How often have I winced angrily when an African leader decries his out-of-control society for being manipulated by “outside agitators.”
I’ve been in conflicts in Ethiopia, the Congo, Rwanda and Kenya, and virtually every time – 100% without fail – the leaders blame the unrest on outsiders. It becomes laughable. Until you realize that it’s the best way to make things worse. After all, we’re all outsiders.
The middle of sub-Saharan Africa, about a million square miles, includes the “sand river” big game wildlife parks. We’ve just finished 16 days exploring these less visited areas, and we had a ball and some incredible successes game viewing.
This entire swath of Africa, roughly from mid-Tanzania south to the Zambezi River, is mostly vast, sandy scrubland that reminds many Americans of the midveld near the “Four Corners” where Colorado, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico meet. The big difference with Four Corners and this area is its namesake, the great sand rivers that drain so much of the continent.
Here’s a quick summary of our trip:
We just ended six days in Tanzania’s remote central game parks of The Selous and Ruaha. Zanzibar is not exactly Manhattan, but flying into here from Ruaha was like returning to civilization from a Jurassic Park time warp.
The entire massive area is defined by great sand, catchment rivers that drain nearly 100,000 square miles into the Indian Ocean. We spent almost all our time game viewing in Ruaha along the Ruaha, Mwagusi and smaller rivers. Here in this most remote wilderness the rivers are mostly sand and little flowing. Most of the landscape is dominated by expansive bushland not unlike California’s chaparral country.
The Mwagusi and its little tributaries were dry, and this was early. The drought of last season, which had followed a devastating El Nino flooding, had broken but weakly. A major moisture deficit crinkled most of the bush leaves and had turned everything brown early. Only along the Great Ruaha itself, or in slight depressions in the veld, did the sandpaper trees and acacia flitter lively green leaves in the warm breezes.
But this made one giant tamarind tree on the embankment a perfect place for the dominant troop of baboon in the area. Its deep roots and self-shading had protected it from the drought and rejuvenated it from the light summer rains. It had produced abundant seeds, its leaves were still succulent green and its ever winding and gnarled trunks provided numerous places for the dominant troop of baboon to feel safe at night.