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Tag: KIng Solomon's Mines

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Tahir Shah's top ten do's & don'ts for expeditions

10 Key Things on a Jungle Expedition

1. Lead from the front. Never ever ever ever expect someone to do something that you’re not willing to do yourself.

2. Make sure that you have plenty of food — good food — and that the team eat before you do.

3. Think ahead. Never march on too late into the afternoon without taking into account that a storm could sweep in. So, build a camp when it’s not raining, even if you haven’t marched very far on a given day.

For more of my top tips on how to manage an expedition, please see my article over at Explorers Connect.

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July 5, 2008 Posted by tahir in Travel

Swamp

To know about swamps you have to travel with mules. I mean it. Without one, you can’t really understand the other.

I had never been in a swamp before, not a proper one, until I ventured to western Ethiopia with Samson, my guide, and friend. I’d picked him up in Addis Ababa weeks before. Or, rather, he’d picked me up in his taxi. I was on the quest of the lost mines of King Solomon and Samson knew about gold, or so he said… so we went off together.
The trail eventually led to Tulu Wallel, a godforsaken craggy mountain towards the border with Sudan. I knew that if we could get to the mountain, and then up it, we’d have a chance at finding a secret mine once worked by the inimitable British trailblazer Frank Hayer, back in the thirties.
So we hired mules. Half a dozen of them. And we pushed forwards on to Tulu Wallel, a cloud-capped mount protruding from an ocean of green. From the first strides, I could see that these were animals with a sense of what was going on. I am not a horseman, but I know that horses are flighty, frisky, that they can’t be trusted when push comes to shove.
Very soon the rain began to fall. Torrential rain. And then the cold came.We were in a forest by this time and it was dusk. It was a wicked enchanted forest, the kind of place where grown men feel frightened out of their wits. And that’s just what we all were, although we were putting on brave faces.
Suddenly, there was a frantic call from Samson behind. He was wrestling one of the mules forward, steering it, pulling the reins to the left. Now, the amazing thing about mules is that they find their own path, and they keep their heads when all about them are losing theirs. The best thing to do is to let them go, and they will lead you through the horrors ahead.
The problem was that we had a muleteer who seemed ignorant of the genius of his herd. He drove them straight into swamp, a kind of swamp that verged on quicksand. To watch a strong, laden beast go down into a quagmire is one of the most terrible sights imaginable. The she-mule’s front legs sunk in deep, and she went down fast. Before she knew it, and we knew it, her muzzle was plunged in. She cocked it back, wailing, heaving, as the girth bindings were slashed with Samson’s knife.
I ran forward with him, and we both found ourselves being sucked in too. What a feeling, a feeling of utter helplessness, as if the end had come. Then a second mule came forward, answering the distress of the first. It sank as well.
Darkness was upon us, the sound of bats in the trees.
No light, just fear.
We must have been protected that night by some magical force. For we all made it out alive. I don’t know how because all the odds were stacked against us. It was as if we were lifted out of there, preserved by a greater power. It may sound mad, and it does, but I have always felt secretly that we were saved, all of us, by a patron… by the patron saint of mules.
TS