We have been away.
We probably oughtn’t to have gone. That’s what husband said. I told him Hindsight was wonderful stuff. Had we known, with the hindsight that was not afforded us when we left home on Saturday morning, how the weekend was going to pan out, then, no, absolutely, categorically, we ought not to have gone.
Especially so far.
Particularly given that I had malaria.
Diagnosed the day before we left, I feigned stoicism and told everybody I’d be fine.
They believed me.
When are other people, husbands predominantly, going to grasp that ‘I’ll be fine’ translates as I probably won’t be, cue unseemly amounts of TLC and radical changes of plan.
Why are men so literal?
So we went. At 5am on Saturday morning. Me curled up with head on pillow. Children armed with the necessary to entertain themselves for the eight hour drive their father assured them was ahead of us.
I couldn’t pretend to be anything other than Fine. We had planned this trip months ago. Long before we realised we would be mid move. Certainly more distantly than we knew I’d be enfeebled by malaria. Definitely before we remembered how valuable Hindsight can be.
Our road trip to Katavi. One of Africa’s last great wildernesses.
The 8 hours morphed into ten. The family ate breakfast overlooking the Malagarasi which gave Livingstone perpetual headaches during his expeditions inland as he and his porters were mired in its high waters when the river was in spate. I – with my own perpetual headache – lay prostrate across the bonnet of the car wondering why I’d got out of bed.
We arrived in Katavi in time for a cup of tea. And an early night.
Our first foray into the park the following morning began well. I felt brighter. Things were looking up.
Until – two hours into the third biggest and first loneliest wildlife conservation area in the country – we developed Car Trouble.
Car Trouble comes in a million different guises. It is at its most ominous when you are in country thick with buffalo, lion and hippo and your cell phone registers no network coverage.
Especially given the size and the solitude of our chosen weekend get-away.
We looked at one another forlornly.
‘We are in the S**t’, announced husband succinctly, as if we were all too stupid to have gleaned severity of situation for ourselves.
‘How often do you suppose a vehicle comes down this road?’ I mused
‘Couple of times a week?’ Husband said, scouring the ground for signs of tyre tread. There were none, just ours indicating where we’d come from. The direction we’d hoped to continue in was marked only with the tread of game. And it’s droppings.
With 3 litres of water, 7 naajis, a bag of stale popcorn and three swiftly blackening bananas, things looked dire.
‘We are all going to die’, wailed Hat miserably.
We didn’t. Obviously. For otherwise I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale which my darling children urged would make good blog fodder as we sat in the heat and dust feeling sorry for ourselves.
Finally, for there seemed no alterative, Husband and Son decided nothing for it but to walk for help, armed with a cell phone which they hoped might bleep into action at some point along the way.
The girls and I cowered in diminishing shade, carefully sipping water and wondering whether we ought to be saving our pee in plastic bags. Isn’t that prescribed prophylaxis to perishing from thirst in desert?
How bad was this going to be?
The air was silent but for bird call and the gentle whisper of the bush in response to the faint sighing of occasional breeze. The sky was huge. Huge and empty. No clouds. No planes. No nothing.
The longer we sat, the more I worried I became and the proportionately greater volumes of Rescue Remedy I squirted onto my tongue.
Had I sent the boys in the right direction, I fretted? How good was my map reading, really? Be honest here.
What about buffalo? Katavi teems with huge herds of them. 1000 at a time, great big black hulking brutes with sulky expressions and mean beady eyes.
And hippo. The mammal responsible for more human fatalities than any other in Africa.
And – oh God – what about the lion?
My friend Tash, member of Big Cat Diary crew, recently described to me the aggression and determined hunting technique of the Katavi lion.
They’ll bring down a buff, she said.
One man of 6’2” accompanied by a lean teen would be easy pickings.
Amelia was remarkably relaxed. She lay in the sun and read her book. Amelia never goes anywhere without a book.
‘Chillax man, Ma, it’ll be cool.’
I hoped she was wearing her Lucky Pants.
Hat massaged my shoulders, ‘Away worries, away!’ she demanded.
Almost three hours after the boys had vanished into the scrub and out of sight, a park vehicle – alerted after a call from them – came barreling over our dusty horizon and we were rescued. We picked up the boys minutes later, trailing back to us, through the bush, sunburned and thirsty and coated in dust.
They had been neither gored, trampled nor made mincemeat of by a pride of hungry lion.
They had seen nothing.
Except for a cobra, ‘as thick as my arm’, reported Ben delightedly.
The rest of our weekend was spent trying to ascertain how we could get home given our car could clearly not.
We managed a lift yesterday. We arrived back in the Outpost last night travel weary and filthy dirty.
And full of reflections on the benefit of hindsight …
And now, if you will excuse me briefly, I must move house.