34 A wife’s tale

The perks of mar­ry­ing a tour guide

Leisure Wheels (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - Text: Magda Slab­bert Pho­tog­ra­phy: Martin and Magda Slab­bert

MY hus­band’s name is Martin Slab­bert. He is from Ex­plore Africa, the pre­ferred sa­fari tour op­er­a­tor for Leisure Wheels. Ev­ery year he trav­els through Zim­babwe, Zam­bia, Malawi, Tan­za­nia and Botswana, to the Serengeti and back to South Africa. The whole trip is a long 39 days.

Last year, I joined the group from Mussina to Malawi.

This year, I de­cided to join them in Tan­za­nia af­ter their Serengeti ex­pe­ri­ence.

What fol­lows are my ex­pe­ri­ences. Don’t judge me: the wife of a tour op­er­a­tor mows the lawn, takes out the garbage, feeds the dogs, does some main­te­nance and pays the bills, so when she is spoilt; I prom­ise you, she de­serves it.

OFF, OFF AND… AWAY?

I boarded an Air Kenya plane at 1am, a bizarre time to fly.

I was anx­ious to see Martin af­ter 29 days and I feared trav­el­ling alone through Africa. On top of this, I had a ter­ri­ble cold and had been strug­gling to get any sleep.

I flew di­rectly to the Jomo Keny­atta In­ter­na­tional Air­port near Nairobi and two hours later, caught a lo­cal flight via Kil­i­man­jaro (Arusha) to Mwanza in Tan­za­nia. The air­port in Mwanza is noth­ing more than a small build­ing, it doesn’t look like an air­port at all.

On ar­rival, the of­fi­cials checked my med­i­cal sta­tus and yel­low fever card. She then took my tem­per­a­ture which was 340C. She was as­tounded: I was too cold!

Ap­par­ently 37 de­grees is the av­er­age, so what was wrong with me? It took me nearly 30 min­utes to ex­plain that I felt fine, just tired. In the mean­time, the lug­gage from Nairobi ar­rived... without my bag.

Af­ter con­vinc­ing the lady be­hind the glass that I was not a corpse, I had a com­plete snot en trane melt­down when I found out my bag was miss­ing.

No one knew what to do with this ice-cold, lily-white lady sob­bing as if it was the end of the

world. A huge man ap­proached, put his arm around my shoul­der and softly said he would help me, adding that I had noth­ing to worry about. He filled in all the nec­es­sary forms, walked me to the ho­tel/air­port shut­tle ser­vice and promised he would find my bag. In my sorry-for-my­self state, I wept the whole way to the ho­tel.

Even­tu­ally Martin and the group ar­rived and I be­gan to feel bet­ter.

The ho­tel was ex­cep­tional; it is on the banks of Lake Vic­to­ria, Africa’s largest lake by area, the world’s largest trop­i­cal lake and the sec­ond largest fresh­wa­ter lake in the world. It is also the source of the Nile. Mwanza is known for its large boul­ders but the place is typ­i­cal Africa: or­gan­ised chaos, dif­fer­ent smells, a ca­coph­ony of sounds, a lot of friend­li­ness and mar­kets.

I walked up and down the streets, bought some sou­venirs and chat­ted with the lo­cals.

I was never afraid and was never treated as a for­eigner, I was just an­other hu­man be­ing and I loved it. Back at the ho­tel, I re­ceived the mes­sage that my bag had been found and I could pick it up at the air­port.

On ar­rival at the air­port, the huge friendly man came run­ning up to me, shout­ing “Maaag­dalena! Maaaag­dalena! I have found your bag!”

If he only knew what was in the bag: a du­vet, a bot­tle of wine and my swim­suit. A du­vet? Well, on a pre­vi­ous trip with Martin, we had a sin­gle bed du­vet be­tween us in the roof tent. Af­ter 32 years of mar­riage, it no longer as ro­man­tic to sleep nearly on top of each other un­der one du­vet, so I de­cided to bring my own.

My clothes were in my hand lug­gage. Wrapped up in the du­vet was an ex­pen­sive bot­tle of wine for a spe­cial oc­ca­sion. The swim­suit was an af­ter­thought.

Af­ter two full days in Mwanza I was sad to leave, I fell in love with the place and want to go back again.

Some mon­key Busi­ness

En route to a camp­site next to Lake Tan­ganyika in Kigoma, we slept in a former colo­nial ho­tel built in 1924 by Ger­man set­tlers in Tab­ora. The fol­low­ing day we went off to Lake Tan­ganyika, the long­est (677km) fresh­wa­ter lake in the world, the sec­ond deep­est and the sec­ond largest by wa­ter vol­ume.

We were sched­uled to track some chim­panzees in the Gombe Na­tional Park. A boat (imag­ine a vis­sersskuit at Pater­nos­ter with a roof) came at 6am to take us to the park to find the chim­panzees of Jane Goodall. For­tu­nately, I had a good night’s sleep un­der my own du­vet.

The trip took three hours but it was beau­ti­ful. You see the sun rise and get an idea of the vast­ness of the lake. At Gombe you must pay the en­trance fee with a credit card and pro­duce your pass­port. We climbed for hours be­fore we found the chimps. Please take note of the tour lead­ers ad­vice to wear proper hik­ing shoes; fancy takkies from a bou­tique shop do not work. I learnt this the hard way.

It takes hours and lots of climb­ing be­fore you fi­nally ar­rive among the an­i­mals. Sit­ting there close to pri­mates, who share nearly 99% of their DNA with hu­mans, was amaz­ing. You are not al­lowed to make eye con­tact but if you sit calmly, the chimps ig­nore you.

The young ones gave us a dis­play of their en­ergy and we had to be quick with the cam­era. The re­turn jour­ney was even worse; one lady in the group just sat down and bumped down the pass on her bot­tom all the way to safety.

It was a phys­i­cally ex­haust­ing day but the ex­pe­ri­ence could be ticked off the bucket list. The re­turn boat trip was four hours and the lake was an­gry with the wind, it was as if we were in a storm out at sea, with huge waves at­tack­ing the boat.

The next stop was Katavi Na­tional Park where the ablu­tion fa­cil­i­ties were aw­ful. The fol­low­ing day we drove to Kip­ili, a small town on the edge of Lake Tan­ganyika.

Martin had once told me about this place but I had en­vis­aged

a sort of a tented camp, only to find that the Lake Shore Lodge is par­adise. If I could have my hon­ey­moon all over again, I would choose this place. The own­ers are Chris and Louise, a young South African cou­ple who moved to Tan­za­nia in 1997. They opened the lodge in 2009.

All the fur­ni­ture, win­dows and doors have been made by hand with lo­cal wood with a red­dish colour and then oiled with palm oil. The style of the place is African-Zen as they have tried to in­cor­po­rate all the el­e­ments of light, wa­ter and the earth.

I de­cided to up­grade to a chalet, or a banda as they call it and it was worth ev­ery penny. Words can­not de­scribe the lux­ury and the fun we had drink­ing South African Pino­tage (not yet the one rolled in the du­vet) in the jacuzzi lit­er­ally on the banks of the lake.

Dr Liv­ing­stone… is that you?

I am glad I vis­ited Tan­za­nia and saw the place where the fa­mous words “Dr Liv­ing­stone, I pre­sume?” were ut­tered in 1871. We vis­ited the spot in Ujiji, a Mus­lim vil­lage.

This is ironic in a sense as Liv­ing­stone’s aim when he ar­rived in Africa was to bring Chris­tian­ity to Africa and to end slav­ery. Henry Stan­ley, a jour­nal­ist on a mis­sion to find David Liv­ing­stone, fi­nally caught up with him un­der a mango tree and said the well-known words. The orig­i­nal mango tree died in the 1920s but two of its branches were used to plant the trees stand­ing there to­day.

The vast­ness of Lake Tan­ganyika is mind-bog­gling and I found the peo­ple amaz­ing, al­ways say­ing karibu (you are wel­come).

Tan­za­nia is one of the least ur­banised African coun­tries, the ur­ban pop­u­la­tion is only onethird of the to­tal of more than 44 mil­lion peo­ple.

The driv­ing is dif­fi­cult, though, as you should main­tain only 50km/h in small vil­lages and 80km/h when there are no huts or houses. But you end up driv­ing 50km/h most of the time. This can be frus­trat­ing.

We crossed the bor­der into Zam­bia at the Zombe Bor­der Post. It was no more than a small of­fice in Tan­za­nia and an even smaller of­fice in Zam­bia. No ques­tions were asked and it took about 10 min­utes.

At our overnight stop in Mbala, I saw a chair carved out of a tree stump which was on the ve­randa of the re­cep­tion area of our camp­site.

I asked if I could pur­chase it. The man­ager asked what I would of­fer, I said $20 and the deal was done.

I did not care where I’d put it. I knew Martin would make a plan. He even­tu­ally found a spot for it at the back of our ve­hi­cle next to the fridge, not very im­pressed. Now this beau­ti­ful chair is in my spare room at home, re­mind­ing me of Zam­bia.

We vis­ited Kapishya Hot Springs – which are com­pletely nat­u­ral and sul­phur-free – si­t­u­ated close to the Es­tate of Shiwa Ng’andu (The Africa House) and along the banks of the Man­sha River.

The wa­ter bub­bles up from the earth and it is warm like a bath. We sat in the nat­u­ral wa­ter for hours and drank my ex­pen­sive bot­tle of wine.

The group then pro­ceeded via Lusaka to Liv­ing­stone where the tour of­fi­cially ended. The most dif­fi­cult part for any tour leader is say­ing good­bye to peo­ple you shared 39 days with.

I am nev­er­the­less glad that I joined the group, al­beit for a lit­tle short of two weeks.

I saw Tan­za­nia, Lake Vic­to­ria, Lake Tan­ganyika, Kip­ili and Kapishya Hot Springs; places I would never have vis­ited if I was not mar­ried to Martin.

When peo­ple ask me what my hus­band does for a liv­ing, I now an­swer: he makes his (and other peo­ple’s) dreams come true.

Above: Magda and Martin Slab­bert. Magda joined her hubby on a re­cent trip and had some ad­ven­tures of her own, too. This page: Is that an ele­phant on my stoep? On the Leisure Wheels sa­faris, there are times when hu­mans and the an­i­mals – quite un­planned – get up close and per­sonal with each other.

Above, clock­wise fromtop left: Ma­sai war­rior. The mas­sive Lake Vic­to­ria. A spe­cial bot­tle of red, for a spe­cial cel­e­bra­tion. The trip in­cluded a visit to Jane Goodall’s chim­panzees. Left: A mar­ket in Mwanza, a friendly place on the banks of Lake Vic­to­ria.

Above left: A former colo­nial ho­tel, built by Ger­man set­tlers in 1924. Above, right: The Mara river, near the Kenyan bor­der, where the Serengeti be­comes the Maa­sai Mara.

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