The following 3 days would be a brutally hot, mildly productive but educational experience. As the red sun rose above the horizon on our second day, our cool morning stroll quickly transformed into a blistering typical day in the plains. Within 30 minutes of the sunrise all of the clouds had burnt off and we began to sweat. One hour into the journey we came across a series of zebra tracks that hadn’t been there the previous evening. We decided to follow them in hopes of getting some good ground shots of the psychedelic donkey-like creatures. For 20 minutes or so we followed the tracks, winding our way through some thick brush and out into an open plain where we found 3 adults and a baby casually grazing in the dry pasture. We sat in the shade to rest and watch the zebras chow. Thankfully, it was still early enough in the day that the shade and cool breeze was enough to get some rest. I sat and closed my eyes. The whistle of the wind and song of Fischers Lovebirds filled the air. But just as Paul Theroux once wrote, ‘Not the trumpeting of elephants nor the roar of lions, the predominant sound of the African bush was the coo-cooing of the turtle dove.’
Sadly, our shade had left us and again we were being cooked alive by the sun. We continued our trek for a short time and lazily wandered back to the village, sweaty shirts draped on our heads. I’d forgotten that it was a Sunday, so when we rounded the last large cluster of trees, we found ourselves surrounded by a couple hundred Maasai men, women and children. The weekends at Engareyani Maasai village are fairly busy despite its remote location. Families from all of the bomas for miles around walk for hours in the early morning to come and sell their goods. I decided to walk with Pius a bit longer – for I was in search of some traditional Maasai gear. I wanted some jewelry, one of the infamous swords they use to cut through bone, and my own set of shuka. I’ve always admired the Maasai for continuing to wear their traditional wraps. They mildly resemble the togas of the Romans, without the aristocratic white and testosterone filled sexual deviant. They appear to be silent humble warriors. Seeing Pius’s father slowly stroll through the plains is a legendary sight. His ancient looking skin, dark glazed over eyes with a thousand yard stare – walking stick in hand and sword at his side.
We searched only briefly and found that it was going to be difficult to negotiate a reasonable price with me present. Pius sent me back to his brother’s house to wait for him to bring some options back. So I strolled towards the house admiring the bustle of the market around me. People stared, some laughed, some scowling, either way I enjoyed myself – just watching the purple and red cloth flowing in the wind, the twinkling tiny disks hanging by the hundreds on the bejeweled passers-by. I decided to make a quick stop at the shop to grab a pouch of Konyagi (The gin like creation made here in Tanzania, sold in 3oz soft plasic pouches). I quickly regretted my decision as I heard an obnoxious familiar voice bellow out to my left. “Daoglos! Ukuja, ukunywa beiya” Once again, I was in for a painful, but educational experience. I sat down next to Joseph and listened to him rattle of a whole bunch of confusing broken statements about his “brothers” around him. I think the nearly unconscious one to my left was actually his brother, but either way he continued on motioning to the various men in the room mumbling inaudible trash talk that did eventually end up in near violence. I was not afraid, but not exactly comfortable with the situation. The other men assumed I had bought his beer and were all complaining that I wasn’t going to buy them beers, and to elevate the situation, Joseph just began cussing and waving his arms at them. So, I quickly finished my drink, begged their pardon and departed back to the house. By the look on my face Pius could tell I had had another exciting time with Joseph – patted me on the back and showed me his finds. I purchased a few of the goods and sat down in the cool dark room of his brother’s house to read my book – enough excitement for one day.
The next two days would be a frustrating lifeless experience. I’d forgotten to bring my camera trap with me, therefore eliminating my ability get some cool nighttime shots of that honey badger and other nocturnal animals. The last of the exciting experiences was the tracking of a small snake near-by one of the bomas. This creature conveniently kept to the softer sand areas, making it very easy to track – winding its way through a series of bushes, I was so close I could feel it. We had been searching for days! We saw tracks of small snakes, medium snakes, even huge ones. After our visit to Messerani Snake Park outside of Arusha, I was just dying to get some shots of a cobra, or puff adder or even the legendary Black Mamba. So, on we went, weaving our way through the brush, catching our clothes on thorns, occasionally so thoroughly that no which direction I twisted I was pricked by 3 inch brutal spikes. Finally, just before the acceptance of complete failure, I caught a glimpse of something in the branches of a bush about 60 feet away. I ran like a child to an ice-cream truck – there hanging in the tree was the un-torn freshly shed skin of a snake, measuring about one foot in length. I had searched for so long with no results, even finding skin was enough to make me jump for joy! It was even something I could take back with me, without the disaproval of customs officials. I carefully plucked it from the tree, it was still wet! That snake had JUST disappeared. I stuffed the skin into a pocket and gave the order to search furiously through the surrounding area. A sweaty twenty minutes later, with no finds, I decided to call it a day and head back to the house. When we arrived I immediately pulled out my field guide and began to examine the skin. Cross referencing details of the scales and color with information in the book I found, the skin belongs to a Common Egg-eater (Dasypeltis Scabra)! For me, this made the whole 4 days, a WIN! Tomorrow I would once again board the large truck, this time in the cold dark hours of the morning. This time, it was not so pleasant. My fellow roof-riders and I wrapped up tight to keep warm. I even pulled one of my shuka from my bag and wrapped it tightly around my head and shoulders. On this journey, there was no laughter, no jovial conversation. Just a group of people huddled together to share warmth, and a few of us (in my opinion, lucky ones), wrapped just tightly enough to sit up top and watch the red giant rise over the plains one more time.