Sunday, October 18, 2009



Taking the shuttle bus from Nairobi to Arusha in Tanzania was a bit like ‘dripping water torture’ – driving along at snail pace, over and around the pot holed, painfully corrugated road hoping there was no oncoming traffic as we were blinded with the clouds of talcum powder dust (inside and outside the bus!) – the journey took 7.5 hours to cover 350km!!

Arriving in Tanzania, we had decided to spoil ourselves and take a camping safari into the northern Tanzanian parks so that we could take full advantage of watching for game and not having to concentrate for such long periods navigating the roads. The safari company (Shidolya – Tanzania’s only wholly locally owned and operated safari operator) were fantastic and we had the luxury of a driver and cook to provide us with 3 great meals each day. When we travelled through in 1995 we didn’t visit many national parks due to the high costs of doing so. The pricing system for foreigners (always in US$) has not improved - $50/person/24hr, $50/car/24hr, $50/transit between Serengeti/Ngorongoro and back again and then the most ridiculous $30/person/24hr to erect your own tent in a dusty public campsite with no running water and long drop toilets and this is before you add in the high cost of fuel and 4WD self drive and camp puts you back about $200 per person per day for 2 in a car! We paid a very reasonable $800/adult and $500/child for 5 days with vehicle, food, camping equipment, cook and professional driver and guide included and had a fantastic time.

We spent the first day in Tarangire National Park which was an amazing experience with huge herds of elephant and a magnificent baobab tree studded landscape – this place was a wonderful surprise for us thinking that the best was only to be found in the more famous parks to the north. The next day we then headed into the Ngorongoro Conservation Area climbing up to the rim of the famous crater passing through lush rainforest and appearing out of the mist at the top to look down into this amazing circular chasm way below with herds of animals dotted across the plains. In this conservation area, the Masai continue to live and graze their herds of cattle and goats which at this time of year make a drastic impact on the land with vast tracks of denuded grasslands waiting desperately for the rains to come. With such dry conditions at present, trucks deliver water twice a week to the Masai and then they herd their animals every day down and back up the crater face to water – a very necessary concession even though the Ngorongoro Crater is a National Park. Within the conservation area is Oldepai Gorge (named after the Oldepai plant and not named, as the rest of the world knows, Oldevai) where, the Leakeys and others, have famously found over the years much evidence to piece together the origins or mankind. The small, dusty museum was very well presented and was just amazing to imagine how anyone ever came across the area in the first place or ever imagined to start digging in the dust. It is wonderful to put such a global perspective on the origins of mankind – a good many people would do well to know that their origins are firmly black and African!

From here, we began the long, slow descent down onto the Serengeti plains. The sheer enormity and vastness of the place is just mind blowing with the dry, grassy plains extending as far as the eye can see - the Serengeti itself covers over 14,000 sqkm and is home to enormous volumes of wild animals and varied landscapes. The treeless plains are a result of volcanic explosions that millions of year ago covered the area in ash which, with time, resulted in a shallow hard rock covering so that grass flourishes but trees do not. At this time of year unfortunately, the vast herds of wildebeest and zebra are still further north feeding in the Masai Mara awaiting the rains to begin their migration back into the Serengeti. It was a shame not to see the plains covered with these amazing beasts but, the upside was, many sightings of lion as without plentiful feed on the plains they remain near to the waterways hungry and happy to eat anything that comes by. One morning, we were incredibly lucky to witness a lion kill. As a female left her pride (a male lion and 3 cubs) we followed her stalking along a river bed and after 2.5hrs of waiting she finally took out a Thompsons gazelle – it was a quick kill and not normally an animal she would pursue (being too small and very fast) but the lion are hungry and anything is fair game at present. We were very privileged to see countless other game (plenty of the big 5) and birdlife and Rob and I were most excited to see leopard which we had not sighted in the year we previously spent in Africa. The camping was great and with no fencing, we had a pride of 6 female lions come through the camp one evening. With a sudden rain shower, they momentarily took shelter under the boy’s tent awning so there was much calling out by the guides to ensure the boys didn’t suddenly decide to flee their tent!! The Serengetti more than lived up to our expectations – it is a truly beautiful and enigmatic place and the epitome of all that is good and right about Africa.

After a couple of amazing days, having to turn around and face the drive out, retracing our steps back to the Ngorongoro Crater filled us with little joy. We reached the crater rim at nightfall and there was much excitement with an elephant in the camp drinking from the water tank and many zebra grazing around the tents. The next morning, as we crawled slowly down into the crater, we watched in awe as the Masai too were wandering up and down by foot herding their animals to water. The Masai are a great people, very friendly and have fully bought into the tourism industry that is now on their doorstep – they take any opportunity to charge you to take their photograph and are always trying to sell you curios and pairs of their famous rubber sandals which are made from worn out car tyre tread! They are one of the few Tanzanian tribes who have held onto their traditions, their clothing, mostly don’t get their children to school and are fiercely proud and protective of their tribal traditions. The government for their part seem to respect this and there seems a happy balance between man and nature as they live together on the land.

The Ngorongoro Crater is a truly amazing ‘wonder of the world’ and, within her rim, lives an entire ecosystem with resident animals that never leave. During the intense dry season there are sometimes herds that will make the trip up from the Serengeti in search of food and water but they only remain until the rains fall and then always return to the plains. Descending down into the crater was like descending into a zoo with game everywhere, many lion roadside and hyena out enjoying the puddles from the morning rain. The whole driving safari experience was fantastic and enabled us to see an incredible amount of wild game in one of Africa’s most spectacular settings but, have to admit, we were a little over sitting on our bums for hours of the day and next time, would plan to take a walking safari instead (unfortunately this was not an option with the boys ages).

Returning to Arusha very dusty and filthy, we were very happy to have running water to bath in and have somewhere to wash some clothes. Arusha has grown enormously since we were last there and is the tourism centre for Tanzania with the streets littered with safari company vehicles and lots of muzungu. We enjoyed Arusha as a town but were very quickly over the pushy touts always in your face, trying to sell you safaris or curios or hotels or gemstones.....the boys were not impressed!! At this point, we were going to travel by bus down to Dar Es Salaam and then take the train across Tanzania and down into Zambia. However, allied with the thought of seven to ten days travel on our already sore bums, and with things not great in Cape Town with Rob’s Dad’s health, we decided instead to move up quicker and take the tortuous shuttle bus back up to Nairobi and fly from there down to Johannesburg. strange it has been, being back in ‘civilisation’ once again!!
Our journey through Kenya and Tanzania was an amazing experience for us all. Kenya was more about the culture and the people, Tanzania was more about the nature - Africa continues to intrigue us on all fronts and we have been thrilled that the boys have so embraced this amazing continent.

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