Serengeti Fieldwork 2014: Arusha
By Anne Hilborn, Apr 17 2016 07:36PM
Jan 30 2014
Arusha is a sprawling town near the base of Mt Meru. It is the base of the majority of Tanzania’s tourist industry, and the jumping off point for safaris heading to the Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Tarangire, and Manyara National Parks. It is also where Tanzania National Parks and the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute have offices, and therefore is where researchers spend time waiting for permits, organizing supplies and enjoying the sometimes bizzare facets of western culture (gelato and cupcakes) that pop up when there is a large ex-pat community.
One cannot simply arrive in Arusha and head out to the field. Permits need to be arranged, supplies purchased, logistical tangles smoothed out. In my case I need to get permission to stay in Serengeti and Ngorongoro, buy new solar batteries for the house in Serengeti, get the car serviced, and try to find a new fridge. These sort of things were the reason it took me until 2011 to want to come back after leaving in 2007. But my first morning in Arusha I am so happy to be back that it all seems like an exciting and doable challenge rather than the wearisome drudgery that it can become after a few years in the field.
A woman and her Landrover, it is a beautiful thing.
During my years in Serengeti I became a fierce devotee of Landrovers. I spent between 5 and 13 hours a day in one, even sleeping on top in a roof tent during camping trips. They got me across some pretty dodgy terrain and broke down only rarely. Therefore it was with great delight that I got behind the wheel of The Serengeti Cheetah Project’s newest Landrover. It has a lot of sexy accessories (roll bar, bull bar, screen over the radiator to catch grass seeds, a sleeping platform in the back, nice tires, winch, roof rack). There is a great smug satisfaction in driving through Arusha in a handsome Landrover with Serengeti Cheetah Project emblazoned on the side. I always imagined that tourists were intrigued and jealous of me, though in reality they probably just wondered who the stuck up wanker in the sunglasses was..
The line between cool and wanker is so thin sometimes
Traffic in Arusha is a special thing. Cars, buses, vans, massive trucks, scads of pedestrians, bicycles carrying massive loads, hand pulled carts, tons of motorcycles, dogs, all sharing a few roads. Pretty much anything goes when driving in Arusha. Want to pull out of your parking spot and in doing so block two lanes of traffic on the main road through town? No problem. Want to overtake a truck on a hill in the dark? Child’s play. Want to drive your motorcycle between two cars maneuvering around a cart piled 15 feet with grass? Go right ahead. It helps to realize that the two lane road can accommodate at least 3 lanes of traffic, four, if one of them is a bike or motorcycle. But it does require constant and unswerving attention, the recognition that people will pass you on both sides, and a good set of brakes. It should cause chaos, but it doesn’t, basically because the driving is logical rather than rules based. The car in front of you stops to cross traffic with a right turn? You don’t have to wait for them, you can just swerve around and keep on your merry way. Red light at night and no one is coming? Run it. Need to cross traffic but no one will let you through? When there is a teensy gap, wave energetically at the on coming driver and force your way through.
The Landrover is a trusty steed through all of this, the only drawback being its rather large turning radius and the small parking lots of Arusha. But nothing that a willingness to stop traffic with a 6 point turn doesn’t sort out.