Anthony Smith

Name ID 575

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands
Page Number: 120c
Extract Date: 1962

the Great North Road again

Manyara was a mere 70 miles away. The first leg of the route down to Makayuni was along the Great North Road once again.

It was tarmac now, or rather that section was; but, when I had ridden along it seven years before, the section south of Arusha had been one of the cruellest of the whole 7,000-mile journey. Perhaps it was at this very spot, as the motor-bike lurched uncontrollably, and I listened to the banging of its suspension system, that thoughts of a balloon had first come to mind. It was noisy, that machine, and very dusty, and it did pass on a good few of the road's unevennesses to a well-battered spine. I had caught glimpses of animals as they had hurtled away, with staring eyes, with fast-moving hooves. It had been thwarting not to see more of them. In any case, noise and dust or not, battered vertebrae or not, I had to stick to the road. Its destiny had been mine.

At Mile 48 we turned off the tarmac, and on to a dirt road once again. The great western wall of the Rift Valley lay ahead, and beyond it were the Crater Highlands of the Ngorongoro district. The whole area was rich in game, and was fabulous country. It would surely be even more fantastic when seen from a point suspended silently beneath the huge gaseous canopy of a free-flying balloon.

Extract ID: 3740

See also

Heminway, John No Man's Land: The Last of White Africa
Page Number: 171

The balloon ride had been a success

A month after they were married Alan was invited to join Douglas Botting and Anthony Smith, two BBC producers, on a hydrogen balloon expedition across East Africa. When Alan asked Armand Denis for a leave of absence to help out the two Englishmen, Denis fired him on the spot. "It was a bit rough for Joan," Alan admits today. "She obviously thought she had backed a loser."

The balloon was called Jambo, and every launching led to an adventure. From the island of Zanzibar they crossed to the mainland and floated across much of Tanzania, with an unforgettable drift over Alan's beloved Serengeti. Their last ascent was an exhibition for a large crowd of aviation buffs at the Nairobi Airport. Egged on by the pretty girls, the balloonists unwisely lifted off in a high wind. To avoid an RAF squadron just ahead they had to throw out most of their ballast in the first few minutes of flight and by the time they were over the Ngong Hills they had little left and were virtually out of control. They hit the peaks three times and on the third impact Alan was pitched forward from the basket, his head smashing against a stone, then hauled back in as the balloon climbed to ten thousand feet. At this altitude the balloon leveled off and then started to descend, faster and faster. The three balloonists frantically heaved out the remaining ballast, then their lunch, the first-aid kit and finally their personal belongings. They were left with only the precious camera equipment, and just as Alan was throwing out film, battery, a telephoto lens, the basket smashed through a thorn tree and hit the ground. Alan looked around. No one was dead. The balloon ride had been a success.

Extract ID: 4159

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands
Page Number: 200a
Extract Date: 1962

Flight to Nairobi

That evening I met Hugh Lamprey again, game biologist, fellow Oxford zoology student, and pilot. He was flying a light aircraft to Nairobi the following morning, and I gladly accepted a lift. The trip began early, and the air was still calm when we took off from the Arusha strip. Flying again in this kind of machine was a strange experience. I had forgotten quite how deafening flight could be. I leant forward from the back seat whenever wishing to hear Hugh speak, and then shouted in return. Very soon we lapsed into the mime and dumb-show that is almost as effective, and less painful to the epiglottis, I was also intrigued by the savage buffeting, even at that hour of the day, as the propeller carved its way through the air. It was a very crude business, relative to the balloon. It was like square wheels as opposed to round ones. The machine was not part of the atmosphere, as we had been. It merely exploited it.

For the first part of the flight, and at the maximum angle, Hugh steered for the low-lying foot-hills to the west of Mount Meru, and thereby skirted the mountain. The machine was a perfectly competent type, but its rate of climb was pathetic beside that of a balloon. Steadily, and noisily, we were achieving two or three hundred feet a minute. Back over the Ngorongoro, even though I had been fighting against it, we had leapt up 3,000 feet in a single minute, and would probably have accelerated still more had I not been releasing gas as fast as I had dared. I think that a balloon could have competed favourably, over a limited course, with the fastest jet fighters of a few years ago in a straight struggle for the greatest number of feet climbed in any given minute from level flight.

Once over the saddle of foot-hills we dropped down, and then flew at 1,000 feet over much of the so-called marginal land lying in that area to the south-east of Nairobi. It was well populated with giraffe, and the long-necked antelope or gerenuk also live there. These animals live in many parts, and in regions where the countryside is much less barren; but when they and giraffe are the dominant species it is a depressing state of affairs. It is nice enough seeing them, but they both�together with the minute dik-dik�have an ability to survive in exceptionally arid bush conditions. Where they alone exist in reasonable numbers, the area is called marginal. It is a borderland between the support of life, and the lack of it. It is the half-way stage between desert and fertility.

We plopped down at Wilson Airport, Nairobi, narrowly missing a blundering kite when doing so, and then went our ways. We were to meet the next day to fly back to the crater.

Extract ID: 3769

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands
Page Number: 202
Extract Date: 1962

Nairobi to Ngorongoro

Hugh and I took off at 1 p.m. on the following day, and flew first over that Athi area. It was generally flat, but frequently there came deeply eroded gullies, exciting to look at, but depressing in their destruction. There was such a tenuous relationship between man, the animals and the rest of nature when nineteenth and twentieth-century man moved in to the area that disruption of the old order was inevitable. The great scars beneath us were the wounds of over-grazing. The red rivers were flowing with soil, and making this particular circle as vicious as any other.

Beyond the plains was the Rift Valley. There is nothing else like it on the surface of the Earth, but this section near Nairobi was different to the Manyara bit now indelibly engraved on at least three minds. Instead of one big cliff wall, there were many cliffs, each perpendicular, and each dropping the level of the land down another couple of hundred feet. Down in the bottom there was Lake Magadi, and then Lake Natron. Both are soda lakes, with the Magadi one being exploited. A special railway carries the soda away, and has a difficult time among those cliffs. No child ever takes his model railway up the stairs, but the Magadi track does just that, and must cover ten times the distance, from beginning to end, that actually separates the two points. It cannot emulate the crow, as we did, and as we began the long climb towards the Crater Highlands.

It was a most fantastic journey, for after the geological contortions of the Rift Valley, there came the 9443 feet peak of L'Engai, the area's active volcano. We edged noisily by its silent summit. The top looked something like the old glass type of orange squeezer, with a smaller pointed cone coming from the middle. Its sloping sides are as steep as its rocky lava will allow, and the way up is difficult. The mountain can be climbed but, like Mount Kilimanjaro which is not so far away, any climber has to take advantage of the chilliest hours when the loose and difficult scree is held together by frost. I think it important to see active volcanoes from time to time. They are most blatant reminders that we live our days on the thin crust of a planet which has by no means settled down from its fiery birth.

Shortly after nudging past L'Engai's cone, the Mountain of God according to the Masai, we were over the wide sweeps of the Crater Highlands. These link together several dead volcanoes, with Ngorongoro being one of them. Embagai is another, perhaps the most beautiful for it is well proportioned, with its woody sides leading down to a deep and permanent lake. And then we were over the final wall, and swooping about above Ngorongoro. We could see no sign of the others and, after buzzing the empty camp beneath the tree, landed near by. The animals had scattered on our first pass over the chosen area, and did not run in the way of the final touch down.

Hugh switched off the engine, and we climbed out into that remarkable place. I do not think one could ever cease to be amazed at it, but arriving in one hour and thirty minutes from Nairobi heightens its qualities most dramatically. Animals are all around, and beyond are the dots of countless more, and beyond them are those towering walls. At no time of the day does the crater look the same as at any other moment. Huge shadows retreat as the day advances, and then slink down again when the sun loses its power. It has all the symmetry of a perfect shape, and all the wonder of an untouched world. Like a ruin it combines the merits of having been created, and then having reverted to something finer still. It is a place of fabulous beauty.

Extract ID: 3770

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands
Page Number: 250
Extract Date: 1962


Conditions were ideal, but that made them seem all the more slender and tenuous. Any change would make them less ideal and the flight more chancy. Any puff of wind was to be dreaded. Anything and everything was suspect, Kiari laid out a meal. My stomach, as disloyal as ever, accepted only some of it. Later, even that was rejected. One's body is a mixture of extremely independent parts, each voicing discontent or abnegation in its own particular fashion. I decided that sleep was the least I could do for the constricted bits of me, and joined the others in their cocoons of sleeping-bags. The alarm clock, an anomalous thing in that desolate spot, had been set for 4 a.m.

Extract ID: 3781

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands
Page Number: 252
Extract Date: 1962

Inflation is a thing of wonder.

Sitting there in that most welcome sun of early morning, sipping the hot drink, feeling it seep down, and casting happy glances towards the secure balloon was extremely pleasant. The fear of what might happen still existed, but everything was safe for the time being. The sky was clear. The day was calmer than any we had known on those plains. The coffee produced a sense of wellbeing that only coffee can.

It was at 7.30 that we attached the basket. This was done with a simplicity not equalled before on the trip, and soon the whole balloon was towering high above us. I have said before that it ended up 55 feet tall, but the repetition may be necessary because each time its dimensions took me by surprise. Between every flight, when its entire substance was packed into that diminutive basket, memory of the balloon shrank with it. The subsequent inflation was always a thing of wonder.

Even when everything was ready, the air was still so calm that I decided to try some captive flights. These had only been barely possible on the previous African trips, and quite impossible at Nairobi; but on the Serengeti the ground crew attached the trail rope to a car for safety, and then let the balloon rise to 200 feet. I had a selection of the helpers on board, and together we looked for and pointed out animals in sight. It was indeed a superb lookout point. It was also not a problem going up and down. One man on the ground could have done it, but everyone in fact pulled on the rope to bring us back to earth, mainly I think to try and sharpen the bump. I took on fresh passenger batches, and each time tried to spot more animals from that 360-degree viewpoint. Eventually the day began to stir as the sun warmed it up. It was time to go. The breeze had come to carry us over the herd.

When at Zanzibar, and to a varying extent on the subsequent flights, we had been ready to depart, we had just departed. Without so much as a handshake, we had taken off as soon as we could, while the necessary civilities were forgotten in the general anxiety. Zanzibar had been the most ill mannered, for hundreds of people had helped us there, and thousands had turned up to watch; but all they got was an abrupt wave from a couple of hundred feet. So, on the Serengeti, and with a slender handful of observers, we at last managed to effect a leave-taking that was polite. A balloon's departure should, at the very least, not affront the people on the ground. Douglas and Alan and I shook hands with Joan and Kiari. We then did the same with the lorry teams, and with the gang from Olduvai. No one else knew it, but justice was at last being done to Zanzibar. Jambo could now take off.

Extract ID: 3783

See also

Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands
Page Number: 259
Extract Date: 1962

A last look

For the last few days of our stay in the Serengeti, and while completing the arrangements amongst ourselves, we camped by the edge of Lake Lagaja [Lake Ndutu]. It was probably the most beautiful camp-site of them all, and certainly the hardest to leave. The plan was that I should go ahead, while the others tidied up some loose Serengeti ends. So I drove out of camp alone and began the journey back to London. As was the custom, the zebras galloped alongside, the gazelles danced over the ground, and the front wheels unerringly sought out the hyena holes. I drove and drove past the animals, past a slovenly group of lions, and some hartebeest, and more big herds, and a cheetah, and the largest group of eland that I had ever seen. I then met the track that leads through the Serengeti. Resenting its forthright purposefulness, its clear indication of the way to go, I swerved on meeting it and turned round to have a last look at the world I was leaving.

Extract ID: 3791

See also

1963 Publishes: Smith, Anthony Throw out two hands

Extract ID: 3071

See also

Turner, Kay Serengeti Home
Extract Author: Anthony Smith
Page Number: 206
Extract Date: 1963

The Serengeti is a legacy

quoting from Throw Out Two Hands, London: George Allen and Unwin,

'The Serengeti is a legacy that must always be. Whatever the difficulties, it must survive, it must survive: its destruction is unthinkable. For anyone who imagines otherwise, let him go there and be enriched by it'

Extract ID: 961

See also

Heminway, John No Man's Land: The Last of White Africa
Page Number: 176
Extract Date: 1970~

I knew I needed a balloon for filming

Before returning home, Alan was invited by his ballooning friend, Anthony Smith, to test the latest toy in the field of wingless aircraft. It was a hot-air balloon - far less dangerous and expensive than the hydrogen version he and Tony had flown over Africa. Alan made his first ascension from a village green in Hampshire: "As we lifted off I created a camera shot by cupping my hands around my eyes, limiting their field of vision as if they were a lens. I began by focusing on a daisy growing next to the basket. As we began our climb I could see people's legs, then all the village green. Pretty soon the entire village came into view and, after that, all of England. Before we landed I knew I needed a balloon for filming."

The difference between humdrum and interesting camerawork is often a matter of perspectives. Alan is always trying to find the novel angle, not just to be arresting, but to heighten the truth of the action. To film a herd of animals moving across a plain by holding the camera at eye level would have abused all the magical opportunities of Africa. Instead, Alan would bury the camera in their path to film their progress from a snake's point of view. In Alan's films, flowers are not just in bloom; they begin as petals and bloom before one's eyes. Similarly a bird's nest does not just appear; it is built on the screen, twig by twig, in a mere thirty seconds. The technology of this process is known as time-lapse photography, and it is a hallmark of Alan's films. Hot-air ballooning would add still another startling perspective to his Africa. It would also be the most hair-raising fun he had had in a long while.

Alan was to obtain the first hot-air balloon license ever issued in black Africa. His training period at Naivasha had not been all that easy: On several occasions he had performed "underwater" flying in the lake, once he had snagged around the telephone lines beside a road and on another occasion he had even "gift-wrapped" a thorn tree.

Extract ID: 4160

See also

1988 Publishes: Smith, Anthony The Great Rift: Africa's Changing Valley

It looks terrific, being in a particularly wild and appropriate portion of northern Tanzania, exactly on the line between two of the rift's soda lakes, Natron and Manyara. The peak is supported by a supporting cast of extinct volcanoes, such as Gelai, Kitumbeine, Kerimasi, and Embagai whose own magnificent crater is filled with water. Lengai is not high enough for snow, but its summit half resembles some snow-capped Alp because of the sodium carbonate emitted at every eruption, a rare substance for volcanoes. Its shape is everything that a volcano should be and its eruptions are exciting and explosive but not devastating. The last, in 1966, was the twelfth since 1880, and we may therefore be due for another. ...

Lengai's 1966 eruption was much appreciated by photographers in light planes and most impressive to all who saw it. Minor activity has continued since then. January to March 1983 witnessed, according to one report, 'moderate quantities' of pale grey ash emerging from the crater floor. During May 1984 there were two vents on the floor's north side that 'contained a black bubbling liquid'. Three months later a 'dark grey to black, ropy, mud-like crust' had formed over the inner surface of the crater. By February 1985 a lake, 'boiling vigorously', covered a quarter of the crater's floor. In 1986 there were 'three small peaks', each about 7.5 metres high. In other words, although without a major eruption, the volcano is far from dead. It simmers, it bubbles, it rumbles occasionally, and forever changes its appearance, particularly on that crater floor. Many believe that Lengai is due for another eruption, an exciting event for all save those present at the time with a most unenviable ring-side seat.

Extract ID: 962

See also

1996 Publishes: Smith, Anthony A dawn for history in the dust of the gorge

Extract ID: 1364

See also

1996 Feb 17 Publishes: Smith, Anthony Made in Africa

Extract ID: 963