Category Archives: Tanzania

Ngorongoro Crater (TZ)

After another night at the same bush camp we game drove out of the Serengeti towards the Ngorongoro Crater. The crater was once a volcano which collapsed in an immense explosion. Thousands of animals live in it, more of all the same plus rhinos and flamingos, all of which we saw when we drove around the entire crater. We also saw two cheetahs on a hunt, patiently seeking out their victim (a wildebeest) from a distance and getting close. There were so many lions today that it almost got boring. I put the camera away as none of the pictures will do it justice.

Cheetahs on the hunt

 

For lunch we stopped near the water and unpacked our sandwiches. I got as far as opening my mouth to take a bite when a large vulture brushed my face with its wing in an attempt to steal my sandwich. I hadn’t seen it coming, the sky had been clear seconds before. The fast food opportunity got around fast and within minutes six vultures were circling the air or hovering directly above us. One vulture got Eddie’s sandwich out of his hands despite three people standing guard. We had to climb back into the jeep to eat in peace and to keep limbs attached.

Ngorongoro crater and the Kraut

 

The ultimate decadence (TZ)

One of my best days ever. I got picked up at 5am for a hot air balloon flight over the Serengeti. And on the way there I saw rabbits, one of my favorite animal kinds…

I had booked the hot air balloon months ago to avoid chickening out of this option due to its high cost once I’m here and although the flight may have been even better had we seen millions of animals migrating I don’t regret it at all. It was my first flight in a hot air balloon and where better to do this than in one of the most amazing places on earth! The balloon was inflated with cold air for a long time and at sunset we sat in the basket in our allocated compartments (2 people each, basket had 8 compartments) with our backs flat on the ground, knees facing up, and the now warm air then turned the basket upside and off we were. A few seconds later the Canadian pilot who looked like a hybrid between Jon Favreau and Danny DeVito told us to stand up, at that point we were already high up in the air and surprised that we hadn’t noticed out take-off at all.

We flew both high up and very low to the ground. The speed remains the same but appears much faster when you’re lower. From the balloon the Serengeti seemed even bigger than ever. You could barely make out the animals without binoculars if you didn’t happen to be closeby. As it was early the animal activity was fairly low. We followed a running hippo outside of the water and were amazed at its speed. We made a bunch of elephants nervous when we went down too low and we chased buffalos and wildebeest at our descent. We saw lions with cubs, cheetahs in the distance and many giraffes. The hour long flight was just enough to get a taste but I could have been in the air all day. It was so peaceful up there, totally quiet. Coming down was not bumpy at all though the way of landing requires three gentle bumps on the ground before the balloon stops completely. We were on our backs in the seated position again. I have had much worse landings on planes.


After the flight we were treated with champagne, and not even the cheap kind. The flight voucher had made a mention of a champagne breakfast but I did not expect the decadence that followed. The pilot made a speech, told us about the history of ballooning and how champagne is relevant to it (first hot air balloons were invented in France, French farmers got champagne from the king to let the balloonists fly over their land without being shot down), took pictures with us and the crew and refilled our glasses the entire time. By the time we moved on to the breakfast feast most of the passengers were pretty blitzed. Keep in ind that it was before 8 am and nobody had eaten anything yet.

Pilot and happy Kraut

Breakfast was served under a tree. There were two long tables set already, anything from real porcelain to cotton napkins. Tons of costumed waiters were standing by to tend to our every need. They almost washed our hands for us, someone poured hot water into a bowl, another handed the soap, a third a fresh towel… We had a three course hot breakfast with an unlimited supply of more champagne, juice and hot drinks. I felt like I was in a movie, it was completely over the top but truly decadent and enjoyable.

At the end of it (no rush here either) we received a certificate and we even got to keep the remaining bottles of open champagne. Afterward I was driven back to an information center where I waited for my group to pick me up again for more game rides.
Later at the same information center I spent an hour sitting among dassies (aka hyraxes). They look like large rabbits without ears or guinea pigs, and their genetic material is very close to elephants although obviously not in outer appearance. The dassies were eating the grass and they seemed quite happy with me there, one of them almost tripped over me. I wanted to pet it but the sight of its sharp teeth stopped me.

My friend, the dassie

Back in my original group we were shown the very good and sometimes hilarious documentary “the Serengeti shall never die” by the late and very famous German documentary maker Bernhard Grzimek. The film was made in the late 50s and showed him and his son trying to document the animal behavior in the Serengeti from a small plane that they had painted in zebra stripes, and it was an early and correct estimation of the future of the land and its population given the industrial revolution and increase in human population. This documentary is highly recommendable as it showed exactly what we saw, gave great information that wasn’t dated at all despite its age, and above all had a good entertainment factor because of its cheesy music and some attempted ‘storylines’ and re-enactments. Watch it!


Grzimek is widely popular here, he and his son who died during the making of the documentary both have a memorial in the park, it seems that their research was way ahead of its time.
I also learned useful stuff like how to catch a zebra: tire it out by chasing it for three minutes and then simply pull its tail (ideally wearing gloves as the tail hair can cut into your hands). Good to know!

By the late afternoon I had already decided that this was the best day ever but it got even better. We passed a tree that had 11 lion cubs in it and a bunch of others along with three lionesses on the ground near it. Eleven!!! They even did us favors by clumsily climbing all over each other, yawning or stretching and posing right in front of our jeep on the road.

Afterward two young elephants charged at us, what a thrill. I saw our driver get nervous, when we sped off the elephants kept chasing, and they were fast.

Then we had a leopard walk at the side of the road along the jeep for 10 minutes until he got tired of us and climbed up a tree. Yet another leopard was sitting in another tree next to him. We were treated to jackals chasing warthogs, vervet monkeys looking cute, giraffes running along the jeep and baboons picking their noses. Dik diks, gazelles, zebras and wildebeest were hanging out everywhere. Hippos were grunting and various birds showed their wings. All of this in one hour. It was too good to be true, it certainly topped Kruger National Park for beauty.

The Serengeti (TZ)

In the morning we transferred our day bags and some supplies into jeeps and headed off to the Serengeti. The Serengeti is the typical image you have of Africa; a ginormous plain with tons of animals that are migrating in uncountable amounts. In the dry season the land is red and pretty much dead but we are still in the rainy season so everything was green and there were many watering holes.

The Serengeti has been turned into a huge National Park in the 50s and it’s one of the 7 world wonders. The land goes on for miles and at dusk or dawn you get fantastic views with animals in the distance, a lone tree standing around somewhere and dramatic sky colors. There are about 800,000 Masai warriors left in Kenya and Tanzania and about a third of them live in and around the Serengeti. You can see them walking herds of cattle as in fact that’s all they do, they are shepards and they start at age 5. It’s another famous African image, two or three masai wearing the traditional red and blue blankets and carrying a long stick and not much else. They don’t live modern lives, they eat raw meat and drink cow blood (for which they simply open a vein on a live cow) but they only accept having their picture taken if you give them US$.
We passed many masai, all seemingly alone with hundreds of cows, none of them with any obvious destination or worries about the wild animals around them. We also passed a bunch of masai boys who had just completed the ‘becoming men’ procedure; i.e. circumcision (at the age of 13, and in silence!), this we knew as they had their faces painted in white and they were in a celebratory mood.
Other than the masai we only saw animals in the park and lots of them. It is low season here, I don’t want to imagine the Serengeti at high season with thousands of jeeps.

 

Of the famous migration we actually only saw the wildebeest (gnus) and buffalos, and it seemed that they were walking single file for miles. Still an amazing sight. We had another long day of game drives ahead of us and even if it initially always feels like overkill the entire time in the Serengeti turned out to be awesome. Game driving can kill endless amounts of time and it’s never boring even if you see the same animals over and over again. I could go into detail about it but it would probably be a boring read. My photos also don’t do this place justice and unfortunately both my cameras ran out of batteries on day 2. My personal highlights on this day were hyenas which I hadn’t seen until then, and not just one but two leopards up on trees that we watched up close for a while.

Photo

Wildebeest migration (single file)

Hyenas

 

We set up camp in the middle of the Serengeti among all the animals. Obviously they were not exactly standing by to watch this but we did get visits from hyenas at night, a snake tried to get into my tent from underneath and we heard the lions roar nearby. There were squat toilets and basic showers available and at night I wasn’t the only one who made use of them. On previous trips passengers had to lock themselves into those showers as on their attempted return to the tent they noticed leopards hiding in the bushes. We were told to flash our surroundings in search for eyes and potentially take blank photos to scare animals off. I did not get eaten on this trip.

Arusha – April (TZ)

Up in Marangu from where you can see Kilimanjaro it is hot during the day and colder but damp at night. I slept so well. I can count the number of times I actually used my sleeping bag on one hand and last night was one of them. We haven’t heard from Dave but Eddie is back and so was Mark for a 2 hour ride to Arusha. He spent last night in hospital where they determined that he doesn’t have malaria but they don’t know what else it could be. He said it’s like a bad flu but it hit him really hard and fast so he’s blaming the scuba diving he did recently.
He left the tour in Arusha and he will rejoin us in Nairobi as he’s already done the next part.

We did a village tour this morning. It’s basically a charity project by a number of English companies with Dragoman as one of them. Sir Richard Branson and Dame Judy Dench are somehow involved as well. The best part of the tour was the walk to the village. Finally some exercise! It’s been weeks and I feel fatter every day. My clothes probably only fit because I haven’t machine washed them in ages and because they are all loose fit style anyway. We basically hiked up a mountain to see this village, with an old man as our guide in the front. He was wearing a warm jacket and suit trousers and fancy shoes while we were sweating our butts off in shorts and tank tops and sliding down muddy stones despite hiking boots. He probably does this walk four times a day judging from his fitness level.

Up top we saw the neat library which looked like a classroom – basically it serves as one. Educational posters everywhere (anything from the alphabet to the difference between frogs and toads) and a good collection of English textbooks, Swahili textbooks and even some novels.

Photo

Next to the library were other rooms where kids learned to sow, do carpentry and masonry. The tour guide should have given us information what was being done here, where the money comes from and what happens next but we got none of that unfortunately. Instead we ran into a young dreadlocked (white) guy from England who runs the computer center and who gave us a bit of background information when we bumrushed his internet cafe. He’s a society outcast who quit his job to escape the rat race and settle down in the middle of nowhere, i.e. here in Tanzania. He supports the charity and now tries to introduce kids and adults to the idea and the proper use of a computer. The computer center has existed since 2004 but like so many things it fell by the wayside the minute the last person who worked there left a while back and nothing was being done to maintain it. When the last computer stopped reacting they basically shut the door.
The idea of getting a life break at the extreme other end of what you are used to might sound romantic but I did wonder why a social outcast needs an Android phone.

The guide then raced us to a beautiful waterfall and then we had a great local lunch cooked by two good natured ladies who ended up getting the tip that was intended for the guide. I wish our cook would prepare more local meals, they seem easy to make and they are much tastier. I really miss Maretha’s cooking. Well, starting Friday night I’ll be on my own for food for a while, and in the next group and until the end of the trip we have to prepare our own meals…

After the village experience we headed to Arusha. It’s the second most important city in Tanzania and you can tell that it caters to the Kilimanjaro climbers and other white tourists. We stopped at a stretch that had coffee shops, internet cafes, banks, clothing shops, and a decent supermarket (Shoprite) that was well stocked and actually sold exactly the stuff we needed and had already given up finding. They even had Ferrero Rocher, I had just been craving this a few days ago… I even got one of those zig zag coils for my hair – yes, the hair situation is starting to get out of control! I did not however buy the “egg and brandy” shampoo, the cheapest brand sold. It smelled like I would need a muffin body wash with it.

We have a couple of days of bushcamping ahead of us as we are heading into the Serengeti which is the most famous National Park after Kruger. If the weather works out I’ll be taking a hot air balloon ride on Thursday, it’s already paid for. Bushcamping means wild animals will be around as we won’t be fenced in, we can use the hole-in-the-ground facilities and we are not supposed to leave the tent at night again. Since I have my own tent I may work on an alternative for my nightly bathroom break this time… 😉

On the way to Kilimanjaro (TZ)

Our group seems to be getting smaller. When we left for Zanzibar we had to leave Eddie behind because he had an infection that made his ankles swell up to three times their normal size. The hospital put him on bedrest and strong antibiotics.
Today we left Dave behind. Dave has had headaches for the past ten days and the past two hospitals have not been able to help. Since he now also has a temperature we suspect that it could be a form of malaria so he’s flying to Nairobi to get checked out at a proper hospital with someone from his travel insurance standing by.
Finally Mark is feeling so awful today that we will drop him at a hospital in Marangu where we camp tonight. At the moment we’re on the way there and he is lying on a mat on the floor of the truck.

 

It’s been a long travel day and I spent most of it sleeping. I can’t say that I’m ever really tired or exhausting on this trip but somehow the schedule always catches up in the end. I suspect that I will be sleeping a lot in Nairobi when my group changes again and I have some time off in between.

 

We drove through densely populated areas today as well as absolute nothing apart from palm trees, red mud/sand or green bushes. For a while we were climbing and the air got a bit cooler at last, then everything was flat and now we are near mountains and you can see snowcapped Kilimanjaro in the distance.

More heat and humidity (TZ)

In the morning we left the beach resort and headed back to Stone Town for lunch and last minute shopping. The vendors must know when you are on your last hour, they were getting really annoying. I have always wondered how no eye contact, fast walking and ignoring them invites them for more pestering. It’s a world wide phenomenon. It must work with some people. I hid at the Africa House and enjoyed somewhat fast internet for the first time in over two months. I also had two huge samosas off a street vendor, a delicious and cheap meal (under $1) – almost the opposite to the overpriced food I had had so far.

 

Boarding the ferry back to Dar was a ginormous clusterfuck. For some reason they had everyone with tickets standing in the boiling heat for thirty minutes past departure time. Then they opened one line, the line being held together by two guys holding hands and occasionally letting a person through while trying to avoid a stampede or line cutting from the sides. It was very frustrating.
On the ride itself we sat in direct heat and when we arrived in Dar two hours later we still had to walk from the passenger ferry back to our beach camp. When we were finally done with setting up tents only a cold beer could save the day.
The night was so humid I was swimming in my own sweat in the tent. I don’t think anyone slept well.

Zanzibar beach day (TZ)

The night was great as we had air conditioning and a fan and very comfortable beds with mosquito nets. However when I stepped out of the room at 9.30am the heat and humidity hit me like a brick wall. It took a while to get used to it and luckily the wind picked up again.
We were woken by the cleaning personnel. You would think that opening the door sleepily in your underwear would be a good sign that you are not ready for a towel change at this point. The three ladies pushed past my roommate though and proceeded to stand by my bed and stare at me as if they couldn’t believe that someone could sleep that long. It was pretty surreal. They then made up the room including my roommate’s bed. I refused to get up as I had nowhere to go so my bed remains unmade until now.
After breakfast that mostly consisted of me waving away the hundreds of flies that seem to love this place, and especially so when food is around, some of us walked along the beach to the lighthouse. The beach front consists of simple beach bars, there is a fancy hotel here and there are touristy shops and cafes at the back. The place is bigger than I expected, I assume that in high season there will be hundreds of tourists here. You can do all types of activities of course including show cruises at sunset. There is a spa and some vendors come up to you to sell their stuff but it’s not annoying, however I heard that it’s not necessarily safe at night, and also the sea has urchins. In fact the woman sitting at the next table just stepped on one and there is much drama going on at present. The sand is white and clean though, the sea light blue, and there are a bunch of colorful fish.

 

We went into the aquarium by the lighthouse, mostly because the walk had been a bit longer than expected and we desperately needed shade. The aquarium is actually more of a turtle sanctuary. They have all sizes and I played with the babies as well as fed the huge turtles with lettuce. I had covered up with long sleeves and my wrap pants to avoid having to be slathered in suncream but the guide kept staring at me. Finally at the end of the tour he asked me if I was a body builder and he didn’t accept my answer. I guess to the short-ish and mostly slim Africans I must look like Xena the Warrior Princess. In fact there are masai warriors at the beach and they are about half my size. They do however wear incredibly ugly white plastic sandals that don’t go at all with their red wraps and spears, I couldn’t top that if I tried.

 

The aquarium also had a monitor lizard, a boa constrictor, dolphin skulls and the skeleton of a whale, but that was it.


We had a smoothie at another bar on the way back as well as a Zanzibar spice cake which tasted a bit like gingerbread, and we walked away from the beach through the area of the locals. People were fixing boats, praying or just hanging out in the shade. Lots of kids were around, all of them greeting us in Swahili with “Jambo”, some of them adding a cheeky “give me money!!!”.

 

I am back at the beach bar now with plans to do absolutely nothing for the rest of the day. Swimming, having cocktails and reading counts as nothing.