Since I was younger my uncle, Zio Dado, has told stories of his hunting trips beyond the Blue Mountains and down into the Maasai land, the Maasaini. The stories told of the Dorobo guide that they would go meet, an “older man” called Likitiri. Dorobo is a generic term, not a very flattering one, that the Maasai use for the other tribes that live in the Maasaini.
The Dorobo are hunter gatherers, as opposed to the cattle herding Maasai, which is where the disdain comes from I guess. Anyway, Likitiri used to use powerful bush magic when he was out with my uncle and father. The example that I always remembered was that once my uncle shot something for Likitiri to take back to his camp. He told my uncle that he would go back to his camp and get his wives (7), tell them where the animal was, and they would come and get it. First though, he braided the mane of the antelope, and threw a few handfuls of sand on it whilst uttering some words. My uncle asked him what he was doing, and Likitiri replied that he was making it invisible so that the hyenas and lions would not disturb it. I told my watchmen this story, and he excitedly told me a few other similar tricks that the Dorobo use. There is a great faith in the “magic” that people who know everything there is to know about the bush are able to do.
I was talking to my uncle when I was in Italy last Christmas, and he told me about Likitiri again. I have never tired of the stories, and I asked Zio Dado where Likitiri had lived. Zio began to describe how to get there from Moshi. I asked him to draw a map. He scribbled out a small map, and told me that if I went there now, there would probably still be very few people living out there. After all, Likitiri had survived on game meat and wild honey, and he got his water from a small spring that came up at Lemeleko, the huge rock formation where he lived. I tucked the map away, and when i got back to Tanzania I asked my friend Mike if we could go looking for Lemeleko. Mike loves stuff like this. His company is called Dorobo Safaris. We began to plan the trip.
We asked a couple of other good friends, Kyle and Charles, to come along. Mike loaded up one of the Dorobo Land Rovers, and open top pick up that we could lower the windscreen on. We left quite early in the morning. By 7:00 mike had picked everybody up and we were on our way down the Old Moshi Road, heading towards Boma Ngombe, where we would turn off and head South into Maasailand.
On the way to Moshi Kilimanjaro was standing out to our left, massive and crystal clear. We had no real idea of how far we would be driving, we just knew that by 2 p.m. the next day we had to be back in Arusha. I knew from the map that it was not as far as Naberera, and Mike knows the area down by Naberera well, because he did some work there in the ’80’s. Still, Mike didn’t know what the roads would be like, what we would see, where we would want to stop, nor how hard it would be to find any of the landmarks that my uncle had drawn on his map.
When we reached Boma Ngombe we headed south, and soon came to Maji ya Moto (hot water in Kiswahili). It is a small spring that wells up quite powerfully into a little pool of crystal clear water, I guess called Maji ya Moto because the water is quite warm…in the sense that it is not freezing. It is certainly not a hot springs sort of place. It is really quite beautiful, an overgrown patch of forest in the dryness, fed by the constant water supply. The huge trees shading the springs were alive with monkeys, and the water was perfectly refreshing and cleansing. It was only nine o’clock in the morning, but it was hot and dusty already. I guess if you’re in an open Land Rover with the windshield down you are asking for things to get hot and dusty. Mike told us that a few years ago a scuba team came to Maji ya Moto and dove under the lip that the water wells up from, and there is a cavern under there. They found the skeletal remains of a hippopotamus under there.
After paying the villagers for the pleasure of swimming in their spring, we headed off in earnest. We drove over and around the Blue Mountains. Zio Dado has referred to them as the Blue Mountains for years, and they do look blue in the haze. Their name in Kiswahili is Lelatema. Every so often we came across a Maasai boma, and asked directions towards Oldoinyo Losoido, our next landmark. There were a good number of people around, by Tanzanian bush standards. We were still to get to any sort of remote area. Zio Dado’s main question as we talked about the trip was if there would be many people out there now, as 40 years ago there had been very few people at all. “There is nothing out there,” he told me.”Likitiri and his people could live because there was water on Lemeleko. All they lived on was wild honey and game meat. You can’t have many people living on land like that.”
According to the map Oldoinyo Losoido (the Maasai we talked to called it Losoito) would be on the left, and Bird Hill would be on the right, just before it. Bird Hill was an outcrop that my dad and Zio Dado had named that way because there were always lots of game birds there. Sure enough, on the left as we headed south, was a pointed outcrop. Soon after that we arrived at Losoito, confirmed by a lone elmorani (Maasai warrior) who we found wandering through the bush. We stopped nearby for lunch. The track had started to narrow and wind and became more challenging to drive. The bush lacked any big acacias, which had all been cut for charcoal over the last thirty years. What had been left behind was a scrubby landscape of different kinds of smaller acacias. Every now and then we came across a large black patch near the road, where a charcoaling team had slow cooked some trees to make charcoal.
After lunch we headed south again, now looking for a “massive granite outcrop” that Zio Dado called Losogonoi. In the far distance were huge outcrops all across the horizon. Mike thought that he recognized one of them as being Langenai, but soon we came across more Maasai. We asked them for Losogonoi, the rock with the chem chem (spring) on top. Zio Dado had told me about the spring, and when one of the elmorani spontaneously mentioned that there was water up there, I knew that we were on track. He called it Losokonoi. Close enough. We drove on. The map told us to get to Losogonoi, and then turn right and head towards Likitiri’s rock, called Lemeleko.
By now it was about three o’clock in the afternoon, and I was beginning to wilt in the blazing sun. We could not make any sense of the map, nor could we found a road thta headed west, which was where we needed to go, it seemed. I was also beginning to feel as if the other guys might want to get out of the car soon, so I felt like maybe we had looked far enough. Then Mike said, “Listen, we’ve come this far. We have to find Likitiri’s place, it must be right under our noses. Then we saw two Maasai ladies with babies strapped to their backs. We raced up to them and asked them if they knew where Lemeleko was. The looked back at us and replied in unison, “Lemelepo?”, and pointed off through the bush towards a smallish rock outcrop a couple of kilometers away. Mike threw the Land Rover in gear, found a bike track that headed into the dense acacias, and we tore off.
Ten minutes later we were at the foot of Lemelepo. We were here. It was a beautiful place, but all a little underwhelming, really. I didn’t have the energy to go looking for Likitiri’s relatives, anyway. Zio Dado had told me that they had numbered only 17 back in the late 1950’s. But I had forgotten that one thing about the Maasai is that you don’t have to go find them. They always find you. Sure enough, within half an hour four young Maasai men and an older man ambled up to our camp, and we all began to chat. After a few minutes Mike carefully asked them if there were and Dorobo left in the area. He told them that he knew that once there had been some in this area. They all looked at each other, smiling. Then the mzee, the older man, said that they were Dorobo, but that the Maasai had ‘eaten up’ all of the Dorobo. His name was Kapunuwa. I asked him if he had grown up here at Lemeleko, and he said yes. I asked him if he knew about a man called Likitiri who had lived here. He said the name out loud a couple of times. The he answered “Yes, I remember Likitiri well, kabisa”. Then he went on to say that Likitiri used to bring white men here to camp and to hunt. That would be my dad and Zio Dado. Mike asked Kapunuwa if he was related to Likitiri, and after some calculations, we settled on the fact that Likitiri had been Kapunuwa’s baba mdogo, or uncle. We had found Likitiri’s hill. I looked around and wondered if Zio Dado and Papa’ had ever camped in this spot.
We took Sofia to the bush for the first time this week-end. She is 13 weeks old, for crying out loud! She was great, sleeping as the car bumped and crashed around Tarangire National Park. Her mosquito net kept her safe from any flying varmints. The thing with game drives is that you hear other tourists telling one another these amazing stories, which I am sure are true…”No, really, the cheetah cubs crossed the road right in front of us. We followed them to their mother, who suddenly took off after a baby impala and killed her right there, in front of us.”That never happens to us. And therefore I doubt the veracity of these accounts. They are never, ever followed by ” Yeah, look at this video.” or “Check out the photos we took of the whole thing.”Well, today we saw two beautiful bat-eared foxes. And here is the proof. Sofia was asleep. but on her first day on kindergarten I want her to tell everyone that she saw two bat eared foxes when she was 13 weeks old.
Well, upon reading back on last night’s post about my encounter with the Nairobi Fly, I think I ought to return and give the insect the respect it deserves. The skin irritation has developed into a really nasty burn, as if someone has poured acid onto my arm, which is exactly what the beetle did. So I am now using the cure most commonly cited, which is to slather toothpaste all over the wound. The toothpaste has to be of the old-school variety, the chalky stuff that dries up. The latest aqua green Crest with fluorescent spinning martians suspended in it won’t work. Hooray for Tanzanian toothpaste marketing gimmicks being 20 years out of date! Toothpaste is a strong base, and so neutralizes the acid. The dry chalkiness draws the acid out of your skin. It smells nice too. Anyway, I won’t be quite as glib about the Nairobi Fly in the future. It still hurts like hell.
Last week-end Samantha and I went camping out over Monduli, about one and a half hours drive from home. It is a real feat here (around Arusha) to go out into the bush and camp without being found by some wandering Maasai. And one Maasai inevitably means many, many more. And amongst them all will be the local village “mkuu”, or boss. And the mkuu will charge you a camping fee, which is usually a small sum (although they start incredibly high, and you negotiate down). Then the mkuu calls the anti-poaching ranger, who will bring you a couple of local Maasai watchmen that you are “strongly advised” to hire for the night, as there are plenty of hyenas and leopards around. Anyway, the flow of humanity rarely stems for the duration of your camp out. This time, though, we drove off the road and down deep into a valley. I think that we were down wind from the Maasai boma, as we could hear their cattle bells, but miraculously no-one came looking for us. We spent a night out in the bush with some friends completely undisturbed.
Undisturbed, that is, except by a Nairobi Fly. This little bastard is not a fly at all, but a small beetle. It is one of those animals, like the honey bee, that has a form of defense that entails it losing its own life. Hmmmmm…. it’s like a warning to not mess with its kind, but not a defense that offers the individual much comfort. Anyway, the Nairobi Fly has an abdomen full of a terrific acid that, when you smash him or her against your arm, spreads all over your skin and causes your flesh to begin to bubble up and do all of the horrific things that you would expect from a bug bite in the tropics. I must have had one of these flies land of my arm during the night, because when I woke in the morning I had a pretty bad rash in the crook of my elbow. In the last three of four days it has continued to mature, and I won’t go into any sort of detail. It is certainly not as bad as you are imagining, but it is definitely an uncomfortable ailment. If you are the gory kind, here is a picture of the damage a Nairobi Fly can do (this one is not mine!) It is also fascinating to watch the battle between my immune system and this acid play itself out on my very own arm. I am well on the road to recovery now, so rest easy. Samantha, my wife, is now seven months pregnant. She is doing wonderfully, and wanted me to add at the end of this post that she has been in no way affected by the Nairobi Fly, and that she is in excellent health. Understandably, our family tends to worry about a pregnant Samantha when they read about our life on the Dark Continent.