misplaced devil thorn (those teeny little "mibas" with three spikes). you drink your coffee, thinking of your dreams, smoking a sportsman, eyeing your dusty boots from yesterday, staring at the view.(coffee, early morning and dusty boots of spanish of leather)

two hours later, you sit down to a sumptuous breakfast of fried eggs (2, naturally), bacon (crispy), lashings of baked beans (heinz. some things never change.), tomatoes (fried), toast and strawberry jam, paw paw (the sweetest you'll ever taste) and more coffee just in case you never had enough at six. the horses arrive from their camp, sporting bright yellow boots of pi grease, to thwart the maasailand ticks. you saddle up and ride out, drifting this way and that with the wind, distant cowbells tinkling. you stop to watch a line of zebra in the distance, wandering below a post card picture of kilimanjaro, the snow like icing sugar. two or three hours later, you're home, sipping on a cold vodka and tonic, prettily laced with sliced lemon, or a chilled glass of the cape's finest white followed by a salad lunch. siesta time follows. more dreaming. four o clock tea time and another ride. riding in the late afternoon glow when the grass is gold and the mountains are blue and you know you never magicked this up....

( de la rey with mt meru back drop)

the smell of acacia wood smoke welcomes you back home, at last light, and we sit and watch the african night swiftly arrive, throwing her net of stars across the sky. we munch on bitings of biltong, drawing nearer to the fire because the wind has an icy edge to it now. it blows from behind your back. from the mountains, across the empty ngaserai plain, cold tendrils creeping around your neck.

( mohammed and sybil first home at last light)

the best thing are the piping hot showers. the water is stingingly hot, making your skin steamy pink. the smell of dust, sweat, leather and horse mixed with jasmine scented soap is heady. dinner at a long table, dressed in stiff white linen and the children chattering like monkeys, begging me not to regale them with my finest ghost tales yet secretly wanting me to. the winding sandy path to bed and dreams, following the "nyali" (paraffin lanterns) hung delicately in the tree branches all the way to your tent and the wind, the wind, playing in my hair....

you see, that's why i don't want to be here, oh best beloveds.

i'll be dreaming of maasailand for a while.

toodely toot then, bisous X.X.X windy desert ones x j

21 comments:

nuttycow said...

Wow - what a fantastic time you have had. I've never done it on horseback but I love the call of "hodi" on a slightly chilly start to a blistering hot day. Cup of tea left outside and ready for a big fat fry up with the sounds of the bush all around.

*sigh*

Karine said...

thank you for making me dream for a moment, Janelle. Escaping office life. The bad side of this is that I am waking up, in this ugly office where I stay way too long everyday. I'd be happier outside, in the bush... and I certainly miss horses... Time to rethink my career, I guess :)

Mud in the City said...

And such dreams! I've been lucky enough to explore Africa on horse back too, introduce a horse to his first giraffe, gallop along yelling aardvark hole warnings, spot the eagle owls gliding in to roost at dusk, the jackal slinking under a tree in the midday hazy heat and feel that perfect weariness at the end of a long day in the saddle. Bliss! (can i come next time please?)

Will said...

I so enjoy your words. Sometimes the words leave a dream-like positive. But there are times when your words create sadness.

The sadness is this - such open places won't last forever. The global population has its foot down on the gas pedal and it will eventually nibble then consume all the wild places.

I often think of what it was like to live in Washington, Oregon and California in the early 1900s. Open spaces, wild things, sparse populations, indigenous people and such. And now ....

So, live in the moment, enjoy it all and don't think of tomorrow's beast.

Janelle said...

hey nutty...yeah. its the best eh? thanks for swinging by. xxx j

karine, merci pour des mots...and delighted to have found your wonderful blog too! xxx j

mud, one day we just have to meet and horses will certainly be involved...yes! xxx j

will, you so hit it on the head...there is sadness in my words. thanks for seeing it. and thank you for reading! xxx j

JoeinVegas said...

That does sound like a marvelous time away - much better than cars and crowds

Tavarua said...

Janelle,

Excellent post and a great blog. Your photos are fantastic....

Thank you kindly for your comments as well...

"Tavarua"

Barbara said...

Beautiful!

Reya Mellicker said...

Wow. You are so entitled to pout for awhile.

Now I, too, am dreaming of Maasailand, too. Who knew it was even possible. You explained everything. Thank you.

Amanda said...

yeah, coffee wafting in the air at dawn. and hot showers and the smell of dust mixed with leather and sweat. some of the best days on earth start and end that way. i know this feeling intimately.

i love reading your stories.

this tale communicates love of place so deep it's visceral. you pass africa through you the way i do greece.

Val said...

phew - i am hanging on tight to your everyword....
sigh xxxV

Anonymous said...

One of your finest posts, Janelle. Very finest. We, some of use who used to know, live through your stories.... we can't be there now, but for now, we can be back there with you. Insha'Allah

Angela said...

This is what riding horseback should be like - I once chased cattle in Tennessee, but there was no Mt. Kili in the background, and no aardvark tracks and lion calls. Wow, what a breathless description, and yes, in each of your posts you share some of your sadness, but life is still good, isn`t it?

Janelle said...

oh joe so much more marvelous than cars and crowds, i promise you. x j

mr t. your photographs are way more fantastic than these. nevertheless, grands mercis! x j

thank you barbara. x j

bella magical reya - dream dream dream. its the best. x j

thanks amanda! greece. now there's a place i have always wanted to sail around....one day one day. x j

shucks. do val, do. xx j

anonymous. i have a feeling i KNOW you. i think you're chantelly or ruth...next time leave your name silly! xxx j

geli, life has never been so fine as it is right now. indeed. x j

katemca said...

I'm coming next time :) xxx

Family Affairs said...

I don't blame you for sulking - it looks just divine. One day....one day. I'll be there too I hope. Dream. Lx

Dumdad said...

Great blogpost. But I don't think I'd last five minutes out there. Too much a city boy. Still, one can dream of these open spaces and the wilds.

Nicky S (Absolute Vanilla) said...

what an evocative, stunning post, Janelle! So rich, so vivid - and it sounds like you had the most amazing time - a lot, it sounds, like going "walkabout" in the dreamland! Wonderful!
Am going to share a link to your post on FB if you don't mind.

Carolina said...

So wonderful....

Sherry O'Keefe said...

i've been carrying around a note in my back pocket that says something like "and let's not even talk about the house on the hill".

from that to here, i am not sure what happened. but now i am here and wanted to say i'll be back for more. good stuff, this.

sherry

Spiny Marshmallow said...

Shew I am speechless. Jealous. And full of admiration for your writing.