We spent two action packed weeks exploring Tanzania, which was one of the highlight countries for us on the East Coast of Africa. Our itinerary took us from the Kasumulu border crossing with Malawi to Mbeya, onward through the Mikumi National Park, Dar Es Salaam which is a hop, skip and a jump away from the lovely semi-autonomous island Zanzibar where we spent several blissful days soaking up this amazing destination. We reluctantly tore ourselves away from Zanzibar and headed up to Arusha which served as our base for visiting Lake Manyara, Ngorogoro Crater, and the Serengeti. Back at Arusha, we wandered through the excellent Snake Park (two huge thumbs up for Ma and BJ for their efforts in providing free anti-venom to snake bite victims) and a nearby Maasai village.
29 May: We were on the road by 7:30 am, driving straight to the Songwe/Kasumulu border with Tanzania. Visas cost a pricey $100 USD for Americans and Irish, but $50 for everyone else, so it was quite expensive for us to enter Tanzania. Nancy volunteered to handle the entry stamps for everyone’s passports, making it an easy entry for all of us. The surrounding scenery was amazing, and everyone sat up by the windows admiring the drive. The countryside was full of tea plantations, banana trees and vivid greenery. By 1 pm, we stopped for lunch and found out that the time had actually gone forward an hour, so everyone adjusted their watches by an hour. We enjoyed a nice spread for lunch while several local kids looked on, respectfully averting their gaze as the girls headed off to pee behind a small dirt mound. Nancy had advised us that in Tanzania, our truck would have to get weighed at a series of weigh stations. Since Nala was already in danger of being severely overweight, we had to get all of our smallest folks on the beach while the heaviest folks ran from one side of the truck to the other as we shifted from the front to the rear axle. Matt aptly nicknamed this event “Run, Fatty, Run”. Even though we had been forewarned, it was a dismal performance by all of us as there was far too much giggling and horsing around when it came to the real deal. We knew that our number was up when the weigh inspector complained to Chris that “your people are running from one side of the truck to the other!”. Amazingly, we were let off and no fine for being overweight had to be paid. By midafternoon on a Sunday, we pulled into the town of Mbeya for cook group shopping, and we managed to withdraw 400,000 Shillings from a Barclay ATM machine that thankfully recognizes Mastercard. The town of Mbeya is an easy one to walk around and we scored some street meat for 2000 Shillings (1500 Shillings to 1 USD) and some plantain chips (500 shillings per bag). Afterwards, we drove onward for a few more hours until a bush camp where cook group 8 (Scott, Gin and Katherine) made a tasty beef stir fry on rice. A few people stayed up for a few drinks around the campfire, but a light evening chill caused everyone to turn in for the night.
30 May: It was an early morning with a 6:30 am breakfast. Nancy had been woken up early this morning because Scott inadvertently left his cell phone/alarm clock on the truck and it had been going off throughout the wee hours of the morning. Not cool and she let him know that the next time, she’d crush his phone! We were on the road by 7:30 am and soon came to our first weigh station. This time (after yesterday’s disastrous fiasco), we were much more proficient at shifting from the rear of the truck to the front in a more stealthily manner, and managed to get pass this weigh station with no issues. The scenery surrounding our truck was quite impressive, with numerous photo opportunities. We noticed a dramatic shift in this section of Tanzania, as more mosques and conservatively dressed men and women started to dot the landscape. The only other noteworthy shift was the emergence of the red robed Masai people, who were interspersed with western clothing clad Tanzanians, making for a unique shift in the populace. It had been a chilly morning, so everyone bundled up until lunch when the sun came out and literally baked everyone in the heat. Our lunch consisted of salad, passion fruit and massive loaves of bread. Three women road guards watched intently as we ate and asked for our leftovers, which we reluctantly could not give them. In the afternoon, we had another weigh station stop and again, no problems getting through with our overloaded truck after mastering the art of deception. By midafternoon, we had a brief stop in the town of Mikumi to stock up on snacks and use the restroom one last time before passing through Mikumi National Park, where we would be unable to stop at due to the wildlife in the park. Here, we got some sweet sugarcane (200 Shillings) and ate some of our biltong to stave off hunger pangs. The drive through the park was eventful, as we spotted zebra, antelope, elephants, giraffes, and baboons, as well as a “yield to giraffe” sign. Just outside the national park, Chris pulled over for a bush camp, and it was a tight one as our tents were almost on top of each other due to the limited amount of flat ground. Cook group 1 (Dowelly, Lisa and Sara) made a tasty potato and meat dish for dinner. Thankfully, the heat of the day had cooled down by sunset, so it was a pleasant night for sleeping.
31 May: Poor Robby freaked out in the early hours of the morning as he awoke to the sound of some kind of animal burrowing in the ground beneath his head (or so he claims). Not a great night’s sleep! We grabbed some breakfast and packed up our gear for a timely departure at 7:30 am towards Dar Es Salaam. Since we were expecting to arrive sometime around lunch, we kept our eyes peeled at the surrounding scenery, amazed at how pretty Tanzania is. The morning had started off cold but got progressively warmer as the sun finally emerged from behind some clouds. We passed by several markets and were tantalized by the vast selection of fruits available at the roadside fruit stands. Tanzania is obviously a fertile country based on the vast amount and variety of fruits and vegetables available here. As we approached Dar, the scenery changed from countryside to city dwelling, with a lot more pollution evident in and around the city area. Traffic was a huge problem, and it took us over an hour to crawl into the city center, where we parked up just behind Samora Ave and were given a few hours of free time to explore. The next cook group had to go shopping, and since we had pulled our share of guard duty, we were free to wander the city for the next few hours. After withdrawing some additional Shillings for Zanzibar, we ate some cheap street food (samosas for 300 Shillings each which were absolutely yum) and went in search of a cyber café. After wandering the streets of Dar fruitlessly, we finally came full circle as we backtracked to our original starting point, and discovered an internet café hidden on the first floor. With internet costing 2500 Shilling/hour, we signed up for an hour and found the speed to be OK. However, the power fluctuations were not, and we kept losing power. Thankfully, the owner reset our one hour counter after the first power outage, so we still got our money’s worth in the end. By 3:30 pm, we were back on the truck and crawled at a snail’s pace towards a small ferry that would transport us across the bay to a peninsula where our campsite was the Mikadi Beach. Nancy told us that it would take the truck at least another hour to cross the bay, but if we wanted to, we could accompany her on the passenger ferry, hop on a tuk-tuck for the 3 KM drive to the campsite, and be sipping a beer by the beach long before the truck pulled into camp. Since we weren’t keen on hanging out on the truck, we took her up on the suggestion and found it to be a fun way to get across the harbor. The tuk-tuk ride was especially fun as it was a challenge keeping three full grown adults squished in the back seat without falling out. True to form, we were on a hammock by the seaside, sipping on our drinks and enjoying the sunset long before the truck pulled up. As we were the last to erect our tent, we pitched it on the most level ground left available to us, and noticed a deluge of ants on the ground. Not again!!! Ants have tormented us these last few campsites. Cook group 2 (Naomi, Anna and Lisa as Kendra was not feeling 100%) made vegetarian noodle bar which was ok. Evening entertainment consisted of an orphan troupe performing acrobatics by the poolside, and they were quite skilled and entertaining. There were lots of late night tent zipping as the occupants discovered an invasion of miniscule ants. We ended up using the last of Nancy’s personal stash of bug spray in an effort to keep the ants at bay.
1 Jun: It was an early morning as everyone was busy with last minute packing for Zanzibar. Since breakfast was included in the price of our ferry ticket, we headed directly for the ferry terminal where we waited for the “Kilimanjaro” ferry to Zanzibar. Breakfast was a mad frenzy as everyone fought for pastries, tea, scrambled eggs, cereal and oatmeal with the limited supplies quickly running out before everyone was fed. Once we boarded the ferry, we opted to head out to the front deck for photo opportunities. Despite the scorching sun, the breeze kept us relatively cool and our first view as we pulled into Stone Town was amazing. Too bad we had to leave the front deck as we pulled into harbor, as the crew was getting ready to tie to the dock. After disembarking the ferry, we had to fill out mandatory Zanzibar entry forms, and surprisingly got Zanzibar stamps in our passport, despite Zanzibar officially being considered part of Tanzania. Here, on the island of Zanzibar, the island is considered autonomous, and we had to play by its rules. From the port, we all hopped into a crowded minibus to the Egyptian Embassy for our tourist visas (1 passport photo, 30000 Shillings and an application). Nancy’s contact quoted us $30 a day for our motorbike rental which was considerably more than what we were quoted at the tourist office, so after completing the necessary visa forms, we separated from the rest of the group and headed to the Zanzibar Tourist Office to get a bike from a lively guy named “Ally Keys” for $20/day (90000 Shillings for 3 days). While waiting for Robby’s Zanzibar driving permit, we had some time to kill so we walked around Stone Town to get quotes on various tours (snorkel at Prison Island for $15, see red colobus monkeys at Jozani Park, sunset cruise). After returning to link back up with Ally, we discovered that our rental was now a motorcycle instead of a scooter, and Ally requested that Robby conduct a quick test drive before signing off on us being fit to operate his vehicle. Soon, we were off and headed directly for the nearest gas station to fill up (17500 for a full tank, which supposedly would get us 150 KM). From Stone Town, we drove directly towards Kwenda Rocks Sunset Bungalows, passing by several tourist attractions (palace ruins) along the way. The island is deceptively bigger than we imagined, and it took us almost 2 hours to reach our destination. Our room at Sunset Bungalows was quite spacious,had AC and a nice view overlooking the ocean. We chatted briefly with the rest of the group and drove out to Nungwi Village where we scoped out the Baraka natural turtle aquarium (we figured we might return later), and several resorts undergoing renovations. The dirt roads were atrocious and we were glad that we didn’t rent a scooter as it would have been a futile attempt to traverse the roads without something more robust. A brief stop at the Tanzanite Beach Resort boasted some beautiful turquoise waters and afterwards, we headed out to Nungwi where we ate dinner at Paradise Beach Club on the main beach (Nungwi West). After enjoying several delicious cocktails and a tasty dinner (seafood platter for Robby and tuna pasta for Becky), we finally returned back to Sunset Bungalows and called it a night.
2 Jun: We were awake for a 7:30 am breakfast with eggs to order, toast and fruit, topped off with delicious masala tea (Becky’s favorite). Today our plan was to ride around the island and the weather cooperated fully, giving us a gorgeous sunny day. We ended up hitting the road immediately after breakfast, heading towards Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park. Our route forced us to pass by a police checkpoint where Robby’s temporary Zanzibar driver’s permit and driver’s license was inspected thoroughly before he was granted permission to pass. At Jozani park, we got a guide who escorted us to see red colobus and sykes monkeys. The red colobus monkeys were quite friendly and gregarious, while the sykes monkeys were shy and elusive. Luckily for us, we saw both types and fell in love with the incredibly cute colobus monkeys (quite different from the white tailed colobus monkeys we had seen in Ghana). We saw quite an abundance of wildlife at the park, to include a baby cobra (black with yellow neck) which slithered towards Becky, a monitor lizard, a hard plated lizard, and loads of ferns and trees. The last portion of our tour was a visit to a nearby mangrove, and we learned that a total of 9 different types of trees inhabit the mangroves of Zanzibar. Lunch was a picnic at the Jozani Park reception area, and we then drove to Stone Town, where we ran into Damien and Anna who highly recommended the city tour as an excellent way of exploring the city. We were able to coordinate a tour with the information office for $25 for two people, including entrance to the House of Wonders and Slave market. Our guide was “Mohammed Ali/Toby” and he was quite informative, taking us along the back streets to visit the main sights of the city. We enjoyed our almost 3 hour tour, taking in the sights of Freddie Mercury’s house, the House of Wonders, Darajani market (fish, meat, spice and vegetable market), the Hammami baths, the slave chambers, Tippu Tip’s house (infamous slave trader), the Peace Memorial museum, and several gorgeous hotels which offered rooftop panoramas of the city. By the time our tour was complete, the sun had long set, so we had to drive back to Kendwa in the dark (quite a feat considering Robby no longer had the protection of sunglasses for his eyes as it was too dark to see the potholes and other road obstacles). We had agreed to dinner with Lucky at 7:30 pm, but didn’t make it back to Sunset Bungalows until past 8 pm. Thankfully, the group hadn’t left for dinner yet, so we were able to join Lucky, Ichiyo, Scott, Marie and Lars at the nearby local restaurant for a delicious (and cheap at 3000 Shillings each) seafood meal. Becky enjoyed a seafood curry while Robby raved about his octopus masala which was super tasty. Partway through our meal, the entire town appeared to lose power, so we ate our dinner by candlelight, how romantic! After heading back to the hotel, we took quick showers to wash the dirt and grime from the day and called it a night as it had been a super long day.
3 Jun: Today we had signed up for a snorkeling tour at the Mnemba atoll, which supposedly had some of Zanzibar’s best marine life (Lucky has spotted a pod of dolphins on his scuba excursion the day before here). The cost was $25 for a full day’s excursion, including lunch and snorkeling gear, which made it quite affordable. Our pick up was running a bit late, and our dhow pulled in around 9 am. We sailed directly towards Nungwi west (Langi-Langi Beach Bungalows) where our group got outfitted for snorkels and flippers. After a quick dip in the ocean for a test fit, we were on our way towards Mnemba, alternating between using our sails and the engine. Our lunch (a massive king fish) was lounging below deck, so we took various photos with it, in anticipation of a yummy BBQ lunch after our snorkeling session. By 1145, we finally reached the atoll, and jumped into the beautiful turquoise waters. Unfortunately for us, there were hundreds (maybe even thousands) of tiny jellyfish in the water that immediately commenced with stinging us all over. The sting lasted only a few seconds, but it was an uncomfortable feeling to be swimming in jellyfish infested waters. However, the underwater scenery was truly spectacular and we really enjoyed frolicking around exploring all the different marine life. Some of the underwater wildlife we spotted included trumpet fish, parrot fish, sea slugs, starfish, puffer fish, lion fish, lobster, and schools of tiny fish darting in and around the well preserved coral. Two thumbs up for snorkeling at Mnemba…if not for the jellyfish, we easily could have spent several hours here, but after over an hour, we had our fill and finally climbed back on the dhow. However, while we were underwater, the weather had taken a turn for the worse, and cold rain was pelting everyone furiously. We were quite happy when the rain finally let up and we headed over to Muyuni Beach for our BBQ lunch, which was absolutely delicious, consisting of sticky rice, tomato and onion sauce slathered over freshly grilled king fish, served up with chapattis and mango salad. Yum! We ate until we were absolutely stuffed and of course started with the silly group photos on the beach until we finally had to board the dhow for our return trip back to Kendwa. For the first half of the trip, we used our sails and it was taking a long time to hit the northern coast of the island, but once we rounded the northern tip, the sails were taken down and the crew started the engine, getting us back to Sunset Bungalows by 4:30 pm. Since we still had a few hours of sunlight left, we jumped on the motorbike and headed directly for Baraka Aquarium on the Nungwi east coast (near the lighthouse), where a fantastic natural turtle “aquarium” awaited us. We had no idea of what to expect but the experience was amazing. Swimming with giant green sea turtles was a highlight of our trip to Zanzibar and we joined Marie, Ichiyo and Scott in reveling in the presence of these magnificent creatures. It had been a great day and we rewarded ourselves with hot showers and a couple of drinks afterwards. For our dinner plans, we joined Lars, Marie, Scott and Ichiyo at a nearby Fisherman’s Restaurant, where fresh seafood dominated the menu. None of the meals disappointed, and we enjoyed our seafood pizza and kingfish meals before splitting from the group and calling it a night.
4 Jun: After a quick breakfast at Sunset Bungalows, we rushed back to Baraka Aquarium, where we had promised our guide that we would return first thing in the morning to swim with the turtles again. Our return experience was fantastic, as we were the only two tourists in that early, and the turtles were hungry and quite anxious to be fed. The big daddy of them all, a massive 25 year old green sea turtle, ended up being the most gentle of all the turtles, and he glided easily over to be fed and actually enjoyed being rubbed down. It was a great experience and we thanked our guide for the wonderful return visit. After hurriedly heading back to our bungalow for one last rinse off and check out, we were on our way to Stone Town when we realized that our bike’s rear tire had a nail puncture. This delayed our departure significantly as Robby now had to balance himself precariously on the bike, ride back up to Nungwi and find a repair shop to patch up the tire. Thankfully, he was able to find a mechanic who could instantly work on the job, but the nail had repeatedly punctured the tire even more on the short ride, resulting in a multiple patch job that lasted over 2 hours. The cost was 10,000 Shillings (about USD $6) and then we were on our way. Unluckily for us, the weather finally caught up to us and the torrential rain forced us off the road, where we waited out the thick of the storm under a tree. The rest of our ride was uneventful until we were just outside of Stone Town and realized that we had finally run out of gas. Luckily, Robby was able to use the reserve tank which gave us the little extra we needed to reach the closest gas station where 2000 Shillings gave us enough juice to complete our travels and return the bike. We took a detour to the Maruhubi Palace, where for 2000 Shillings each, we were given a tour of the palace built by the third Arab sultan of Zanzibar. The baths are the only portion of the palace to survive an accidental 1899 fire, but we could easily imagine the scale and size of the original palace (especially the massive wooden balcony based on the size of the remaining pillars). It was well worth the visit, and we briefly stopped by a dhow workshop on the outskirts of Zanzibar for some photos before making our way to the Safari Lodge, our hotel for the night in Stone Town. It was tucked away in the alleyways behind the Darajani Market, and we were quite happy to finally reach our final destination of the day after having such an eventful morning. The receptionist called Ally Keys for us to let him know that the bike was ready to be returned, and in just a few minutes, one of Ally’s employees was at the lodge ready to retrieve the bike. Great service and we would highly recommend dealing with Ally for any car/bike hire needs while in Stone Town (+255 777 411797 or +255 714 665654 or email firstname.lastname@example.org). After running into Lucky and agreeing to meet for dinner at the night fish market at 7:30 pm, we ate a quick lunch of tuna sandwiches and headed out to check out Stone Town’s dhow harbor and fish market. What an unexpected highlight! The fish market was fascinating, with vendors holding an auction like session where the highest bidders scored bundles of coveted seafood. There were almost a dozen “octopus smashers”, men who held large octopus over their head and repeatedly brought it to the ground in a violent motion, apparently an old school method to tenderize the meat. We snapped photos to our heart’s delight and found that Stone Town is an easy place to take pictures as the locals didn’t seem to mind camera toting tourists. Getting lost in Stone Town’s labyrinth streets was next on our agenda, and we found several other cheaper hotel options in the heart of the city (the Annex II hotel in the Kiponda district for $35 a night for a double incl ac, hot shower and breakfast). For sunset, we opted to have a drink at the Africa House bar, and walked in on the rest of the Oasis group to our surprise. After chatting the evening away with Matt, Lars and Marie, we joined Lucky for our seafood quest by the waterfront, getting delicious freshly squeeze sugarcane juice (supplemented by ginger and lime), and freshly grilled octopus, muscles, calamari and garlic bread for Becky, and kingfish, octopus, shark and chapatti for Robby. Delicious and what a treat to have such good seafood at an affordable price! Since Dowelly and Lisa weren’t extending their stay in Stone Town, they decided to join us and despite Dowelly’s stomach problems, he caved in and tried some kingfish for dinner. After wandering back to the Safari Lodge, we watched a bit of TV and fell asleep to the air conditioner on full blast. What a great day!
5 Jun: The alarm sounded early this morning as we got up early to explore the fish market at 6:30 am with Lucky. It was a chaotic mess as the fishermen were briskly negotiating with a throng of potential buyers and we were almost in the way of their business transactions. With sensory overload (the sights, smells, and squishiness of the mud oozing between our toes), Becky and Lucky ended up losing Robby in the crowd and fruitlessly searched for him in vain. After almost an hour, they split off and headed back to the hotel in the chance that perhaps he had returned to the Safari Lodge. After a quick breakfast (where Becky grabbed our passports with Egyptian visas from Fi and modified ferry tickets from Lars) followed by a no show of Robby, Becky and Lucky again headed back down to the fish market and after doing another search, finally found him chatting away with a local. Appearing unfazed that we had been split up for over an hour, Robby stated that he had been searching for us and was about to give up when we spotted him! After returning to the Safari Lodge for Robby to grab some breakfast, we headed out to the Darajani Market to check out the meat, fish, spice and vegetable markets. Becky purchased 5 scarves for 15,000 Shillings and Robby ended up with a traditional muslim hat as his Zanzibar souvenir. Two large packages of masala tea were bought for 7000 Shillings and our shopping experience on the island was concluded. We headed back to the Safari Lodge hotel to check out by 10 am, and were in our new room at the Annex II hotel by 10:30 am. After dropping off our bags, we headed back out into the streets of Stone Town and wandered aimlessly around, ending up by the post office where a shop on the opposite side of it sold alcohol at some of the best prices we’ve found in Africa to date. After buying two bottles of Captain Morgan’s rum and some energy drinks, we checked out the Portuguese Arch and several other sights before deciding to have an Indian meal for lunch at the Silk Road restaurant. It was a tasty meal and stuffed to the brim, we returned to our hotel for a post lunch siesta, awakening at 3:30 pm to see if we could coordinate a sunset cruise on our own for a more reasonable price than what was being offered at the tourist office (a whopping $45 for 2 people). Our usual entourage of touts was nowhere to be seen and the tourist information office would not budge of the price, so we sat by the waterfront and drank some of our own drinks (red bull vodka and cuba libres) before deciding to kill a bit more time at a nearby internet café (close to the post office, which was screaming fast for only 1000 Shillings for the hour). After putting some feelers out for potential jobs and checking out Arabic language school prices in Cairo, we returned to our room for some more pre-dinner drinks and were joined by the rest of the gang (Lars, Marie, Luke, Ichiyo and Scott). After hearing about Scott and Ichiyo’s dungeon like room on the first floor of the hotel room, we urged them to swap rooms and they talked to management about moving to our floor. After a few drinks, everyone was ready to eat and it was a repeat positive experience at the night fish market stalls, where for a pittance we stuffed ourselves silly on some good seafood. Robby supplemented his meal with traditional Zanzibari beef pizza and banana/chocolate pizza (it was a lot better than it sounds), and we headed over to the nearby Old Fort bar for an after dinner drink and a bit of pool. Becky versus Luke was a dismal performance, but the Lars/Robby doubles competition against some locals was a much better effort. We were back at the hotel before midnight, having enjoyed our last day in pretty Zanzibar.
6 Jun: Our AC finally unfroze by early morning and the room cooled considerably when we turned the air back on. In the middle of the night last night, unable to bear the stifling heat, Robby had torn off our mosquito net and once we finally felt the breeze from the fan, we were able to fall asleep. Breakfast was at 8 am, and we met everyone up at the rooftop restaurant for a simple breakfast. By 8:45, we had checked out of the Annex II hotel and were on our way to the ferry terminal for our trip to Dar Es Salaam at 9:30 am. It was a short walk to the terminal and we were quickly stamped out of Zanzibar and had to wait patiently in the shade for the boat to Dar to arrive. The sun was already beating down and everyone standing in the sun was drenched with sweat. Loading onto the ferry was a relatively quick and easy process and we decided to sit inside the ferry this time, only venturing to the deck to take photos as we left the Stone Town harbor. The boat official kindly allowed us to go up to the upper decks to take photos as we pulled out of the picturesque harbor, and we retreated to the sanctuary of the lower deck once the ferry started screaming towards Dar. The seas were a bit rough and we were zooming along, so lots of folks got seasick, throwing up in the free seasick bags that the staff was handing out. By noon, we had pulled into Dar Es Salaam and our group decided on finding an ATM, lunch and a quick ferry hop back to our side of Dar in that order. Finding an ATM was easy, and seeking a decent lunch spot was even easier, with some friendly locals offering us fish and rice or chicken and chips for only 3000 Shillings. Bargain and a great meal to boot. The ferry over to our side of Dar was quick, although the heat from the sun was relentless. Once on the peninsula, we hired a tuk-tuk to take us to Mikadi Campsite (2000 Shillings) and we were back from our Zanzibar journey by 2:30 pm. Erecting our tent in the sun was no easy feat, but all of us (Lars and Marie and us) cooled down with a dip in the pool as Ichiyo and Scott decided to stay in town for some internet business. After relaxing in the salt water pool for a bit, we soaked up a bit of sun before deciding to power the laptop for some photo downloading and journaling. Becky bought two beautiful dresses from a boutique store at the campsite and we hung out by the power point until the mosquitoes drove us insane, forcing us to retreat to the truck around 6:30 pm for a refuge from their furious assault. The cook group tonight was a weird conglomeration, consisting of Sean, Sara and Luke as some people were still feeling poorly from the stomach bug that had been going around. Dinner was a beef pesto meal, which was delicious (although deadly to Scott as the pesto sauce may contain cashews which he can’t eat). It was a hot, sweltering night as we retired to our tents after dinner for an early siesta.
7 Jun: What a yummy breakfast! Fresh guacamole and mangoes…it was a nice treat. The other tents that had appeared beside ours late last night had already been torn down and packed away as the other overland truck took off to Zanzibar, leaving our truck as the only one left in the parking lot. With the majority of the folks heading into Dar Es Salaam for DHL packaging and internet surfing, it was a quiet morning at the campsite. Robby had to head in with the boys for cook group shopping, giving Becky some quiet time to work on the website for a bit before we headed out into Dar Es Salaam ourselves for a quick search for local travel agents who could help us with our Nairobi – Addis Ababa flight tickets (the price to beat was USD $285 on Ethiopian airlines). We were running a bit behind schedule and getting lost in the streets of Dar didn’t help. 45 sweaty minutes later, we finally linked up with Lucky who was waiting patiently for us at our agreed upon meeting point. To our immense surprise, the travel agents of Dar had no decent offerings on the flight to Addis Ababa, quoting significantly more than what we could obtain for ourselves online. The Ethiopian Airlines office was the most expensive option, with a one way ticket of $400! When we questioned why it was so much more expensive than doing it ourselves online, we were informed that the internet prices were a “special” one that the main office could not honor. How bizarre! Not willing to enter our credit card details online at an internet café’s public computer, we decided to have a repeat lunch experience from the restaurant we ate at yesterday and head back towards the peninsula to see if any of the nearby internet cafés would allow us to plug up our laptop computers to get online. Luckily, the first one we asked allowed personal computers (1500 Shillings an hour while on generator power, 1000 Shillings/hour otherwise) and we headed back to Mikadi to pick up our laptops and jet back to the internet shack, dropping Robby off at Mikadi so he could prepare for cook group duties. 90 minutes later, we had booked our flights directly through Ethiopian airlines and flushed with success, we headed back to the campsite for a celebratory swim in the pool. Robby’s cook group made a delicious fish curry for dinner and Becky sat around the bar to use the power points to charge the computer and get caught up on trip notes. Robby finished up photo selections to give Nancy for the trip DVD.
8 Jun: Goodbye Dar! After an early 6 am breakfast, we were on the road by 7 am and everyone was resigned to the fact that today was going to be an extremely long drive day. We had a weigh station and gas stop before lunch, and we indulged in a 2000 Shilling bag of cashews for a pre-lunch snack. Lunch was a quick stop by the roadside, and we had another weigh station and gas stop again after lunch. One of the road side vendors sold us a large bag of paprika chips for 2000 but they were a bit stale, so good thing we only bought one bag! We drove along the picturesque Usambara Mountains and from a distance, got a quick glimpse of Mt Kilimanjaro before stopping for a bush camp near the town of Moshi. Lars, Ally & Marie (who swapped for Lydia who still wasn’t feeling 100%) hadn’t had a chance to shop in Dar so they created a veggie dish with fresh mango chutney for dinner. It was an early night as almost everyone crashed immediately after dinner.
9 Jun: We were on the road by 7: 30 am, driving towards Arusha. There was only one weigh station along the way, and we were making good time, with the anticipation that we would be in Arusha before lunch. Chris and Nancy had both told us that to see Mount Kilimanjaro clearly from a distance would take a lot of luck as in the past 20 times they had driven near it, it had only been visible 3 times. We were in luck, as we had a great view of Kili in the distance and Chris pulled off the roadside for a quick pee stop and photo session. By 11:30 am, we were in Arusha, and Becky’s cook group (along with Itchiyo and Lydia who had swapped with Marie) had to go shopping. Arusha is indeed a town famous for its touts and no sooner did we step on off the truck and the onslaught of touts with their various selling pitches came at us with full force. After forcefully and steadfastly discouraging them from tagging along, we accomplished cook group shopping and decided to take some money from an ATM to withdraw funds and exchange it for US dollars (to pay for the hefty $250 Serengeti park fee). Lunch was at the Milk and Honey restaurant just down the street from the Clock Tower where we had a cheap lunch of beef kung po and pepper steak with fries. Next on our agenda was a bit of internet, and we were happy to discover that the speed in Arusha is decent, with fast internet for 1000 Shillings/30 minutes. Once everyone was back on the truck, we left Arusha and headed to a nearby Cultural Heritage center where Nancy had already briefed us that tanzanite was the best thing to buy here. True to the promise of its allure, the tanzanite stones we saw on display were absolutely gorgeous, and coupled with the promise that the last of the tanzanite mines were closing down and there were be virtually no supply in ten year’s time, several folks bought some stones as investment pieces. Becky bought some lovely pieces of jewelry and afterwards, we headed off to the Meserani snake park (Ma and BJ’s) which was to be our campsite for the next few nights. Upon arrival, we were surprised to see five other trucks parked up, and dozens of tents scattered around the campground. After finding a place to erect our tent, it was money time as Nancy was collecting the funds for the Serengeti. Becky’s cook group made spaghetti for dinner (with the addition of some of Nancy’s donated wine) which went over well. There were a lot of party animals up tonight as the other trucks had people who were hanging out at the bar, but we decided to forego the antics and went to bed instead.
10 Jun: After a 7 am breakfast, everyone was packed and ready to go by 8 am for our pick up. However, our drivers were late and they picked us up at 8:30 instead…such is Africa! Our driver was a guy named Hammadi, and he packed us (Damien, Anna, Luke and Ally) into a truck and we were on our way, headed towards Lake Manyara. We had a quick rest stop to use the toilet and buy some last minute snacks, and Becky bought a bag of caramels which proved to be quite popular with the truck. We arrived to Lake Manyara around 11 am and drove around, seeing lots of baboons, vervet monkeys, giraffes, zebras, hippos (where we were surrounded by hundreds of Tanzanian school children eager to practice their English with us), sykes monkeys, buffalo, wildebeest and warthogs. The hippo pool had over a dozen hippos lounging just outside of the water, making for picturesque photos. Tsetse flies invaded our truck and Ally engaged in a debate with Damien and Anna about sleeping sickness and how the disease must not prevalent as she had never heard of it before. Lunch was at a picnic area, where red and yellow barbet birds surrounded us looking for handouts. We enjoyed fried chicken, boiled egg, juice and fruit for our picnic lunch, and were refueled with energy for the rest of the day. After lunch, Ally was still perturbed at our truck so she swapped vehicles, leaving the five of us to enjoy one vehicle to ourselves (some of the others were crammed with 7 people each). We continued driving and saw antelope, bush bucks, water bucks, dik diks, elephants which looked awfully skinny and numerous more monkeys. Everyone had their fill at photographing the monkeys as we knew that whilst in the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti, we would have much bigger animals on our minds and photographic agendas. When we finally left the park, Hammadi started driving in the direction of Ngorongoro Crater, passing by a fantastic vista of the lake. Our campsite was actually in the garden of a nearby hotel, the Lake Crater Inn where the hotel staff was a bit unwilling to take our business at first but eventually obliged after furious back and forth discussions ensued. After setting up our tent, we enjoyed our own sundowners (Cuba Libre and Red Bull/Vodkas) and hung around until dinner was ready at 8 pm. It was a tasty treat consisting of soup, beef cubes and rice, and fruit for dessert. Good stuff and everyone was satisfied. After dinner, some local performers arrived for a bit of song and dance, and everyone hit the sack shortly afterwards as tomorrow morning was going to be a goliath of a day, hitting two of Tanzania’s best game parks in the same day.
11 Jun: It was an early morning as we had to tear down our tents and pack our gear before the 5:15 am breakfast, so it was a bit of a rush first thing in the morning. Breakfast was decent, consisting of omelet, toast, sausage (hot dogs in actuality), and tea. Everyone was rearing to go so we had an on time departure, driving straight towards Ngorongoro Crater where Hammadi purchased tickets ($50 per person plus $200 per vehicle, allowing for a 6 hour permit as all vehicles are limited on the amount of time allowed to spend in the crater itself). We drove up to 2,400 meters to the rim of the volcanic crater (Ngorogoro Crater is an old volcano with a sunken caldera, measuring 19 KM across and 23 KM wide) but the early morning cloud cover prevented our view of the bowl below. At the top of the rim, we came across another access point, where our 6 hours of crater time started once we drove through the gate. The view from this section of the crater was phenomenal, and we could see tiny pin sized animals down below. It was a steep descent towards the plains, and we were immediately impressed with the crater’s massive diversity of wildlife. In a few short hours, we were able to see buffalo, wildebeest (hundreds of them), flamingos, jackals, hyenas, secretary birds, zebras, lions, elephants, hippos, a black rhino (apparently there are only 24 left in the park so we were really fortunate to spot this one), antelopes and gazelles. One of the coolest sights was a long line of hardened buffalo heading towards the river, with the cloudy rim of the volcano in the background. It was surreal as the buffalo appeared to have suddenly stumbled across the horizon. We witnessed our first “kill” when an eagle ate a scorpion before our eyes. The six hours in the crater flew by and everyone was impressed, and felt that $250 per person to pay for our Ngorongoro Crater excursion was expensive but absolutely worthwhile and not to be missed. Lunch was just outside the crater where elephants were drinking water from a water tank beside the restaurant. Smart elephants! We enjoyed a lunch of fish, salad, potatoes, fruits and boiled eggs. Fi decided to eat her lunch on the grassy plains outside and an eagle swooped down to steal her fish! After lunch, we had a brief siesta in the vehicle as Hammadi drove two hours towards the Serengeti. The Serengeti entrance gate was in the middle of a flat plains, and we were a bit let down with how dead everything appeared. While Hammadi stopped to purchase our park tickets, we hiked up to a look out point but the view was less than spectacular, with flat, desert like plains as far as the eye could see. As we drove in further towards the Serengeti, we passed by several antelopes, buffaloes and monkeys. Hammadi was grinning broadly as he drove us towards Simba Kopje, where a pride of lions normally hung out on large boulders that offered a fine panoramic view of the landscape below. Sure enough, we spotted six lions lazily lounging about and Hammadi explained that the difference between the crater and the Serengeti plains was that lions, if seen in the Serengeti, would always be in a large pride. Afterwards, we drove across a stream where we spotted a small crocodile, followed by a cheetah sighting as it lounged around in some grass, making for excellent camouflage when the cat was lying down. After leaving the cheetah, our next big cat sighting was a leopard in a tree. Finally, after 7 months in Africa, our first leopard sighting! Its tail was what gave it away, as it dangled from the tree branches. As soon as Hammadi spotted the tail, he knew we were in luck and happily exclaimed that we were super lucky to have seen all of the Big Five in one day! We watched as the leopard went from sleeping mode, to yawning and stretching mode and finally to hunting mode as it climbed out of the tree to begin hunting at dusk. It was an awesome experience to have seen and everyone in our truck was thrilled. The sunset was quite spectacular, and we drove towards our campsite that night, near the Nyegere campsite within the Serengeti Plains. After setting up our tent, Chris told us that one of the drivers was making a drink run so we bought a cold coke for our cuba libres. A raging campfire was set up in the middle of our circle of stools and a delicious hot dinner was prepared in mere minutes, consisting of a tasty curry soup, tomato chicken on pasta and fruit salad. Yum! We stayed up late chatting around the campfire and crashed after reveling in another fantastic day of seeing all the big five in Africa. Great day and one to remember!
12 Jun: Since we had been told last night that breakfast was at 6 am and we could leave our gear in our tent since we were returning for lunch and could tear down our tent at that point, we woke up mere minutes before breakfast and were ready for our early morning Serengeti drive by 6:30 am. Up before the sunrise, we were mesmerized by the beautiful colors as the sun finally appeared on the horizon. Hippos were still wandering around the countryside and we saw several of them walking back towards the river at a leisurely pace. The highlight of our drive this morning was a massive pride of lions (we counted easily over a dozen members of the pride) sitting on a small hill by the river bank. An old bull buffalo was on a collision course with the lions as he slowly plodded along by the edge of the river, and Hammadi told us that since the buffalo are known for their notoriously bad eyesight, chances were good that we would see a kill. So we sat and waited as the bull slowly and methodically made his way down towards the river, and after several anxious minutes, everyone was gutted to realize that the buffalo was returning the same way he came from, while the lions were blissfully unaware of his presence. If only the two species of animals could have realized how close to disaster the situation could have been! The vultures overhead were going bonkers with excitement at the thought of a kill, and we were amazed to hear the ruckus that several other birds were making, squawking out a warning to the buffalo that a pride of lions was lounging nearby. Robby spotted a serval cat pouncing around in the grass, and that rounded out our morning of wild cat viewing. Of course there were crocodiles, wildebeest, antelope, vultures, eagles, and various other animals, but we were most keen on the big cats of the Serengeti. By 11 am, we were headed back to our campsite where we quickly tore down our tent and packed up our overnight bag. After placing it by the truck to be loaded, we enjoyed a tasty lunch of beef pasta and were on the road back towards Arusha shortly afterwards. Hammadi warned us to expect at least a six hour drive, so we all got comfortable for the long drive home. Our vehicle ended up having fuel problems, with the primary tank running out and the switchover to the secondary tank malfunctioning. An impromptu field service station was set up and several of the drivers were under the vehicle in a rapid attempt to fix the problem. Poor Lucky, Ichiyo and Matt were a bit stressed as they were due to be picked up at the Snake Park at 7 pm that night for their hike up Mt Kili. Several stops were made at curio stalls and several of our group bought the traditional tartan patterned maasai blankets (15000 each making for a pricey souvenir). We were back at the campsite by 6:30 pm, and thanked Hammadi for being a great driver/tour guide. After hastily erecting our tent and grabbing wash buckets to soak our dirty laundry, Chris told us to swap tents so that ours could get repaired in town tomorrow. So we had to tear down the tent and erect a spare one, and we had enough time to soak our dirty laundry in buckets before joining everyone at the bar area for the prearranged BBQ (courtesy of Nancy who had planned it as a surprise for us upon our return from the excursion). Dinner was great, with tasty tidbits of chicken, pork and sausage along with a healthy portion of garlic bread, potatoes and salad. A few members of our group stayed up late partying, but we were keen on a hot shower so we ended up splitting from the group afterwards. The late night revelers were kicked out of the bar by “Ma”, who is a lively character who co-owns the snake park complex with her partner, BJ.
13 Jun: It was an early morning as we had a ton of laundry to wash. After getting one bucket’s worth of laundry knocked out, we enjoyed a spam and beans on toast extravaganza for breakfast before heading back to do another bucket’s worth of laundry. With our laundry line sagging heavily in the middle and the weather looking rather overcast, we crossed our fingers for the best and headed over to Snake Park’s bar area where the power charge points were to do a lot of catch up work. The rest of the group dispersed, with some people deciding to laze about all day while others volunteered at a nearby kindergarten center to dig latrine ditches and paint the inside walls of classroom. Lunch time was upon us before we knew it, so we ordered cheese burgers (good value at only 2000 Shillings), and continued working diligently as various folks started trickling in around us. Nancy arranged a lamb BBQ for dinner ($8 each) and the Snake Park staff put Larry the lamb on the rotating spit roast for a slow grill all afternoon. Scott was heading to town and we asked him to pick up some AAA head torch batteries for us. The afternoon flew by and before we knew it, our 7 pm lamb dinner was kicking off. The staff did a superb job with our lamb as the meat was succulent and tasty…what a treat! Scott was still out shopping when dinner was served so Nancy saved him a plate. Once he returned, he came armed with trash (bin) bags for costumes for his going away party. Nancy volunteered her room as the staging area to build our costumes. Everyone was inventive and got into the party spirit by coming up with great costumes, and the end result was: Becky dressed up as Pebbles, Luke transformed into Batman with Robby as his sidekick Robin, Lars was wolverine, Scott was a hippie/cowboy/John Travolta wanna-be, Damien dressed in a burkha, Dowelly was a ninja, Marie was Cat Woman, Nancy was a flapper, and the rest of the girls wore various types of dresses. The costumes were a big hit with everyone else at the bar and lots of photos were taken of our group. Since Chris joined without a costume, Kendra fabricated a makeshift steering wheel for him. Scott bought everyone a shot of something similar to Sambuca, which was grossly sweet but got us in the mood for a game of “Ring of Fire”. Let’s just say that we know our fellow truck members a whole lot better after playing this drinking game! The last of the revelers hit the sack around 1 am, ripping off their bin bag costumes with gusto.
14 Jun: We woke up early to swap tents (our original tent “South Africa” finally had a new zip installed!), and have breakfast before our Maasai village walk at 8 am. Our guide was a Maasai warrior named Oli, and he took us to the nearby museum which gave us insight into the culture, traditions, and customs of the Maasai people. Afterwards, we headed out to a nearby village consisting of about a dozen mud walled huts full of kids (they weren’t in school and had some serious discipline issues) and elderly Maasai women. The kids ran towards us in excitement, and immediately started hanging on to our arms, demanding all sorts of presents and acting majorly bratty whenever we wouldn’t cooperate with their incessant demands. Obviously this village is a heavily touristed area with the children quite accustomed to asking for (and receiving) gifts from visitors. We visited one of the mud huts and once our eyes adjusted to the darkness, could make out two sleeping areas, a small pen for the animals, and a storage area. The kitchen was located in a separate, smaller hut just outside the dwelling. It’s a basic nomadic/pastoral lifestyle that the Maasai people live, with the majority of them still living quite simply off the land and in harmony with their beloved cattle. On our return trip back to the Snake Park, a group of Maasai men did a singing and dancing session for us, incorporating jumping and encouraging the boys to join in to their amusement. Our last visit was to the nearby clinic where we learned that almost all the snake bite victims in Tanzania seek treatment (free courtesy of Ma and BJ) here as the clinic houses a healthy stockpile of anti-venom. Unfortunately, snake bites are quite common and most of the local populace seeks traditional medical treatment first, and when that fails, they reluctantly come to the clinic as a last resort. Since they don’t get the help they need in a timely manner (within a 24 hour period of getting bitten by a snake), many of the victims end up losing their digits or limbs. While we were there, we met a Maasai lady who was bitten by a red spitting cobra (it crawled into her bed at night and bit her hand), and she was having her finger amputated tomorrow as she didn’t get a sufficient dose of anti-venom in time. In addition to helping out snake bit victims, the clinic also operated as a shelter for burn victims, and provided animal veterinary services and general medical assistance to the local community. All of these services are completely free, paid for completely by Ma and BJ, who run the bar as a fundraising source to provide sufficient funds to the clinic to keep it operational. After returning back to the Snake Park, Becky joined Ally on a walk to the nearby education center, where they learned about what this program is doing for the local community (free computer classes, kindergarten services, English language programs, and a sewing class). The girls ended up supporting the sewing section by purchasing some handicrafts, and Becky eyeballed a nice hammock that she thought would be perfect to lounge around in. The nearby cattle market had literally exploded with vibrant life and color as hundreds of Maasai warriors herded their cattle and stood around trying to make a deal. Becky grabbed Robby and urged him to take a look at the market, which was super colorful and lively. The staff at the education center was at lunch, but we saw the hammock and Robby concurred that it would be a nice souvenir from Tanzania. After leaving instructions with a couple of the students that we would return later in the afternoon to buy the hammock along with a request to get a section of the hammock reinforced with double stitching, we headed back to the campsite to grab our computer gear before heading into town for a bit of internet surfing. Since we weren’t sure if we would be back before the education center closed, Becky left money (35,000 Shillings) for Lisa to pick our hammock up for us. Riding into Arusha in local transport (a dala-dala) was quite an adventure, with as many as 23 other bodies stuffed into a tiny, cramped space. We were all crushed like sardines and somehow the locals made it work, shifting and moving their bodies incrementally so that everyone had enough room. What a ride and it only cost 700 Shillings for a one way ride! Once in Arusha, we came across some decent electronics stores where we checked out their selection of laptops and cameras, before deciding to run a price check online to see if there were any decent deals in town. At a nearby cyber café, we were able to get all of our internet work done in an hour and a half (it closed at 5 pm so we only had 90 minutes) and afterwards, we wandered back to the Sound & Vision store where we ended up buying Becky a new laptop for $550 (her netbook had died earlier on in the trip) as well as some rechargeable AA batteries (TSH30000). Rounding out our shopping list was a final stop at Shoprite, where we bought 2 bottles of Captain Morgan Spice Rum and peanut butter. Catching a return dala-dala was quite tricky as most of the vehicles were not heading towards the Snake Park, but eventually, we stumbled across the original dala-dala that brought us to Arusha earlier in the day and the driver happily gave us a return ride home. It was even more crowded on the ride back, and we were quite happy when the ride ended about 45 uncomfortable minutes later. Back at the campsite, we thanked Lisa for picking our hammock up for us, and hung out waiting for dinner, which was cooked by the new cook group 1 (Dowelly, Kendra and Ally who was substituting for Matt who was hiking Kili). It was a tasty meal of sausages and tomatoes with mashed potatoes. The hot water at the campsite had run out so it was a freezing cold water shower for Becky who huddled in her sleeping bag afterwards to get warm.
15 Jun: Goodbye Nancy! We had to leave her behind at Snake Park while she waited on her passport and the rest of us were on the road by 7:30 am, headed towards Nairobi, Kenya. It was sad leaving Ma and BJ behind, and we actually really enjoyed the Snake Park and its staff, despite our initial misgivings about spending so long in one place. Our drive took us back towards Arusha, and just before entering the city, we detoured north towards the border with Kenya. Chris saw some dead wood and took the opportunity to restock the wood locker as we were completely out of firewood. We helped lug the wood to the locker where Robby stacked it, and once it was halfway full, we were on our way again. The border crossing was quite easy, as we got stamped out of Tanzania with no hassles and bought single entry visas ($25 USD) into Kenya.