Weather Warnings!

12 05 2009

Serengeti storm mw

“Well, look on the bright side: at least you won’t get a sun burn!” (northern Tanzania)

There’s nothing quite like a thunderstorm on a hot, humid afternoon. The heat builds to a crescendo and black clouds slide in and the sky echoes with a mighty crack of thunder. The first spots of rain are big and heavy and release the heady scent of hot, dry dust from pavement and parched soil. The wind picks up and no sooner does the storm begin and the streets swim with water, than it moves on leaving cooler, fresh air behind.

Nobody wants their vacation spoiled by rain, but few would argue against a cleansing thunderstorm to drive away a day’s worth of sapping humidity. There’s something magical about daily downpours that breathe life to lush vegetation and make sleeping easier, but sometimes, a tropical storm can raise a more than hair!

Fiji is a tropical nation whose mountains are covered with dense rain forest and brown jungle rivers. On the white sand beaches, the only respite from the cloying heat comes in the waters of the South Pacific or from gentle sea breezes which rustle the palms that provide a token of shade.

It had been a typical autumn day in paradise but as evening approached so did heavy clouds. As the light faded and the setting sun glowed in orange cracks through distant clouds, far flashes of lightning could be seen illuminating the darkening horizon.

A party had been planned on the tennis courts over which an enormous marquee had been erected. Covering three courts, the huge white tent had taken the better part of two days to raise and was still a hive of activity as final preparations were made. By the time the party started, the wind had picked up to provide a refreshing breeze outside, while inside huge fans were circulating the warm air.

With music pounding and voices filling the space, it was only when guests ventured to the facilities a few hundred metres away that the arrival of the storm was evident.

Rain lashed and bounced knee-high off the surrounding courts and paths. People sprinted for the washrooms but within a few steps were completely soaked. The party soon took on an air of reckless abandon as everyone continued their fun in saturated linen and cotton. It wasn’t long before the driving rain and roaring wind drowned out even the music. The weather had turned from an afternoon thunderstorm to a virtual cyclone.

The massive marquee began to literally rise and fall with each growing gust. The ropes that tethered the huge structure strained as they attempted to prevent the tent from becoming a balloon. The weather worsened and sopping guests began to brave the horizontal rain and sprint away, wetter than at any time since they’d stepped from their showers that morning.

Finally, a fire engine arrived to evacuate the rest of the party as the rising and falling tent became a hazard in the violent storm. As the guests were shepherded away, the firemen attempted to better anchor the thrashing and heaving canvas. Hurrying back to the hotel, the swaying lights illuminated palm trees that snapped violently in the gale, bending almost horizontally at each limit. The ocean pounded ashore, crashing into the beach and the reef beyond with a malefic anger.

A notice had been slid under my door warning of the tropical storm and advising guests to take shelter. The high roof creaked and groaned under the elements. The rain lashed against my windows and pounded the wooden shingles mercilessly. The fronds of the palms scraped and slapped as the storm intensified. Water began to run beneath my door and spill across the tiled floors until dammed with a large towel. There was no television signal and the electricity soon went off too. I lay in the darkness listening to the wrath of nature. Eventually, I fell asleep.

The next morning, somewhat surprised to see sunshine, I stepped outside and surveyed the carnage. Small trees and bushes had been blown over while coconuts and palms were strewn everywhere. The beach was covered with seed pods and driftwood and a few large branches had broken off. The air was still and clear and the sky a flawless blue.

It was simply another day in paradise.


Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009


Hippo Hoedown

24 02 2009



“For the sixth time, I don’t do hedges or rose bushes, okay?” (Kazinga Channel, Uganda)


It was a dark and stormy night…no, really!


Queen Elizabeth National Park in western Uganda stretches from Lake George to Lake Albert along the Kazinga Channel and offers wonderful scenery, excellent wildlife and one of the highest hippo populations in all of Africa.


We had set up our tents on a clear patch of grass not far from the water. After dinner, we headed up the hill to a lodge with a panoramic view of the channel. Lightning flashed in the distance and thunder rolled across the lake. The sky quickly changed from the gentle hues of sunset to boiling black clouds and within minutes torrential rain swept across the lodge’s immaculate lawns and lashed at the colonial verandas. We sat in the bar and watched the maelstrom outside, wondering how our tents were fairing in the deluge. As quickly as it had arrived, the storm swept away and we were left with only the gentle sound of drips from the eaves.


Cocktails over, we headed back down the hill towards our sodden campsite. Most tents were fine, with only one or two blown over and lying forlornly on the saturated ground. Earlier in the day we had washed clothes and hung them on laundry lines strung between our tents. These were now scattered around the campsite or hanging limply from the lines. We re-pegged them hoping they would dry overnight.


Before we retired, a ranger told us to be very careful during the night. Located as close to the channel as we were, hippos would likely emerge from the water and graze around our tents. If we got up, we should quietly open our tent flaps, stick our heads out and have a good look around before coming out, he instructed. Hippos were extremely aggressive and could easily outrun a human. He also added that we should not use flashlights because if we startled a hippo, it would definitely charge. With those happy notes ringing through our heads, we climbed into our canvas cocoons and settled down for the night.


Several hours later I awoke to the unmistakable sound of hippo snorts, grunts and an extremely large animal munching on the grass nearby. It was hard to know how close the self-propelled lawnmowers were, but they were close enough that I had no desire to take a look. Staring upwards, I could hear every breath and exhalation…along with constant munching. It was only then that I remembered the clothes line strung between the tents and suddenly envisioned a short-sighted masticating hippo bumbling into one, becoming alarmed and angrily charging off towards the river…dragging the tents and their occupants with them. In the darkness, my imagination grew and I could picture other hippos joining in the rampage and the occupants of the tents being pummelled like chicken breasts in a bag of seasoned flour. Sleep was now impossible. I listened intently to every sound and longed to hear my nearest grazer move away.


Eventually, the coast seemed clear. I quietly eased out of my sleeping bag and edged down the tent. Lying prone on the ground, I silently opened the zip and slid my head out at grass level. With baited breath I waited for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. I could hear hippos but not see any. I crawled free of the tent and crouched just in front of the flaps. I peered around the sides, but all was still clear. I tip-toed between the two tents and peered around the back…still clear. I eased up, undid the clothes line, turned around and edged back towards the entrance.


I could still hear the hippos but not see any…I hoped they couldn’t see me either. A shiver of relief went down my spine as I climbed back in and closed the zip behind me. In my sleeping bag, exhausted from stress, I slid back into unconsciousness.


Safe in my untethered world, the hippos now serenaded me to sleep…until my bladder suddenly woke up and demanded that I take it for a walk. I reluctantly started the climb back down the tent.



Photo and post by:  Simon Vaughan