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Party V-30 Members Describe Life and Work in Tanzania

The Doodlebugger Diary recounts the experiences of geophysicists during their working lives. I’ve published extensively on my own experiences and encourage those of you with experiences of your own to also contribute. Your fellow industry professionals would love to hear your stories.


I’ve been occasionally reprinting a series of early 1980’s articles from the GSI Shotpoints and GSI Grapevine that can be found at http://gsinet.us/. Lately I have been reprinting various interesting and engaging Western Geophysical Profile articles from the 1970’s, which I find commonality with because this is when I first became a doodlebugger. The full set of scanned Profile issues can be found at https://library.seg.org/page/western-profile.


Story contributions by Mayette Boutet Vagt, Mary Marlett, Joe Vagt, R.W. Price, Western Geophysical


Photos by Peter Luckhurst, Mary Marlett, Western Geophysical


Originally published in the 1975 Spring - Summer Western Profile

Recounted by Scott Singleton


Prolog by Scott Singleton


This east African village, with its thatched roofs and wild weeds, lies outside Kilwa, a town near one of Party V-30's camps in Tanzania.
This East African village, with its thatched roofs and wild weeds, lies outside Kilwa, a town near one of Party V-30's camps in Tanzania.

I particularly enjoyed this story because it was a collective effort by many members of this crew. The three that have written parts all had different responsibilities and viewpoints, which was quite refreshing and gives a fuller picture of their experiences. One thing they did not describe, however, was their interactions with the local population (Figure 1), which must have been continual and in-depth, given the tortuous path they took through the country to transit from their first prospect on the north coast to their second in the south. That’s one of the aspects of my doodlebugging past that I particularly enjoyed and I always took time out to experience the country and get to know its people before I had to leave.


Introduction by Wesgeco House Secretary Mayette Boutet Vast


Wild game abounds in Tanzania. These animals are not the "tourist posing'' types, however, and are very apt to charge. This elephant was photographed at the Beho Beho game camp close to Dar-es-Salaam.
Wild game abounds in Tanzania. These animals are not the "tourist posing'' types, however, and are very apt to charge. This elephant was photographed at the Beho Beho game camp close to Dar-es-Salaam.

Lying just south of the equator in eastern Africa, Tanzania comprises the mainland (362,000 square miles including 20,000 square miles of inland water) and the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba. A land without winter, it stretches from the muggy coasts of the Indian Ocean to the freezing mountain peak of Kilimanjaro, highest mountain on the African continent. Tanzania contains a remarkable mass of wildlife. More than five million magnificent beasts abound in its national parks and game reserves (Figure 2).


Rising from a humble beginning as a fishing village just over a century ago, Dar-es-Salaam, “The Haven of Peace,” blossomed into today’s beautiful seaside capital. The city is full of interesting mosques, churches, temples, the National Museum (which houses the skull of “Nutcracker Man,” an estimated 1,750,000 years old), markets, bazaars, shops, hotels, restaurants, cinemas, and gardens. Many beautiful beaches are within easy reach. The silver sands are palm-girdled and washed by the clear, warm waters of the Indian Ocean. Honeymoon Island, lying much closer to the harbor entrance, is another rendezvous for those who enjoy a launch trip.


When I walk up and down the streets, I cannot prevent myself from admiring all of the Indo-Pakistanese women (called 'Asians' in Tanzania) dressed in sparkling luminous saris and appearing serene and mysterious, and also the Tanzanian women who wrap themselves in wildly colorful sheets of cotton called 'Khanga’ or 'Kitenge.' Their friendly smiles make me feel content with the whole world.


If you go to the Illala Market you just lose your head at the view of the beautiful appetizing fruits: orange, tangerine, grapefruit, pineapple, mango, coconut, avocado, banana, pawpaw, passion fruit, guava, jackfruit, litchi, and one called ‘Embec Kizungu’ (a type of mango that grows only on Zanzibar Island). Nina, the wife of analyst Palmer Larsen, just cannot resist all of these goodies and each trip to the market is a real dilemma: What to buy today?


The national language of Tanzania is Swahili. lt is an Arabic name meaning 'coasts' as originally Swahili was the language of the east African coast. Now, however, English is widely spoken throughout the country.


If you do not know where to go for your holidays, worry no more, just come to Tanzania! If you are a romantic, the magic of an African dawn or sunset on Lake Manyara will keep you breathless. If you are a passionate devotee of Hemingway, safaris are for you. If the word "fishing" makes you jump on the roof, Mafia Island will please you. If you just want to lie in the sun, the whole Tanzanian coast is ready for you. If you like history, visit Zanzibar and Bagamoyo village. And most of all, do not forget your camera, your best witness when you go back home.


Logistics Considerations by the Resident Manager, Ron Price


Before the "big boat" arrived with V-30 we were advised that we would have three main problems in Dar-es­Salaam:

  1. Shortage of accommodations

  2. Wild bees

  3. A heavy rainy season

These three items were indeed all the understatement of the decade. There was, and still is, an acute housing problem (Figure 3). In early January, however, we acquired an apartment and were able to set up shop. We have since, after renovations, moved into our present office (Figure 4), where at long last we have begun to accumulate all of our gear under one roof.

This V-30 camp is located within driving distance of the seaside city of Dar-es-Salaam, known for its silvery sands and its lovely, balmy beaches.
This V-30 camp is located within driving distance of the seaside city of Dar-es-Salaam, known for its silvery sands and its lovely, balmy beaches.

"Wesgeco House," which is Party V-30's main office, is located near the center of Dar-es-Salaam.
"Wesgeco House," which is Party V-30's main office, is located near the center of Dar-es-Salaam.

With a screen to prevent the pesty bees from attacking him, the Party V-30 Caterpillar Operator maneuvers around the Tanzania prospect.
With a screen to prevent the pesty bees from attacking him, the Party V-30 Caterpillar Operator maneuvers around the Tanzania prospect.

The boys on the 'dozers found quickly that the warning about the bees was for real and no joke. Many devices and "bee-proofing" projects were tried such as screening in the entire tractor with window screen (Figure 5). This proved to be an excellent bee trap. When filled with bees, entering through lever ports, it caused many a hasty exit with the operator making agile and rapid track down the trail. That this was obviously not the answer was forcefully brought home to us when one skinner was hospitalized with 37 stings about the head.


Acting upon the sage advice of the local inhabitants, we were told to obtain the services of a "bee man," which we did without delay. Now, even though a dash for safety was still required by the operator, the machine did not have to be left idle until the bees condescended to leave the area.


If a nest were sighted, the “bee man” was rushed to the site (Red Adair style). His method of operation was to soak a piece of sacking in diesel, light it, and wade into action. The bees, seeing him impervious to their most persistent attacks and not caring at all for the flames, would leave the area and set up a base somewhere else along the line of profile and plan another ambush. Our solution was seemingly sound; for in spite of being repeatedly stung, the "bee man" wasn’t in any way harmed. This resulted in him being immediately placed on the payroll and thus a feeling of confidence abounded. Alas though, it was not to be (no pun intended). After several successes, the magic palled and we found the “bee man,” aged as he was, leading the Olympic sprint to safety. After that, he could not be prevailed upon to return to his duties. He had had his day in the sun, however, and has now retired to guarding the explosives.


The problem then was partially solved by supplying bee hats and gloves and the boys wearing long-sleeved shirts and proceeding cautiously. With all of this in 100-plus degrees of heat, you can be sure that it was not only the tractor engines that overheated.


Fortunately, the problem seemed to be solved by a move further to the south where there were only tsetse flies with which to cope. The answer to your possible unspoken query is: No, there is no ''tsetse fly man' as every crew member can attest.


If we wanted to fill the WESTERN PROFILE completely it could easily be done by talking about the "big rain," a term that we soon learned was not an exaggeration but an understatement. Tractors were mired and winch cables snapped along with tempers. In fact, without a doubt, when the ordeal was over everyone conceded that it does get quite damp here in the "season." At last, with the coming of the sun the program was wrapped up in the Pugu Hill, Ruvu River area, and a long trip south to the next prospect was started (this is discussed in the next section).


The new challenges of the ‘bush’ to many of us ‘desert rats' proved formidable at first, but lessons were learned quickly, sometimes the hard way, and the data rolled in.


The ‘Big Move’ by Digital Technician Joe Vagt


They started to think of us as the "Western Moving Company," but that was after we had been here for several months. What can you do if it rains and the mud keeps getting muddier and muddier? All of us knew it would get wet, but for the "desert foxes" from Algeria, Egypt, Saudi, and Pakistan, things got a bit out of hand.


During the wet season, the crew learned to appreciate every day without rain. The observers would come back at night and tell the day's adventures: "Stuck three times on the move-up," "Cable buggies stuck in the mud," "Vibrators being winched through the bad spots by the cats,” and "l forgot my thermos bottle of tea.” The surveyors were not faring any better. The only ones able to move were the caterpillars, during the day anyway. Then they started the long trek home to the camp at night, sliding, slipping, cursing, and pulling - but they always made it!


Map of Tanzania showing route V-30 took to get around the rain-swollen Rufiji River. Towns mentioned in the text are shown. In the background is an eagle spotted by the V-30 team.
Map of Tanzania showing route V-30 took to get around the rain-swollen Rufiji River. Towns mentioned in the text are shown. In the background is an eagle spotted by the V-30 team.

It was after the first prospect that the 'Great Move’ started. It was during this time that the Company's name was nearly changed to 'Western Moving Company." Classifications like observers, vibrator mechanics, surveyors, drillers, cat operators, and gravity operator were all changed to DRIVERS for the duration of the move. To cover the distance of 210 miles down the coast from Dar-es-Salaam as the crow flies, Party V-30's vibrators, buggies, trailers, and trucks had to be driven 1,200 miles by an inland route to circumnavigate the Rufiji River, swollen with wet-season rain water (Figure 6).


They started on a Sunday morning. They drove through Morogoro and the Mikumi Game Park into the mountains of lringa. Showers for the crew were hard to come by, the food was "K-ration' style, the road was slippery, axles kept breaking and tires kept going flat. But on they went to Makambako where the road turns south and the blacktop stops (always a bad sign).


As they climbed up to Njombe they reached the highest part of the journey (6,400 feet above sea level). Downhill they went through Magingo to Songea then east through Tunduru, Masari, and finally Lindi on the Indian Ocean. The water never looked bluer or the city more appealing.

Fly camps popped up all over Party V-30's prospect after equipment was distributed from "Marlett Point and Fishing Camp." The new challenges of the area were both foreboding and formidable but all of the men met and conquered them as true Westerners.
Fly camps popped up all over Party V-30's prospect after equipment was distributed from "Marlett Point and Fishing Camp." The new challenges of the area were both foreboding and formidable but all of the men met and conquered them as true Westerners.

It was not quite over yet, however. Another 100 miles had to be covered to the first southern camp site (Figure 7). When they finally arrived at the bank of the Mbwemburu River with camp site cleared and airstrip ready, showers were the first priority. The aircraft came in the following day and lifted off the first group of people to go on break in a month.


Everybody was glad that this move was done. All things considered, it had gone rather well along the 1,200-mile journey even if a “guide for the day” (who shall remain nameless) took a wrong turn one afternoon and our entire "moving company" finished up at the only prison farm in these parts, but fortunately, it was just for the night.


Figure 8: Vibrator buggies for Party V-30 working down the line.

Figure 9: Two local workers and two drill crew operate a Party V-30 drill.

Figure 10: Two V-30 crew install a generator on the recording truck.

Figure 11: When this small river dried up, fish were trapped in the mud that remained. Pictured are some natives gathering them up.

Figure 12: Three Party V-30 crew examine the jaw bone of a Tanzanian elephant.


Being back to work and in a regular routine was a welcome change for the members of Party V-30 (Figures 8, 9, 10, 11, 12). We could even laugh when the weathering crew were joined for supper one evening by six lonely elephants; but when they saw that they had only beans, they took off after reading the label “Made in China.” Jokes aside, they told us they were really scared when they saw “them big guys” coming towards them.


Figure 13: The aircraft coming in on break day is a most welcome sight for weary Party V-30 workers. The Tanzanian worker of the left carries needed supplies to the camp where Party V-30 is staying.
Figure 13: The aircraft coming in on break day is a most welcome sight for weary Party V-30 workers. The Tanzanian worker of the left carries needed supplies to the camp where Party V-30 is staying.

Probably the most welcome sight in our camp is the aircraft coming in on break day (Figure 13). It arrives as regularly as clockwork, guided by our radio beacon, the antenna of which looks more like a cloth drier than a serious radio antenna.


Taking off from V-30 camp, the flight out takes us north along the eastern coast of Tanzania to Dar-es- Salaam. We have seldom seen more beautiful coral reefs than on these trips, especially when the tide is out and so many of the small islands are lying exposed to the sun’s rays.


We also fly past Mafia Island on our right, a paradise for big game fishermen and over the great Rufiji River delta underneath and to our left. One day we shall come to grips with this river again. We hope that she will be more kindly disposed towards us then, rather than causing us another 1,200-mile mountain detour.


Final notes


A WESTERN PROFILE issue from Tanzania without animal pictures is hard to visualize, but this may well be the case. Color film (the scourge of our Editor) has so much replaced black and white that those once-in-a-lifetime photos become rare and precious and are captured in color. We hope to send what we can glean.



Figure 14: A new “Western Bulldozer” is shown gearing up for action. Actually, one of the crew snapped this photo in the Beho Beho game camp near Dar-es-Salaam and then put the Western decal on the elephant’s side. Any attempt to liven up the camp with humor is usually appreciated by all.
Figure 14: A new “Western Bulldozer” is shown gearing up for action. Actually, one of the crew snapped this photo in the Beho Beho game camp near Dar-es-Salaam and then put the Western decal on the elephant’s side. Any attempt to liven up the camp with humor is usually appreciated by all.

Game of all types abound freely and naturally here (Figure 14), and the effort of the government is intended to keep it that way. Here animals are not the "tourist posing" types, but unpredictable and very apt to charge.


A three-hour drive or a short charter hop by plane will take one to Kilimanjaro Mountain or to the sandy white beaches of Mombasa, Kenya, or set you in the middle of a game lodge. It is a rare opportunity to be so close to African wildlife. Come see for yourself, and bring your camera.

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