Have you ever been woken by a Pterodactyl?? Well I have, and I did a little wee. Last weekend I was in Tanzania and on my first night sleeping in the wild African bush I was woken in the pitch black by a flying dinosaur clawing it’s way onto the roof above me. Ripping and gnawing at the thin tin roof the extinct beast was coming through the sheet metal to tear me limb from limb. I did what any self respecting man would do, I whimpered and pulled the pillow over my head. Fortunately I was lucky enough that a slightly braver resident had equally been disturbed by the beasts terrifying claws scraping the wriggly tin from its trusses, but she was somewhat braver and shooed what turned out to be a little Guinea fowl away with a simple clap of her hands. It was at this point that I realized a few years in Qatar had softened me and it was time to toughen up.
With an uncharacteristic lack of preparation I had found myself in Kilimanjaro Airport, after a classically hopeless African immigration experience you walk 15 yards out of the door and the tarmac and air conditioning runs out. No warm up, you are into the bush straight away. Land Cruisers of every description line the dusty car park ready to go deeper into the wild, 70’s, 76’s, 80’s, 100’s as far as the eye can see. I had no idea what the plan was but before long found myself bouncing down an increasingly small track towards The Arusha Giraffe Sanctuary where I was staying for the first night. After a sensational dinner and too much whisky I slid through the darkness to my little cottage and retired in blissful happiness. (Until of course the dinosaur woke me from my slumber!) But there I was in magical Tanzania to take part in a 4×4 Adventure race called The Buffalo Charge.
Proceedings began softly with a stay near by at Kisongo Lodge in a stunning farm in the midst of preparations to become the home of The Arusha Giraffe Sanctuary https://www.facebook.com/arushagiraffecentre/ . It was the sanctuary that the race was raising money for and despite the dinosaur wake up is one of the most fabulous places to start any trip in a new country. It was here that race organizer Nick Harrison introduced the Artemis Education team to its trusty stead, the Toyota Land Cruiser (Prado/ 80 series/ 100 series who knows?) Game Viewer.
It might surprise some of you to hear this, but the Toyota Land Cruiser is arguably the worlds most capable 4×4 vehicle. Straight out the box this truck in all its forms goes anywhere and seemingly never breaks. They say if you want to go anywhere in style get a Land Rover, if you want to come back get a Land Cruiser and our escapades only serve to reinforce this.
The race is simple enough in concept 10 check points, shortest distance wins but when you throw in wildlife, the bush, hills, ravines, jungles and a constant reminder of how far away from a hospital you are the challenge starts to feel quite real.
The Buffalo Charge – Tanzania does not do things by halves and taking part in this fabulous slightly comical rally race was …
Between two of the checkpoints lay a suspiciously obvious route up a steep hill, across the saddle at the top and a gentleman meander down the other side through some thick brush. Well that’s what we thought, and when we saw everyone else picking their way around this hill we knew our shortcut would pay off. Climbing up to the top was a fun bouncy steep climb to get the heart rate going, and when we arrived at the saddle between the summits a very clear and nicely cut trail tempted us into the alarmingly thick wood, which in hindsight was really more of a jungle. On, on we forged until after about 50 yards, the trail ran to a small game track and the jungle closed right in on us.
The Toyota Land Cruiser measures a casual 5m in length, by the time we realized the jungle was winning, you couldn’t turn a roller skate around so we only had one choice. Forge onwards and downwards to hopefully the other side. Like the true wild men of the bush, we leapt from th vehicles grabbed our Pangas and started hacking into the thick tree’s and vines locking the vehicles. Being a fighting fit warrior meant that it took all of about 30 seconds to have blisters on my hand and be nearing a severe heart attack from exhaustion. It was then that I thought about the cruisers remarkable scaffolding like brush bars, surely this is what its designed for? So I leapt behind the wheel and revved the engine and fired it into gear, an epic start meant I got about 10 yards into the jungle before I crashed straight into a proper tree coming to a painfully fast stop.
After much maneuvering and repositioning I found a clear line and found some momentum to take the vehicle through the jungle and into the light. We spent over 2 hours hacking chopping and crawling our way through the bush that morning, and I loved every single moment. At one point we actually had a proper talk about if we should abandon the vehicle and walk out, but perseverance and the power of a V8 meant eventually we were back on track and heading for the next checkpoint.
We didn’t win the Buffalo Charge and hats off to the winners, as the route we took was exhausting, painful, hard and at times quite dangerous, so their route must have been even more butt clenching. But we did win the “Spirit of the Charge” which I think might be a better prize as no one likes a show off…
Next year the plan is to enter more teams and take on the impressive winners, a little international flair is what