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Archive for April, 2013

Safari

We wake up at the crack of dawn ready for our big safari adventure. After collecting a few extra provisions in Arusha and dodging the local safari touts successfully for one last time, we’re met by our guide Joyful outside the Monjies Guest House. Our eagerness and anticipation bubble over with a bombardment of questions to Joyful which he courteously answers. Our first day will take us to Lake Manyara national park about three hours west of Arusha. The fields start to give way to savannah and we catch our first sightings of Massai colourfully wrapped in their traditional dark red, purple or blue blankets. We round a bend and the escarpment of the rift valley appears before us. It stretches endlessly in both directions. Across the valley we can see the dense jungle at its base and Lake Manyara itself which is a swirl of blue and pink. It is a magnificent view and unmistakably African.
Joyful stops the Land Rover at the Park gates and opens the roof so we may all stand up, to better appreciate the scenery. We are consumed at once by thick Green Jungle. Vines hang from the trees, strange noises echo through the canopy grabbing our attention each time.

We soon come across a family of Baboons, grooming each other, squabbling; it’s quite fascinating to see how they spend so much time on this task. Delicately they clean each other with such dedication I become engrossed watching their rituals.
Cool air drifts down the escarpment and over us. The air is fragrant and damp, the sun above is hot. The insects never stop. Through the green curtain we spy a mass of grey moving very slowly. Ears fanning back and forth, it rips loudly at a tree tearing of a sizable branch away; a small herd of elephants no more than 10 metres from the road. The elephant chews on the branch loudly, it’s breathing is amplified; its ears beat loudly against its body. A small baby emerges from under its mother, excited and playful it gives a little trumpet.

Elephants in Lake Manyara

Elephants in Lake Manyara

Our next sighting is the famed Zebra; I must admit I do have a soft spot for this charismatic animal. A stallion carefully guards his herd; eyeing us up suspiciously he holds his gaze, never losing sight of us, he is a vigilant and proud creature.
Our first night is at the beautiful Kirurumu Tented Lodge, clinging to the edge of the escarpment, set in lush vegetation with commanding views of Lake Manyara and the surrounding area. The wonderful staff comprise of locals as well as Massai. Excited at the prospect of the coming days, we lie awake listening for any animal noises until we can no longer keep our eyes open. It has been an exciting start to our safari and the best is yet to come.
The Ngorongoro Crater is the remains of a volcano that erupted 3 million years ago. Standing now on the rim I try to imagine just how powerful that force of nature must have been. It is a beautiful sight, vast and green. On the far side we can see the lake painted pink with thousands of flamingos. One side of the crater is bathed in sunshine while the other is under attack by a huge storm. In real life it doesn’t disappoint but it does look different to what I imagined. The walls of the crater appear to be impenetrable but both animal and 4WD are free to come and go, sometimes the later with more difficulty.

The Ngorongoro Crater

The Ngorongoro Crater

Safari life starts early in the day, the early bird catches the lion. Today we drive from the crater to the Serengeti. Everyone is excited about seeing what must be one of Africa’s most famous landmarks if not the world. We pass a Massai village wrapped in a protective circle of tangled acacia branches. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area or NCA is more than just a crater. It covers a huge area of highlands and extinct volcanoes. In the distance we can see the open space that is the Serengeti. It’s another 2-3 hours before we arrive at the Naabi gate. Serengeti welded across the top and flanked by two buffalo skulls. Giving the distinct impression that one enters at their own risk, danger lies ahead, look what happened to these two fellows!

Entry to the Serengeti

Entry to the Serengeti

The higher an animal is on the food chain the harder they are to find. Vegetarians are everywhere but it’s the carnivores that capture most people’s imagination. Even Rick a vegetarian himself is keen to see the big cats. How does one find these elusive animals in such a huge space? You need a lot of luck and we are very lucky to have Joyful with us. The hunt begins, and this afternoon Joyful is after Cheetah, like the leopard a notoriously difficult animal to find. We turn off the road and head across open grass. The plains are dotted with Kopjes, small islands of Rocks that hold water and allow larger tress to grow among the boulders. The shade is a favourite resting place for big cats during the hot day. Each Kopje is scrutinised optimistically before moving onto the next.

The vehicle stops and Joyful has a glint in his eye. He considers something in the distance before binoculars are produced. “Oh my gosh”, he chuckles. Just off to our left about 200 meters away is a small pride of lions. We approach slowly and coast the last 50 meters. A huge male sits alone while a short distance away is a lioness with three cubs. We watch closely and enjoy a moment together with the Lion family. The male looks quite disinterested in his children. They prefer to be left in peace, it is the mothers place to fend for the cubs as well as hunt for food. She is the Serengeti version of the working mother.

The lion family

The lion family

We leave the family to continue their day and pick up the chase for the cheetah. Stopping near a Kopje we take lunch. Joyful tells us not to climb on the rocks as it’s not un-common for a couple of lions to be taking a siesta. I decide that I’ll take my sandwich in the jeep!
After lunch the hunt for the cheetah resumes. We are already satisfied with a great day of game viewing. Safari is about enjoying the moment and accepting the circumstances. Knowing you will see an animal would remove all the excitement. This is what I tell myself but deep down you want to be lucky, you want to see these iconic animals. The jeep stops and Joyful has that familiar glint again. “Oh my gosh”, another chuckle. Joyful is obviously pleased with his stalking but we can’t see anything. Then we see it, standing alone on a small rock surveying his world, a single male. The cheetah moves with grace. He is even more beautiful than the lions we saw earlier. I feel very privileged. The sun is getting low and a huge grey wall is building to the north. We watch and listen very quietly, the grass rustles in the wind. The crickets have started to sing, then a soft distant rumble this is perfection.

The lone cheetah

The lone cheetah

The out of Africa experience is made complete when we arrive at The Pioneer Camp located halfway up a large chain of kopjes. The drive in has taken us through dense acacia woodland. The storm on the horizon has closed in. The view from the camp takes my breath away. Hundreds of Kopjes dot the acacia forest as far as I can see. Lightning pierces the dark sky as I take my welcome drink. Mathias is not unfamiliar with guests being spellbound and gives us a moment before he starts his briefing. The camp is open there are no fences. The tents are pitched far apart and we are located right at the end of the camp. This delights Greg and Richard who are already thinking about what noises they will hear during the night. No one may walk unescorted before 6.30am and after 6.30pm. To protect us we have James a Massai man who is armed with a torch and a large spear. The tents are decorated in a pre-war 1930’s style. The wash basin is perfectly rusted. The shower looks like a Jules Verne invention. The kerosene lamps provide subtle light. All that is missing is a phonograph playing Ella Fitzgerald which I am sure they could arrange. Our package includes free drinks and laundry which we both take advantage of. Over the next three nights we consume all the camps Amarillo.

Pioneer Camp

Pioneer Camp

The stay in soft beds is very tempting but we know we must take advantage of this short time. Again we leave early and today Joyful has the most elusive of all animals in his sights, the leopard. We drive for an hour towards the central Serengeti. Joyful receives a call. Swahili is broken with “Oh my gosh” A leopard has been sighted about 30 minutes away. We move quickly. Soon we see about 7 jeeps all crowded together. A single female leopard hangs from a tree. Even close she is hard to see, but then she moves and jumps to another branch. About 50 meters in another tree are her two cubs. We move down and observe them for an hour. Jumping and playing, they almost fall on a couple of occasions. The encounter is not as magical as the moment we had with the cheetah as we are now surrounded by 10 other cars. A group of photographers ruin it by constantly talking loudly about bad lighting and branches being in the way. Safari is a selfish quest; you want it all to yourself which of course is not always possible. The best encounters are always solitary.

Storm at the Pioneer Camp

Storm at the Pioneer Camp

The circle of life is endless in the Serengeti; sadly for us it is not. After 6 days we must say goodbye and only our bank balance is happy to see it end. We make west for Mwanza on the southern shores of Lake Victoria, where we hope to pick up onward travel to the border of Rwanda.
Oh My Gosh speak soon

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Around Kilimanjaro

The Dar Express Bus arrives into Moshi amazingly on time at 5 in the afternoon taking 9 hours from Dar es Salaam. I have been anticipating seeing Kilimanjaro all day, but it is raining this afternoon and there will be no views of the African icon today at least.

Our search for accommodation takes a little while but we settle into the AA hill street hotel. This establishment is run by an Islamic family. The sign in the foyer advises that no unmarried couples may share a room. There is no alcohol to be consumed on the premises and non-residents can’t visit the hotel. As such this keeps all of the “overland truck party” types away. We get a double room with our own shower for TZ 20,000 shillings about $15.00 AUD. There is even a balcony with views of kili, if the clouds will go away.

Rick our friend and travel partner from our first trip has met us in Dar es Salaam and will be accompanying us all the way up to Cairo. Next door to AA Hill Street, we discover an excellent restaurant called Deli Chez which specialises in Indian cuisine and toasted sandwiches. It’s been a while so I indulge in a curry for TZ 8,000 shillings; Emma goes for the Biryani which we both devour like a pride of lions.

Moshi is a bit of a Goldie Locks town, not too big, not too small but just right. We go for a walk to explore the town and are joined by a few street touts. We don’t have the heart to tell them to go away and they don’t seem to be doing much harm. Just up the road is the “Hard Core Gangster Gym” home of the hard-core hip hop body builders. The touts explain that this is where men com to lift weights. I know this is going to cost me already. Any questions will solicit a fee. Rick and I flex our skinny white Muzungu arms in front of the gym for some comic photos and this has the touts looking incredulous and laughing.

Muzungu Arms no match the hardcore hip hop body builders

Muzungu Arms no match the hardcore hip hop body builders

Morning breaks and so do the clouds. I open the curtains like Christmas paper wanting to see my present. Kilimanjaro is out, standing huge and white above Moshi. The rains from yesterday have left a lot of the snow on the summit. I had expected much and Kili has exceeded itself. The snowline extends almost half way down the mountain which I am told is unusual and not likely to last more than a couple of days.

We head to Marangu a small village that lies about a 1000m higher up the eastern side of Kili among coffee plantations. Our dalla dalla (minivan bus) this morning looks in good condition but only allows the driver to travel faster. Being squashed in the middle of 30 people, I can’t help but to consider that if we do crash I should be well protected. The slopes of Kili soon slow the dalla dalla down and I begin to feel I will live to see another day.

We have picked out the Coffee tree plantation guest house as it allows camping on the lawns. Our Guide book advises it is about 700m from dalla dalla stand, but the small fleet of Marangu touts are saying it is very far and we will need a taxi. Who do they think we are, idiots? They insist we can’t walk but being suspicious and stubborn I pick up our pack and start marching up the hill. The road is very steep and soon my legs begin to burn. 1 km at least now, where is this place, 2km and the road is getting steeper. By 3km I am feeling very tired and very stupid. I relent and drop my pack by the road. Thomas the most persistent and only tout left offers to carry it for me. No I am okay, but I’m not really. My legs are like jelly and carrying this pack at almost 2000m above sea level has my lungs burning as well. We continue on and finally after 3.8km (yes I measured it in a car later on) the guest house is in sight. I have been constructing an abusive letter to Lonely Planet in my mind for the last 2km, every step a word in my condemnation. How could they get it so wrong? Thomas was right after all, it was a long way up a very steep climb. Now I am just a tired stupid Muzungu who didn’t believe in him. The owner of the guesthouse is also called Thomas. This is going to get confusing. From now on it will be big Thomas, the guest house owner and Thomas the Tout who just happens to be a climbing guide for Kili. He shows us his license proudly. We are planning to do the first day of the Kili climb as it’s only $60.00. It is compulsory to take a guide so we let Thomas know to return tomorrow and we will go with him which makes him very happy.

Emma with Big Thomas

Emma with Big Thomas

Marangu is a charming little settlement. Even though we are only a third of the way up Kili the views stretch across to the Usambara mountains and the plains of Tanzania and even southern Kenya over 100km away. The slopes here are green and fertile. Mist begins to settle in the small valleys it all very magical. We get our tents up and go and have a coffee with Big Thomas. He makes a very jovial host and laughs at the end of every statement he makes. I climbed the mountain in 1964, oh yes, followed by ohhh hahahaha. Richard is quick to pick up on these little idiosyncrasies and is able to do a good impression quickly. It is people like Big Thomas that make this pace of travel so interesting. Hundreds of people who you never you knew you would meet, all with a story to tell.

Little Thomas is waiting for us the next morning. He looks excited for a man who has climbed kili over 100 times. Maybe this is because he knows he is only going to the first hut (mandara) and back today. It may surprise some of you but it was never our intention to climb Kilimanjaro on this trip. The expense was one factor and we have our eyes set on other treks later on. Doing the first day through the rainforest seems a good compromise but now we can see the summit I can feel the pull of the mountain. It is a little disappointing knowing now that we will be turning back. The trail up is fairly gentle and in good condition despite all the recent rains. The trees let in little light and are covered in moss and lichen. The forest chatters with birds and insects and blue monkeys who jump through the canopy to get a better look at us. We are very fortunate while taking a rest to see the rare black and white colobus monkeys. They are magnificent animals with striking coats and we quietly observe their movements high above us before returning back to Marangu.

Marangu

Marangu

That night we start to think in earnest about our upcoming safari. There is so much information to digest, so many companies to choose from. I start to become almost a little paranoid about the quality of the experience and our expectations. The wet season is also a concern as this is not the best time to visit or so we have been advised. Only time will tell and the best place to arrange a safari and find out is in Arusha our next destination.

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The Dar Express

It seems that every bus journey in Africa starts very early in the morning. This is so it has a fighting chance of reaching its destination the same day. The Dar express to Moshi in northern Tanzania is no exception. It’s apparently 30 minutes from the Econolodge in central Dar es Salaam to the northern bus station but we allow 45 to give the taxi a fighting chance as well.

We pop a malaria tablet for breakfast and head downstairs for another bruising round of taxi negotiations; an increased degree of difficulty at 5am and carrying massive backpacks. The idea is not to look like you need one or that you are in a hurry but these guys are pretty smart and have figured out we are heading up north. They even know what time the busses depart. Still we put on our best poker face and get the fare to within a reasonable striking distance of the correct value, TZ 12000 shillings, but just for you…… Yes I am sure of that!

Pot holes and trucks are avoided with last minute precision. The taxis suspension and my stomach are getting an early morning workout and I start to feel a little ill. The nausea grows and soon I am wondering how much our driver will charge for cleaning vomit off the side of his car. Emma has her head down and looks to be in trouble as well.  Amid thoughts of panic and confusion I try to think what could be causing this?  I did not eat anything, and then it dawns on me. The malaria tablet, we took them on an empty stomach, that must be it.

I am much relived to arrive at the bus station. I am already looking for any roadside vendor who can sell me stale biscuits anything to fill the awful hole in my stomach. The touts and porters have other ideas of course.

Emma by now is green but sits on our bags while I go looking for our bus and biscuits, not necessarily in that order. The touts are merciless this morning. These guys mean business or need business, I actually at times feel a little sorry for them but not this morning. I spot a few “Dar Express” busses a short distance away painted brightly in a red, orange and yellow livery. The touts are asking to see my tickets telling me they work for Dar Express but I am having none of it. I need to make sure I have the right bus. I find a real employee who points to the bus going to Moshi now I can go back and get the bags.

Emma with Richard at the Dar es Salaam bus station

Emma with Richard at the Dar es Salaam bus station

 

Emma right now is throwing up in the street. A tout who has been harassing her diagnoses she has Malaria. “You have The Malaria, I can help you.” Medications are produced. Emma vomits again, this time a little too close her doctor who retreats in disgust. I procure some stale biscuits and we eat a few to help settle our stomachs.

We move the bags over to the Moshi bus and I try to put them in the storage area. I am blocked by two guys who are in the way and are grabbing bags and throwing them in. I try again but they won’t move, and take the bags from me. I stand by the bus making sure the bags don’t find their way off again. The two men approach me and say I need to pay Tz10, 000 for each bag, about $7.00 AUD. I ignore them but this only makes them angry. We have a debate which ends when I threaten to go to the Bus office. I help you with bags. I did not want your help.

em on dar

Once again Dar es Salaam slips away this time by road. The palm trees give way to the first signs of savannah. It’s an exciting morning we are headed for Kilimanjaro and The Serengeti.

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Spices Beaches and Rashes

The shadows of Dar es Salaam are now behind us. The Azam Marine hydrofoil skims the aqua ocean heading towards the island of Zanzibar. There is a buzz in the cabin. It seems surreal that we’re finally off the train and now headed to golden sands and pale blue waters.

I can see the Island on the horizon and gaze out the window itching for us to arrive. I can’t believe how much I smell. It’s not pleasant to admit but I really stink. My hair is thick and matted with dirt; my clothes are as stiff as cardboard. In crisp white contrast the crew hand out some muffins and spice tea which I hungrily accept and gratefully consume. All I can think about is a shower and find myself discussing and obsessing; it can’t come soon enough.

The boat’s engine slow and Stone Town’s Port is in sight. It’s time to say goodbye to the Canadians who are heading directly to Paje where they have rented a private house. It’s sad to say goodbye after such an extraordinary few days together. We make for the old town quarter with Imogen and Flynn. Inspecting a small cluster of cheap end lodgings we settle on the Manch Hotel which has a lovely garden shaded by a Mango tree. It is run by Godfrey but owned by a local lady who sits in a chair by the entrance of the lobby.

I make straight for the shared bathrooms. I care about nothing else.  After much scrubbing, I finally see the water run clean. I don’t even care that it’s cold, I am just so grateful for the feeling of rejuvenation.

Spotlessly clean I am now ready to arrest my hunger and head to lunch. We come across a pleasant little café called the Green Garden Pizzeria. Everything tastes so fresh. Zanzibar is renowned for its sea food and I quickly take advantage by ordering grilled Tuna and green vegetables a steal at only $6 USD. We are all in jubilant mood and reflect back on highlights from the train journey.

Sunset in Stone Town

Sunset in Stone Town

Stone town itself is a labyrinth of narrow streets and alleyways. The dirty and faded Arabic designed buildings show glimpses of an extravagant past. The grand wooden doors have decorative brass studs and handles. The air is scented with a cocktail of spices. Mesmerised by the sights we realise that the day is coming to an end. We’ve been so captivated by the architecture and people going about their day we’ve lost track of time. We conclude our long but memorable day by taking in the sunset with a well-deserved cocktail and a blissfully sound sleep.

Revitalised the next morning, Imogen and I are keen to go for a swim. She inquires if I feel any discomfort or itching on my back. I find this odd as I can feel nothing untoward other than maybe some tingling. Alarmingly she tells me that I have a large rash on my back. I head back to the guest house to see for myself. My back is covered in a hideous red rash. The intensity of the itching is growing by the second. I decide the best course of action is to have a cold shower and lie under the fan, hoping that it will subside. My skin is breaking out all over and spreading. By early afternoon my arms and fingers have joined in. The next morning it has spread to my legs and heading for my toes. The rash is turning to welts and breaking out into blisters; I am literally burning up. My instinct is to not scratch but I can’t figure out what I have… Maybe I have an allergic reaction to something, the sheets perhaps but why am I blistering and why is nobody else suffering from this affliction?  Surely if it was something in the room we’d all have this problem. I am becoming scared and desperate. I suspect it’s a heat rash and go looking on the internet for some assurance. By process of elimination aided by Google images, I conclude that I have an extreme heat rash. This is when the body has been unable to sweat (it has been incredibly humid here) and in extreme cases the sweat glands become blocked and infected forming blisters… Great!!

The Heat Rash

The Heat Rash

Greg takes me to a doctor; we converse in very limited English. After much pointing and charades he confirms that I am indeed suffering from an extreme heat rash. The culprit is being on the train along with the humidity in Zanzibar. Armed with anti-biotics and anti-histamines, I am told to not go out and to lie in a cold room, which will now entail an upgrade to AC as we had booked ourselves in a fan room to save money. After a couple of days with little improvement we formulate a plan to head to Kendwa beach where it should be cooler and stay in an AC room until the rash starts to heal. A Taxi with AC is on stand by and I am quickly transferred like a patient in an ambulance and taken to Kendwa Rocks where my AC prison awaits ready and prepared for my arrival. Two more days of staying inside with early evening swims in the sea and the rash is starting to abate. I am very much relieved. While at Kendwa we meet two German men Siggy and Simon who are travelling together in Tanzania. Both have travelled extensively and I love hearing Simon’s stories about travelling through India in the 70’s. Imogen and Flynn are keeping the flag waving for GB but Greg and I are doing a poor job when it comes to nightlife, although we do fit in a few Mojitos and some shisha.

The rash is still around but less severe now. The Brits and Germans head home and Greg and I head to Pongwe a small beach about 10km south of Kendwa. It is a cast away tropical paradise. The crystal clear water looks like a Bounty commercial. Although I normally hate the ocean; those you know me well there is no explanation required, the water is irresistible.

Pongwe Beach

Pongwe Beach

Rested and fully recovered after four more nights we decide we need to get back on track and head for the mainland. The local taxi drivers are wanting double again but we have little time and very little luggage, so we decide to go for the Dalla Dalla instead.  Dalla Dalla’s are rickety trucks a little like a large tuk tuk, except it has two hard wooden benches that run lengthways and absolutely no limit to its carrying capacity. If it were in Australia it could carry no more than 12 passengers but here in Africa where world records are silently set on a daily basis we climb in with a cosy 25 others, as well as buckets of locally caught fish and stow away flies. We sit waiting for more passengers to board when a commotion breaks out. Lots of shouting, people hitting their own foreheads and violently waving at each other. Logs are picked up and thrown to the ground. People leave the Dalla Dalla in protest and I quietly say to Greg that I hope this isn’t because of us; it isn’t the usual mode of transport for a tourist. Have we done something wrong?

Mnemba Island

Mnemba Island

The whole village and passengers inside are shouting. From what I can make out the Dalla Dalla Driver has not followed protocol and now we have to board another one, phew at least it’s not us. We are then swept along with the crowd and somehow get to sit right at the back with the buckets of smelly fish and bags of tomatoes going soft in the heat. I wonder if this is to keep us in place. There’s certainly no chance of bouncing out, although if we crash we’ve defiantly had it. We get moving and I crane my neck for a little fresh air, even a sardine would get claustrophobia in this contraption! It’s quite an amusing site, Greg and I confronted by all these faces, staring at us inquisitively with wonderment… Why are you not in a taxi?

As we routinely pull into villages, the locals who are sat whiling away the time, let their bored gazes fall on the Dalla Dalla, such a familiar sight to them, so unremarkable. It’s hilarious to watch them give the passengers the once over and then suddenly spot us. Their apathy evaporates, replaced by befuddlement and then laughter. We greet each of the perplexed onlookers with a smile. I remark to Greg, that you know you’re doing something interesting when the locals are surprised to see you there. After a bone shaking, arse numbing journey we reach Stone Town for our last night on this beautiful Island.

Tomorrow it’s back to mainland to organise a bus from Dar es Salaam to Moshi on the lower slopes of Kilimanjaro.

Love Emma and Greg

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