Skyways to a Jungle Laboratory: An African Adventure

Crile, Grace



"..a personal record of (a) journey by air, from London.. to the Great Rift Valley, and of the days spent deep in the jungle."

Grace Crile, who accompanied her husband, George, a famous American scientist and research scientist, on an expedition to Africa.

Book ID 765

See also

Crile, Grace Skyways to a Jungle Laboratory: An African Adventure, 1936
Page Number: 163
Extract Date: 30 December 1935

Maji Moto Camp

EARLY this morning, the Chief, Captain Hewlett, and I left for the marshes to collect some birds for Mr. Fuller's Lake Manyara Group. We motored over the smooth sands as far as we could, and then tramped through the high reeds and marsh until we reached little clearings - small ponds - on which hundreds of various species of birds floated.

We all wished we had elephant feet. They contract and expand as needed. Elephants apparently have no difficulty in manoeuvering in a marsh, while we found ourselves in imminent danger of losing not only our shoes, but our legs as well, in the giant elephant spoor.

Ducks of every variety were in these little ponds, Egyptian geese and beautiful white egrets, while far out in the lake was a wide ribbon of pink - thousands of flamingoes - which as we watched, slowly took wing, rising, higher and higher, in a great V-shaped formation, until the sky was rosy with their wings.

Suddenly the formation turned and headed for the shore. Nearer and nearer they came, like a great pink cloud. We froze in our tracks of mud, until all about us, stretching over us, like a pink Milky Way, were thousands of flamingoes.

I've made a guess that the Captain Hewlett mentioned here, becomes the Major Hewlett refered to in the 1950's.

Extract ID: 4523

See also

Crile, Grace Skyways to a Jungle Laboratory: An African Adventure, 1936
Page Number: 164
Extract Date: 1927

A night on the escarpment

It recalled to the Chief and me a night we spent on the escarpment, in 1927, when from our lookout over the world, we watched the red sun emerge and finally clear itself above the towering peaks of the Great Rift Valley. As we climbed the wide elephant trails, worn deep into the sandy soil, shrubs, ablaze in color, waved in the early morning light. At the top of a little kopje, we turned aside, Mr. Ulyate leading us to a never-to-be-forgotten sight.

There it lay before us-an emerald lake, sunk deep in the bosom of an ancient volcano, whose sides were green to the water's edge with primeval forests. It seemed the very edge of the world. It was like a leap into the blue.

Fifteen hundred feet above this enormous crater, we stood, looking down on its still green surface, and curling at its edge, floating serenely, was a mass of pink, a solid mass of life-hundreds, thousands, could it be millions of flamingoes? There was not a ripple. There was not a sound.

Suddenly our rifle shot echoed and re-echoed, awakening deep-toned reverberations that must have slept for hundreds of years. With a slow, undulating motion, the entire surface of the lake began to move. The streak of curling pink at the side was spreading. Our glasses revealed birds actually on the wing though, to us, so high above, they seemed still to be floating on the surface of the water.

We stood enthralled. This emerald lake, a mile wide, two miles long-who knows how deep-embosomed fifteen hundred feet below in this ancient crater, snowy Kilimanjaro, silvery Oldonyo-lengai, Kitumbiene, Meru, all serving as guard of these secret fastnesses. It was a scene of enchantment.

As the Chief and I watched these thousands of flamingoes this morning, we could not but wonder if they had cleared those towering peaks to find new hunting grounds, for there in front of us stood the ring of ancient craters.

I'm guessing that she is describing Lake Empakaai

Extract ID: 4524

See also

Crile, Grace Skyways to a Jungle Laboratory: An African Adventure, 1936
Page Number: 165
Extract Date: 30 December 1935

A ground-hornbill

In the afternoon Captain Hewlett brought in a ground-hornbill. To our surprise, the natives shook their heads. They did not want to touch it. Ali kept repeating something ominously which Jonah finally interpreted as "very bad luck."

Ugly it was, but mere ugliness is not apt to breed such superstition. It may originate in the fact that when the female incubates her eggs, the male walls her up; therefore, it would be bad luck to kill the male as the female might perish. As a matter of fact, however, observers have noted that when the male does not come back, the neighborhood takes on the rearing of the family.

Be that as it may, this evil-looking ground-hornbill was a wonderful bit of color for the Lake Manyara Bird Group. Mr. Fuller was so amazed at the red and blue and purple coloring of the naked portions about the eyes and throat, that he made a portrait of the bird's head and beak.

Extract ID: 4526

See also

Crile, Grace Skyways to a Jungle Laboratory: An African Adventure, 1936
Page Number: 186
Extract Date: January 1936

A jolly breakfast

After a jolly breakfast, the Chief and I finished our last bits of packing. To our personal boys, I gave a bundle of odds and ends - old khaki trousers and shirts, shoes and stockings. The boys were thrilled, but they no sooner reached the cooking hut than the cook and skinners settled down upon them like vultures, saying, "I have a wife and she wants a pair of stockings." So, before we left, our few belongings were serving many purposes, for which they were never intended - stockings for turbans, garters for jewelry, underwear for outer garments, and safety pins for earrings.

Goodbyes were hard to say. Dr. Quiring and Mr. Fuller have been such splendid cooperative comrades that we both long to go with them to Masindi, to see for ourselves chimpanzees in the big Budongo Forest, and share with them the lazy trip down the Nile to Cairo.

Extract ID: 4527

See also

Crile, Grace Skyways to a Jungle Laboratory: An African Adventure, 1936
Page Number: 187
Extract Date: January 1936

The dining-room at the New Arusha Hotel is unique

After an early lunch the Chief and I left for Arusha, where we arrived at the New Arusha Hotel, which Mr. and Mrs. Ulyate manage so efficiently, in time for tea, a bath, and a change from safari to regulation clothes. It is amazing what an inhibiting effect upon all good intentions a long tub and clear hot water have.

A messenger came to our door to say that Dr. J. H. Parry and Dr. R. C. Speirs were waiting to see the Chief about an urgent operation that they had arranged to be performed by him the next morning at the Government Hospital. I replied that the Chief knew of the appointment, was dressing, and would be ready in a few minutes. It was over forty-five minutes later that lie came shuffling back. He had been sleeping in his bath!

Captain Hewlett dined with us this evening. After the food of camp, Mrs. Ulyate's freshly baked bread tasted like cake, and the fish brought down late this afternoon by airplane from Lake Victoria was all that we needed to spell feast.

The dining-room at the New Arusha Hotel is unique. From the wainscoting to the ceiling the walls are covered with paintings of the Great Rift Valley. Not only were all the familiar peaks and lakes spread out before us, but tucked away, grazing on mimosa trees, was the very group of giraffe we always saw up near the Hot Springs, the herd of impala that lived near our camp, the crotchety old rhino that we bumped into so often, the hippos that wallowed in the papyrus swamp, the lions that we heard every night. The escarpment, the baobab trees, the Masai manyattas - all were there. It was a picture map of the entire district.

Mrs. Ulyate told me that a stranger, hungry and poorly shod, blew in one day. He needed help but had no money. He said he could paint; so Mr. Ulyate made a drawing of the Great Rift Valley, and he followed it.

Mrs. Ulyate showed me some amusing native carvings, one a crocodile swallowing a native woman, feet first, who had slipped down the beast's throat to her waist. Judging from the squirming attitude of the crocodile, it was hard work, but the expression on the woman's face depicted only resignation.

There were also delightful carvings of various wild animals, grotesquely illustrating what to the native's mind were the most dangerous attributes of the different animals. Then there were strange little black figures, some quite terrifying in appearance, therefore devils; others pleasing, so presumably gods.

Captain Hewlett told me of a model of a biplane about three feet long that a native, after seeing- his first airplane, carved from a single section of the trunk of a tree. It shows the four engines in the front, the two wings on either side, the great wheels, and carries the streamline design of the body, even to a perfect tail.

Extract ID: 4528

See also

Crile, Grace Skyways to a Jungle Laboratory: An African Adventure, 1936
Page Number: 189
Extract Date: January 1936

Fighting off lions

For many years Mr. Ulyate has been a professional hunter, planning and taking out safaris. He and his son, Kenyon, have recently established week-end safaris from Arusha to Lion Hill in the Serengeti Plains, where "fed lions," as many as fifteen or more at a time, may be seen and photographed on the kills.

Jack, another son, manages the Interterritorial Bus Line between Arusha and Nairobi. This is a great convenience in a country in which the train runs only twice a week, as the bus line runs regularly and takes less time than the train.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Ulyate's family trekked up from South Africa, many years ago, in covered wagons. In those days a wagon pulled by sixteen oxen was the only means of conveyance. For several years Mr. and Mrs. Ulyate lived in one of these covered wagons, hunting the plains for ostrich chicks, and fighting off lions with only tin pans and good lungs!

Extract ID: 4529

See also

Crile, Grace Skyways to a Jungle Laboratory: An African Adventure, 1936
Page Number: 190
Extract Date: 4 January 1936

The Government Hospital

THE Government Hospital at Arusha is a pretty, Spanish type of building. A large coffee plantation is on one side, and opposite is old Meru. As I waited outside this morning, many natives passed, mostly Masai women in their old skins. Like the giraffe and the camel, one is aware of them twenty feet or more away. Most of the women carried babies, as well as heavy loads, upon their backs or heads. The babies were tied onto their mothers in many and intricate ways-over their hips, on their backs, around their stomachs-and, as if they were not burdened enough, the arms, legs, and necks of the women were wound with telephone wire, hanging far below their breasts, and the lobes of their ears were distended with bone ornaments or wooden disks. With the Masai, wealth is measured by cattle, and the more cattle a Masai possesses, the more telephone wire his wives wear.

All sorts of arresting coiffures passed as I watched.

The Masai women shave their heads but the men have many ways of dressing their hair. Most of the Masai warriors plait it in pigtails, wearing one in front and one behind; some wear curiously shaped little bonnets made of goats' stomachs; some tie wool and string into their hair, making wigs as it were, which they plaster with oil and red mud, while some wear immense headdresses of ostrich feathers and tails.

The Masai love decoration and personal adornment. Their shields are painted in a variety of design, and both men and women wear earrings and bracelets and necklaces.

One young Masai warrior I watched walk down the road, his straight muscular side and limb showing each time he stepped. He was marvelously developed, not an ounce of fat, the long muscle of the leg playing gracefully at each step, just like that of the antelopes we have been so constantly studying. These natives seem no more naked than does an antelope, and they are just as beautifully formed.

This fact of no fat interests me. In our dissections a small amount of fat was found about certain organs. This, however, was more apt to be seen among the carnivora than the herbivora. The elephant showed only 26 pounds of fat. One never sees a fat native. Neither does one see scrawny natives. A young Masai warrior is as perfect a specimen of his kind as is a young lion of its kind. The young warrior bleeds his cattle and mixes the blood with sour milk for his food. The lion kills his food, getting the same chemical units. It really is as logical for the native to take the blood which the animal makes as the milk.

Extract ID: 4530

See also

Crile, Grace Skyways to a Jungle Laboratory: An African Adventure, 1936
Page Number: 192
Extract Date: 5 January 1936

Arusha to Moshi

CAPTAIN Hewlett called for us at nine. After a short stop at the hospital we were off for Moshi, seeing plenty of game on the way, and stopping at the Two Bridges Inn, near Moshi, for lunch. This is a most successful and attractive inn, run by Mrs. Stevens, who, however, feels that the estate is rather too much of a care for her alone, and at once sought out the Chief and me, actually wondering if we might not like to buy it, as she knew that "Americans often have two or three homes."

Orange and lemon trees, grapefruit trees and pawpaws, the most fragrant flowering bushes, beautiful stretches of lawn, and a its mouth, not its trunk which secured short and not particularly flexible, although the two sensitive little finger-like processes from the trunk reminded me of antennae forever quivering and reaching for something. Captain Hewlett says an elephant's trunk is short and stunted-looking when the elephant is born.

Just as the long hairs that the baby elephant bears when it is born carry the history of its evolution from a hairy species to a hairless species, so in the growth of the trunk of each individual elephant is carried the story of the vicissitudes that the nose has undergone in becoming a trunk. As I counted the enormous indented rings on our elephant's trunk, I could not but wonder if, like the rings of an ancient tree, these deep indentations might not carry some significance.

The eyes of the mtoto elephant seemed almost uselessly small, and its ears ridiculously large. It seemed as if the mere effort of flapping the ears so vigorously and so continuously would be exhausting. At least I was glad that phylogeny played no such trick on us as making us brush away flies with our ears.

When we arrived at the airport, the report was "engine trouble." "There will be no chance of leaving tonight." Reluctantly we said goodbye to Captain Hewlett who, with keen intelligence, skill, and expert knowledge of animal behavior, has so perfectly served the needs of our expedition. Then we settled down in the colorless hotel in Moshi.

Extract ID: 4531

See also

Crile, Grace Skyways to a Jungle Laboratory: An African Adventure, 1936
Page Number: 197
Extract Date: 6 January 1936

Moshi to Juba

WHEN we were called this morning, at five, I felt that the night had but begun, so heavily had I slept. It was still dark. The sun had not even begun to break. The electricity had not been turned on. The candlestick held half a candle but there were no matches. When finally we emerged from the black night of our room, there stood Kilimanjaro, towering into the sky, her mantle of clouds lightly tossed to one side, her snowy peak purple in the early dawn.

At the airport we learned that the Empire passengers had luckily been domiciled at Mrs. Stevens' lovely Two Bridges Inn for the night.

For some time we stood watching the four engines warm. They did not seem to be working uniformly. A few more adjustments, however, a cheery "Right-o," and we climbed into the plane and were off on such an early start that I think we caught all of Africa out on its early morning graze. I soon realized that when there was something interesting to see, our Captain was nodding our plane to the left or to the right, and the more important the sight, the more important the nod. We saw three groups of rhino, two lovely tawny lions, herds of eland-blue in the early morning light, keen-eyed hartebeests serving as sentinels-one from the top of a giant ant-hill, capering wildebeests, beautiful Grant's and Thomson's gazelles, herds of leaping impala, and no end of scampering wart-hogs-whole families of them, walking one behind the other, like so many little pigs going to market.

We flew so low and could see so clearly that it seemed as if we could hear not only the patterings of the hoofs but also the excited panting of hundreds of antelope as they leaped from under our plane and scattered to both sides of us as we winged our way. I felt a bit of sadness in looking down upon this beautiful Rift Valley in which we had now been twice. There on one side was Meru towering into the early morning haze, and on the other, Kilimanjaro and its eternal snows. There they were; there they ever have been; there they ever will be. It is that inalienable right to live that granite possesses that is so baffling.

As we passed over the high plateau of the velvety green escarpment I wished that, like the circus lady who jumps into the net, I might jump onto those soft, spreading branches and once again trek those jungles of tangled vines. I know they are shining in this early morning dew. I know that the fresh high grass is tied together with sparkling cobwebs, and that Madonna lilies, purple verbenas and scarlet foxglove still grow riotously in those grassy fields.

"See-there is Oldonyo-lengai," the Sacred Mountain of God. A mountain of silver it was in this early morning light, a dazzling pyramid of changing color, whose fine ash is ever being blown by the winds. Spellbound, half dreaming, I turned to the Chief and said, "Do you suppose we shall ever see this again?" Then I remembered the lure of Africa, how she ever calls one to trek again her limitless veldt, to see again the red-hot sun fall off the edge of the world, to feel again the chill of an African night, to hear again the chorus of lions and the answering laugh of the hyenas, and to experience again the beginning of a new day.

We reached Nairobi in time for breakfast, and by nine-fifteen were off for Kisumu at the extremity of the blue Victoria Nyanza, where we taxied in on a long run, changed planes, and stopped for an eleven thirty tea and sandwiches, served in a small room off the huge aerodrome.

Extract ID: 4532