The Land of Footprints by Stewart Edward White
III. The Central Plateau
Now is required a special quality of the imagination, not in myself, but in my readers, for it becomes necessary for them to grasp the logic of a whole country in one mental effort. The difficulties to me are very real. If I am to tell you it all in detail, your mind becomes confused to the point of mingling the ingredients of the description. The resultant mental picture is a composite; it mixes localities wide apart; it comes out, like the snake-creeper-swamp-forest thing of grammar-school South America, an unreal and deceitful impression. If, on the other hand, I try to give you a bird's-eye view-saying, here is plain, and there follows upland, and yonder succeed mountains and hills-you lose the sense of breadth and space and the toil of many days. The feeling of onward outward extending distance is gone; and that impression so indispensable to finite understanding-"here am I, and what is beyond is to be measured by the length of my legs and the toil of my days." You will not stop long enough on my plains to realize their physical extent nor their influence on the human soul. If I mention them in a sentence, you dismiss them in a thought. And that is something the plains themselves refuse to permit you to do. Yet sometimes one must become a guide-book, and bespeak his reader's imagination.
The country, then, wherein we travelled begins at the sea. Along the coast stretches a low rolling country of steaming tropics, grown with cocoanuts, bananas, mangoes, and populated by a happy, half-naked race of the Swahilis. Leaving the coast, the country rises through hills. These hills are at first fertile and green and wooded. Later they turn into an almost unbroken plateau of thorn scrub, cruel, monotonous, almost impenetrable. Fix thorn scrub in your mind, with rhino trails, and occasional openings for game, and a few rivers flowing through palms and narrow jungle strips; fix it in your mind until your mind is filled with it, until you are convinced that nothing else can exist in the world but more and more of the monotonous, terrible, dry, onstretching desert of thorn.
Then pass through this to the top of the hills inland, and journey over these hills to the highland plains.
Now sense and appreciate these wide seas of and the hills and ranges of mountains rising from them, and their infinite diversity of country-their rivers marked by ribbons of jungle, their scattered-bush and their thick-bush areas, their grass expanses, and their great distances extending far over exceedingly wide horizons. Realize how many weary hours you must travel to gain the nearest butte, what days of toil the view from its top will disclose. Savour the fact that you can spend months in its veriest corner without exhausting its possibilities. Then, and not until then, raise your eyes to the low rising transverse range that bands it to the west as the thorn desert bands it to the east.
And on these ranges are the forests, the great bewildering forests. In what looks like a grove lying athwart a little hill you can lose yourself for days. Here dwell millions of savages in an apparently untouched wilderness. Here rises a snow mountain on the equator. Here are tangles and labyrinths, great bamboo forests lost in folds of the mightiest hills. Here are the elephants. Here are the swinging vines, the jungle itself.
Yet finally it breaks. We come out on the edge of things and look down on a great gash in the earth. It is like a sunken kingdom in itself, miles wide, with its own mountain ranges, its own rivers, its own landscape features. Only on either side of it rise the escarpments which are the true level of the plateau. One can spend two months in this valley, too, and in the countries south to which it leads. And on its farther side are the high plateau plains again, or the forests, or the desert, or the great lakes that lie at the source of the Nile.
So now, perhaps, we are a little prepared to go ahead. The guide-book work is finished for good and all. There is the steaming hot low coast belt, and the hot dry thorn desert belt, and the varied immense plains, and the high mountain belt of the forests, and again the variegated wide country of the Rift Valley and the high plateau. To attempt to tell you seriatim and in detail just what they are like is the task of an encyclopaedist. Perhaps more indirectly you may be able to fill in the picture of the country, the people, and the beasts.