Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

BREATH OF AFRICA was published by Crooked Cat on 15th March, 2013!!

The story is based in Kenya, but there are brief episodes in Tanzania (excerpt below), and Oxford.

“The road snaked up the volcano towards the crater rim. Dense bush revealed an occasional glimpse of the farmland below. The air chilled, and they passed patches of bracken and groundsel.

They turned a corner, groaned up a steep rise, and the crater opened out before them. Mwangi parked the car at a lookout, and they walked to the edge, glad to stretch their legs. A thunderstorm was progressing along the opposite wall, its deep purple clouds contrasting with the faint browns and greys of the sunlit plain far below. On the left glimmered a lake, behind a tiny patch of forest. Caroline let her eyes wander round the vast rim of the crater. The great canopy of sky overwhelmed her, she breathed in deeply, savouring the immensity of the scene. The breath of Africa filled her being. This was her country, her home.

Ngorongoro crater (2)

Grey clouds rolled in from the slopes, tumbling over each other in silent frenzy as the wind picked up, and stinging drops of rain sent them running for the car.

They continued to the lodge, slipping and sliding in the mud, and passed a herd of buffalo, their glistening backs showing above the long grass. Wooden buildings were perched haphazardly overlooking the crater rim, with more buffalo grazing the lush pasture between them, like domesticated cattle.

Buffalo at lodge (3)

The precarious track wound downwards in a series of hairpin bends. Travelling at walking pace, they emerged beneath the cloud. A sheer precipice appeared on Caroline’s left. There was nothing between her and a two thousand foot drop except for the shaking side of the sliding Land Rover. She eased nearer to Brian on the back seat.

What had appeared as a brown plain from the lookout on the previous day became acres and acres of undulating grassland covered with black specks. As they approached, the specks were transformed into massed herds of wildebeest and kongoni. Hyenas slunk away from chewed bones, their ugly heads turned backwards, watching; wild dogs quarrelled over bloody carcases; vultures crowded over the pungent remains of a Thomson’s gazelle; and a pair of silver backed jackals scurried out of sight.

Caroline stood on the back seat beside Brian, looking through the roof hatch. She pointed to the west. Two young rhino were dozing in the early morning sun.

They approached the beasts. She marvelled at the enormity of their grey bulk. The folds of their mud-baked hides betrayed dark cracks of moisture. The driver parked the vehicle on a hillock, the sun behind them, and switched off the engine. Caroline’s ears became tuned to the muted sounds of the animals around them. One of the rhino lumbered to his feet, looked at them briefly, and began to rub his prehistoric head over the back of his companion. Their hides grated harshly as they made contact, backwards and forwards, the loud rasps strange amid the twittering of birds and the gentle calls of the antelope.

They approached a patch of scrub on the far side of the crater. Yellow grass interspersed with thorn scraped under the chassis.

They stopped, and all was silent. The ranger indicated to their left, a cautionary finger over his mouth. Caroline could see only bush. Then she discerned two watching eyes. She looked closer, and saw a pair of cocked ears, and an inquisitive nose poking through a thorn bush only three yards away. A cub lay there, perfectly still. She scanned the scrub. Lion surrounded them; several females and three cubs.

She made room for Brian, and Boney and Guy squeezed together to stand on the front seat.

Brian moved, his camera ready, while Guy scanned the bushes with his binoculars.

“There’s the male,” he mouthed.

He had come up behind them. Every inch of his proud, black-maned head and lithe body lived up to the title of King of Beasts. He stood erect, taking his time to scent the air, and then walked majestically past them.

“He’s drawing our attention from the pride,” whispered Guy.

The lion stopped a couple of feet away, disdaining to look at them, and then he insolently marked his territory, tail high, in front of them. A strong smell of urine tainted the air.

They lingered, savouring the scene, until the pride melted back into the dappled shade.

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