Saturday, 12 March 2011

The folly of New Year resolutions?

Okay, I recant. The resolutions made back in January have paid off - or at least one of them has. It has focused my mind; made me have a go; ultimately allowed me to succeed.
All the cliches ring true: 'If at first you don't succeed...', 'Nothing ventured, nothing gained'...
I decided to enter the Just Back Competition with The Telegraph, a weekly competition for would-be travel writers. I duly sent in my first attempt...and didn't win. Husband Tom said, 'try again - the more you enter the higher your chances of winning'. So I tried again...and again...and again...until I had had seven goes and was slowing coming to the conclusion that my writing ambitions were indeed folly! Maybe it was time to throw the towel in.
In the meantime, I was working out what the editorial team went for in choosing their winners. But just as I was running out of stories and self-belief, the email arrived:
'Congratuations, you are this week's winner of The Telegraph'.
The next day, the article was online. The day after, it was on the back page of The Telegraph Travel section. There was something really sweet about seeing my name in print within the pages of a National Broadsheet and the experience has left me wanting more...
Here's the article:

By Helen Moat 10:43AM GMT 18 Feb 2011
Saturday 12 March 2011
Just back: into the Ngorongoro
Helen Moat wins this week's Just Back travel writing competition for this tale of a nail-biting encounter on the Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania.

The odds are 50-50. Two jeeps. Two drivers. One has a death wish; the second wants to see another day. We just don't know it yet. None the less, my husband peers into the Tanzanian night, sizing up the relative merits of each jeep and its driver. It's a pointless exercise in the gloom, but he strides with confidence towards his chosen vehicle. Meekly, his brood follows behind.

The others in our group clamber into the second jeep, and we're off. It's six in the morning, and although I'm still groggy with sleep, my stomach is churning with anticipation. We are visiting the Ngorongoro. Even the name, as it rolls around my tongue, is full of African promise.

Soon we are skirting the crater rim. To our left, lush vegetation drips with dew. To our right, the land plunges hundreds of feet to the crater floor. A buffalo looms out of the darkness, nostrils spilling clouds of icy breath, and gazes disdainfully at us as we cautiously inch around it.

We are drifting onwards when, from nowhere, the second jeep appears. It lunges towards us, screams past, then swerves back in before skidding to a halt inches from the precipice. John, our driver, slams on his brakes. Luckily, a burst tyre is the only casualty.
Wheel changed, we continue along the rim in the half-light and shifting mist. Then, without warning, the cloud disperses to reveal a biblical scene straight from Genesis. Shivering, we climb out of the jeep; the air is thin and cold at this altitude. It is strangely still.

When God visualised creation, this is surely what he saw – the Ngorongoro.

Far below our feet, we see swathes of forest, grasslands and marsh. At its centre, a pale shimmering lake echoes the arc of the caldera. Flamingos create a pink ribbon on the water's edge. Roaming across this mammoth stage are lion, wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, gazelle, antelope, elephant and ostrich. It is teeming with life. Then we tumble down into the crater and watch the greatest natural show on Earth.

Later, as we climb out, the kamikaze driver overtakes us again, loses control and comes to a halt. This time he has broken his axle and is reduced to front-wheel drive. Repeatedly, he tries to move off, but his wheels simply spin on the gravel.

John tries to ram the damaged jeep into action and fails. As he smacks it with ever increasing force, I clutch the seat under me, convinced we will be thrown to our deaths below, fodder for hungry lions.

The others abandon their hapless jeep, seeping oil now, and climb into ours. When it's crammed to the gills, we crawl to the top of the caldera. I step out of our jeep, jelly-kneed, and inspect the damage. To my amazement, there is nothing worse than a broken bolt on the bull-bars.