We were in Mkomazi, a sprawling 3200 sq kilometers of wild open savannah, dusky mountains and glimpses of Tsavo in the far-off distance. It’s not far from us, up here in the north of Tanzania and bordering Kenya. It’s rugged and wild and probably the most beautiful part of Africa that I have ever seen. Not many tourists come here, it’s rather too ‘off the beaten track’ and gets little mention in the guide books; it doesn’t fare so well with its more famous counterparts, the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Tarangire even.
Poachers come here though, as do various tribes and their cattle, they all leave their own footprint. Much of the game has been decimated in the past, by men with guns, and many of the animals that were left soon disappeared over the border. Now Mkomazi can look like a ghost town, with only shadows of what was once there. It’s strange, when one is used to plains teeming with game, to stand in almost total solitude in the space between the mountains.
It’s been a dry year and there is little water, we saw only a few skinny buffalo and a small herd of elephants on this last visit. “They’ve been going into the villages”, a local man told us, “it’s a big problem, they get into the crops and people get scared, they chase them, they shoot them”. I heard a terrible story of a young elephant being chased to its death, run off the edge of a cliff by an angry mob; this from friends who themselves are custodians of two elephants, 4 and 14, rescued when they were separated from their herd and faced certain starvation. They now live together in relative safety on the western slopes of Kilimanjaro. There are always two sides to everything here, both ends of the scale are side by side and you need to look both in the eye.
When the rains come to this area, and if they’re good, it means grazing and water is more readily available without crossing unmarked boundaries, leaving less room for conflict. The rains bring everything back to life – out of the dust and bones – and nowhere is it more apparent than here. I wish I could ‘bed in’ here and never leave. Watch the days, weeks, months change, the animals come and go, and forget anything else in the world as nothing would be as important as this.
Being here takes my breath away. On the one side, you have the Usumbara’s and the Pare Eastern Arc Mountains, deep purple and shadowy at sunset. From the top of a craggy escarpment we looked all the way out across Tsavo, could see the Taita Hills on the horizon. J was in a good mood, it’s a birders paradise and he saw several species he’d never seen before, that made him very happy. Maybe I’ll let him ‘bed in’ and stay with me here too.