CAUTION – PLEASE READ THE PRIOR POST (PART 1) FIRST!!
We were now free of the deep mud by the marsh and as we drove along it was clear that the trails were not improving. Yusef decided to drive up out of the marsh area to what he hoped might be firmer and drier ground which was an excellent plan, but, unfortunately, the high ground had also been completely inundated with all the rain so there was little safety there. We had to keep up our momentum at all times which meant that it was pretty much of a slip and slide with the vehicle continually fish-tailing from side to side and mud flinging in all directions including the vehicle as we now had the top back up as the rains had stopped. In the distance, we could see a grouping of four or five vehicles near a tree and as we approached, still maintaining our speed so as not to get mired down again, one of the other guides motioned for us to slow down, which wasn’t really possible as we would become hopelessly stuck again if we did so.
As we passed them, we first saw what they were looking at which was the cheetah with four babies that we had seen the day before. The second thing we saw was the horribly wet area just beyond where they were and which was directly in our path with no hope whatsoever of avoiding it. The vehicle slowed and in the short moment it took for us to realize what was happening, our momentum had slowed and we were again stuck in the mud. Considering that there was no immediate rush to do anything, we watched the cheetahs for a bit as the mother seemed to be interested in hunting as there was a Thompson gazelle fairly close that might be good prey for her. She had her babies wait for her in a group, but they eventually began to follow her, apparently not wanting to miss out on anything. The gazelle eventually moved on and so the mother cheetah and her babies began marching off towards a heard of wildebeest in the distance.
This was our signal to get out of our vehicle and assess the situation that we were in which was not very good. We also realized that at least two of the other vehicles that had stopped to look at the cheetahs were also stuck in the mud. As we were outside walking around, the driver who had helped us get out previously came driving up and managed to avoid the softer ground so as not to also get stuck. He had his four wheel drive working and, although that was helpful, it didn’t prevent one from getting stuck in this mess as several of the other stuck vehicles were also operational 4×4’s. We were very much dug in and this time it was going to be a bigger chore to get us out. We tried digging and pushing, digging and pushing, but to no avail. He finally got out his recovery tracks, which are three-foot long steel plates with holes for traction that you can put in front or behind your tires to gain traction.
Using the recovery tracks and the pull strap, we were eventually able to move the vehicle a few feet before getting stuck again and we did this again and again until we finally had it out onto firmer, though still quite slippery, ground. All the while, other vehicles kept coming upon us and thankfully weren’t getting stuck as the ground was slowing drying some, one advantage of being stuck here for so long. We now focused our attention on helping some of the other vehicles out of the muck. One of them had all four tires dug in and it was going to be a real chore to get it out. It had a winch on the front that wasn’t strong enough to pull the dead weight of the vehicle, so it was eventually up to using our tow strap and situating another vehicle in front to pull. This still wasn’t enough to do the trick and despite Chris and I trying to convince the drivers that it was necessary to jack up all the tires and get plates under them (we now had two others from another vehicle that had stopped) so we wouldn’t be trying to lift the vehicle in addition to pulling it, they continued to make failed attempts at getting it out.
During all of this, everyone was out of their vehicles and I met a nice young man from Santiago Chile who was here on his honeymoon with his new wife. They weren’t one of the stuck vehicles, thankfully, but were instead helping out as their vehicle was doing the pulling. We were eventually successful in our urging them to raise each tire and after many, many tries over several hours, we had the vehicle out and, now, the only thing left was for us to somehow get back to camp without getting stuck again. Our plan had been to get back for breakfast around 8:30, though now it was after noontime. All of the vehicles stuck together riding back in the direction of the camps which are near the marshes so that if someone got stuck again we’d have help. The going was still quite difficult, though it was an exciting ride as the vehicle had to keep its speed while constantly fish-tailing back and forth. We had finally made it down to the marshes where we were heading in a different direction than the other vehicles which meant that we now had to go it alone.
We crossed several smaller areas of water and then had to tackle a slightly longer stretch and as we felt our momentum slow to a stop in the middle of the stream, our hearts sunk as it seemed we were stuck again, this time in the middle of a deep stream with rushing water. Getting out here to push would have been a big mess and very likely unsuccessful. Yusef expertly rocked the car backwards and forwards in a number of successions and after over a half a dozen tries and several minutes was able to free us from the clutches of mother nature and we were again on our way. At one point, Yusef had gotten disoriented as to the direction of camp, a very uncommon occurrence for him, and, thankfully, I had my iPad with my navigation application that allowed me to locate us, our camp, and the correct direction that we needed to travel.
We had several more crossings before reaching camp that were much less eventful, though still quite exiting, and we arrived at around 1pm. We were exhausted after our ordeal and I’m sure that Yusef was worse off than the rest of us. They had prepared breakfast for us which was still available and so we all washed up before enjoying a much deserved meal of eggs, crepes, bacon, sausage, juice, and toast. They had made lunch boxes for us that we would bring back and eat later.
By the time we left camp it was well after 2pm and I don’t think Yusef was very interested in tackling any more of these roads considering we still had a long way to get home which entailed driving over a number of miles of open plains before reaching the Serengeti Road that we’d take back to the Ngorongoro Gate. We packed up all of our stuff and decided to head out slowly, doing some game viewing as we did, rather than exposing ourselves to the potential for another long extrication that would easily put us past the closing of the gate at 6pm in which case we wouldn’t be able to make it out of the Conservation Area and would have to spend the night here.
It was an amazingly beautiful day as we traversed the Serengeti plains with scattered wildebeest, antelope, zebra, ostriches, and eland as we traveling. We eventually made it to the main road and headed back in the direction of Ngorongoro Crater. The sky was ominous in front of us with huge rain storms, lightening and even some rainbows. Given the distances we were traveling, the rainstorms miraculously passed in front of us before our arrival and we encountered their wrath in the form of some flooding along the road, but nothing that wasn’t manageable. It became clear to me, though, that we were going to be very, very tight on time and Nan guessed this in the seriousness of my face when she asked me how we doing on time and I told her it was a 50-50 proposition. Since we had patients the following day at FAME, we couldn’t really afford to spend the night on the crater rim, either financially or timewise.
Yusef continued to drive at a very fast pace and we arrived at the gate at 5:55 pm, with just 5 minutes to spare. Given that we had driven hours and miles that day, it was a real feat. We sat in the car as Yusef went into the office to check out. We were all breathing a huge sigh of relief and congratulating ourselves on having survived such an epic day, when suddenly, Jamie let out a scream. Her windows was rolled down only about six inches or so, but somehow a huge baboon had jumped deftly through the opening, bouncing off the front seat and ending up in the driver’s seat next to our lunch boxes which was obviously his plan and previously calculated.
Needless to say, being in the cramped confines of a car with a wild baboon, whose canines are quite intimidating, can be just a bit anxiety provoking and it had just the effect you would imagine. I grabbed a Coke Zero bottle by the end and jumped forward swinging it towards the baboon in a perhaps lame attempt to protect my residents and had Chris quickly open his door so the beast would have an easy exit. With a sandwich in his mouth and a chicken wing in his hand, he quickly turned and, just as deftly as he had entered, he exited back through the small opening in Jamie’s window and was gone. The last we saw of him he was eating the chicken wing sitting on the small wall in front of us and Chris snapped a photo for documentation purposes. After a short while and after a chance to have settled down, we were able to get out of the car to see what was going on outside.
Yusef had been gone for some time and when I walked up to where he was, he told me that we had underpaid for our stay at Ndutu, which I was sure we hadn’t and went through our receipts again to show that everything had been paid for properly. We had indeed taken care of everything, except in the earlier turmoil of the day, Yusef had forgotten to check out at the Ndutu ranger station, an apparently necessary step when camping there. Therefore, they had already entered in the computer there that we had overstayed and we would have to pay another night’s camping fee. I told the supervisor that it was obvious we hadn’t overstayed as I was standing right in front of him and, also, that I was not willing to pay the additional fee ($286!) regardless. This went back and forth several times and when I told him of the ordeals of the day we had had, he was a bit more sympathetic and said that if we had photos of our car stuck in mud, then he would consider waiving the fee. Thankfully, we had plenty, and he was willing to make an exception as long as we would send him the photos at that moment so he would have the supportive documentation to justify it. Jamie sent him two of her photos and we were eventually on our way back to Karatu after a very, very long day.
I’ve been to Ndutu in the months of March and April, but have never seen it that wet before, though I’m sure it wasn’t that unusual of an occupancy. Perhaps we were just lucky. Coming around the crater before the gate, we saw our third rainbow of the day and though it was felt that that was perhaps too many, I think it was just the right amount as they allowed us to survive each and every ordeal, including the baboon, and make it home safely. We ate dinner that night at home and were all amazed at the adventures we had this weekend. We had seen quite a number of animals and had lots of stories to tell back home to our friends when we returned. These are the experiences we will remember forever and have to tell our children and grandchildren.