Sunday, June 6, 2010

brakes. so overrated.

Up at 7:00 am, packed and ready to drive to another country!

I had a little Kenya research project business to do at the museum before picking up Will, who thoughtfully grabbed us lunch provisions from the swanky breakfast buffet at his hotel - I was laughing at the image of him wrapping bacon sandwiches and apple-stuffed pastries in napkins and sneaking them under his jacket. We stopped by the ATM, fueled up my car, and off we went!

Off-course, that is. The road from Nairobi (Kenya) to Arusha (Tanzania) is currently being repaired, and the turn off to that road from the road to Mombasa (Kenya) wasn't marked. So we went 22 km past where we needed to turn. Oops.

Then, things got a little... harder. I was finding it harder to stop, because... my brakes went out. Yikes!! I stopped at a gas station and checked the brake fluid... which was gone. Well, at least that's a fairly easy thing to fix, right? Just add more brake fluid. Which I did. Ah, brakes again! But, unfortunately, there must have been a leak in the brake line, because soon enough, I lost the brakes again. *sigh* I'm actually pretty good at driving without brakes (more on that later), but it made it challenging to cross the Kenya-Tanzania border, because we had to make several stops. Not only did we have to stop at Kenyan immigration to exit, and Tanzania immigration to enter, but I had to make three extra stops: 1) temporarily exporting my car from Kenya (just filling out a little paperwork); 2) temporarily importing my car to Tanzania (which involves $20, more paperwork, leaving my original log book (=car title) on the border, which always makes me a little queasy); and 3) paying for Tanzanian car insurance for the time we would be there. The second part involved having to photocopy my passport and the temporary importation form, too. The whole thing took over an hour, and several creative ways of slowing down and parking. Did I mention my parking brake wasn't working either?

So we finally left the border town of Namanga, and were on our way! Will resumed map duty, and was trying to figure out what mountains we were looking at: Meru? Longido? Kilimanjaro? The scenery was great, but we saw very few wild animals. The road was great in some sections - a Chinese company is repairing it, and the new parts are heavenly! The parts they are still working on, though - those are dusty and bumpy.

We made it to Arusha *just* before dark - phew! Phew because I found out the hard way that my headlights aren't working either. Ah, my car. Anyway, Will continued to demonstrate his map-reading skills into the wee hours of dusk, and we made it to the hotel and met up with some of the key players in the Tanzanian story: Cindy, Brian, Seth, and Sarah. Cindy is a geologist, and just so happens to be my closest friend. Cindy and I met doing fieldwork in Tanzania 11 years ago, when we were in our early days in graduate school, and have seen each other through all kinds of life's ups and downs. Then there's Brian, who is also a geologist at the same university where Cindy works. [More details omitted for the sake of google searches.] Seth is Cindy's undergraduate student, and Sarah is a geology graduate student at the university where Cindy and I both got our PhDs. Will and I dropped our bags in our rooms, jumped in the shower, and we all headed out for great Indian food with my old friend Lupo.

Lupo... is a real character. We met about 9 years ago when I was doing some of my PhD research in Tanzania. Lupo was born in Tanzania but is of Italian descent; he and his dad Emilio used to run an Italian restaurant in Arusha called Mambo that my PhD advisor Rob's student John used to rent an office in. (Did you follow all that?) Anyway, since Rob and John used to hang out in Mambo all the time, Lupo and I got to be friends, and I started to stay with him and Emilio every time I came through Arusha. Anyway, fast-forward 9 years, and Lupo and I are still good friends, the kind of friends who can not talk for months and then pick up right where we left off, diving deep into the corners of each other's lives and sharing great stories. (And he and his dad still cook some killer Italian food!) Now Lupo is a "PH": a professional hunter. He loves being in the bush; he loves tracking animals -- but not the killing them part. It's a job that lets him be in the place he loves to be.

Anyway, I digress. It's time to get going. After a late breakfast to start off a fairly relaxing Sunday, during which Lupo's mechanic worked on my brakes and reinforcing my left rear axle (a car part that will play a much larger role in my next blog post), a shower, a nap, and a discussion of the logistics and plans for tomorrow and our first few days in the field, my rare "rest" day was ending. We were all getting excited about getting out to the field tomorrow. Lake Natron, here we come!!