Throw out two hands

Throw out two hands

Smith, Anthony

1963

Book ID 249

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 066
Extract Date: 1962

The balloon expedition

The balloon expedition had money to achieve its aims, but not an excess of it Therefore we tapped every likely source, and borrowed equipment wherever possible. To avoid repetition in letters, and to give somewhat more dignity to the enterprise, we printed a single page outlining the intentions. It detailed our purpose, our plans, our names, our procedure, and our support. It was extremely successful, and equipment began to accumulate. So we printed a four-page circular, and then an eight-page synopsis. They stated, among much else, that we intended to travel to Africa equipped with a balloon, and to make a number of captive and free flights from Zanzibar in the east to the Serengeti plains of Tanganyika in the west throughout January to March 1962.

Extract ID: 3736

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 119
Extract Date: 1962

the Great North Road into Arusha

.. .. we sped along the Great North Road into Arusha in fine fashion.

Coffee, as is well known, does wonders to the bloodstream. It turns haggard, droop-eyed, grey-faced individuals into reasonable humans once again. It also makes them think that a wash and a shave would be quite in order, and that a hot breakfast would not be resisted unduly. The New Arusha Hotel is used to this sort of thing. Filthy vagabonds arrive from all parts of the countryside, sign their muddy names in the book, disappear for an hour or so, and arrange a metamorphosis. As caterpillars become butterflies, so were we a markedly changed group as we strode out into the town to go about our business.

There was much to be done. The Gipsy was put in the hands of the Galley and Roberts garage. Barclays Bank was visited. Immense amounts of food were bought from the Fatehali Dhala store. Photographic arrangements were made with Malde's Camera Shop. Peter Champney, the local information officer, was visited, for he was to be of considerable value in liaising with the outside world. Permission was sought from John Owen, director of the Tanganyika National Parks, to camp in them.

Extract ID: 3737

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 120a
Extract Date: 1962

Permission from Henry Fosbrooke

Permission was also sought from Henry Fosbrooke, chairman of the Ngorongoro Conservation Authority, to camp in his area. (The wild life may not know it, but they are the responsibility of a complex assortment of independent organizations.)

Extract ID: 3738

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 120b
Extract Date: 1962

Consignment of hydrogen

At the end of the day we drove out to Brian Mahon's farm on the M'Ringa Estate, for he had been acting as addressee on various sea-going consignments from Britain. Prominent among the goods received were the 120 cylinders for our inland flights. They were to be lifted back and forth to Nairobi for refilling as and when we emptied them. That little lot weighed 15 tons, and the problems involved in the shuttle-service were to prove a major millstone for our organization. Once again we had reason to envy Dr Samuel Fergusson. His original filling of hydrogen, made with iron and acid at Zanzibar, had lasted him throughout his five week journey. The world of fact is very different. No free-flying balloon on record has ever kept a single consignment of hydrogen for one-eighth of that time. Yet we had cylinders, the strength of which Dr Fergusson could never have dreamed of. I tested the pressure of a few to check them. All was well, and in the heat of Africa the inside pressure had risen to 4,000 Ib. a square inch. We should get three flights out of those 120 cylinders, if everything went as planned.

Extract ID: 3739

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 120c
Extract Date: 1962

the Great North Road again

Manyara was a mere 70 miles away. The first leg of the route down to Makayuni was along the Great North Road once again.

It was tarmac now, or rather that section was; but, when I had ridden along it seven years before, the section south of Arusha had been one of the cruellest of the whole 7,000-mile journey. Perhaps it was at this very spot, as the motor-bike lurched uncontrollably, and I listened to the banging of its suspension system, that thoughts of a balloon had first come to mind. It was noisy, that machine, and very dusty, and it did pass on a good few of the road's unevennesses to a well-battered spine. I had caught glimpses of animals as they had hurtled away, with staring eyes, with fast-moving hooves. It had been thwarting not to see more of them. In any case, noise and dust or not, battered vertebrae or not, I had to stick to the road. Its destiny had been mine.

At Mile 48 we turned off the tarmac, and on to a dirt road once again. The great western wall of the Rift Valley lay ahead, and beyond it were the Crater Highlands of the Ngorongoro district. The whole area was rich in game, and was fabulous country. It would surely be even more fantastic when seen from a point suspended silently beneath the huge gaseous canopy of a free-flying balloon.

Extract ID: 3740

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 128
Extract Date: 1962

At Manyara

The food break was to last half an hour. At the beginning of it a light plane appeared from the north, circled our camp, and then landed between us and the browsing giraffes. Hugh Lamprey and John Newbould stepped out, one a biologist, the other a botanist, and both acquaintances from the past. They had seen the balloon when some 25 miles away during a flight from Arusha to Ngorongoro. They said it was like an orange in a pygmy land, and they had come for a closer look. They accepted beer, and we all sat around gazing at that bright and globular thing.

Extract ID: 3742

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 140
Extract Date: 1962

Lake Manyara

Some 600 species have been spotted at Lake Manyara, and its mixed environment makes it an ideal place for observing such a representative collection of African bird life. It is also an amazing spot for flamingoes and pelicans. Sometimes there are a million of these two species living on that stretch of water, sometimes even more.

The lake was swollen from all the rain of the recent months, and was probably 30 miles long and 10 miles wide. No one knew exactly. The heavy rains had also drowned the traditional points

of access, and even we from our camp site had been unable to get at it. Besides, if someone had been able to survey its dimensions, the next bout of rain would have added a mile here, half a mile there, and confounded the calculations. People agreed it was probably about 300 square miles in extent, and were content to leave it at that. However, its swollen size did mean it was inadvisable for us to come down either in it or on its shores. It was normally possible to drive, or at least to progress, through the forest and the stretches of mud-flat beneath the Rift Valley's western wall; but now that was out of the question. The track had been passable for a mere 7 miles when we arrived, but the sudden and amazing flooding of the Marera River had knocked another 2 miles off even that diminutive journey.

Extract ID: 3743

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 141
Extract Date: 1962

Flight Plan

Therefore, for the balloon flight, it was necessary to get well away from the lake before coming down. On the high ground to the west of the cliff wall there was a road, a frequently blocked one - but a road none the less, that led from Karatu southwards to Mbulu, From Mbulu there was a cross-road of sorts that led to the Great North Road, the north-south highway of Africa. Therefore our flight plan, so far as it could be predicted, was at least bounded by a rectangle of roads. It would plainly be advantageous if we landed near one of them. How, or where, or when was not in our control. Therefore, as we took off from Manyara, these crucial issues of the future were well at the back of our minds as we sailed, effortlessly, wonderfully, into the vast blue expanse of sky above our launching site.

Extract ID: 3744

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 154a
Extract Date: 1962

Towards the Crater

Alan, Joan and Kiari travelled in the Land-Rover. Douglas and I followed in the Gipsy. We filled up at Mto-wa-Mbu, shook hands with the ground crew, talked with the two Indian storekeepers, and finally sped off up the escarpment road. We then drove over the Karatu plain, well stocked with Wambulu farmers, before accepting a lower gear, and driving up towards the crater area. Mosquito River was 2,000 feet above sea-level. The crater rim was nearer 7,000 and the two trucks pulled steeply up that twisty, well-surfaced road. At the so-called Wilkie's Point we had our first breath-taking view of the Ngorongoro Crater, and stopped at once.

Extract ID: 3745

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 154b
Extract Date: 1962

First impressions of the crater

First impressions are important. We were looking down the crater wall into the huge saucer-shaped dish before us, and Douglas voiced my own worry as well as his. 'But where are all the animals?'

Alan and Joan scoffed, and pointed them out. It was as if the focusing of our eyes had been at fault, and had then made the necessary correction. Quite suddenly, hundreds of dots became animals. The perspective of the crater had misled us. It was 12 miles across, capable of holding the bulk of London, and yet there was nothing in it to indicate this huge size. Admittedly, there were trees and a lake and steep walls at the edge, but nothing that immediately gave the dimensions away. I had encountered this difficulty in Africa before, of being presented with some vast view, and being given nothing with which to measure it, no road tapering into the distance, no house or village, no finite feature to make the rest comprehensible. At Ngorongoro this effect was most striking. Douglas and I floundered in our lack of judgment Were those bushes, or trees, on that slope? Was that wall 200 feet high, 1,200 feet, or 2,200 feet, or even more? It was quite remarkable how many illusions could exist when there was nothing really concrete on which to base one's estimations.

Extract ID: 3746

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 155a
Extract Date: 1962

Second impressions

Field-glasses are satisfactory when confronted by this kind of spectacle. not just because they bring everything nearer, but because they destroy all misconceptions. Douglas and I could not see those wildebeest to begin with because we were not looking for ants, and our eyes glanced fleetingly over them. Through fieldglasses one looks for shapes, and shapes are therefore recognized, irrespective of their size. Even so, that crater appeared a most remarkable phenomenon.

It is the largest crater in the world. Its walls are steep, between 2,000 and 3,000 feet high, and it encloses an area of some 130-140 square miles - according to where it is reckoned that the crater floor ends, and the walls begin. No one knows how it came to be, for normal craters do not approach this size. A strong theory is that it used to be a tall volcanic mountain, with the 12-mile diameter being the size of its base. Then, due to some collapse of the Earth beneath it, the whole top fell inwards to form the saucer-shaped structure of today. The surrounding area is still volcanic, and the many mountains near by such as Meru and Kilimanjaro are extinct volcanoes with their subsidiary blow holes dotted about them. There is also one active mountain, the conical 0l Doinyo L'Engai. This sprouts out of the Rift Valley to the north-east of Ngorongoro, and becomes active in a minor way once every seven years or so. All this volcanic activity was fairly recent, but Ngorongoro is as inactive as they come.

Extract ID: 3747

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 155b
Extract Date: 1962

Siedentopf brothers

Certainly nothing eruptive has happened within it in the past few thousand years. Its steep walls grow trees, and permanent streams ensure fresh drinking water for all the animals. The crater bottom is porous, and therefore the water can drain away. Less than a hundred years ago it was discovered for Europe by a German explorer. Shortly afterwards, and at the turn of the century, a pair of German brothers moved in to farm the fertile spot. They built houses some 8 miles apart from each other on the crater floor, and began to grow the conventional crops. Naturally, both the animals and the local pastoral tribes were an encumbrance; and were dealt with summarily, whenever they interfered. After all, this is the nature of agricultural invaders. Everything else must be sacrificed to their cause.

The Siedentopf brothers fought the animals, fought the Masai, and also fought the many natural hazards. It cannot have been an easy existence, however barbarous their methods, and when the Great War came they had to give up altogether. Tanganyika was German-occupied territory, and Kenya was not very far to the north. A small contingent of Germans kept a large army of British and South Africans on the move throughout the war, but plainly it was no time for farming sisal and wheat in the Ngorongoro Crater. In fact, the German force did not surrender officially until news came through of the Wehrmacht's collapse in Europe, but for practical purposes it had been defeated a couple of years before.

Extract ID: 3748

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 156-157
Extract Date: 1962

Masai-it is

Unfortunately, although most of the area was uninhabited by man, a part of it was a traditional grazing area of the Masai. As the ways of animals and man conflict, it was subsequently decided to remove this area from the park, and to give it a different status. It is now known as the Ngorongoro Conservation Authority, and the Masai are permitted to live and graze over its 2,400 square miles. This move, and the later repercussions, are the subject of fierce controversy. Many people feel it was wrong, particularly in an age when natural areas are being eaten into all over the globe, for any park to secede part of itself for any reason. Others felt the Masai had more than enough room, perhaps 90,000 square miles to graze over, and they should not be allowed to jeopardize the future of one of the world's wonders (which the crater undoubtedly is). The main trouble with the Masai, quite apart from their love of cattle, apart from their desire to keep many more than they need, and also apart from their cattle's ruthless grazing technique, is that they induce in many Europeans a certain complaint or blindness known affectionately as Masai-itis.

This must be explained, as it is the root of many remarkable decisions, not least the one to take the crater area out of the Serengeti park. Generally speaking, the Europeans in Africa have, since the beginning, encountered two types of African. There have been those who were oppressed before the white man arrived, and those who were the oppressors. These were the subject and the warrior races. Again, generally speaking, and I am aware that there have been exceptions, the oppressed groups dropped their tribal customs, and donned dark glasses, short trousers, and open-necked shirts. They became clerks, and very useful to the invaders. However, in the background, and often a pain in the neck to the invaders, were the old warrior tribes. They had more to lose, and resented losing it. They were the traditional Africa, with fierce customs, rigid ideas, and an implacable disregard for change. They caused headaches for the administrators, but earned respect. They were malleable to nothing, and changed those who were trying to alter them.

Such a group were, (and are) the Masai. I understand that some individuals have been to school, but the majority live in huts of wattle and dung, and obey their laws but no one else's. The men do no work, and have virtually no interest in money. They are apparently content with the old days, and welcome nothing of the new—except for the fact that the vets keep their cattle free from rinderpest. This aloofness from the twentieth century is the cause of the split among those who know them. Some resent it, as being almost unnatural. Others welcome it, and feel at last they have met a proud, dignified, courteous race who merit admiration. This second group, as like as not, become champions of the Masai. In their opinion, and protagonists of any movement tend to become too one-sided, the Masai can do no wrong. The blindness has infected them. Masai-itis has got a hold.

Both points of view are equally understandable. Unfortunately,

Extract ID: 3751

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 156b
Extract Date: 1962

a paradise of nature?

With the arrival of peace, and with the British taking over Tanganyika's affairs, there was a fresh chance of the crater being allowed to revert to its former role - a paradise of nature. It very nearly did nothing of the sort. The Germans had begun farming it, and therefore arrangements were made for British farmers to carry on with the work. The two houses, the one at Lerai, and the other to the north, were still standing; but for the time being there were more convenient agricultural pickings nearer to the towns and the railways. By the time people were beginning to look elsewhere, the crater was being regarded as a protected area, even though no legislation had been made to this effect. When a conservation law was eventually passed, the 130 square miles of the crater formed part of a huge national park collectively known as the Serengeti. This covered 7,500 square miles.

Extract ID: 3750

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 171a
Extract Date: 1962

Roads round the rim

In good times the road round Ngorongoro's rim is usable for two-thirds of its circumference. Part of it is always satisfactory. This all-weather section runs from Wilkie's Point, where we had first looked down into the crater and were blind to the animals living there, round past the turn-off to the cliff road, past the village of Ngorongoro, past the Crater Lodge (which is a log cabin type of motel, superbly placed), and on to a spot known as Windy Gap. The road then leaves the crater rim and saunters down towards the huge plains of the Serengeti a couple of thousand feet below. The other portion of the rim road is by no means as reliable. From the junction at Wilkie's Point it travels north around the eastern side of the crater, and it eventually joins up with a minor village called Nainokanoka.

This perimeter system we surveyed, in so far as it was possible to do so. The wind had been blowing initially from the northeast, and therefore we paid most regard to that section up to Nainokanoka. The nearer we could get to that village, the longer the flight would be over the crater region. Unfortunately, no one had reached that village with a light lorry, let alone a heavy one, for several months, and the last heavy lorry to do the journey had left fearful ruts a foot or two deep along the track. We found these could normally be circumvented by driving into the surrounding jungle to make a detour round them; but 8 miles from Wilkie's Point a misguided river had been meandering along the route. This was of no great depth, but it had deposited far too much silt for us to negotiate and the ways round it were too steep. It formed the end of the line.

Extract ID: 3752

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 177
Extract Date: 1962

Tobogganning

What we hoped to do was to push off from the rim, with as little lift as possible, and then sink down quickly to the crater floor. 'More like tobogganing than ballooning,' said Douglas, and stared down at the crater 2,000 feet below.

Perhaps it was, but the intention was that the toboggan should cover those 12 miles and then climb up again over the other side to disappear in the general direction of the Serengeti. Anyway, we thoroughly prepared the balloon, attached the ropes inside it, put on the valve, put the net over it, and then loosely rolled it all up in case hyenas felt like chewing it experimentally during the night. We also linked up the cylinders so that, once again, it would just be a matter of turning on the gas in the morning. Most of the Wambulu went off, carrying many complex instructions about bringing more people early the next day as additional ground crew. At this stage John Newbould, pasture research officer for the Ngorongoro district, who had been acting as 'our man' in the area, became firmly sucked into the expedition, and had been offered a place in the basket instead of Alan Root, who had had to go off temporarily to Nairobi. Also Bill Moore-Gilbert, local game warden and sudden balloon enthusiast, was cooperating in every way possible, and most effectively. In short, about twenty-five people would be on hand at the take-off. I did not consider this an excess by any means.

Extract ID: 3753

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 182
Extract Date: 1962

400 feet up, and quite motionless

'Hands off once more.'

The wind carried us, but parallel to the ground.

'On again,' and fifteen pairs of Wambulu hands brought the basket to a stop, which is more than happened to the Wambulu talk. The chatter, about whether or not, and why and how, the balloon would rise was no momentary curiosity. It had continued unceasingly since Douglas had turned on the gas, and was now reaching a fanatic crescendo. One man stopped, for a second or two, as I poured 5 Ib. of sand on to his feet, and then Bill shouted again.

'Toa mkono. Hands off.'

The 5 Ib. had been enough. We rose, almost vertically to begin with, and the trail rope uncoiled as we went. I remember seeing Bill's small child catching hold of a still dormant section of it. I shouted something, and then watched that same section flick mercifully out of his hands. By then we were out of shouting distance, and another flight had begun. It was at this sort of stage that Douglas would push whatsoever cap he had on further to the back of his head and make some general observational point, like: 'Well, we made it.'

Indeed, we had made it, but away from the crater. At the end of ten minutes we were about a mile from the crater's lip, and 400 feet up, and quite motionless.

Extract ID: 3754

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 183a
Extract Date: 1962

I threw out no sand

.. .. Despite that manoeuvre with the trail-rope and our initial stabilization at only 400 feet, we next began to rise quite steadily, though keeping station over one huge pillar tree all the while. Douglas was vexed at seeing the land recede further and further from him, and screwed longer and longer lenses to his cameras; but there was nothing else that could be done. Anyway, those clouds above us were moving in the right direction, crater-wards, and we would surely go that way once we had risen to then height. As I had no intention of going higher than need be and of making certain that we caught the very bottom of that airstream, I threw out no sand. The present tendency to rise would get us there in the end. This was inevitable, for the more we climbed that day, the more the sun shone upon us. There must have been a mist down there above the trees, or at least a greater and invisible humidity of the air, for as we rose the sun grew hotter and the air became brighter. The hydrogen responded to this increased radiation and expanded accordingly. So, with the launch site still in view, but becoming increasingly fuzzy as time ticked by, we rose with all the simplicity in the world above that incredible view.

Extract ID: 3755

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 183b
Extract Date: 1962

'Good view'

To one side, now appearing small for the first time in our experience, was the Ngorongoro Crater. North of it were the steep rolling areas of the Crater Highlands, peeked with volcanoes like Embagai, and rising to 10,000 feet or more. Appearing still higher even than our basket was the active L'Engai, not smoking but flecked with white at the summit as if it were the conical roosting place of some monstrous and productive form of bird. Some 40 miles to the east of us was the big cliff drop to the Rift Valley, the Manyara lake, and the wide traverse of our previous endeavour. To the south were just hills and a lake and more hills, and a promise of at least 3,000 more miles before the massive continent comes to an end at the Cape. I do not fully understand the desires involved and of wishing to be levitated above the face of the Earth, but up in that basket at 10,500 feet above sea-level I felt supremely content. I shifted my feet, gazed fondly at Loolmalasin and Oldeani and then looked round at the others.

'Good view,' said Douglas.

Extract ID: 3756

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 184a
Extract Date: 1962

We arrived over Ngorongoro

Down below, our dot of a shadow then began moving towards the crater. It danced over the big forest trees; it went more gently over the open grassy zones. Then it crossed that rugged rim road and took no time to cover the remaining stretch before the wall began. Down it slid, over trees, and rocky buttresses, and steep slopes. Down to the gentler gradients, and then more slowly over the crater floor itself. Without so much as a puff of wind on our faces, we had in ten minutes made in the air a journey that would have taken a mere pedestrian on the ground many hours. We had arrived over Ngorongoro.

It may have been like tobogganing for our shadow, but for us it was nothing of the sort. Our shadow had leapt down to the crater floor and had become even more of a pin-head in doing so, but we had continued at the same old height where we had met the airstream from the east. We were still 10,500 feet above sea level, while the shadow was now over a mile below.

This was aerial observation of animals to some degree, but not the one we wanted. It was like examining pond water before the days of the microscope. We had to take a rather closer look. Allowing for the direction of the sun, I waited until the shadow indicated we were some g miles within the crater. Then I pulled for three seconds on the valve line, and almost at once a breeze pushed past our faces. At 300 feet a minute we made our descent. It was fast, and roughly the speed of a parachutist, but we had plenty of time to watch the changing shapes of that remarkable piece of geography. The flatness beneath us became steadily less so, and the distant hills sank like so many setting suns behind the crater wall. After nearly 10 minutes, and when 1,000 feet above the ground, I threw out two hands of sand to break the fall. Later I threw out two more, and once again we were poised a mere 400 feet above the world.

We hovered momentarily over the general swampy area around the Goitokitok spring, and had a look at some hippos walking through the reeds. Over to the west and south were the main herds of animals, but over to the west and south we did not go. We stayed over those reeds for a very short time, and then retained in the general direction from whence we had come. The only difference was our height. This time the crater wall was not a diminutive thing thousands of feet below, but a huge tree covered mountain coming our way. It seemed that the arena all around us was being heated by the sun, and the air was expanding up its sides. We were certainly in an airstream that was moving up the wall, for shortly afterwards, with no sand-throwing by me, we were ascending that face like a funicular. The huge mossy trees were 50 feet below, and less than 50 feet to one side. John rattled off their names whenever the bigger ones bulged up towards us, and Douglas did what he could with a countryside that had suddenly stood on edge. I was not flying the balloon in any active sense. I was just bemused by watching a 2,000-foot wall disappear beneath us.

At the top, with the trail rope still searing at the trees which had just passed by, we slid over the rim and the rim road at a casual 20 miles an hour. Thereafter, never more than a hundred feet above the ground, we descended still eastwards over the gender slope that led away from the crater's edge. We were too low to see anything of the ground party, and so looked out instead for animal life. I think all of us saw the buffaloes at the same time, and all said 'Look!' together. I heard the camera click while they were still lolling on their backs, and then every one of them leapt to its feet. With a great crashing of the undergrowth and of everything standing in their way, they set off at a mild gallop.

For some reason, possibly because it was downhill, they ran directly beneath us. They were head to tail and, like so many express trains, moved through the tangle below. Each file of animals, each set of carriages, took its own independent path, but frequently the files converged upon each other. Fresh files formed, with nothing more than a rending and a breaking as bushes were swept before the chaise.

'Keep after them,' said Douglas, 'this is excellent stuff,' and we did, miraculously, keep after them for a full two minutes. Then they verged away, and we were left in silence once again.

Extract ID: 3757

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 186
Extract Date: 1962

We hit the ground

It was while we were thinking we would go directly over three elephants standing by a pool, and while still at 100 feet, that a powerful thermal took hold of the balloon with all its might Instantly, the trail rope was flicked up beneath us as we soared into the sky. This was no gentle rise, as we had known over Manyara. This was far more drastic. In perhaps a minute we were 3,000 feet above those trees and those now invisible elephants. Above us was the familiar base of a thunder-cloud, and this time there would be no dallying beneath it. This time we would be in it, if strong counter-measures were not taken.

I pulled for five seconds on the valve line. We still went up. I pulled for another five, and once again we heard the slight sucking sound as the gas went out. The balloon was now distinctly pouchy at the bottom, but we were still rising, and over 9,000 feet above sea-level. I pulled for another five, and watched the bottom panels withdraw inwards again as the gas rushed out of the top. At last the altimeter showed we were rising no more, but the air of the thermal still blew past us. I remember John taking some silver paper off a piece of chocolate, and then having that paper blown vertically out of his hand. All the time, for we were stationary in a strong current, we rocked about like any dinghy in a choppy sea.

'What happens when we get out of this thermal?' asked John, who hit nails on heads with disarming ease.

'We shall go down, fast,' I replied.

'Very fast,' I added, a few seconds later as the bucketing increased.

'Uh-huh,' said Douglas.

Sure enough, the thermal did move itself elsewhere. Then, dropping like any stone, we achieved a speed of descent I had never known before. There was no time to read an instrument. What did it matter if it were two or three thousand feet per minute? To hit the ground at either speed would be equally fatal. John and I bailed out sand in great dollops at a time. Then half sackfulls. Then more dollops, and more fumbling around in the bottom of the basket for more sacks. Our speed slackened slightly, but we couldn't just throw everything overboard. To have been excessive with that sand would surely have sent us up towards the thunder-cloud again, with every opportunity of repeating the episode, and with far less chance of having enough sand afterwards, to break the second plummet-like fall. Yet to be parsimonious with the sand was equally uncalled for. I think this will have to be the landing,' I said. 'Right,' said Douglas, and went on filming.

'More sand, John. Yes, that's right. Now more, yes the rest of that sack. Get up another. Now wait with it. Hold it ready. Yes, tip out half, and now the rest. Yes, this is the landing. Douglas, this is it.'

And down we went. This was no occasion for choosing a spot. The trail rope must have touched the ground just as we were reaching the tallest trees. I do not know how we missed them. We seemed to be going where a tree had fallen. I could see its long trunk lying there. And its upturned roots. And then it was time to rip. But there wasn't time. Because we hit the ground, and stayed there.

Extract ID: 3760

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 187b
Extract Date: 1962

Cassipourea elliottii. - no spikes

The balloon had not toppled over, and the three of us were standing there quite over-towered by plants. I pulled at the rip, but the rope just came down in my hands. Soon its end came, showing where it had torn free from the rubber fabric. Why, I had no idea. It meant we had a three-quarters full balloon, swaying back and forth at the branches above us, 'John, what's that tree? Is it spiky?'

'Oh, that! Good Lord, no! Not a spike on it. That's Cassipourea elliottii. Certainly no spikes.'

Puncture material or not, that tree was not doing the balloon any good as the two of them were blown at each other. So I attached a rope from the basket to the fallen tree beside it, and then felt everything was sufficiently safe for me to climb out. The other two stayed in as ballast while I had a look at the situation from somewhere better than the neck-creaking angle of the basket's viewpoint. A soup plate leaf touched my arm, and thousands of vegetative ampules injected their contents into me. It was a nettle patch of immense size in which we had landed. It was also a major highway for ants, and their formic acid produced its own even sharper sensation when they rammed it home. Consequently, John and Douglas did not see a man coolly taking stock of an awkward situation. Instead, they caught glimpses of flailing limbs which lashed out from the green depths of that poisonous neighbourhood.

At least I had seen that there was nothing else to be done except pull on the valve line. It was the only way of losing the gas. I had thought it might be possible to reach the valve itself from higher up the bank, but the ant-nettle combination had reduced enthusiasm for that plan. So we pulled on it steadily, and gradually Jambo began to sink towards the earth.

We were, when everything had been collapsed, spread out on one steep slope with an audible but invisible stream somewhere at the bottom. The three of us cut down clubs with which to clout those nettles, and folded up the balloon and net as best we could while suffering the various slings and arrows of the environment. It was a very real piece of forest. There were no animal tracks, and even the buffaloes had let it be. It was impossible to move without thwacking down everything that stood in the way. It was also fairly difficult even to stand up, for the earth that supported all this growth was a rich, humus-laden mud. In short, our cavortings in the air were as nothing compared with those manoeuvres on the ground. However, in the end, everything did get stacked inside the basket, and we were ready to leave. We had only a vague idea of our position, but we knew that the rim road was somewhere up the slope.

Extract ID: 3762

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 188b
Extract Date: 1962

Safari Balloon Crashed!

What we most certainly did not know was an event taking place at Karatu. Fifteen miles away an African clerk from a treasury office had solitarily witnessed our descent. He had considered with remarkable accuracy, that not everything had been under control. In his opinion, and he had cause for it, the landing could best be defined as a crash. So with, all haste, he had rushed into the Karatu Police Station to tell his story. He had told it pungently, but he had garnished it to excess. It was all very well to call a landing a crash, for only the expert balloonist's eye could tell the difference - particularly at 15 miles, but it was utterly wrong of him to add that we had exploded. The Police Officer then set the various wires humming, and reported the matter to Arusha and the capital. 'Safari Balloon Crashed. Loud Bang Reported. Balloon Seen To Explode. Fate of Crew Unknown.'

The message went out shortly after I had failed to get at the valve, from the bank, and had been more interested in the fate of the ants still alive within my trousers than in our own. By the time the balloon had been folded up, three lorry loads of 'Special Force' constables were on their way to the area from the provincial headquarters. A room had been prepared at the Arusha hospital for three. The Civil Aviation authorities had advised pilots flying over the district to keep a look-out for wreckage. In brief, that one African observer, that one teller of a very tall tale, had had his message flashed to every relevant corner of the administration, and many more besides. After all, 'exploded' is a powerful word, and he had used it convincingly.

The broadcasting units helped to spread his story, and soon it was common knowledge. However, there were three people who were most gloriously ignorant of it. They were just bashing away, in turn, at nettles and thorns and shrubs and creepers, while trying to carve a path up the slope. When they did stop to wonder, they never dreamed for a moment of what in fact was occurring. Instead, they reserved all their curiosity for wondering where on earth they were.

Extract ID: 3764

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 198
Extract Date: 1962

what had happened?

On the following day 3, passing truck brought us our mail. .. ..

The letters were far more disturbing. That one treasury clerk had a lot to answer for. The story of the crash, and then the customary newspaper practice of printing minute denials, had caused many repercussions. People wanted to know what had happened, why the gas had exploded, whether the balloon had been at fault, whether it was true that we were uninjured, and if this was some form of cover story to conceal the real one. There was also news from Nairobi that the compressor situation was not as well as it should be, and from Arusha that the transport firm would not be able to collect our cylinders from the Saleh site, now that rain had fallen there. In short, it was time that I paid another visit to town. It is excellent living under a fig-tree but, administratively, it has its drawbacks.

Extract ID: 3766

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 199a
Extract Date: 1962

Who had reported our explosion?

Alan and Joan were due back any day, but they had not arrived when I set off. Douglas took me to the crater top, and from there I got a ride into Arusha. The driver was in a hurry, and there was no time for stopping. We hurtled round the Wilkie's Point bend, neglecting the road to the rhino and the take-off site, and then twisted down the curves leading to the Karatu plain. On going through the scattered and drawn-out village of Karatu itself, I longed to know who it was that had reported our explosion. Was it that man wearing the bright blue track suit with a tie round the neck? Or that one wearing a sort of mustard coloured jacket with purple trousers, or him with a white toga, or that one just in a ragged pair of shorts? I longed to know. I swivelled round to have a last look at an exceedingly gaily dressed lot, but they gave me no due. In the dim distance, half hidden in the haze, was a thin blue line of hills cut out against the sky. How that man had picked out our balloon among those Crater Highlands I do not understand. Perhaps he imagined the whole thing! Perhaps a blob swam across his vision, as blobs sometimes do. Whatever it was, he had told his tale and, what is more, he had been believed. So good luck to him, whether his clothes are mustard or purple, white or ragged grey; I, at least, shall not forget him.

Extract ID: 3767

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 199b
Extract Date: 1962

Mount Meru

Back in Arusha I visited the police, the hospital, the information department, the bank, the garage, the post office, the Parks office, the camera shop, the travel agency, and much else without having more than a short walk between each of them. Arusha is a most compact little town, with everything in easy reach of the visitor from out-of-town who wishes to arrange his affairs in a morning. Over the whole place is Mount Meru. This great, grey slab of a volcanic mountain is frequently not there, when the clouds are low everywhere, or when its own steep sides cause a mist around them. Every now and then, always surprisingly, it is suddenly there. Without any warning, as if it had erupted silently from the earth, a 14,749-foot mountain stands against the sky. Instead of the town's streets tapering away vaguely into the distance, they then abut most effectively against it.

Extract ID: 3768

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 200a
Extract Date: 1962

Flight to Nairobi

That evening I met Hugh Lamprey again, game biologist, fellow Oxford zoology student, and pilot. He was flying a light aircraft to Nairobi the following morning, and I gladly accepted a lift. The trip began early, and the air was still calm when we took off from the Arusha strip. Flying again in this kind of machine was a strange experience. I had forgotten quite how deafening flight could be. I leant forward from the back seat whenever wishing to hear Hugh speak, and then shouted in return. Very soon we lapsed into the mime and dumb-show that is almost as effective, and less painful to the epiglottis, I was also intrigued by the savage buffeting, even at that hour of the day, as the propeller carved its way through the air. It was a very crude business, relative to the balloon. It was like square wheels as opposed to round ones. The machine was not part of the atmosphere, as we had been. It merely exploited it.

For the first part of the flight, and at the maximum angle, Hugh steered for the low-lying foot-hills to the west of Mount Meru, and thereby skirted the mountain. The machine was a perfectly competent type, but its rate of climb was pathetic beside that of a balloon. Steadily, and noisily, we were achieving two or three hundred feet a minute. Back over the Ngorongoro, even though I had been fighting against it, we had leapt up 3,000 feet in a single minute, and would probably have accelerated still more had I not been releasing gas as fast as I had dared. I think that a balloon could have competed favourably, over a limited course, with the fastest jet fighters of a few years ago in a straight struggle for the greatest number of feet climbed in any given minute from level flight.

Once over the saddle of foot-hills we dropped down, and then flew at 1,000 feet over much of the so-called marginal land lying in that area to the south-east of Nairobi. It was well populated with giraffe, and the long-necked antelope or gerenuk also live there. These animals live in many parts, and in regions where the countryside is much less barren; but when they and giraffe are the dominant species it is a depressing state of affairs. It is nice enough seeing them, but they both—together with the minute dik-dik—have an ability to survive in exceptionally arid bush conditions. Where they alone exist in reasonable numbers, the area is called marginal. It is a borderland between the support of life, and the lack of it. It is the half-way stage between desert and fertility.

We plopped down at Wilson Airport, Nairobi, narrowly missing a blundering kite when doing so, and then went our ways. We were to meet the next day to fly back to the crater.

Extract ID: 3769

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 202
Extract Date: 1962

Nairobi to Ngorongoro

Hugh and I took off at 1 p.m. on the following day, and flew first over that Athi area. It was generally flat, but frequently there came deeply eroded gullies, exciting to look at, but depressing in their destruction. There was such a tenuous relationship between man, the animals and the rest of nature when nineteenth and twentieth-century man moved in to the area that disruption of the old order was inevitable. The great scars beneath us were the wounds of over-grazing. The red rivers were flowing with soil, and making this particular circle as vicious as any other.

Beyond the plains was the Rift Valley. There is nothing else like it on the surface of the Earth, but this section near Nairobi was different to the Manyara bit now indelibly engraved on at least three minds. Instead of one big cliff wall, there were many cliffs, each perpendicular, and each dropping the level of the land down another couple of hundred feet. Down in the bottom there was Lake Magadi, and then Lake Natron. Both are soda lakes, with the Magadi one being exploited. A special railway carries the soda away, and has a difficult time among those cliffs. No child ever takes his model railway up the stairs, but the Magadi track does just that, and must cover ten times the distance, from beginning to end, that actually separates the two points. It cannot emulate the crow, as we did, and as we began the long climb towards the Crater Highlands.

It was a most fantastic journey, for after the geological contortions of the Rift Valley, there came the 9443 feet peak of L'Engai, the area's active volcano. We edged noisily by its silent summit. The top looked something like the old glass type of orange squeezer, with a smaller pointed cone coming from the middle. Its sloping sides are as steep as its rocky lava will allow, and the way up is difficult. The mountain can be climbed but, like Mount Kilimanjaro which is not so far away, any climber has to take advantage of the chilliest hours when the loose and difficult scree is held together by frost. I think it important to see active volcanoes from time to time. They are most blatant reminders that we live our days on the thin crust of a planet which has by no means settled down from its fiery birth.

Shortly after nudging past L'Engai's cone, the Mountain of God according to the Masai, we were over the wide sweeps of the Crater Highlands. These link together several dead volcanoes, with Ngorongoro being one of them. Embagai is another, perhaps the most beautiful for it is well proportioned, with its woody sides leading down to a deep and permanent lake. And then we were over the final wall, and swooping about above Ngorongoro. We could see no sign of the others and, after buzzing the empty camp beneath the tree, landed near by. The animals had scattered on our first pass over the chosen area, and did not run in the way of the final touch down.

Hugh switched off the engine, and we climbed out into that remarkable place. I do not think one could ever cease to be amazed at it, but arriving in one hour and thirty minutes from Nairobi heightens its qualities most dramatically. Animals are all around, and beyond are the dots of countless more, and beyond them are those towering walls. At no time of the day does the crater look the same as at any other moment. Huge shadows retreat as the day advances, and then slink down again when the sun loses its power. It has all the symmetry of a perfect shape, and all the wonder of an untouched world. Like a ruin it combines the merits of having been created, and then having reverted to something finer still. It is a place of fabulous beauty.

Extract ID: 3770

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 203
Extract Date: 1962

Tanganyika jack

After a while Alan turned up having been given a, lift in a passing Land-Rover because his own had become partially engulfed in the mud over by the landmark known as Fig tree Kopje. Hugh took off, circled like any pelican to gain height, and then disappeared over the crater wall while we collected the Gipsy from camp. Afterwards, in the most magnificent brown light of the evening, Alan and I drove out to the beleaguered vehicle.

On the way, apart from the normal hazards of driving through the place, we had been delayed by a family of lions. A scraggy old male looks scarcely more interesting than a scraggy old animal of any species, but a lioness in good condition is a seemingly perfect piece of creation. As she walks about, being nudged by some cub, being moved by an unknown impulse just to get up and plump down five yards away, her muscles work with exquisite finesse. As a piece of engineering, and of colouring, and of grace, a lioness can scarcely be matched. Perhaps her rhythm and power tend to be high-lighted by the fact that, in almost any group of lions, one or two of them are not in such excellent condition. In a system of predators and prey, particularly when the carnivores exist communally, it is possible for some of them to survive in a weakened state for far longer than the prey on which they feed. A visibly sick wildebeest or gazelle has only a few more hours to live, unless some remarkable recovery is effected rapidly. An aged lion can survive for years provided he is with a community prepared to kill for him.

It took quite a time to extract the truck. On arriving there I had removed my Nairobi-polished shoes, and my new socks, but my Nairobi-pressed trousers had to suffer as I stepped out into a foot and a half of water. It seemed difficult adjusting the two lives. Despite the fact that we had two winches, and one unstuck truck, all of us splashed around for a couple of hours before the mud gave way. A vital bit of equipment on these occasions is the Tanganyika jack. This is no ordinary jack, as its name implies, but a barely liftable contraption of wood and iron that has only one role to play. Under almost any conditions, provided it has another block of wood to stand on, it can lift any bit of a truck. Its hook is strong, and the method is to lift up each wheel in turn. In the cavity these wheels have dug for themselves almost anything other than mud should be interred, and they will then have something on which to grip, even momentarily. Without the invention of the Tanganyika jack the number of man-hours stuck in the mud would increase immeasurably. Without ours on that occasion we would have been sucked dry by insects. I have never known the air so thick with six-legged forms as it was at dusk that day. They flew everywhere, into mouths and into eyes, and those with a suitable proboscis drank well. Fortunately they were a local manifestation. On driving back towards camp we left them behind.

Extract ID: 3771

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 208a
Extract Date: 1962

Nainokanoka

Six days later we left that camp beneath the fig-tree on our way to the air rally.[in Nairobi] In the intervening period we had continued to make the film, for there was nothing to be done about the balloon until another gas consignment was ready, and that had been booked for the Nairobi flight. We had also driven right across to the other side of the crater, up the more inaccessible north wall, and to the lonely village of Nainokanoka. We were the first to go along the track for several months, and it was in poor shape; but the countryside was magnificent with a softness that is rare in Africa. At the rest hut, a comfortable shack kept warm by the hay stuffed into its rafters, we lit a huge log fire, and occasionally made forays into a night of startling clarity for more wood. Earlier inhabitants had even burnt the outhouse lavatory roof, but we were not as desperate as they had been. However, there was something Neronian and intriguing about the thought of a person sitting there in that rondavel of a room with the roof blazing warmly above him.

Extract ID: 3773

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 208b
Extract Date: 1962

Embagai

We spent a second night at that place, having passed the day walking to the crater of Embagai, I had seen it from Hugh's aircraft, and already knew some of its wonders; but the joy of walking over the tussocky grass, with zebras whinneying all around, with solitary wildebeest taking turns to hurtle down the slope, was something I had imagined only inadequately. I had also forgotten quite how exhausting it can be walking at a high altitude, and the crater rim was above 10,000 feet. The effortless ways of the balloon, and the disdain it had shown for the problem of changing height, had not acted as a reminder that mere muscles require more air to feed them when it is rarefied.

On the climb my lungs sucked it in and blew it out again offering scarcely any opportunity for the precious oxygen to be absorbed. - They alone worked overtime, while the rest of me slowed down appreciably. I contented myself with putting one foot slowly after the other, and wondering how a more efficient pulmonary system could have been introduced in evolution. After all, the fishes have a through-way method, and do not have to blow the water out through the same small hole by which it has just come in. The fault lay with the air-bladder, that convenient stabilizing device. Had it not acted as a primitive lung for the first mud-based fishes to survive and become creatures of the land, something better might have been adapted from the gills. As it was, that Devonian mistake had led to the general tetrapod employment of a system which most plainly has its drawbacks. At least, that was how I felt as I panted with unceasing fervour to the lip of Embagai.

As with all mountains, the effort was more than worthwhile. We did not walk down to the lake at the bottom, but lay about in the soft grass on the rim, savouring the breeze which blew over it. Birds must get a pleasure out of flying, for some kites were also enjoying that same current of air. A few yards above us, with nothing more than an occasional twitch of their tail feathers, they hovered unendingly. Then, with no obvious adjustment of the controls, they would swoop away, and poise themselves over some other identical spot. It was while we were up there that the evening came. This is not an abstract man-made division of the day, at least not so far as tropical latitudes are concerned. Quite suddenly the sun loses its strength. At the same moment, as if the world had been in black and white beforehand, colours break out everywhere. The hills become blue, the water black or silver, and the hard dry dusty earth the most brilliant shades of brown. Evening has arrived, and with it even the air seems to change its substance.

Extract ID: 3774

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 233
Extract Date: 1962

Nairobi to the Serengeti

Normally there is a road leading fairly directly from Nairobi to the Serengeti via Narok. Unfortunately, for several months it had been out of action, and so we had to take the long way round via our old haunts. The first leg was from Nairobi to Arusha, A big locust swarm spattered itself against our windscreens, and we scraped them clean when it had gone by. From Arusha we travelled south on the Great North Road, had trouble with a broken fan belt, and then turned right at Makayuni for Manyara.

At Mto-wa-Mbu we had the ritual drink of cold Cokes from those two Indians, and discussed ballooning with those of our ground crew who wandered up. On the escarpment we had trouble with a trailer shackle, and got it fixed at the Manyara hotel. Then on to Ngorongoro, and to pick up all the camping kit we had left there. Finally, having driven past Windy Gap, and the spot originally chosen for the crater flight, we started on the long twisting descent towards the Serengeti Plains.

Extract ID: 3776

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 234
Extract Date: 1962

Serengeti Plains give their traditional welcome

There are first impressions that can never be forgotten. I had never dreamed that the Serengeti could be so beautiful. At first the country was still fairly broken, and at one point we crossed the Olduvai Gorge, but when we met the great plain itself I was astounded. We were in three trucks, for Alan had brought another of his, and so I was alone in the Gipsy. This meant that I could give full rein to every sort of expression of amazement, and wonder; and meaningless jumbles of words could pour out without trespassing on the nerve-endings of someone else. I love to shout, especially above the drone of an engine, at magical sights that are passing by. I love letting this instant happiness flow out as I sing the praises of the world in view. So I sat in that noisy cab, bouncing up and down from the hummocks on the track, talking and singing and shouting, and trying to grasp that such a place was real while our three trucks drove through it, and the thousands of animals bounded along by our side.

Of course there had been much wild-life in the crater, but driving in it had been quite different. It had not been a matter of going anywhere, or of going fast; the rocks and the bogs and the nature of the ground had seen to that. Out on the Serengeti, with the whole flat plain ahead, and with a horizon to reach, driving became a carefree occupation. It assumed something of the animals' own disregard for the ground they were running over. It was in harmony with their own enthusiasm and zest. They pounded along by the side. They kicked at the ground, and we helped to turn its earth into flailing dust.

The three of us kept apart from each other, for there is no fun in breathing the gritty air chucked up by another, and so each man had his own thundering world to himself. Some instinctive reason meant that the animals hated a truck driving in front of them. They had to pass in front of the truck. Therefore, if they saw an interception coming, the wildebeest and zebras and gazelles would double their pace at once. They had to pass in front. They had to win. And they stepped up their speed accordingly- They would rarely change their course to prevent that possible interception, once it had been foreseen; and they put all they had into getting there first. It was this competitive urge that hammered the ground at every angle. Our horse-power and their leaping limbs raced along side by side. The Serengeti Plains were giving their traditional welcome.

It was not just the big wildebeest and zebras who had this fervour, but the Grants and Tommies as well. Instead of hurtling heavily by, they would leap and dance in their own enchanting manner. However long they kept up the chase, it never seemed to tire them. A gazelle, even after a lot running, still seems as light upon its feet, and nothing like a pant or puff was ever visible. Before they started to run, and after getting to their feet, a sort of shudder would twitch through their little bodies, and at the same moment they would be off, leaping, swerving, and then hopping over the ground.

Extract ID: 3777

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 235
Extract Date: 1962

Jetzt, noch ein Loewe

Many days later, and at the spot where I first saw the Serengeti, I met a small party of Germans. Most of them were talking among themselves, but there was a very old man apart from the others looking back at the great plains through which he had just been driven. The jolting could have been none too easy for him, but he was ecstatic. It took him time to find words. Most of his mind was still back where he had been, but he did eventually speak. I am an old man. I have seen much. But never before have I had such a day. It was a miraculous day.' He underlined that last adjective with a cracked kind of power, and shook his fuzzy head from side to side in amazement at it all. 'Jetzt, noch ein Loewe,' said the others, and bundled him back into his seat; but his head was still moving slowly from side to side in incredulous wonder as they drove him off to look for another lion.

Extract ID: 3778

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 248


Extract ID: 4146

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 249a
Extract Date: 1962

The Plan for the Serengeti flight

Briefly, the plan was to go just beyond the Serengeti boundary, near the Loliondo road and beneath the hill range known as 0l Doinyo Gol. All five vehicles would move there in the evening, and would select a site 10 miles upwind of the herd for the inflation. In choosing this place we would have to allow for the herd's movement when we were sleeping, and then take off in the early morning aiming to go right across the middle of it. This meant inflating the balloon during the latter part of the night. It would be foolhardy blowing it up the day before and then tethering it while we slept. We had often been woken to sudden squalls that had hit the plain from nowhere, and we wished to reduce the time to the minimum between inflation and departure. After all, the Manyara storm had warned us of this peril. The idea was to turn on the gas at 4 a.m., to reach the tricky stage of the basket's attachment by first light, and then to take off with the earliest hint of the morning breeze. For the flight itself, there was the whole wide plain of the Serengeti to be traversed.

Extract ID: 3779

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 249b
Extract Date: 1962

The herds?

Alan and Douglas came back after midday bewildered by the herd's behaviour. The animals had been thundering through the country near Lake Lagaja and moving very fast. The 30,000 of them were still together, but much more closely, and there was now nothing like 15 miles between the front and the back. Admittedly, any transect across the Serengeti would mean flying over animals, but it was imperative to go over a packed herd as well. We ate a meal, and then left camp with the essentials for one night's stop and with the balloon in its customary trailer. The two 5-tonners trundled along behind.

Alan made a detour on the way, to look for the herd again and was no less perplexed. It had entirely left Lake Lagaja. [Lake Ndutu] However, it was still moving in the same direction, and we chose a camp site 10 miles south of that 0l Doinyo Gol range. Four lions slunk away from the spot as we approached, and they did not wait to watch us start the preparations. We laid out the balloon on its tarpaulin, arranged it correctly, and attached the cords. The net was then draped over the fabric, pulled symmetrically, and finally anchored with one sandbag to every four meshes. We removed the cylinders from the trucks, unscrewed their caps, joined ten of them to the ten-way filler, and attached that to the inlet pipe. The balloon's valve was put in place, the basket was made ready, and for the last time it was only a matter of turning on the gas.

Extract ID: 3780

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 250
Extract Date: 1962

Anticipation

Conditions were ideal, but that made them seem all the more slender and tenuous. Any change would make them less ideal and the flight more chancy. Any puff of wind was to be dreaded. Anything and everything was suspect, Kiari laid out a meal. My stomach, as disloyal as ever, accepted only some of it. Later, even that was rejected. One's body is a mixture of extremely independent parts, each voicing discontent or abnegation in its own particular fashion. I decided that sleep was the least I could do for the constricted bits of me, and joined the others in their cocoons of sleeping-bags. The alarm clock, an anomalous thing in that desolate spot, had been set for 4 a.m.

Extract ID: 3781

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 251
Extract Date: 1962


The alarm went off with punctilious accuracy. I looked up at the sky. The light layer of stratus had encroached slightly, but there was nothing sinister to be seen. The flight was on. We climbed into clothes sticky with dew, and set silently about the inflation. The trucks had all been parked facing towards the balloon, and we switched on their headlights shortly before Alan switched on the first of the cylinders. That weird noise of expanding gas reverberated through the night, and Jambo began to assume her shape. Douglas and I looked after the sandbags, and lowered them one mesh at a time as it became necessary. We said little, and grunted at each other rather as sentries must have done when they met on the darkened battlements. Even if there are two people looking after the same balloon, the thing is soon so big that they rarely do meet if each one has taken a particular semicircle as his beat. He sees only that the other sandbags are being lowered, and he hears the net jerk up as it is relieved of the weights holding it down. Alan maintained a steady flow through the pipe, and his hammerings sounded much like some busy smithy us he connected up fresh cylinders and unscrewed those that were empty. All the while the huge thing rose darkly into the sky, and more and more of the stars disappeared behind it.

When dawn came, at 6.15, we were almost through with the inflation. Someone switched off the headlights, and gradually the colours of the earth reappeared with another day. In particular, of course, there was the great big orange egg of the balloon, perfectly immobile with not a breath of wind to touch it. Mick Tippett then turned up right on schedule. He was working on the excavations in the Olduvai Gorge, and had promised a team of men to help with the tricky basket attachment. They emerged from his Land-Rover, and joined the Nairobi lorry team in general talk. Everything was in order. It was time for coffee and something to eat.

Extract ID: 3782

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 252
Extract Date: 1962

Inflation is a thing of wonder.

Sitting there in that most welcome sun of early morning, sipping the hot drink, feeling it seep down, and casting happy glances towards the secure balloon was extremely pleasant. The fear of what might happen still existed, but everything was safe for the time being. The sky was clear. The day was calmer than any we had known on those plains. The coffee produced a sense of wellbeing that only coffee can.

It was at 7.30 that we attached the basket. This was done with a simplicity not equalled before on the trip, and soon the whole balloon was towering high above us. I have said before that it ended up 55 feet tall, but the repetition may be necessary because each time its dimensions took me by surprise. Between every flight, when its entire substance was packed into that diminutive basket, memory of the balloon shrank with it. The subsequent inflation was always a thing of wonder.

Even when everything was ready, the air was still so calm that I decided to try some captive flights. These had only been barely possible on the previous African trips, and quite impossible at Nairobi; but on the Serengeti the ground crew attached the trail rope to a car for safety, and then let the balloon rise to 200 feet. I had a selection of the helpers on board, and together we looked for and pointed out animals in sight. It was indeed a superb lookout point. It was also not a problem going up and down. One man on the ground could have done it, but everyone in fact pulled on the rope to bring us back to earth, mainly I think to try and sharpen the bump. I took on fresh passenger batches, and each time tried to spot more animals from that 360-degree viewpoint. Eventually the day began to stir as the sun warmed it up. It was time to go. The breeze had come to carry us over the herd.

When at Zanzibar, and to a varying extent on the subsequent flights, we had been ready to depart, we had just departed. Without so much as a handshake, we had taken off as soon as we could, while the necessary civilities were forgotten in the general anxiety. Zanzibar had been the most ill mannered, for hundreds of people had helped us there, and thousands had turned up to watch; but all they got was an abrupt wave from a couple of hundred feet. So, on the Serengeti, and with a slender handful of observers, we at last managed to effect a leave-taking that was polite. A balloon's departure should, at the very least, not affront the people on the ground. Douglas and Alan and I shook hands with Joan and Kiari. We then did the same with the lorry teams, and with the gang from Olduvai. No one else knew it, but justice was at last being done to Zanzibar. Jambo could now take off.

Extract ID: 3783

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 253a
Extract Date: 1962

Serengeti Flight

It was also the best departure of the series, and so it should have been. It was not Etten, with its churches, poplars and chimneys. It was not Manyara, with its yellow thorn trees, nor Birmingham, nor the lip of Ngorongoro, nor Nairobi, nor any hazardous spot; but the Serengeti, with its eternity of open land leading away downwind. Up we went, with the trail rope on the ground, and then stabilized at 300 feet - another record. The wind up there was about 5 knots, and very nice it was. I decided to fly as I had never flown before, by giving 100 per cent attention to the instruments. I saw no reason for any repetition, however small by comparison, of that leapfrogging over the Ngongs and beyond. As soon as either the altimeter or the variometer gave a flicker of a movement downwards, I would trickle out a little sand. I would let no momentum build up. I would fly on as even a keel as could possibly be arranged. Admittedly, this should always be the aim, but from Nairobi it had been impossible. Very quickly we had been forced into the relatively crude business of throwing out half sacks at a time, and then of cannoning into the ground.

On that early Serengeti morning things were different. When sand went overboard it was in half handfuls or less, and the flight started off with a finesse never achieved before. The first animals below us were Thomson's gazelles, slightly frightened initially, but soon quite calm. They stopped their trotting and turned to have a look at us. A rhino, 50 yards away, next saw us, but did not raise his tail. Then a hyena, sitting by its hole, moved off straight beneath us and trotted along at our speed. We could hear the grass rustling as its furry body brushed past, and I scattered some sand on its back as we started coming too near. The intention was to travel no lower than 200 feet and no higher than 300: the range in between was optimum.

As the flight progressed a measure of confidence in ballooning began to return. There was no ocean span to cross, no jungle ahead, no distraught airstream; and it was still the calm of the morning. Well to the east of us were the Ngorongoro Highlands, now shrouded in cloud, and obviously a place where trouble could be expected, A few miles in their direction was the great crack of the Olduvai Gorge, a dry and arid scar across the ground. Beneath were the animals and the moon-shaped barkan, those Shifting Sands where we had spent that infantile afternoon. They had zebras cropping the grass near them, and a herd of eland further away. These big antelopes are the most timid of the lot, allegedly because they know their meat is prized. Some are being husbanded in captivity as an alternative to beef, and even from our height we could see the heavy folds of flesh. Those below us were wild, but every member of the species, whether being fattened or not, always seems to have plenty of meat on board. Their long twisted horns reaching back over their necks must have saved them again and again. I looked down for too long and had to throw out sand hastily, for a descent had begun to build up.

Extract ID: 3784

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 254
Extract Date: 1962

Ballooning over the wildebeests

After an hour of travelling, and a mounting concern about the big herd which lay ahead, we first caught glimpses of it. The sight was astounding. I had never imagined the world could be quite so full of animals. To begin with, they appeared as a kind of blur, with dust rising above them all. Then the blur changed to specks, and the dust columns rose higher into the air. Then the specks changed into individual forms, some galloping, some quite still, until the whole horizon in our path was full of them. Our point of aim had been perfect. We were due, sudden contrary winds permitting, to go over the very centre of that vast animal concourse.

Alan and Douglas made everything ready with their cameras. I arranged the remaining sacks conveniently at my feet, and promised a stable run over the herd. We were much too involved to be particularly happy, or rather to show that we were; but everything was going exceptionally well. I dropped the height down to less than 200 feet, and the tip of the trail rope began to touch the ground. There was an occasional brief tugging as it went straight over a solitary tree, but the trees were rare and becoming rarer. The herd was in an open place, and there was nothing but a few drying water-holes, the slender traces of dust, and those thousands upon thousands of animals. Meanwhile, for the sun was in the east behind the balloon, our shadow moved steadily ahead of us, and showed the way. It moved over the ground like some giant amoeba, undulating slightly at the edges with the unevenness of the earth, and then pushing out a pseudopodium as it climbed up one side of an isolated rise in the ground. It became an exceedingly sensitive form of altimeter, for the eye is good at appreciating whether something is growing or shrinking before it. So I stared at that shadow leading us towards the herd, and threw out sand accordingly.

At last we came near, and as we did so an immensity of noise came up towards us. I had listened to that congregation on the ground, but when heard from the air it was far more deafening. The nasal grunts of the wildebeest were strung together so continuously that it sounded as if a swarm of buzzing bees had dropped their note an octave or two. It was a raucous vibration coming from everywhere. It was the real noise of a migration on the move, not the half-hearted imitation of it we had heard when on the ground. It was one mighty impulse. It was a herd, and it was careering, walking, eating, and galloping on its way. It was magnificent.

The shadow cut clean through animals, so to speak, and they disregarded it. The zebras. Tommies, Grants, and wildebeest were all the same. The sudden blotting out of the sun by the sharpness of our form caused no reaction. We might as well not have been there, but for the fact that we spoke. This made them aware of us. It seemed silly to us, assuming stealth when so blatantly visible, and assuming quiet when the whole earth is pulsing with a remarkable din. So we spoke, more out of enthusiasm than with any intent to say a message; but we did speak, and the animals heard us. The group immediately below frisked up their tails and cantered off in the idiotic heel-kicking manner of the wildebeest. We experimented with other groups. If we were quiet, all was well; but if we talked, we were instantly overheard, despite the din.

Extract ID: 3786

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 255
Extract Date: 1962

the flight had to come to a stop

Having learnt this lesson, we respected its findings and remained silent. This was easy, for there was plenty to observe and too much to say. The whole sight was so magical. To both sides there were ten miles of animals. To the front of us, and to the back, there were thousands of them. And above them all we floated with the simplicity that only a balloon can possess, provided the air is calm and the African day is young. Of course, it was growing older all the time, and we were soon beginning to realize it. My job was becoming steadily more difficult, and that nice constant height of 200 feet was becoming exceptional rather than the rule. However, to begin with, this meant only more attention by me, and the general photography and observation was still well under control.

Towards the end of the herd, when its flanks were behind us to the left and right, and when only a few animals remained in front, we were pleased to note that a water-hole was certain to pass directly beneath us. It was nearly dry, but some wildebeest were standing in the mud by its edge, and some others were on the hard, dry, down-trodden earth around it. I'll go over this at 200 feet. You just wait and see.' 'Fine,' said Alan. It looks well, I'll use up the rest of this magazine on the approach.'

Alan did in fact use up the film, and the approach was at the right height; but then we hit the air above that hot patch. Alan had disappeared into the basket to fix the camera, but Douglas and I watched the ground sink rapidly below, and knew that the gentle hours were over. I read the altimeter casually, knowing only too well the sort of thing it would say, and saw the needle rise from 200 to 1,500 feet. The hot patch's thermal was having its effect. During this rise Alan had been down in the wicker bowels of our vehicle, and he rose at the end of it to see a world transformed. He clutched suddenly on to the rim, and his shoulders shrunk from vertigo. Neither Douglas nor I had bothered to point out the obvious to each other, but Alan had been unaware of it and had suffered accordingly. The world had no right to vanish like that. He had left it a mere 200 feet below. It was a third of a mile away when next he looked at it.

From then on the flight did not have its previous serenity. Intermediate landings were frequent, and sand was thrown out several pounds at a time rather than the gentle and occasional trickle of before. However, there was plenty of Serengeti still to come, even after the herd had gone, and we continued the flight, although more erratically. I remember a dead zebra down below, with the vultures swooping in from our height In a sense we were only seeing things as the vultures had seen them over the centuries. They have watched the life on the plains, and they have always been ready to scavenge them free from death. The vultures used outstretched wings on their effortless way down to the zebra, and only flapped them at the very end. We watched, and then prepared for another intermediate jolt of our own.

Eventually, despite the yearnings to go on, the flight had to come to a stop. Our path through the air had become more and more distorted, and the turbulence increasingly did what it liked with us. I achieved the best I could, but it was plainly not good enough and at the twentieth unintentional bounce I decided it was time to land. There was no hazard in the way, and the bounces were injuring nothing and no one; but they were extremely tangible tokens of the disturbances to come, and each was harder than the last. Besides, the herd was now behind us and we could imagine no rival that would compete with it. We hit the ground again, having dropped from 300 feet despite volumes of sand, and this time it hurt. The next occasion would definitely have to be the landing.

Douglas and Alan sorted out who would film it, because the man holding the cine needed both hands for that job, and the other man had to hang on to both the operator and the basket so that no one would leave it prematurely. I, meanwhile, prepared the valve and rip lines, blue for valve and red for rip. Instead of waiting for a downstream to take us earthwards, I valved a little and down we went in our own time.

It's coming. Hang on. I'm about to rip. Ripping now.' And it came. The basket creaked, but did not even bounce. Slowly it tipped on its side, and slowly we went with it. The coarse grass of the Serengeti brushed against our faces, and the flight was over. Jambo deflated herself in the proper manner, and all was finished. There were three shapes inside a basket, a lot of orange fabric, some netting - and nothing more. Traditionally, safely, beautifully, a balloon had expired. It was no longer a part of that most excellent canopy, the air. It had flown, but its journey was now ended. Its African days were over.

Extract ID: 3788

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: 259
Extract Date: 1962

A last look

For the last few days of our stay in the Serengeti, and while completing the arrangements amongst ourselves, we camped by the edge of Lake Lagaja [Lake Ndutu]. It was probably the most beautiful camp-site of them all, and certainly the hardest to leave. The plan was that I should go ahead, while the others tidied up some loose Serengeti ends. So I drove out of camp alone and began the journey back to London. As was the custom, the zebras galloped alongside, the gazelles danced over the ground, and the front wheels unerringly sought out the hyena holes. I drove and drove past the animals, past a slovenly group of lions, and some hartebeest, and more big herds, and a cheetah, and the largest group of eland that I had ever seen. I then met the track that leads through the Serengeti. Resenting its forthright purposefulness, its clear indication of the way to go, I swerved on meeting it and turned round to have a last look at the world I was leaving.

Extract ID: 3791

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: cbc160


Extract ID: 4147

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands, 1963
Page Number: cbc247
Extract Date: 1962

Shifting Sands

In the afternoon we drove over to the Shifting Sands and took the sandbags with us. These crescent-shaped mounds are a remarkable phenomenon. Technically they are known as barkan, and they result if there is sufficient dust on the ground and a unidirectional wind to blow it. The dust collects around a stone, and this collection accumulates more. The process continues, with the mound growing all the time, and then it begins to move. The crescents have their two sharp arms pointing the way the wind is going, and the whole shape is beautifully symmetrical. As it moves - perhaps an inch a day if the wind is strong - the mound moans, for the sandy earth is very dry, and the grains rub complainingly against each other. We drove up to this thing, and fooled around with it for the entire afternoon. It was high and steep, and we flung ourselves over its edge to slide rapidly down to the bottom. Any child who ever encountered a barkan would never look at a sand-pit again. There is no comparison between the two. Certainly that is how we felt as we swam and rolled and leapt about on that noisy tummock. We also, belatedly, filled the sandbags.

Extract ID: 4148
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