Shifting Sands

Name ID 1576

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands
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
Page Number: cbc160


Extract ID: 4147

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands
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

See also

Marsh, David Photos of Tanzania
Extract Date: 2003 Jan 20

The Shifting Sands

Extract ID: 4149
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