Unlike the birds, our journey is cumbersome. We drive 1500 kilometers through dry Tanzania in an old Land Cruiser that can only do 80 kilometres an hour down hill. We plod along on hot tarmac highways, and jarring dirt roads, as we try to hone into the area of the Shoebill stork. We are hectic, hot and harassed by police checks in every little town – but after two days of driving we get closer to the open spaces filled with light, water, and birds…and as we arrive and get nearer to them there is a growing sense of peace. We arrive with clouds of dust and a hot engine. The swamp, filled with life, is cool perfection…waiting for us.
Nothing better than arriving in the middle of the bush somewhere, to set up camp and start exploring.
Old Eleanor the car (named after Eleanor Roosevelt, as she may not be so very pretty, but she is so very clever) is unpacked and left in the shade for a well deserved rest. Our feet and paddles take over from here until we return. After setting up a fly camp on the shores of the swamp in western Tanzania, the search for Abu Markub begins. There are no more than a few hundred in Tanzania today.
Who is Abu Markub anyway? Natasha’s grandfather Dr. Bengt Berg used the Arabic name for the shoebill (or whale headed) stork which means “father of the shoe”. Here Natasha reads the book he wrote about his expedition in the early 1920’s. When Natasha was a child Abu Markub to her was one of the mysterious, mythical looking birds that brought her Swedish grandfather across half the world and into a whole world of adventure. Bengt Berg spent many months travelling the White Nile, the Bahr el Zeraf and Bahr el Gazal into the Sudd of South Sudan. With “Beatrice”, the steamboat he had hired, and with donkeys onboard to carry all of his heavy photographic equipment, (plus a cow he had promised to the king of the Nuers if he could take him to Abu Markub), it was neither a menial nor a fast task to complete. To finally get close enough to photograph him, with the equipment available in the early 1920’s (including some he had had built especially) took great patience and dedication. But patience and dedication was something Dr Berg had. He became the first person to film the shoebill stork in the wild.
While living next to the swamp we came across a pair of Palm-nut vultures. They sat on a branch nearby our camp, and kept us company. Every day we set out by canoe, or on foot to try to do what Bengt Berg did…find Abu Markub the shoebill stork at close range. We can’t tell you exactly how it went, as that is a story for the film… but we want to show you this interesting little frog we found in the middle of the swamp. We have not been able to identify it yet. Once we know what he is, we will post it.
Our time in the swamps of Tanzania was every bit as beautiful and interesting as one could imagine, and some. We trekked hundreds of kilometres to have a chance at getting to know Abu Markub a bit better, and to see him a close range.
This picture taken on the last day of the expedition, on the road back to Arusha, explains how we felt about what we found!