ON THE EDGE OF THE ATHI PLAINS, FACE TO FACE WITH GREAT HERDS OF WILD GAME. UP IN A BALLOON AT NAIROBI
Before Colonel Roosevelt drew the eyes of the world on British East Africa Nairobi was practically unheard of. The British colonial office knew where it was and a fair number of English sportsmen had visited it in the last six or eight years. Perhaps twenty-five or thirty Americans had been in Nairobi on their way to the rich game fields that lie in all directions from the town, but beyond these few outsiders the place was unknown. Now it is decidedly on the map, thanks to our gallant and picturesque Theodore. It has been mentioned in book and magazine to a degree that nearly everybody can tell in a general way where and what it is, even if he can not pronounce it.
Before coming to Nairobi I had read a lot about it, and yet when I reached the place it seemed as though the descriptions had failed to prepare me for what I saw. We arrived under unusual conditions. Files of native soldiers were lined up on the platform of the station to welcome the new governor, and the whole white population of the town, several hundred in number, were massed in front of the building. The roofs and trees were filled with natives and the broad open space beyond the station was fringed with pony carts, bullock carts, rickshaws, cameras, and some hotel 'buses. Several thousand people, mostly East Indians and natives, were among those present. Lord Delamere, who has adopted East Africa as his home, and who owns a hundred thousand acres or so of game preserves, read an address of welcome, and Sir Percy, in white uniform and helmet, responded with a speech that struck a popular note. There were dozens of cameras snapping and the whole effect was distinctly festive in appearance.
In the Back Yard of Nairobi
The town lies on the edge of the Athi Plains, a broad sweep of sun-bleached grass veldt many miles in extent. From almost any part of the town one may look out on plains where great herds of wild game are constantly in sight. In an hour's leisurely walk from the station a man with a gun can get hartebeest, zebra, Grant's gazelle, Thompson's gazelle, impalla, and probably wildebeest. One can not possibly count the number of animals that feed contentedly within sight of the town of Nairobi, and it is difficult to think that one is not looking out upon a collection of domesticated game. Sometimes, as happened two nights before we reached Nairobi, a lion will chase a herd of zebra and the latter in fright will tear through the town, destroying gardens and fences and flowers in a mad stampede. We met one man who goes out ten minutes from town every other day and kills a kongoni (hartebeest) as food for his dogs. If you were disposed to do so you could kill dozens every day with little effort and almost no diminution of the visible supply.
Dressed to Kill
The Balloon Ascension
The Norfolk Hotel, Nairobi
Nairobi is new and unattractive. There is one long main thoroughfare, quite wide and fringed with trees, along which at wide intervals are the substantial looking stone building of the Bank of India, the business houses, the hotels, and numbers of cheap corrugated iron, one-story shacks used for government purposes. A native barracks with low iron houses and some more little iron houses used for medical experiments and still some more for use as native hospitals are encountered as one takes the half-mile ride from the station to the hotel. A big square filled with large trees marks the park, and a number of rather pretentious one-story buildings display signs that tell you where you may buy almost anything, from a suit of clothes to a magazine rifle.
The Main Street Is a Busy Place
Goanese, East Indian, and European shops are scattered at intervals along this one long, wide street. Rickshaws, pedestrians, bullock carts, horsemen, and heavily burdened porters are passing constantly back and forth, almost always in the middle of the street. Bicycles, one or two motorcycles, and a couple of automobiles are occasionally to be seen. The aspect of the town suggests the activity of a new frontier place where everybody is busy. At one end the long street loses itself in the broad Athi Plains, at the other it climbs up over some low hills and enters the residence district on higher ground. Here the hills are generously covered with a straggly growth of tall, ungraceful trees, among which, almost hidden from view, are the widely scattered bungalows of the white population.
An Embo Apollo
The Askari Patrols the Camp
Branching off from the main street are side streets, some of them thronged with East Indian bazaars, about which may be found all the phases of life of an Indian city. Still beyond and parallel with the one main street are sparsely settled streets which look ragged with their tin shacks and scattered gardens.
Nairobi is not a beautiful place, but it is new and busy, and the people who live there are working wonders in changing a bad location into what some day will be a pretty place. It is over five thousand feet high, healthy, and cold at night. Away off in the hills a mile or more from town is Government House, where the governor lives, and near by is the club and a new European hospital, looking out over a sweep of country that on clear days includes Kilima-Njaro, over a hundred miles to the southeast, and Mount Kenia, a hundred miles northeast.
You are still in civilization in Nairobi. Anything you want you may buy at some of the shops, and almost anything you may want to eat or drink may easily be had. There are weekly newspapers, churches, clubs, hotels, and nearly all the by-products of civilization. One could live in Nairobi, only a few miles from the equator, wear summer clothes at noon and winter clothes at night, keep well, and not miss many of the luxuries of life. The telegraph puts you in immediate touch with the whole wide world, and on the thirtieth of September you can read the Chicago Tribune of August thirty-first.
At present the chief revenue of the government is derived from shooting parties, and the officials are doing all they can to encourage the coming of sportsmen. Each man who comes to shoot must pay two hundred and fifty dollars for his license as well as employ at least thirty natives for his transport. He must buy supplies, pay ten per cent. import and export tax, and in many other ways spend money which goes toward paying the expenses of government. The government also is encouraging various agricultural and stock raising experiments, but these have not yet passed the experimental stage. Almost anything may be grown in British East Africa, but before agriculture can be made to pay the vast herds of wild game must either be exterminated or driven away. No fence will keep out a herd of zebra, and in one rush a field of grain is ruined by these giant herds. Experiments have failed satisfactorily to domesticate the zebra, and so he remains a menace to agriculture and a nuisance in all respects except as adding a picturesque note to the landscape.
Colonel Roosevelt, in a recent speech in Nairobi, spoke of British East Africa as a land of enormous possibilities and promise, but in talks with many men here I found that little money has been made by those who have gone into agriculture in a large way. Drought and predatory herds of game have introduced an element of uncertainty which has made agriculture, as at present developed, unsatisfactory.
Colonel Roosevelt has become a popular idol in East Africa. Everywhere one meets Englishmen who express the greatest admiration for him. He has shrewdly analyzed conditions as they now exist and has picked out the weak spots in the government. For many years prior to the arrival of Sir Percy Girouard the country has been administered by weak executives, and its progress has been greatly retarded thereby. The last governor was kind, but inefficient, and some months ago was sent to the West Indies, where he is officially buried. Roosevelt came, sized up the situation, and made a speech at a big banquet in Nairobi. Nearly two hundred white men in evening clothes were there. They came from all parts of East Africa, and listened with admiration to the plain truths that Theodore Roosevelt told them in the manner of a Dutch uncle. Since then he has owned the country and could be elected to any office within the gift of the people. He talked for over an hour, and it must have been a great speech, if one may judge by the enthusiastic comments I have heard about it. When an Englishman gets enthusiastic about a speech by an American it must be a pretty good speech.
Newland and Tarlton is the firm that outfits most shooting parties that start out from Nairobi. They do all the preliminary work and relieve you of most of the worry. If you wish them to do so, they will get your complete outfit, so you need not bring anything with you but a suitcase. They will get your guns, your tents, your food supplies, your mules, your head-man, your cook, your gunbearers, your askaris (native soldiers), your interpreter, your ammunition, and your porters. They will have the whole outfit ready for you by the time you arrive in Nairobi. When you arrive in British East Africa, a-shooting bent, you will hear of Newland and Tarlton so often that you will think they own the country.
Mr. Newland met us in Mombasa, and through his agents sent all of our London equipment of tents and guns and ammunition and food up to Nairobi. When we arrived in Nairobi he had our porters ready, together with tent boys, gunbearers, and all the other members of our safari, and in three days we were ready to march. The firm has systematized methods so much that it is simple for them to do what would be matters of endless worry to the stranger. In course of time you pay the price, and in our case it seemed reasonable, when one considers the work and worry involved. Most English sportsmen come out in October and November, after which time the shooting is at its height. Two years ago there were sixty safaris, or shooting expeditions, sent out from Nairobi. When we left, late in September, there were about thirty.
The Great White Way in Nairobi
The Busiest Place in Nairobi
The New Governor Looks Something Like Roosevelt
Each party must have from thirty to a couple of hundred camp attendants, depending upon the number of white men in the party. Each white man, requires, roughly, thirty natives to take care of him. In our party of four white people we had one hundred and eighteen. One would presume that the game would speedily be exterminated, yet it is said that the game is constantly increasing. After one day's ride on the railway it would be hard to conceive of game being more plentiful than it was while we were there. Mr. Roosevelt carried nearly three hundred men with him, collected a great quantity of game, and necessarily spent a great deal of money. It is said that the expenses of his expedition approached ten thousand dollars a month, but the chances are that this figure is much more than the actual figure.
At the time of our arrival there was a shortage in the porter supply, and we were obliged to take out men from a number of different tribes. Swahili porters are considered the best, but there are not enough to go round, so we had to take Swahilis, Bagandas, Kikuyus, Kavirondos, Lumbwas, Minyamwezis, and a lot more of assorted races. Each porter carries sixty pounds on his head, and when the whole outfit is on the trail it looks like a procession of much importance.
The Norfolk Hotel is the chief rendezvous of Nairobi. In the course of the afternoon nearly all the white men on hunting bent show up at the hotel and patronize the bar. They come in wonderful hunting regalia and in all the wonderful splendor of the Britisher when he is afield. There is nearly always a great coming and going of men riding up, and of rickshaws arriving and departing. Usually several tired sportsmen are stretched out on the veranda of the long one-storied building, reading the ancient London papers that are lying about. Professional guides, arrayed in picturesque Buffalo Bill outfits, with spurs and hunting-knives and slouch hats, are among those present, and amateur sportsmen in crisp khaki and sun helmets and new puttees swagger back and forth to the bar. There is no denying the fact that there is considerable drinking in Nairobi. There was as much before we got there as there was after we got there, however. After the arrival of the European steamer at Mombasa business is brisk for several days as the different parties sally forth for the wilds.
At the Norfolk Hotel Bar
On our ship there were four different parties. A young American from Boston, who has been spending several years doing archæological work in Crete, accompanied by a young English cavalry officer, were starting out for a six-weeks' shoot south of the railway and near Victoria Nyanza.
Two professional ivory hunters were starting for German East Africa by way of the lake. Mr. Boyce and his African balloonograph party of seven white men were preparing for the photographing expedition in the Sotik, and our party of four was making final preparations for our march. Consequently there was much hurrying about, and Newland and Tarlton's warehouse was the center of throngs of waiting porters and the scene of intense activity as each party sorted and assembled its mountains of supplies.
Seager and Wormald got off first, going by train to Kijabe, where they were to begin their ten days' march in the Sotik. Here they were to try their luck for two or three weeks and then march back, preparatory to starting home.
The professional ivory hunters were slow in starting. There was delay in getting mules. One of them had shot three hundred elephants in the Belgian Congo during the last four years, and it was suspected he had been poaching. The other had been caught by the Belgian authorities on his last trip, lost all his ivory and guns by confiscation, but was ready to make another try. The ivory game is a rich one and there are always venturesome men who are willing to take chances with the law in getting the prizes.
The Boyce party with its two balloons and its great number of box kites and its moving picture equipment and its twenty-nine cameras and its vast equipment was slow in starting, but it expected to get away on September twenty-fourth, the day after we left. They planned to fill their balloon in Nairobi and tow it at the end of a special train as far as Kijabe, where they were to strike inland from the railway. They were encamped on a hill overlooking the city, with their two hundred and thirty porters ready for the field and their balloon ready to make the first ascension ever attempted in East Africa.
Throngs of natives squatted about, watching the final preparations, and doubtless wondered what the strange, swaying object was. On the evening of the twenty-second the party gave a moving picture show at one of the clubs for the benefit of St. Andrew's church. A great crowd of fashionably dressed people turned out and saw the motion picture records of events which they had seen in life only a couple of days before. There were moving pictures of the arrival of the governor's special train, his march through the city, and many other events that were fresh in the minds of the audience. There were also motion pictures taken on the ship that brought us down from Naples to Mombasa, and it was most interesting to see our fellow passengers and friends reproduced before us in their various athletic activities while on shipboard. Mr. Boyce gave an afternoon show for children, an evening show for grown-ups, and was to give another for the natives the following night. The charities of Nairobi were much richer because of Mr. Boyce and his African Balloonograph Expedition.
While in Nairobi we visited the little station where experiments are being made in the "sleeping sickness." An intelligent young English doctor is conducting the investigations and great hopes are entertained of much new information about that most mysterious ailment that has swept whole colonies of blacks away in the last few years.
In many little bottles were specimens of the deadly tsetse fly that causes all the infection. And the most deadly of all was the small one whose distinguishing characteristic was its wings, which crossed over its back. These we were told to look out for and to avoid them, if possible. They occur only in certain districts and live in the deep shade, near water. They also are day-biting insects, who do their biting only between eleven o'clock in the morning and five o'clock in the afternoon.
In the station there were a number of monkeys, upon which the fly was being tried. They were in various stages of the disease, but it seemed impossible to tell whether their illness was due to the sleeping sickness germ or was due to tick fever, a common malady among monkeys. In one of the rooms of the laboratory there were natives holding little cages of tsetse flies against the monkeys, which were pinioned to the floor by the natives. The screened cages were held close to the stomach of the helpless monkey, and little apertures in the screen permitted the fly to settle upon and bite the animal.
There are certain wide belts of land in Africa called the "tsetse fly belts," where horses, mules and cattle can not live. These districts have been known for a number of years, long before the sleeping sickness became known. In the case of animals, the danger could be minimized by keeping the animals out of those belts, but in the case of humans the same can not be done. One infected native from a sleeping sickness district can carry the disease from one end of the country to the other, and when once it breaks out the newly infected district is doomed. Consequently the British authorities are greatly alarmed, for by means of this deadly fly the whole population of East Africa might be wiped out if no remedy is discovered. It has not yet been absolutely proven that East Africa is a "white man's country," and in the end it may be necessary for him to give up hope of making it more than a place of temporary residence and exploration.
We were also shown some ticks. They are the pests of Africa. They exist nearly every place and carry a particularly malicious germ that gives one "tick fever." It is not a deadly fever, but it is recurrent and weakening. There are all kinds of ticks, from little red ones no bigger than a grain of pepper to big fat ones the size of a finger-nail, that are exactly the color of the ground. They seem to have immortal life, for they can exist for a long time without food. Doctor Ward told us of some that he had put in a box, where they lived four years without food or water. He also told us of one that was sent to the British museum, put on a card with a pin through it, and lived over two years in this condition. It is assumed, however, that it sustained fatal injuries, because after a two years' fight against its wound it finally succumbed.
We were told to avoid old camping grounds while on safari, because these spots were usually much infested with ticks waiting for new camping parties. Wild game is always covered with ticks and carries them all over the land. As you walk through the grass in the game country the ticks cling to your clothes and immediately seek for an opening where they may establish closer relations with you. Some animals, like the rhino and the eland, have tick birds that sit upon their backs and eat the ticks. The egrets police the eland and capture all predatory ticks, while the rhino usually has half a dozen little tick birds sitting upon him.
However, we were starting out in a day or so, and in a few days expected to learn a lot more about ticks than we then knew.
It is supposed to require a certain amount of nerve to go lion shooting. It is also supposed to require an additional amount to face an angry rhino or to attempt to get African buffalo. The last-named creature is a vindictive, crafty beast that is feared by old African hunters more than they fear any other animal. In consequence of these dangers we decided that it might be well to give our nerves a thorough test before going out with them. If they were not in good condition it would be well to know of it before rather than after going up against a strange and hostile lion.
That is why we went up in the balloon in Nairobi. The balloon was one of the two Boyce balloons and had never been tried. It was small, of twelve thousand cubic feet capacity, as compared with the seventy thousand foot balloons that do the racing. It was also being tried at an altitude of over five thousand feet under uncertain wind and heat conditions, and so the element of uncertainty was aggravated. We felt that if we could go up in a new balloon of a small size it might demonstrate whether we should later go up a tree or stand pat against a charging menagerie.
There was a great crowd gathered on the hill where this balloon was being inflated. Since five o'clock in the morning the gas had been generating in the wooden tanks, and from these was being conducted by a cloth tube to the mouth of the balloon. The natives squatted wonderingly about in a circle, mystified and excited. At three o'clock the balloon was over half filled and was swaying savagely at its anchorage. A strong wind was blowing, and Mr. Lawrence, who had charge of the ascension, was apprehensive. He feared to fill the balloon to its capacity lest the expansion of the gas due to the hot sun should explode it.
At half past three the basket was attached and it looked smallabout the size of a large bushel basket, three feet in diameter and three feet deep. The balloon, heavily laden with sand-bags, was lightened until it could almost rise, and in this condition was led across to an open spot sufficiently far from the nearest trees. The crowd thronged up pop-eyed and quivering with excitement. Then there was a long wait until the wind had died down a bit, which it did after a while. The eventful moment had arrived, and Mr. Stephenson, of our party, climbed into the basket. He is only six feet five inches in height and weighs only two hundred and thirty pounds. He had on a pair of heavy hunting boots, for we were leaving for the hunting grounds immediately after the ascension. One by one the restraining bags of sand were taken off, but still the balloon sat on the ground without any inclination to do otherwise.
A wave of disappointment spread over the crowd. Suddenly a brilliant inspiration struck the gallant aëronaut. He took off one of his heavy hunting boots and cast it overboard. The balloon arose a foot or two and then sagged back to earth. Then the other boot was cast over and the balloon rose several feet, swaying and whipping savagely over the heads of the crowd. The wind was now blowing pretty hard, and when the wire was run out the balloon started almost horizontally for the nearest tree, rising slightly.
Throwing Out Ballast
The wire was stopped at once and the balloon thus suddenly restrained, changed its horizontal course to an upward one. At about sixty feet up the wire was again paid out and the balloon made a dash for the trees again. Once more the balloon was stopped and rose to a height of one hundred and fifty feet, where it swayed about with the pleasant face of Stephenson looking over the edge of the basket. He had to sit down, as there was not room to stand. The ascension seemed a failure with the handicap of two hundred and thirty pounds, and so the balloon was reeled down to the earth again. It was not a great ascension, but the amateur aëronaut had gained the distinction of making the first balloon ascension ever made in East Africa. He would have gone higher if his shoes had been heavier.
To me fell the next chance, and I knew that my one hundred and forty pounds would not seriously handicap the balloon. Once more there was a long wait until the wind died down, and all of a sudden the cylinder of wire was released and the ground sank hundreds of feet below me. The horizon widened and the whole vast plain of the African highlands stretched out with an ever-widening horizon. New mountain peaks rose far away and native villages with ant-like people moving about appeared in unexpected quarters. Away below, the crowd of people looked like little insects as they gazed up at the balloon. Grasping the ropes that led from the basket to the balloon, I stood and waved at them and could hear the shouts come up from a thousand feet below.
I was not frightened. There was no sensation of motion as long as the balloon was ascending. Aside from looking at the wonderful scene that opened out before me, I believe I thought chiefly about where I should land in case the wire broke. The balloon would undoubtedly go many miles before descending, and five miles in any direction would lead me into a primitive jungle or veldt. A hundred miles would take me into almost unexplored districts in some directions, where the natives would greet me as some supernatural being. Perhaps I might be greeted as a god andjust in the midst of these reflections they began to reel in the balloon. The sudden stopping was not pleasant, for then the balloon began to sway. Slowly the earth came nearer and the wind howled through the rigging and the partly filled bag flapped and thundered. The wire, about as thick as a piano wire, looked frail, but at last after a slow and tedious descent a safe landing was made amid the wondering natives. Cameras clicked and the moving picture machine worked busily as the balloon was secured to earth again.
To Mrs. Akeley of our party fell the next chance to go up. As she was lifted into the basket the feminine population of Nairobi gazed in wonder that a woman should dare venture up in a balloon. The cameras clicked some more, somebody shook hands with her, and it began to look quite like a leave-taking. Just when all was ready the wind sprang up savagely and an ascension seemed inexpedient. There was a long wait and still the wind continued in gusts. At last it was determined that we might as well settle down for better conditions, so Mrs. Akeley was lifted out and we waited impatiently for the wind to die down.
At last it died down, all was hurriedly prepared for the ascension, and Mrs. Akeley took her place again in the basket. In an instant the balloon shot up a couple of hundred feet and was held there for a moment. The wind once more sprang up and the balloon was drawn down amid the cheers of the crowd. She had been the first woman to make an ascension in British East Africa, if not in all of Africa.
We then mounted our mules and rode out on the open plains. Several hours before, our entire camp had moved and we were to join them at a prearranged spot out on the Athi Plains. All our preliminary worries were over and at last we were actually started. At six o'clock, far across the country we saw the gleaming lights of our camp-fires and the green tents that were to be our homes for many weeks to come. Enormous herds of hartebeest and wildebeest were on each side, and countless zebras. That night two of us heard the first bark of the zebra, and we thought it must be the bark of distant dogs. It was one of our first surprises to learn that zebras bark instead of neigh.
CHAPTER ONE | CHAPTER TWO | CHAPTER THREE | CHAPTER FOUR | CHAPTER FIVE | CHAPTER SIX | CHAPTER SEVEN | CHAPTER EIGHT | CHAPTER NINE| CHAPTER TEN | CHAPTER ELEVEN | CHAPTER TWELVE | CHAPTER THIRTEEN | CHAPTER FOURTEEN | CHAPTER FIFTEEN | CHAPTER SIXTEEN | CHAPTER SEVENTEEN | CHAPTER EIGHTEEN | CHAPTER NINETEEN | CHAPTER TWENTY | CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE | CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO
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