Tanzania

Trip Start Apr 27, 2010
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Trip End Apr 13, 2011


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Saturday, July 17, 2010

If someone had told me a year ago I'd be standing in the Serengeti, just yards from hungry hyenas, waving saucepans around my head, I’ve have thought they were utterly insane. However, this is exactly what I have been doing recently as my 45 day Kenya to Cape Town camping trip has gotten underway.   

The trip started in Nairobi, or Nairobbery as it is affectionately known.  I had 2 days there after my night flight from London landed – but all I saw of the place was the inside of two hotel rooms, due to the world cup on TV, and in all honesty,  a bit of trepidation at going out alone in a strange and less than reputable city.

On the first day of the trip I met my tour group – and was relieved to find they were not the much dreaded  party of 20 geriatric Alabama Pentecostals, but a group of mixed nationality and age range from 25-69 that I anticipate will be good company to travel with.

We set off for Tanzania the following day, driving down a modern paved road lined with wooden shacks, thorny acacia trees,  lots of people sitting next to the road side doing very little and countless women walked past balancing their groceries or laundry on top of their heads.  The flat landscape became increasingly mountainous as we progressed, and after a painless border crossing we were in Tanzania. My first taste of the friendliness of the people was provided by the hundreds of kids waving and rudely gesticulating at our truck as we drove south past the huge mountains of Meru and Kilimanjaro towards our first campsite.

Now for the bit I was dreading the most – the camping... we share tents on this trip, so I am going to have to get used to not having any personal space or privacy.  It is a 'participation camping’ trip too, so we must all help with washing the dishes, helping the cook, cleaning the bus etc as we progress. It is not the sort of thing I am used to, but can actually be quite enjoyable as everyone helps out and it is a good way to break the ice. The tents are pretty easy to set up, and there is plenty of room inside – there are thin mattresses which provide a little respite from the lumpy ground below.  I have a decent sleeping bag and roll-up travel pillow which despite being the biggest one I could feasibly fit into my backpack, is probably the cause of the most discomfort. I actually managed to get some sleep on my first night after some beers with my group, but have been averaging 4-5 hours per night so far which is starting to take its toll.

The first port of call was the village of Mto We Mbu, or ‘Mosquito Lake’ in English, a town of 20,000 or so. We had a long guided walk around the town, which gets its name from the nearby paddy fields which harbour the dreaded mosquitos. The walk was certainly an eye opener – the people live very simple lives primarily based upon subsistence farming. Their houses are made of wood, mud and if there are sufficient funds, breeze blocks.  Cows and goats are kept in grounds of the house and add to the array of interesting smells, which are also contributed to by numerous burning rubbish dumps dotted around the village.

 We were followed by lots of smiling friendly kids who shout ‘jambo’ (hello), ‘mazungu’ (foreigner/whitey) and ‘pickcha’ (take my photo!). Most of them wore tattered clothing and were coated in a layer of dust, but were full of exuberance and laughter when they saw their photos.

We were shown the school, a single classroom where 70 kids are taught for 3 hours a day, and the brewery, where ‘banana beer’ is made. This hasn’t really caught on in the rest of the world, presumably due to its taste of burnt vomit.

The next part of the trip was one of the parts I was looking forward to the most. The Serengeti national park is a sprawling flat plain full of all the usual suspects of African wildlife.  After a night camping in nearby Karatu, at a nice campsite with hot showers, internet and a well stocked bar we left the truck behind and headed to the national park in safari jeeps. The clouds had descended to ground level, so there was nothing to see at first, but as they lifted we started to see wildlife. At first, this was just a few specks in the distance which vaguely resembled antelopes or giraffes, but as we neared  our campsite, we got very close to the animals, watching and photographing the giraffes, zebras and antelope eating grass, numerous yawning and farting hippos cooling off in the water,  and lions dozing in the afternoon sun.

The campsite was very basic, but had cold showers and a toilet block. Situated in the middle of scrubland, it was not fenced off at all - besides the fear of humans, there was nothing to stop lions, elephants or any of the other potential killers making their way in.  During dinner around the campfire, our guide told us some tales of when such creatures had ventured into the campsite, then shone his torch into the shrubbery where we could see lots of eyes reflecting back. Hyena eyes, apparently. We then had the nightly group dish-washing ritual, a complicated ceremony which culminates in the entire group waving plates and saucepans around our heads in order to dry them quickly. The watching hyenas must have been very bemused whilst watching this display.

After a restless nights sleep listening to the howls, grunts and footsteps of unidentified animals patrolling our campsite, and malarone assisted nightmares,  I woke at  4.30 am in order to take a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the Serengeti.  Aside from the sensation of having the side of my head barbecued, it was a very relaxing experience, floating above the trees looking down on the animals, who were mostly scared off by the noise of the hot air canisters firing.  The only animal not scared off was a lion who allowed us to get within about 20 feet of her, all the time looking me right in the eye. After a smooth landing we were then treated to a full English breakfast sat at long, nicely set tables underneath an acacia tree and served by uniformed waiters, which was quite a surreal experience.

The afternoon game drive took us to see a leopard sitting in a tree with the carcass of a recently butchered antelope and a herd of elephants which were only feet from the truck.  We also saw a horde of zebras at a watering hole, and I found myself hoping that one of them would fall prey to a lion or crocodile for my viewing pleasure, but no such luck. At any such spectacle, jeeps from miles around would congregate around creating a traffic jam, with tourists leaning out of the roofs pointing their cameras at the disinterested animals like paparazzi.

A second night of wilderness camping and its assortment of terrifying sounds followed before a visit to the Ngorogoro crater. This is a huge steep sided volcanic crater containing tens of thousands of animals.  We drove round for the day, not seeing quite as much as at the Serengeti but getting up close to a pride of 6 lions having their usual afternoon siesta. We also saw two very rare black rhino from a great distance which barely take up two pixels on my  camera.

I am really enjoying this trip so far – I have been lucky enough to get another good tour group, the food has been great – cooked from fresh ingredients every night, and the camping has not been as problematic as I had anticipated. After the Serengeti, we have a few more stops in rural Tanzania before heading off to Zanzibar for a complete change of scenery and a much needed break from camping for a few days.
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Comments

Ian Wilson on

great entry mate.. Good to be out there doing it..

Paul on

Not very pleased with the less than positve comments of my home town Dave. You should have ventured out more.

das1601
das1601 on

Take it up with Paul Theroux, baboy! He is less than complimentary in 'dark star safari' which I was reading at the time!

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