Christopher Ondatje

Name ID 704

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1989 Publishes: Leopard in the Afternoon: An African Tenting Safari Ondaatje, Christopher


Extract ID: 5593

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Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile
Page Number: 110
Extract Date: 1996

Leaving Zungomero

On leaving Zungomero, our winding, although generally westerly, route took us south, to the Mikumi National Park. For this part of the trip we did not follow Burton's more northerly route. He skirted the south slopes of the Uluguru Mountains; we detoured much farther south, eventually rejoining his route at the town ofKilosa. By the time he entered the Second Region, Burton had been travelling much longer than we had and the daily routine of his march was well established, although he had a great deal of trouble with careless, rebellious, and larcenous porters. Our routine, on the other hand, was very quick and efficient. We worked hard, got on well together, and had fun.

I had made it clear at the start of the trip that I did not want too many modern conveniences to distance me from the expe-riences a nineteenth-century traveller would have had. I felt instinctively that, if I spent the nights surrounded by four solid walls, with proper beds and hot and cold running water, and ate meals prepared in restaurant kitchens, I would miss the essence of what I was seeking to understand: the sights, scents, sounds even the tastes of the explorers' life on the trail. So, except in urban places, such as Zanzibar, Bagamoyo, and Kigoma, we slept in tents, making our camp every night, eating our improvised meals around the campfire, and packing it all up again every morning.

I had a small tent to myself. Joshua had one that he usually shared with his son Ali, although Ali had a small tent of his own which he sometimes used. Thad Peterson shared his tent with Pollangyo. So almost always there were five of us in three tents, arranged around a campfire. The first time I saw the three set up, I remembered the descriptions I had read of Burton and Speke's three tents in Somaliland in 1855 and of the dangerous attack they underwent there. Wherever we had come to at the end of the day, usually just before sunset, we pitched our tents before it got dark and before the mosquitoes came out.

Especially while we were following Burton's map on the first part of our journey, we were so exhausted with our travelling and looking for places and arguing and trying to decide where we were that we needed a good strong drink of pombe, locally brewed beer, as soon as a campsite was decided. We would pitch the tents and have a shower outside. Our portable shower was a plastic bag full of water hung over the bough of a tree. It could be either cool or hot, depending on whether the bag was left in the sun for about half an hour. From the bottom of the bag protruded a long, thin, plastic tube ending in a nozzle that could be extracted or inserted. The extraction released the water through a shower head. Very simple. I wondered why I had not seen this anywhere else.

After we had worked together to pitch the tents, we all got wood for the fire. Ali usually did the cooking as we sat around and talked about what we had done that day and what we planned on doing the next day. I would quiz the others about their observations and write for at least an hour, recording the day's events. I also used this time to get myself ready for the next day's travels, reading about Burton's journey, what he had written, and what others had written about the towns that he travelled through. Beyond Mikumi, the first place name that seemed similar to any on Burton's itinerary was Miyombo, just south of Kilosa. After Kilosa, Burton's route took him south of Dodoma, a name not found on his itinerary. Between Kilosa and Dodoma are the Rubeho Mountains which I found both on Burton's maps and on my modern maps. In a sense, what we were trying to do was to hack our way through the wilderness mentally before we did it physically, trying to imagine what Burton would have done as an explorer in the same place, dealing with his own camp and his band of bearers.

Each day we went as far as we could, then looked for a place to camp, usually off the road, in some kind of clearing. Each of these places turned out to be extraordinary in its own way. Occasionally we camped in some filthy little dwelling we found along the way, but usually we were in our tents at the edge of the jungle or by a river. It was pleasant and relaxing. We were always exhausted, and so we tended to go to sleep by about nine, and got up early in the morning to get going as soon as possible.

We did not carry much food, but bought it along the way. Burton and Speke did something similar, only they shot animals for food when they could.

When we were at sea level, it was as hot as hell at night. During the day we were tormented by mosquitoes and pestered by bees. And then there were ticks. I got a tick bite on my stomach. I tried to pull the tick off while I was having a shower. You have to get the head out by twisting counter-clockwise or else you are supposed to burn it off. I did neither, and the thing festered. I had to put up with it for the remainder of the journey.

There were other minor irritations rashes and things but mercifully nothing like the ravages of smallpox, which Burton witnessed at first hand near Mzizi Mdogo, "Little Tamarind," shortly after leaving Zungomero:

Extract ID: 5736

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile
Page Number: 114a
Extract Date: 1996

The road from Mikumi to Kilosa

We left the Mikumi Lodge at 8:00 a.m. Our route cut through a valley, past an enormous herd of elephants. Near the lodge entrance, a herd of buffalo grazed on a parched brown hill.

I was still trying very hard to follow the exact route of the explorers. From the coast to Dodoma was about one-third of the distance to Lake Tanganyika, and for this first third of our trip it was a struggle to follow Burton's route and to match modern settlements to his place names. What happened, I think, was that the villages grew, or moved, or a town name came to be applied to an area. Also, before the influx of Europeans, the language of this area had no written form and Burton could have misheard names. There were times when I wished I had not decided to try to trace Burton's exact route. But then I would not have made the journey I wanted to make. Burton was a careful and complete diarist. He was exact about where he had gone and why. We found that, west of Dodoma, we could match our route to Burton's much more precisely.

Along the road from Mikumi to Kilosa we saw Sterculia trees. Tall and straight, with pale yellow bark, it is a dramatic deciduous tree with a dense rounded crown. We noticed it all over the countryside. As well, enormously tall, deciduous kapok trees lined the road. They had light-coloured bark and pods hanging from their branches, dark brown outside, like cocoa pods, that split open to reveal the fluffy white substance inside.

The road was bad, not paved, but we kept on, heading directly north. One town we passed through was called Ulaya, meaning "Europe," so called because the first person to camp in this place was a European. We also crossed a road leading to the town of Rumuma, another Burton place name. This region is home to the Sagara tribe.

Extract ID: 5744

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile
Page Number: 109
Extract Date: 14 Feb 1858

The rough nurse of rugged men: Zungomero to Ujiji and Kigoma

Chapter 4

When we left Zungomero, we left what Burton called the First Region of his trip and entered the Second, or mountain, Region. Ahead of us, between Zungomero and Lake Tanganyika, lay four more of his regions. Traversing the Second Region would take us from Zungomero over the Rubeho Mountains to the edge of a country Burton called Ugogo, which is near present-day Dodoma. The trek through the Rubeho Mountains was a difficult one for Burton because of the rugged terrain. For us it was also difficult, but mainly because we could not be sure what route Burton's expedition had taken to reach the mountain pass.

Beyond Dodoma, the explorers passed through the Third Region and part of the Fourth Region to reach Kazeh (present-day Tabora), where they rested for five weeks. From Tabora they proceeded to the Malagarasi River, which marked the beginning of Burton's Fifth Region; and from there they plodded laboriously on, reaching Lake Tanganyika at Ujiji on February 14, 1858, seven and a half months after leaving Bagamoyo. When I glanced at Burton's careful list, I counted ninety stations between Zungomero and Lake Tanganyika.

Our own expedition telescoped Burton and Speke's seven and a half months of travel into eight days. We left Bagamoyo on October 25, and arrived at Lake Tanganyika on November 1. Swift though our progress was, however, when we set out from Zungomero I had hoped to cover the distance much more quickly than we actually did. The trip to Lake Tanganyika turned out to be a difficult slog as we detoured and backtracked ceaselessly, trying to identify some of the more elusive portions of Burton's trail.

The rough nurse of rugged men: Zungomero to Ujiji and Kigoma

Extract ID: 5734

See also

1998 Publishes: Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile


Extract ID: 5733

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile
Page Number: Cover
Extract Date: 1998

Christopher Ondaatje was born in Ceylon, educated in England.. ..

Christopher Ondaatje was born in Ceylon, educated in England, and emigrated to Canada in 1956. He has worked for several magazines and newspapers, and in 1967 founded Pagurian Press, which eventually became the enormously successful Pagurian Corporation. In 1988 he sold all his business interests and returned to the literary world. He is the author of six books including the best selling Burton biography 'Sindh Revisited'.

He was a member of Canada's 1964 Olympic bobsled team, and is a director of the World Wildlife Fund and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. He lives in London, England

Extract ID: 2897

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Ondaatje, Christopher Kilimanjaro: Genius in an African dawn
Page Number: d


At the end of my trip, I made a flight around the peak of Kilimanjaro. As we approached we saw on the right the jagged peak of Mawenzi, and to the left the unique square-topped peak of Kibo. And then the bright sunlight on the snow-capped peak. We circled past Leopard Point the place where the leopard carcass was actually found by Donald Latham. Suddenly, so close to such formidable, unworldly beauty, it seemed clear how the Masai could think of the peak of this extraordinary mountain as the house of God, how it would have struck Hemingway, flying past on his way to hospital treatment, as a symbol of immortality.

I came closest to Hemingway's Africa not during any leopard hunt, or while interviewing people who knew him, or even driving through his green hills, but in the early morning, waiting for coffee and the day to begin. The joyful anticipation of a morning in Africa is like no other Hemingway wrote that, "Every morning when you woke it was as exciting as though you were going to compete in a downhill ski race or drive a bobsled on a fast run. Something, you knew, would happen, and usually before 11 o'clock."

On my last morning, spent by Lake Naivasha, I heard the morning chorus the fish eagles crying to each other over the water, the shriek of the hadada ibis, and the melodic tones of the African bou bou. Long yellow streaks of sun cast equally long shadows behind the acacias on to the glistening grasses and darker papyrus. Above me, the sky was a hazy grey, waiting to be turned blue. Africa in the morning holds out a world of potential. It is a time and a place where the idea of attaining one's best self and achieving one's best work seems quite possible.

Extract ID: 5396

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2003 Publishes: Ondaatje, Christopher Hemingway In Africa, The Last Safari


Extract ID: 4714
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