Friday, April 4, 2014

The Last Tango in Argentina

This morning I woke up with a start. I had had a bad dream. I dreamed that because of global warming Mt. Kilimanjaro had lost all her snows and Ernest Hemingway had had to rise from the grave to write a new title for his brilliant short story, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.”

If we don’t watch our carbon footprint, the new title might be “The Dried and Frozen Leopard of Kilimanjaro,” or something like that.

Kilimanjaro is the highest peak in Africa. It soars majestically in north-eastern Tanzania on the Indian Ocean coast of central Africa. Its snow-capped peak dominates memory mainly because of Hemingway's 1936 masterpiece. 

Haunting leopard

Hemingway began that story with a haunting introduction:

“Kilimanjaro is a snow-covered mountain 19,710 feet high, and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai “Ngaje Ngai,” the House of God. Close to the western summit is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.”

In 2009 Kilimanjaro figured prominently in the news after scientists warned that its famous snows may be gone within five to six decades because of climate change.

Solitary dog

More recently, a group of tourists climbing to the summit spotted a dog and took cell phone photos of it.

A newspaper in Tanzania reported that after reaching the summit, four climbers needed to heed the call of nature. They spotted the dog perched on a rock about a meter away from where they relieved themselves. 

They took pictures and showed these to their guide, who remarked that a similar dog had been sighted ten years ago at one of several stopover camps on the way up.

The trek to the summit takes five to six days. If this was the same dog, the mystery was how it had survived the freezing temperatures on Kilimanjaro.

Rodents who have adapted to the thin air are said to abound near the summit. They could have provided sustenance to the wild dog, or the dog may also have survived foraging for scraps in the camp sites, the tourist guides surmised.

As with Hemingway's leopard, nobody has explained what the dog was seeking at that altitude. A mate, perhaps, to make it to the Mile-High Club? If Hemingway were alive, he might have been inspired to write a sequel to the leopard, this time about the wild African dog.

Coveted peaks

The climb up Kiiimanjaro is considered one of the best treks still available on this planet, snow or no snow. 

Mountaineers rank it among the top seven peaks one must climb in a lifetime to make it to their exclusive club, not to mention the Guinness Book of World Records. 

It is one of the 10 things I must do before acid rain dissolves me. 

I had an urge to book the next tour. The snows may soon be gone. The leopard carcass may have gone with the wind. But I may still find the dog, and--who knows?--the spirit of Hemingway.

I called my travel agent.

A bubbly voice exploded on the phone: “Stationery Travel, may I help you?”

'“Oh, yes. Do you still have tours in Africa?”

“Yes, sir, we just booked a group for the Serengeti Safari. But they do this all the time this time of year, so we can put you on the next one.”

“I had something else in mind, you know, something off the beaten track?”

“What did you have in mind, sir?”

“A trek up Kilimanajaro?”

A pause. Then a deep breath.

“I heard that,” I said.

“Sorry, sir, but we don't have that. The Serengeti Safari is really a lot more fun ... lions, wild buffalo, elephants, giraffe...”

“But that's like going to the zoo ... kid stuff.”

“The lions, sir, are a lot of fun. Sometimes, they chase after your Land Rover.”

“Have they caught any people lately?

“Oh, no, sir. The Land Rovers are much faster.  But it's a wild ride.”

“What about the buffalo? Don't they run faster than the Land Rovers?” I asked, hoping to evoke a chuckle.

Not a whimper. Just a deep breath.  

“How about if I took the Serengeti Safari and leased the Land Rover for the trek up Kilimanjaro? Can you arrange that for me?”

“I'm afraid that is not possible, sir. But what would you be doing up Kilimanoro, if you don't mind my asking, sir?”

“There's this dog they spotted recently near the summit ...”

“Oh, that. I understand the dog is gone, sir. Just disappeared after a Filipino tour group went up to find it. Just disappeared. Vanished into thin air. They must have spooked it. But I understand they found the dried leopard carcass, and the climate scientists have revised their forecast about the snow disappearing. But the Safari is still the better buy, if you ask me, sir.”

I paused to catch my breath.  Darn Filipino tourists.

“I heard that, sir!  Sir…?”

“What about the elephants?”  Visions of British viceroys in India started to dance in my head. “Will the elephants make it to the summit?”

“I'm afraid they won't allow that, sir. These are wild elephants.”

“How long will it take to train them?”

“I'm afraid I don't know, sir, assuming they are willing to do it.”

“Who?” I tried to clarify. “The trainers or the elephants?”

“I'm afraid both of them, sir.”

I dropped the elephant idea. “What about  the giraffe? Do you think they will agree?”

“Who, sir? The trainers or the giraffe?”

“I guess, both. You know, it takes two to tango.”

“We have a tango tour to Argentina, sir, if that suits you better. The tango lessons are free. Shall I book you on that one instead?”

“Only if the senorita will not let me go until I learned to dance the tango.”

“I'm afraid that's not possible, sir.”

“Why not? I heard Antonio Banderas learned to tango in two nights while he was filming 'Evita' with Madonna.”

“Oh, I know about that, sir. I understand they had to learn fast because Melanie Griffith was on her way there fuming mad.”


“Because she knew Antonio already knew how to dance the tango even before he met Madonna.”


Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith:

“It was the reverse, sir. Madonna was the one being taught the tango by Mr. Banderas.”

“And …?”

“It was not clear, whether Mr. Banderas was a poor teacher, or Madonna was a poor student, or both were pretending to be dumb when in fact they were both intelligent.”

I took a deep breath.  What about Evita?”

“What about her, sir?”

“Did she tango?”

“Sir, that was pretty obvious in the movie!”

I took another deep breath. “Okay, then, I'll skip the tango in Argentina and take my chances with the lions.”

Photo credit: David Shankbone, Mr. and Mrs. Antonio Banderas


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