Book ID 757
Denis, Armand On Safari: The Story of my Life, 1963
Page Number: 139
Extract Date: 1940
HE was a small, dapper man with a neatly pressed linen suit and a face the colour of ancient teak. I spotted him the first afternoon we arrived sitting in the lounge of our hotel in Mombasa. He was puffing at a cheroot and leafing through an old copy of the New York Times with the air of a man whose mind is not really on what he is reading.
"Hullo, Al," I said.
"Hi," he replied, eyeing me carefully over the top of his paper. "Business good?"
"So-so." He puffed non-committally at the cheroot. "So-so." "What are you doing in Mombasa then? Vacation?"
"Well, you could call it a vacation. Because of this goddam war every client I had is back in the States by now."
"How's about a trip with me?" I said. "No shooting of course. Just filming."
"Sounds all right, but depends on the price," he replied, still puffing smoke towards me. " If you're interested, I could show you the forest game in Africa-something you've never seen before and will never see again."
It was a chance too good to miss and that was how I came to engage Al Klein.
I had known him on and off for years and now, in his middle sixties, this unlikely little American had become something of a legend. As a very young man he had worked in the Natural History Museum in New York but for the last thirty years he had lived in Africa as a professional white hunter, accompanying the rich visitors to East Africa who had come in search of game. But Klein was more than just a hunter. He was a born naturalist and his knowledge of animals was prodigious. He was far more interested in studying animals than in killing them and for my purpose was the best guide I could have wished for.
It was that afternoon that we fixed our destination. It was a place I had heard of many times. It was called the Ngorongoro Crater, a huge natural depression twelve miles across on the edge of the Serengeti Plains in Tanganyika, and according to Al it was the one place above all others in the whole of Africa to see animals in the wild.
Despite its name, Ngorongoro is not really the crater of a volcano. I have seen some large craters of extinct volcanoes in Hawaii but they could never reach the immense proportions of Ngorongoro. Ngorongoro is what the geologists call a caldera, a large area of land that millions of years before had been blown up by volcanic pressure from beneath and that then collapsed inwards, leaving this huge, plate-shaped depression. With its steep sides and abundant water it formed a natural sanctuary for wild life of almost every kind. It teemed with game. During the dry season great herds of zebra, wildebeest, and antelope migrated into the crater in search of water. There were rhinos in great numbers and above all there were lions in their hundreds and particularly handsome ones at that.
But the most remarkable thing of all about Ngorongoro was that in those days it still remained virtually untouched. The roads leading to it were bad. Only a few Masai, a nomadic tribe who are not hunters and respect game, used the crater, and no tribesmen settled there permanently. As for the white hunters, they knew of easier places to take their clients to.