Trip Start Jan 31, 2006
100Trip End Dec 11, 2006
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Still suffering the after effects of the sunburn we inflicted on ourselves in Kendwa we climbed on another 'plane for our flight to the safari capital of Tanzania, Arusha. The journey was a fairly long but uneventful one and we were soon in the back of the shuttle bus heading from Kilimanjaro airport to Arusha proper.
With our usual impeccable timing we had arrived in Arusha when a coffee conference was on so most of the hotels in town were full. Fortunately we had managed to find what seemed like a reasonable place in the centre of town, the Arusha Crown hotel. The hotel turned out to be fantastic - quite cheap, very clean and with the best hotel breakfast I have had in a long time either in or out of Africa. Suitably refreshed we headed off the next morning to our rendezvous with the Exodus safari tour we would be on for the next 7 days
We had booked our safari tour on the basis that it seemed to offer the most game viewing with the least driving. Lots of the tours you read about involve driving hundreds of kilometres a day either before or after you have viewed the animals. Our tour was billed as a walking safari which Fiona and I hoped would offer something a little bit different. One of the differences would be that 5 of the 7 nights would be spent camping with the other 2 in lodges. Now, those of you who know Fiona well will, I am sure, struggle with the use of the words "camping" and "Fiona" in the same sentence. However, I was comforted by the fact that we would be camping in Africa and would therefore not have to deal with the usual problems of camping in the UK - rain, wind, mud etc. It was therefore with a sense of excitement that we headed out of Arusha on the Monday morning with the other 10 people in our group.
Our first day was spent driving from Arusha to our first campsite in the Ngorongoro conservation area. We shared our jeep with Tony and Janet, a very nice couple who had come on safari by themselves, much to the annoyance of their two grown-up sons (I too remember the teenage claims of never wanting to go on holiday with Mum and Dad again)! By mid-afternoon we were close to our camp and the jeeps dropped us off for our first walk of the week
I will mention at this point that we had two Park Rangers with us acting as guides. One looked like the real deal - hiking boots, uniform, gun and hat. The other looked like the African version of Rab C Nesbitt - white wife-beater, jeans, suede shoes and a gun. He also had a hanky which would come out to mop his brow when it got hot. All rather odd...
The second morning I awoke thoroughly unrefreshed. Our tent was on a slope which meant that after an hour or so of sleep I would end up halfway down the tent. My attempts to get back up the tent without getting out of my sleeping bag invariably woke Fiona (who was only sleeping fitfully anyway) and eventually elicited the chastening question "What the f*ck are you doing?" and a mumbled response on my part concerning slopes, sleeping bags etc. Things did not improve once we were awake as our second day was a hike up one of the local mountains
Again, another night of sloping sleep meant that by the third day I needed something to raise my spirits. Thankfully we got in the form of two game drives in the Serengeti. The game drives are where your driver/spotter comes into his own. Ours, Ngema, was top notch and we saw some fantastic sights. Highlights included the cheetah resting by the side of the road, the pride of lions we were less than a dozen feet from and Fiona's favourite, the family of elephants (including two babies) which were in and around our jeeps for over 20 minutes
With quite a bit more sleep under our belts day four started brighter and we were soon off on another game drive in the Serengeti where we again saw many animals thanks to Ngema's sharp eyes. I was amazed how quickly he would spot something which I would have just driven past. We had lunch back at the camp and the afternoon was supposed to be spent relaxing before another walk, however, the rain decided to make a reappearance accompanied by high winds. This meant that we had to battle valiantly to stop the dining tent flying away while trying not to get drowned. The rain eventually stopped but the skies stayed dark meaning that when our guide appeared to take us on our walk the group split along comfort lines. The hardened walkers headed out with their wet weather gear while the rest read and played cards back at camp. It doesn't take a genius to work out which group Fiona and I ended up in..
Our penultimate day started with our final game drive in the Serengeti. The highlight of this drive was undoubtedly seeing 3 cheetahs make a kill. They sauntered across the road in front of us and then headed off towards a group of wildebeest. Watching them maneuver the group and isolate their chosen target was incredible. Watching them make the kill, however, proved impossible. All I saw was them go from a trot to flat out in what seemed like a split second. They were then surrounded by a cloud of dust and when it cleared all three were feasting on their kill. Needless to say watching the cheetahs in action was an awe inspiring event. After that amazing experience we headed over and into the Ngorongoro crater. On the way we stopped off at a local Masaai village to see how they lived. Seeing inside a Masaai hut is an interesting experience, particularly for someone like me as they are only about 4 feet tall! The cynic in us wondered whether the village was more of a tourist attraction than a real home, however, it was still a privilege to meet the Masaai and see their world close up.
For those not in the know the Ngorongoro crater is the largest unbroken caldera (a collapsed volcano cone) in the world and is basically a giant goldfish bowl filled with all the animals you could ever want to see
So to our final day. This started with our last game drive in the crater. As with the Serengeti the best was saved until last. Just as we were heading out of the crater we came across another black rhino. This time the rhino was amazingly close, crossing the road not 50ft from the front of our jeep. This sighting meant that we had seen all the big five, plus many more species, up close and was a fitting end to our safari. All that was left was our drive back to Arusha. Fiona and I resisted the urge to buy any more souvenirs at the handicraft shops we stopped off at and we therefore arrived back in Arusha a lot more tired and certainly much grubbier than when we had started, but with some amazing memories and hopefully some great pictures (watch this space).
The next three days we spent recovering first in Arusha and then in Dar Es Salaam. These days were pretty quiet but we were soon back on the road again heading for Jo'burg and our fourth country of the trip, South Africa!