The Serengeti Excursion Begins
(Sunday 7th October, 2018)
This day has really felt like 6 days crammed into one because we have seen so much! Not in a bad way, it’s just unbelievable that all that has happened has just taken one day.
We had a nice breakfast and then 5 of us drove off towards Serengeti, and for this excursion we have another driver and guide named Amani (meaning ‘Man of Peace’). Driving through the landscape, it changed into more hilly areas with red soil – it was very pretty. Driving up the mountain we also had an amazing view over the land down under, including Lake Manyara which is another national park and safari spot.
After arriving to the entrance of the road to Ngorongoro Crater, we had to stop so our guide could take care of permits etc. The foliage and climate of the outer hills of the crater is rainforest, so we drove from the dry landscape between Arusha and the mountain, just to enter very humid, green leafy forest with colourful birds. The other side of the crater is rather dry as the rain is contained to the outside by the mountain. It’s an interesting contrast.
Driving out of the rainforest, we arrived at a vista offering an incredible view over the Ngorongoro Crater, where you could see large herds of animals as little black dots. After this point we began to see zebras and gazelles mixing in with the goats of the Masai who still live in the Conservation area between Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti.
At one point, we even saw giraffes right beside the road. There was one walking next to us by the road side, then it started running and eventually crossed the road running in what seemed like slow motion. A very beautiful and odd creature, and we were all very excited as I don’t think we had expected to see something so iconic already.
We drove for a long time through savannah landscape and we thought we had already entered the Serengeti. However, we eventually came at a check point where permits were checked again and which functioned as the gateway to Serengeti National Park; Only then did we enter it. Endless savannah stretched on both sides of the car, and we saw more gazelles and birds.
After lunch at a picnic spot, our first game drive in the Serengeti commenced. We popped the roof-top up and let the dust from the dry roads hit us. We saw what we thought to be a huge variety of animals on this game drive, and amazinlgy enough, a cheetah was one of the very first things we saw – and it was relaxing just a meter or two away from the road. It was very up-close! Lions were also some of the first animals we saw, and they were quite close as well – we were quite spoiled for lions. We definitely felt very lucky on our first day – in 3 hours of game drive we managed to see:
– Thomson’s Gazelle – Greater Gazelle – Red Bucks
– Hartebeest – Serval Cat – Impala
– Baboons – Lions (3-4 prides) – Hyena
– Zebras – Cheetah – Warthogs
– Vervet monkeys – Guinea fowls – Buffalos
Driving into our bush camp, we met our new neighbours – 3 buffalos peacefully grazing just outside the tent space. It was really fascinating to be so close to the wild africa that the animals might walk through camp at any point. Facilities were pretty basic, cold water showers, toilets and a sort of open dining hall area, but it all added to the experience of living in the bush for a little bit. No electrical plugs and no Wi-Fi.
Reflections: All in all this day was simply fantastic and I couldn’t have asked for more. I hadn’t really expected anything out of not knowing what to expect, so I was very overwhelmed with seeing so many things in such a short timespan. It was all that I could have asked for and then even more on top of that. It was so intense that it did indeed feel like it had been days since we left Arusha to drive to Serengeti.
A Day Full of Serengeti
(Monday 8th of October, 2018)
Spending the night in this bush camp had been pretty interesting. The tents were just green, normal tents – nothing special to ward off wild animals. There had been a lot of noises at night and they had advised that if you needed to go to the washroom in the middle of the night, to scan the surroundings with your flash light; yellow eyes shining back at you mean predator or scavengers, and green eyes shining back at you would indicate herbivores. With all the rustling around the camp site during the night, you’d rather want to try to make sure you finish your washroom business before you go to sleep.
Unzipping the tent flap, some of the first things we noticed was the pretty large herd of buffalos and zebras by the waterhole just by the camp site, maybe 30-40 meters away. There had also been hyenas there earlier in the morning, but we weren’t out of the tent early enough to see them.
After a filling breakfast we commenced on our full day gamedrive on the plains of the Serengeti. We again felt like we had a lot of luck today. We even saw a leopard, although from a distance away, which we certainly didn’t think we would have the luck to spot. He was just peacefully sleeping on a tree.
Somewhere else on the drive, a leopard had been spotted near a herd of gazelles before it disappeared, so they thought it might be setting up for a hunt. This brought what seemed to be all the safari trucks in the park to the spot, where we waited around for a good 20-30 minutes to see if anything happened (it was a false alarm, but it was very exciting to have the thought of witnessing such an incredible thing nonetheless! – and even observing the gazelles was very nice). Also, our truck got stuck in a large ditch, so we were lucky that there were other trucks around because we needed another car to give us a little tab to get out.
We saw different prides of lions again today, including a couple of lionesses who were eating a thomson’s gazelle. One was just gnawing on what was left of it’s neck, revealing it’s face and horns. Lions aren’t cute, but with their beautiful eyes and almost arrogant facial expressions, they do look very majestic as they observe the comings and goings of the world around them.
At the lunch site there was a ‘hippo pool’ – a body of water where a group of hippos hang out. These were cows with calves, just enjoying the water. They are some dirty, foul and smelly creatures, pooping in the same still-standing water that they spend most of their day in. But despite that, they do look somewhat cute with their tiny ears, eyes and nostrils just sticking above the water surface.
During the day thunder clouds began to form and we knew that rain was coming. It rained a bit during the drive, but in a break from it we managed to see a group of elephants on the backdrop of the savannah, hills in the background, thunder clouds and even lightning behind them. It was just beautiful, and watching these large creatures just walk around feels immensely serene. It was everything you could have ever thought it to be, and we were standing there a good while just observing them feed on the shrubs and grasses. Serengeti as a whole is pretty much everything you’d guess from having watched nature documentaries – there were no trace of disappointment but only amazement from my side today.
The rain never really stopped after it had first begun on our game drive, and the result is a pretty wet tent, which is also starting to get wet on the inside. The entrance to the tent and thus the ground under it is pretty much a pool of mud and it still rains heavily, but hopefully it will not last much longer or we’ll have a pretty cold day tomorrow.
Seeing both the elephants and the leopard today meant that we had now spotted 4 out of The Big Five: Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Buffalo and Rhino. Another list of the animals that we saw on the plains today:
– Zebra – Thomson’s Gazelle – Topi
– Crocodile – Hippos – Marabou Storks
– Lions – Hartebeest – Dikdik
– Vervet Monkeys – Impalas – Greater Gazelle
– Leopard – Elephant – various birds
Driving Out of Serengeti and Onto the Crater Rim
(Tuesday 9th October, 2018)
While there were no animals around the camp this morning, there had been a lot of activity during the night. You would hear the ”Whoop” sort of sound from the hyenas, of which there had been a pack just around (maybe in) the camp. At some point it had sounded from the rustling that something had been walking between the tents, and we found some paw prints in the mud this morning. It’s very exciting but again, you feel like you have to hold your bladder all through the night!
This morning was our last game drive in Serengeti. We had already seen so much that the guide had no rush – we drove to the Eastern and Western parts of the national park, where a large amount of controlled burning had been done. This allows new, fresh grass to come up and is necessary for some seeds to germinate – impalas love it, but it’s not good for all the animals. Some birds and smaller animals who nest and live in the tall grass do not make it out of the fires alive. The ground in these places were still black and ashen as new grass had not yet had time to grow. In these parts of the park, the ground is very rocky from old lava, and therefore the soil layer is shallow, not allowing a lot of trees to grow. It’s a lot of endless, yellow savannah grass plain with some lava rock formations thrown in here and there. It’s very pretty in its own way.
We didn’t see as many animals as the other days in these parts of Serengeti, but here’s a list of some that we did observe:
– Serval Cat – Cheetah – Zebra
– Mongoose – Water Buck – Vervet Monkeys
– Topi – Thomson’s Gazelles – Ostrich
We had lunch at the same place where we ate on the drive into the park, but now we had some time to walk up to the view point on top of the hill. From here you had an excellent view and impression of the endless savannah stretching the the horizon and beyond, as far as your eyes can possibly see and 360 degrees around. Colourful lizards/iguanas were sunbathing on the rocks, too. It was a very nice sort of ‘goodbye’ to the days of safari spent there.
We drove on the long road back to the conservation area (Masai land) and up to the crater rim where we would camp for the night. On the way we saw another lion and a scrawny-looking hyena. As we turned down the road leading to our camp site, two elephants were guarding the road, one on each side – they were very close, only maybe 5 meters away. One looked very old and wise and the other a little younger, and it was very much a surprise to us to find these just outside the camp area. But it didn’t even stop there, because as we drove into the camp, zebras were peacefully grazing among the tents and marabou storks were chilling on the lawn as well. Once again we definitely had to sleep among the wild animals, and once again I am reminded just how beautiful nature is.
This night we enjoyed a 3 course meal + snacks made by our chef for the Serengeti excursion. First dish was a cucumber soup, which doesn’t sound very interesting from what we know as cucumbers at home, but they do have more flavour down here; and it was actually a pretty good soup. The main course was just a regular spaghetti bolognese, but the dessert was banana frittes with honey and it was really delicious. I prefer my bananas fried and I hadn’t quite tried it this way yet but yum.
We are sure to enjoy our last night in this wilderness, but we still have another game drive to look forward to before returning to Arusha.
Exploring Ngorongoro Crater
(Wednesday 10th October, 2018)
We had a very early start on this last day of game drive for this Serengeti-excursion. The night was considerably more quiet than in the Serengeti, but it was still dark when we got up. It was also a lot colder due to the altitude and climate of the camp site, so we had to close our sleeping bags and were long pants/a jacket in the morning. While we had breakfast at 5:30 a heavy mist began to roll in over from the rainforest side of the crater. It felt like we were in some horror movie whereby you couldn’t see more than a few metres ahead of you. In this thick mist, we began making our way down into Ngorongoro Crater on the bumpy mountain roads, which would have given us a great view over the crater had it not been for the mist.
Animals we saw on this game drive were:
– Secretary Bird – Elephants – Lions
– Hyenas – Wildebeest (lots!) – Zebra (lots!)
– Buffalo – Flamingo – Rhino(s)
Some of the highlights were:
We saw a male and female lion together – when we first spotted them they were mating. Afterwards they were lying beside each other and waiting to get ready for the next round.
There were also a pack of hyenas who were eating/playing with the head/backbone of a buffalo. One had picked it up and took off running with it while the others chased after. Though they are not the prettiest creatures (and they have gross eating habits, such as eating the prey while it’s alive rather than killing it first), they are still interesting to me.
The sheer amount of wildebeest and the large herds we observed on our drive through the crater was simply mezmerizing. There were so many of them, and they were definitely another highlight. With the beautiful landscape of savannah grass and mountains, it was just impressive to see such massive herds feeding on the plains.
At some point we drove up on a small hill, which had a view over the crater. There were a lot of other safari trucks up there, overlooking the plains – it turns out that some guide (who must’ve had some fantastic binoculars) had spotted a couple of rhinos very, very far away in some tall grass. Probably many kilometers away. Even with binoculars and telephoto lens we didn’t really manage to see them, so I didn’t count it this time around.
However, before we left the crater to drive out, we did get to see a rhino that was visible both to the eye (as a sort of grey blob in the yellow) and the rhino shape was clearly visible in the telephoto lens/zooming in on the picture. It was far away, though maybe only a kilometer – rhinos are shy and don’t often tend to go next to the road, and the safari vehicles are not permitted to go outside the roads, obviously. Seeing this rhino, even from so far, meant that we had now been fortunate enough to see all of The Big Five: Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Buffalo & Rhino. The whole group was pretty excited about that.
We had lunch in the crater, in an area where you have to eat your lunch while seated in your car. As it turns out, if you leave it to eat, you may lose your food to black kites sweeping in and stealing it ouf of your hand. After lunch we left the crater through a windy, steep road which provided some good last glimpses and views of Ngorongoro Crater. It felt a little sad to say goodbye to these experiences that this excursion had offered us, because it is somehting that I have been imagining myself doing most of my life. It was a fantastic experience, which words cannot justify, and I’m so very happy that it has been everything (and more) than I ever could have imagined.
When we arrived back in Arusha at our lodge after a pretty long drive, we met our two new travel companions: a girl from The Netherlands and a young man from Japan, who are both also going with us all the way to Cape Town.
Kilimanjaro and Bagamoyo
(Thursday 11th October, 2018)
We had an early morning, because even though the distance is not particularly great, the speed limit of 50 km/hr on Tanzanian roads, makes driving 300 kilometers take quite a while. Our guides told us that there is a lot of traffic police in Tanzania also and that your chances of getting pulled over are very high. Apparently, there’s so little crime in the country that most of the police force become traffic cops, which is a good thing, I suppose.
The first highlight of the day was seeing Kilimanjaro from the road side. We were lucky because even though there were clouds around the top to begin with, they dissappated and left us with a complete and clear view of the whole mountain. It’s very impressive as a lone-standing mountain. Now I’ve seen it both from the plane and from the ground, but only from the plane – or by climbing it – do you really see how large it is.
On the way we also drove past huge sisal farms. Tanzania is a big exporter of sisal and it is picked by hand, which takes a lot of time and effort.
We made it to the camp site just before dark and it was very hot and very humid. Even as the day turned into night it just remained very warm and sleeping was very sweaty. The campsite was very pretty, with a walkway down to the beach, which had white sand and palm trees and little local fishing boats on hold.
The region Bagamoyo is known for growing pineapples and also it was the administrative capitol when the country was a German colony. Some of the houses in Bagamoyo and the fortress there are from colonial times. The name itself means ‘leaving your heart’/’leaving your spirit’, and the town was named as such in local language because of the tragic background story of slavery. Slaves from East Africa were gathered on the shores of Lake Malawi from where they walked in chains for 3 weeks to reach Bagamoyo. Here they would board a ship to Zanzibar where they would be sold. Bagamoyo was thus the place where the slaves would lose their spirit and all their hope of ever seeing their families again.
The Journey Goes to Zanzibar
(Friday 12th October, 2018)
We had a little bit of rain during the night in Bagamoyo, which we hadn’t been prepared for. So around 3:45 everyone who was camping woke up and had to go put rain covers on their tents. That meant we’d only have about another 30 minutes until we had to really wake up and get ready to leave, so for some of us it was quite a short night. While being up this early, we could hear the nearby mosque call to prayer which was a little funny to hear in Tanzania. Nonetheless, it’s a sound I really enjoy and it reminded me of my time in Turkey so it was a very nice start to the day.
At 5:30 we began to make our way down to Dar es Salaam from where we would take the ferry to Zanzibar. It wasn’t really that long of a drive though it is obvious when we came to the city that it does have issues with traffic congestion. About 4 million people live in Dar es Salaam and also around this city it is mostly Chinese contractors who are working on roads and buildings. Our guide theorised that this is because Western countries have been preoccupied with other things, such as terrorism. It seems we might be losing out, though.
At first we drove to the hotel where we will be staying when we come back from Zanzibar in a few days. Here we dropped off our large backs, bringing only our small backpacks on the island excursion. Then we got in cabs which took us down to the ferry. Here we had to wait for a bit because the printer to print the tickets wasn’t working, but luckily we were in good time for the scheduled departure. It was really hot and humid, though, and you could see everyone in the group breaking a sweat just from standing up. After we finally got our tickets we went through security (bag scan and metal detector), had our passports checked, and had our tickets checked like 4 different times. You’d think we would be about to leave the country for real.
We could finally get on the ferry and by this point it had started raining so we opted to sit inside. Seats were comfortable and there were large TV screens. Before we departed, they played a Muslim prayer for a safe journey (most of Zanzibar’s population is Muslim) and it was so beautiful you could almost cry. After the prayer and during the trip over, they showed a full movie, ‘Now You See Me 2″ which we almost had time to watch to the end.
Sailing was smooth enough and approaching Stone Town harbour, the coast line pretty much looked like any sort of Mediterranean coast line. I had a brief thought that maybe the islands here could be a bit overrated. After a rather uncomfortable time of standing in line to get our passports and yellow fever vaccination certifications checked, we got picked up by a small bus by our guide for this excursion.
We drove for about 1.5 hours to get to our hotel in Nungwi on the North point of Zanzibar. The roads had lots of pot holes and were just not in great condition overall. On the way there were quite a lot of small mosques and we also saw most people wearing traditionally Muslim clothing. In Nungwi, there were a lot more small shops owned by locals which had on display touristy things.
The view from the hotel restaurant where we had lunch was lovely, although the beach in this area did not look like I would have expected it to based on photographic research on Zanzibar. The water had that lovely, turquoise colour and the sand was white and looked fine, but there were no palm trees down on the beach and it just didn’t look as paradisiacal as some of the Koh Samui beaches did, for instance. After lunch we went for a little walk into Nungwi village, and while most locals greeted you they were not pushing themselves on you to buy anything, which was very nice.
All in all, it was a pretty okay first impression of Zanzibar and I enjoyed what I had seen and experienced so far this day, including spending time with the people from the tour group at dinner.
Snorkelling and Chatting
(Saturday 13th October, 2018)
Woke up and had a nice breakfast, and then I was due to enjoy a half day of snorkelling which we had paid 25 USD for. We got picked up at 8:30, then walked down to the beach where we got on the boat. It was not a fancy boat, just one of those wooden ones that the locals might use for fishing also, although modified for us to have a little half-shelter as protection against the sun.
It was a lovely boat ride of about 40 minutes before we got to the little island, Tumbatu Island, that had the reef which formed the basis of our snorkelling. The water was clear and turquoise, and when we got in the reef was also gorgeous and colourful with lots of colourful saltwater fish. Among other things, we saw starfish and a school of squid – not lucky enough to observe a turtle, though. The weather above water was mostly cloudy, so we didn’t have top notch visibility but you could see things clearly enough regardless. We enjoyed the underwater scenery for about 1.5-2 hours before we started to head back. Probably could have stayed longer if someone wanted to.
Coming back to the hotel, the sun had come out again and I decided to go for a walk along the beach. The beach in this place is only exposed during low tide and will be fully emerged underwater during high tide. Therefore, you can only walk along it at certain times a day and you also need to be mindful to walk back before you get caught in high tide. Anyway, it was a nice walk, although at times there were some salesmen on the beach approaching to get me to buy things – it was a bit annoying as I had just wanted to relax by myself and enjoy whatever I saw on the beach. There were lots of beautiful pieces of dead coral, rocks and seashells lying about.
While walking, a local young man named Ali approached me. He didn’t want to sell me anything but said he just wanted to have a chat and just liked to meet people of other cultures. We walked along the beach together and actually had a great chat where we talked about our lives and cultural differences. He is originally from the village of Nungwi, and he told me a tradition that they have when there’s a newborn baby there: they first give the baby something sweet on their tongue and the baby will make a happy face, symbolising all the good things in life. Then they give the baby something bitter on their tongue and the baby will make a sour face, symbolising the inevitable hardships and bitterness in life. This is to already teach the child from the very beginning to expect that life is bittersweet, sometimes good, sometimes bad, and to prepare it for a life with good balance and remembering that something good is always in store. That is Hakuna Matata for you. Speaking to Ali was probably the highlight of my day.
The walk had provided me with a bit of a sunburn to nurture, so after it I just had some relaxing time reading my book and chatting with my fellow travellers by the pool (but in the shade!) before dinner. One of our fellow travellers had his birthday today, and so we celebrated this at dinner with a few bottles of wine and the buffet of local cuisine from Zanzibar. It was very enjoyable to have this time together, while hearing the water below and watching the moon disappear into the ocean. The food was also very varied and interesting, and all-you-can-eat buffets are always nice, am I right? Today was a really good day in Zanzibar, despite the lack of the expected ‘bounty beaches’.
From Slavery to Freedom (Stone Town, Zanzibar)
(Sunday 14th October, 2018)
This was a day of many different emotions.
Today we were due to move to another hotel close to Stone Town, and to go on a tour to a spice farm on the way. We enjoyed our last breakfast in the lovely hotel, enjoying the view during breakfast. Then we got picked up by our guide, and he then drove us to the spice garden where we would have the walking tour around the premises.
Zanzibar is known for its spices, and thus a spice tour is almost mandatory – making these spice gardens pretty touristy places, where the local boys will braid plants into bracelets, necklaces and hats that they will give you to wear. When we arrived, another group of tourists left all dressed up in plant parts.
Anyway, it was raining when we got to the spice garden and we conducted most of our tour with each our own umbrella. The tour mainly consisted of our guide walking us around, talking about the trees and plants and their use, having us smell different plants. For me, this was not super interesting but there were some who enjoyed it. At the end, we went to some coconut palm trees where we saw a guy nicknamed “The Butterfly Man” crawl up to the top of the tall palm tree. It was pretty impressive, and we got to have a try at climbing next, although no one got very far trying that (that is to say maybe 20 cm, at most). He then gave us fresh coconuts that he cut on the spot, some of us got mature coconuts with firm flesh and some of us got young coconuts which still had sort of a watery/jelly texture. It was delicious.
Next we were also due to have lunch at the spice garden. We had paid an additional 10 USD for this lunch which was supposedly traditional Zanzibar cuisine using the spices available in the garden for seasoning. It consisted of rice with a cinnamon’ish taste, fried king fish and a sauce made with eggplant and other vegetables – while it was nice, it also wasn’t very special, the fish a bit dry, and I think most of us didn’t think it was quite worth the 10 USD we had paid for it. The dessert was much better, being fresh fruits. We also got to try jackfruit. I’d never had it before but it was really good, firm flesh and a taste somewhere in between banana and pineapple, not too sweet, not too juicy.
After our lunch we drove into Stone Town where we would have a walking tour of the town. The town has its name from the building materials used (previously called Coral Town because corals were used as building material – it was later banned as building material because it damaged the reefs). It has been a Portuguese colony, an Arabic colony and also under British Protectorate. It has a lot of history and many of the buildings are 300 years old. It is also known for having been the centre for slave trade in East Africa.
On the walking tour we had stops at the local fish market, by a famous, well-decorated door, by two houses which has a sheltered walk-way between them (used by women so they wouldn’t have to be seen walking on the street, during Arabic control), The House of Wonder (the old national museum that is now closed), Freddy Mercury’s house and finally at the East African Slave Trade Exhibition. It felt a little rushed and we weren’t left much time to stop and take photographs or just breathe in the places – we also lost a member of our group between Freddy Mercury’s house and the exhibition because the guide was unwilling to wait for 5 minutes. I’m sure Stone Town had more to offer than what we were given at this point of time.
We entered the Slave Trade Exhibition and were taken around by a local guide. There’s a church built on top of the spot where the slave market took place. It was built to celebrate the end of slavery, and Edward Steere – a colonial bishop who worked to abolish slavery – was buried behind the altar in the church.
The slaves being sold here were the ones walking from Lake Malawi up to Bagamoyo to then be sailed to Zanzibar to be sold as commodities. Those who were weak got left on the road side without food or water to either die from starvation or thirst or to get eaten by wild animals, all because slave traders had to pay a fee for each slave they brought to Zanzibar – thus they didn’t want to bring any to the island which they thought couldn’t be sold. Some were deemed too weak on the boat and just left there on the ship on the shore of Stone Town to die. It was tragic and horrifying to hear about.
The female slaves were kept around during the walk to Bagamoyo to sate the sexual appetites of the men, and any babies that might come from this were removed right after birth and killed. Our guide even said that they might be cut into pieces and used for bait for fishing.. Before going on the market, the slaves were whipped to determine their selling price. Those who screamed or cried were sold at a lower rate. The spot of the tree they were tied to during their whipping was marked on the church floor.
On the tour we also saw the tiny dungeons below ground where the slaves were kept, women and men separated, while waiting to be sold to their new destinies. Tiny spaces for a lot of people, only one tiny window, tied to chains and forced to use the path in the middle as a toilet (sides were raised). Some of them dying from starvation, thirst, diseases from faecal matter and lack of air.
I was very moved from the visit here, and it was quite terrible and difficult to hear about this part of Zanzibar’s and East Africa’s history. How absolutely despicable humanity is capable of being. Hearing all this from a local, black person as well was very touching and also a bit hard, knowing it is such a vital part of his ancestry. Even though it is obviously way before our time, it does make you feel shameful and horrified to come from a country that used to deal with slave trade and allow these atrocities to happen.
After the walking tour we were driven to our hotel which was also located right down to the beach front. This beach also isn’t one of the ‘bounty beaches’ you see online, and the sand was more rough.
In the later afternoon before sunset I went down to the beach to enjoy the sun. What I saw was lots and lots of locals Muslims and not Muslims together, coming to the beach to hang out; swim, play ball, socialise, dance, go for a walk – just being together, almost seeming to me to be celebrating each other and their life. It was so colourful, happy smiling faces everywhere, no one being left out. It was such pure bliss to be a witness to, so very life confirming, like a symbol of freedom. In many ways I’m sure they have lives that are better than us Westerners, allowing this sort of unorganised, collective activity and happiness to take place outdoors in the warm light of the setting sun, something which you would never see on this scale at home. The feeling and the setting and the scenery with the setting sun was beautiful and really made my day completely, adding a wonderful sense of joy and happiness to the emotional mix of the day’s experience.
Goodbye Zanzibar; Hello Dar es Salaam
(Monday 15th October, 2018)
Today we didn’t do all that much. We had a late breakfast at 9, then went to catch the ferry back to the mainland at 10:15. On the ferry today the weather was good so some of us opted to sit upstairs in the open air. The word on the street was that the sailing can go pretty rough when going back towards Dar es Salaam because you are sailing against the waves, so some fresh air might be nice.
The sea did get pretty rough and it wasn’t a very pleasant sail back. The personnel started to bring out puke bags and handing them out to people, many of them opting to take one. It wasn’t just for show, a lot of people got sea sick and had to make use of the bags. I didn’t feel too good either, but although I had my puke bag, I luckily didn’t have the need to use it.
Back in Dar es Salaam we got into taxis which drove us back to the hotel where Ella and our big bags were at. Nothing else was organised for us today, though most of the group opted to have a dinner out in town together in the evening. The city seems a lot more organised than Arusha (which is of course also a lot smaller), having high rises and malls and footpaths on the side of the road. It is also the main port of Tanzania, while it is also the business centre of the country and consequently a lot wealthier than in-land cities and towns.
Before walking to dinner we met in the lobby where we also got introduced to our new group or family member. She is a young woman from Germany and will be joining us, going all the way down to Cape Town as well.
When walking to dinner at dusk, if you looked up you could see probably 1000s of bats flying across the sky in the last light of the sun. They were all flying in the same direction, presumably to go to the feeding grounds somewhere. They just seemed to keep coming as we walked to the restaurant and it was quite a spectacular sight.
Reflections on Zanzibar:
Zanzibar was not as expected. That is not a statement of something good or bad, it was just different. Beaches weren’t as wonderful as imagined but on the other hand the locals exceeded expectations and really made the beaches completely irrelevant. They seem such a warm and happy people, having togetherness in a way that makes you wish you could also be a part of it. I was thinking that living there might actually be quite nice. The climate is great (not too warm, not cold), it is a pretty place, and then again – can’t emphasize it enough – the locals seem great. I didn’t expect to like it so much, me not being much of a beach and relaxation person, and I certainly didn’t think I’d like it for the reasons that it turns out I do. It is a place I might want to come back to some time, and thus it was a very good few days on this little island in the Indian Ocean. It was a very sort of moving time which also gave a lot of food for thought and things to consider, and I like to be challenged and hopefully grow from these types of experiences.
A Long Drive to Mikumi
(Tuesday 16th October, 2018)
Driving out of the city after breakfast, I once again noticed all the bright colours that men and women in this part of the world are wearing. Nothing like the largely neutral black, white and grey that we wear back home – the colours, the patterns and the prints really brighten up the grey’ish concrete jungle colours of the city.
On the drive of today, like other days, there were lots of people waving and giving us the thumbs up as we drove past. This is something I have really been enjoying about driving in Tanzania and observing the world outside going by, and I do my best to wave back at anyone. Seeing people’s smiling faces from such a simple gesture just feels nice and makes me happy, too.
Towards Mikumi we started to drive into the national park and so we would be able to observe wildlife on the roadside, although it is not permitted to stop for pictures on this bit of highway. We were fortunate enough to see zebras, impala, elephants, warthogs and giraffes. It had been a long day of driving so it was good to perk up and get ready for tomorrow’s game drive in the park.
The camp of today is located right on the outskirts of Mikumi National Park and we therefore might have wildlife visiting us, especially at night. The accommodated people had their cottages a bit further away from the bar/camp and they actually had to be escorted back after dark by an armed ranger. Also, after we had set up the tents and sat in the bar, a warthog came wandering through camp, looking for scraps by the kitchen. Just a few metres away from our cook. It was pretty funny.
This camp is very small and we were the only ones in it, yet the place still had a bar with a small refrigerator with soft drinks and beer. Remarkably, it also had functioning Wi-Fi and a TV, on which they showed nature documentaries from BBC. Otherwise it is quite basic and barely has hot water – a weird contrast and not what you’d expect to find here ‘in the middle of nowhere’.
Mikumi Elephants and Tanzanian Highlands
(Wednesday 17th October, 2018)
We had an early breakfast today so that we would have time for a game drive before leaving for our next camp near Iringa. We drove to the park in an open 4by4 vehicle, and made it to the entrance of the park after about 10 minutes drive. It was quite chilly in the morning because of the wind and cloudiness.
The game drive didn’t initially seem so eventful, with us not seeing too many animals. We were starting to wonder amongst ourselves if our luck had run out by now? Mikumi is mostly savannah, although the kind of savannah that has more shrubs and trees and is not so barren. It also has places with very tall grass (taller than the vehicle), so the landscape was not fully in resemblance with Serengeti. It might also be a bit tougher to spot wildlife here.
The highlight of this game drive was when we stopped at the Hippo Pool/watering hole. Here we were allowed to walk out of the vehicle and take a little stroll in the parking lot area, although not to wander too far. The guides (there were 2 other safari vehicles with a few people there, too) said they thought a group of elephants might be on their way to drink at the water hole. And surely enough, a small group of them arrived, strolling casually from the side – seemingly appearing out of the blue – towards the slope down to the water. There were about 7 of them, including one small calf.
They went into the water in a straight file and then starting drinking, using their trunks to pull up water and deposit it in their mouth. They almost look like they are smiling, like they are having a blast doing whatever it is they are doing – it’s great to think so, at least. After drinking, the calf started rolling around in the mud, looking overjoyed and like it had the time of its life. It was really adorable and probably also the best thing I’ve seen today.
Doing these game drives and seeing the animals in nature it just the most amazing thing. I don’t know if I could really get bored with it, but it would be cool to be with a group of true wildlife enthusiasts who were on the same level.
Overall, on this game drive which wasn’t as eventful as previous ones in Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, we saw:
– Bush buck – Vultures – Impalas
– Eland (briefly) – Warthogs – Olive Baboons
– Elephants – Giraffes – Plains Zebra
– Hippos – Crocodiles
After about 4 hours in Mikumi National Park, the driver took us back to Ella and our crew where we had lunch before starting the day’s drive to Iringa. Thabani told us to pay special attention to the highlight of Tanzania on the way: the huge number of traffic cops. We didn’t get stopped today, though. What they have ever so often here in Tanzania, however, is these weigh bridges where the larger vehicles must be weighed. It also takes time, especially because there are a lot more trucks and busses on the road than personal vehicles and so you might end up in a queue. Luckily we have a shrewd driver who could get us true without too long a wait.
On the way we made a stop in what they call Baobab Valley; it isn’t the place with most baobabs, we were told, but there are still quite a lot of them around. Godfrey told us the local myth about the baobab:
“God gave every animal on earth a plant to plant, and so they went about doing
that, one by one. The hyena was the least liked of the animals and was therefore
also the last in line to get a plant. Out of spite and discontent, it planted the baobab
tree up-side down and that’s how it looks today.”
At some point on the further drive we entered the Tanzanian highlands and began driving up the mountain sides. Because of controlled burning, which is done every so often, it looked like some of the mountains themselves were steaming because you only saw smoke and no fire. It was a very pretty ride today through the mountains and valleys.
Shortly before dark we arrived in our camp site for the night, a still-functioning farm somewhat outside Iringa. It was probably quaint, but we only just had time to put up the tents before dark set in. Our new family member had her birthday today and so after dinner (which today was provided by the accommodation site) they gave her a free dessert to celebrate, and she kindly shared it with the rest of the group as we sang her a happy birthday song. It was a good day.
Traffic Police, Border Formalities and Lake Malawi
(Thursday 18th October, 2018)
Starting this day almost disgustingly early at 4:00, we had a long day of driving ahead of us, making only a stop of a few hours at the border into Malawi and a few short stops here and there to stretch our legs.
After we drove off, everyone was trying to catch some sleep while it was still dark, and you’d see people sitting around with their heads rolled back and mouths open, and you know they’ll feel the pain in the back of their neck when they wake up.
After some not very successful sleep on Ella, our first stop was at a small, local fruit market where Godfree got whatever ingredients he needed, and we went to use a small, public toilet down a back alley. I suppose it was operated by a man and his wife, as the man was handling the money and the woman was obviously the one in charge of keeping the area clean.
Shortly after our little stop we finally got pulled over by the infamous traffic police of Tanzania. Now, the truck is very high and not even a tall guy can look in the windows from the ground, but amazingly enough, this short police women stopped us, saying she had seen a couple of us passengers not wearing seat belts. She then got into the truck, walked up the aisle and randomly pointed out two people. She wouldn’t hear any excuses and was demanding that the two people she had pointed out pay a fine of 30.000 Tanzanian Shilling. It was an interesting and sort of comical experience. Maybe she had a quota to meet or something.
The landscape that we drove through today was really pretty. Green grass, leafy trees and lots of banana farms. There was an area where I also thought to myself that I wouldn’t mind living, although it was far away from everything and there really wasn’t that much to do for a living. Today we also drove in a high altitude of about 2000 metres so they are able to grow tea in the area. We saw some large plantations and made a quick stop. They pick the best leaves by hand and it’s a very time consuming job, the fruits of which we get to consume in the comfort of our homes.
Again today a lot of people were waving at us when we drove by, smiling and cheering. We had a short stop in a small village so our crew could get news from another Nomad truck, and there was a small group of school kids who came up to the truck and waved at us, asking us simple questions in English. Some even requested us to take their photographs.
Getting through the border formalities to enter Malawi was easy enough for us people, even for those who needed to acquire their VISA on arrival. It didn’t take very long, either. However, getting the truck in proved more difficult and took like 2.5 hours before the border woman let Ella through – probably with some aid from Malawi Kwatcha or we could have still been there hours later. Apparently, some of the trucks that were waiting at the border, could risk being there for a couple of days, that’s how inefficient the border workers can be if they choose to.
On the drive through Malawi you could see the landscape changing a bit. There were different palm trees and we also began to see pigs; up until now, from Nairobi to Malawi, we hadn’t seen people keep any pigs. Our guide told us that Malawi’s main mode of transport is bikes and taxi-bikes and we did see a lot of very well-kept ones around. He also stated that Malawi is one of the poorest countries of Africa and that it depends quite a lot on foreign aid, living standards being less than in Kenya and Tanzania. There were lots of modern-looking water pumps around which the locals would use, water pumps that were sponsored from foreign aid or volunteers – and there are a lot of volunteers going to Malawi. And lots of happy, smiling and waving kids on the road sides.
Just before sunset we arrived at our camp site for the night on the shore of Lake Malawi. We pitched our tent on an elevated bank so that we enjoyed a nice view over the sandy shores of the lake. It was also very hot and humid here and the area is considered high risk malaria zone, although malaria is not in season right now.
Reflections on Tanzania:
Tanzania is now left behind on this journey. Honestly, it’s not a place I had been looking that much forward to embarking on this trip, but it has been such a positive surprise and experience. It’s a beautiful country with a large variety of interesting and/or pretty landscapes; coast, forest, flatland, mountains, dry land, rain forest, etc. Huge variety of tribes and religions living together in peace and harmony, too. Every day there was something to look at as we drove through the country, many villages being right beside the main roads. People came across as very friendly, open and laid back. Overall, it was just a very positive experience and I could imagine myself going back there sometime. And it’s also the country where someone told me after talking to me that they thought my heart truly belongs in Africa, which might well be true.
Highlights for me were Serengeti and Zanzibar. I’ve already mentioned this about Serengeti, but it really was just amazing, awesome and incredible to experience the scenery and the wildlife (also including the Ngorongoro Crater experience in this).
Zanzibar was a highlight maybe for unexpected reasons that have nothing to do with beach and relaxation, which didn’t strike me as something unique about the place. It was the locals, their mannerisms and my walk’n’talk with Ali and the whole vibe of the place which did it for me.
So, all in all, Tanzania was great – I didn’t expect anything but I’m left feeling very positive about it and I feel like I will treasure my experiences and memories here for a long, long time.
The top picture is a small aircraft over the savannah in Serengeti.
Last updated 5th January, 2019.