Wednesday 8 August

Lake Natron

We meet Francis, Ryan and Nimrod soon after breakfast to drive to the lake. We have our first sighting of giraffe from the car – five of them scattered amongst the trees. Francis tells us that each family group has a distinctive colour and markings.

We cross a stretch of barren desert and pull up not far from the lake. There are a couple of women here selling trinkets, laid out on the ground. It is rather windy; my hat blows off and I chase it across the flats, to the great amusement of Rachel, Francis and Ryan. Finally succeeding in pinning it down, I return to the group. There is a crackling sound from the crusty salt on the ground, and a slight whiff of sulphur.

A group of flamingos in the shallows are keeping a wary distance from us. Francis explains that they fly back and forth between here and Empakai during the night, in order to feed and avoid predators. There is another flock of birds further out, too far for me or Rachel to see clearly, but somewhere in the translation we fail to establish whether they are flamingos or pelicans.

Left: (magnify) Flamingos on Lake Natron
Right: (magnify) Mudflats

We are returning on foot to the campsite. Our route begins along the track, but then we turn off to the right and cross scrubland that becomes loose sand – very hard work to walk on. Francis and Ryan set a cracking pace. Fortunately it is still somewhat cloudy and so not nearly as hot as yesterday. We ford a river where a boy is watering a herd of goats. He watches in fascination as we carefully select a suitable place to cross, remove our boots and socks to wade through, and then finally on the other side sit down to dry feet and re-shoe. What a palaver!

(magnify) Returning to camp (magnify) River crossing

Back at the camp I go for a brief swim. In view of the murkiness of the water I endeavour to keep my head above at all times. There is an American family there who are much less fastidious about it. They are working for an NGO, building a school near Arusha and have come here for a bit of rest and relaxation.

Wandering back to the tent, I am about to pull back the mosquito net around my bed when I notice that a small scorpion has crawled up inside one of the folds. I have read somewhere that the potency of a scorpion’s sting is in inverse proportion to the size of its claws, the theory being that a scorpion with a powerful sting has little need for claws. This one has very tiny claws, so I surmise that it might be dangerous and Rachel decides it would be prudent to fetch one of the staff. On arrival he takes a look at the scorpion and pronounces it harmless, but nevertheless deems it of sufficient interest to take it in a cup for inspection by the site manager.

Late afternoon, and we walk back into Engaresero to visit the school. Rachel has some balloons for the kids but today unfortunately is a holiday so the place is empty. However the headmaster is in his office catching up on some administration, and he and Rachel talk for a bit while I listen.

School classroom

The head teacher let us look at excercise books, class work and the standard one (equivalent of year three) classroom. My goodness, what a contrast! The room was practically bare. It had a dirt floor, about twelve two or three seater desks all facing forward, a blackboard at the rear which was so scratched I’ve no idea how anyone could read off it, and various home made posters at the front, most of which were in shreds. It was a very poor school yet evidently thriving as they were building another classroom.

On our return we were ‘jamboed’ by an extremely chatty man who said he was a secondary teacher. He certainly had a very good grasp of English and world politics. We were quite relieved to get away from him!

Back in the campsite I get talking to a Canadian, Laurie, who with his wife is doing a similar tour to us, and suggest that we meet up for dinner. They are also with ATR and are not quite sure whether they should be expecting dinner from their cook or in the campsite restaurant. On the basis that their cook is nowhere to be seen, we conclude that they like us are expected in the restaurant.

We have an interesting conversation. They are great travellers and are going on to do white-water rafting and canoing on the Zambezi River. They did Empakai Crater they day after us, but unlike us they got to descend into the crater.