To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries
- Aldous Huxley

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Tanzania & Zanzibar - Phil! Did you get the Photo!

Our departure from Nairobi was delayed due to Sebastian (who I have dubbed SeaBass) not showing up. After an hour and trying to find out where the guy was (rumours ranged from him being a CNN journalist covering the incident at the Westlake Mall in Nairobi to him simply not showing up at all), we left Nairobi and drove a couple of hours to the Tanzanian border and we were relatively quick in getting through despite having a group of 28 people plus the driver, cook and tour leader.
Nearby was a mountain that we thought was Mt. Kilimanjaro but was some other mountain that wasn’t quite as tall.
The scenery of Tanzania is a stark contrast to that we had seen in Kenya and Uganda. Gone were the scenic green tea plantations and lush green trees and in its place were arid, dry plains with few trees and a lot of dust and sand.
The drive from the border to our camp took another 4 -5 hours and we arrived at our camp in the afternoon. The camp was mixed between a campsite and a snake park where the owners have rescued or captured snakes.
I went into the snake park the following day and browsed the snakes, they had a wide variety of snakes from man-eating Pythons, Egyptian Cobras, Black and Green Mamba’s.
The Black Mamba’s are scary, they are long, about 4 meters and, of course, one of the deadliest snakes in the world. I do not want to come across one of those. However the Green Mamba’s are small and quite a nice looking snake…as far as nice looking snakes go. Aside from snakes the park had tortoises, crocodiles, lizards and owls, goshawk and a rescued, female yellow baboon that was in heat and looking pretty affectionate.
I got to hold a sand snake (not poisonous), a little crocodile and a leopard tortoise. It was a pretty cool place and the park is the only place that treats snakebites in the area.

The unfairest freakin' animal in the world.

After lunch we packed our tents into 4x4 jeeps and began a 2-and-a-half hour journey towards the Serengeti. We stopped at a really nice camp spot just before the entrance of the Ngorongoro Crater. We had a dinner and got to know the new people on tour before we got into bed.
The next day we got up early and headed into the Ngorongoro Crater, a naturally formed crater created by mountains over millions of years. We did a game drive and saw a lot of animals, including a lot of Wildebeest and surprisingly and lot of Hyenas. I am sure we saw at least 20 Hyenas, whether they were 20 different ones or some of the same is another matter but before that day I thought they were rare to see.
Unfortunately we saw no Cheetahs or Leopards but did see some more Lions, but they were basking in the sun or heading to the lake.
We stopped for lunch at a lake with a lot of hippos to be seen and two black Kites swooping us, trying to steal our lunches and sometimes successful. We were also visited by a male, single-tusked Elephant who walked right past us and around the other side. Pretty cool!
After the Ngorongoro Crater we headed into the Serengeti and did an afternoon game drive but didn’t get to see a whole lot aside from a Leopard in the distance in a tree with a kill but even then it was only possible to see it from the camera.

We camped overnight and woke early in the morning for a final game drive. It was another disappointing drive with the driver being completely disorganized and we were stuck at the airstrip for an hour trying to organize a permit. We stopped for 20-minutes trying to find a Cheetah at the base of a tree so far away it may as well have been Australia for all we could see.
The only saving grace of it all was we got really close to 2 lioness and their 3-cubs who were basking on the rocks and I also got a few good shots of another Kite and a Fish Eagle.
The drive back to camp was 4 hours and we inhaled enough dust to bury an elephant in and I felt a bit disappointed for the whole Serengeti experience. It’s not that we didn’t get to see much because they are wild animals and it really is hit and miss. I have been lucky enough to see so many awesome things in the 35 or so game drives I have done in Africa. It was more the disorganizing of the group we went with and their lack of communication. As we left to do the morning drive in the Serengeti, the group behind us (we were split into 3 cars) saw a lion immediately as we left and we were never told of it so we never got to see it. They have radios in their car, they could have used it to calls us back.
The driver was also keen to drive as fast as he could which lead to some dangerous situations. We were only bitumen rather it was a dirt and, at times, very bumpy road and we would get airborne over the really hilly parts.
It was just highly disappointing.
We also had an annoying person in our truck who would yell to her husband in a different car and was incredibly loud. Though we did make a joke of it later about how demanding she is.

“PHIL! Did you get the PHOTO!” is what she would yell to her husband in the other car. Then later when we got to camp: “PHILLIP, DID YOU FILL THE WATER BOTTLE!”
I had to laugh, but felt sorry for Phil who was an alright guy.

And SeaBass still hadn’t shown up.

Phil certainly didn't miss out on these guys

The next morning we broke off with 10 of the others who were only joining us for the Ngorongoro Crater/Serengeti part of the tour and were heading back to Nairobi. I wasn’t sad to see any of them go, they weren’t with us long enough to get to know and I found some of them a bit annoying. I miss the old group. They were so much better.
We departed the Snake Camp around 8.30 in the morning and made a quick stop at the shopping centre in Arusha to get some supplies before heading to Korogwe for the night.
The drive was pretty, the arid landscape changed to mountainous but it was still a decent drive and the long drives are the ones where you get antsy and a sore ass from sitting so often. We finally arrived just before sunset, set up our tents and had dinner and pretty much crashed after we learned they didn’t have WiFi despite being told otherwise. The gall of this place! Gen Y needs WiFi like a fish needs water. Also we had to be up at 4.30am to drive to Dar Es Salam.

And SeaBass still hadn’t shown up.

4.30am wake up is surprisingly easier to get up than any time I needed to wake up to get to work. Funny how that works.
Anyway, we got up and had a quick breakfast, packed the tents and drove to Dar Es Salam. The drive wasn’t long to reach the outer city limits, probably 3-hours but Dar Es Salam is the biggest city in Tanzania and that means traffic. Traffic here is like traffic in the Middle East. People drive wherever they want, honk the horn every 3 seconds and red lights are merely a suggestion and not an actual road rule.
The city itself is dirty and busy. It reminded me a lot of Amman in terms of how much rubbish was everywhere and how they burn it, as if they think it would make a difference to the amount of rubbish they have. We managed to weave our way around traffic and the rubbish and arrive at or campsite at a decent time of the day (around 3.30pm).
And wow, what a campsite. Situated right on the beachfront, our tents were a stones-throw away from the Indian Ocean. The warm, blue Indian Ocean.
As you may have guessed, we went for a swim. It was beautiful and much needed after spending the past couple of weeks bathing in dust.
We once again had a short night as we had to get up at 4.30am again to get to Zanzibar.

View of the Ngorongoro Crater


We awoke the next morning and once again had a quick breakfast and packed up. Thankfully the truck was to go nowhere as it is staying in Dar Es Salam while we spent the next 3 nights in Zanzibar.
Once we were ready we were taken to the first of two ferries where we survived the mad crush and the over-riding smell of BO (Body Odor) to board the ferry and take a quick 20 minute ride across the bay to where we would board a second ferry for a 2-hour boat ride to Stone Town port.
The second ferry was much better than the first, mainly because it was indoors, the boat was better, we got a seat, and there was not a whiff of BO to invade our nostrils. It even had a TV and showed a movie (Real Steel. Has Hugh Jackman, so it’s automatically awesome).
The only negative was they had the air-conditioning set to absolute zero even though it wasn’t that hot.

Once the boat docked and we went through customs (because we needed our passports stamped for some reason) we gathered and drove through Stone Town. From the little I saw, I liked the look of Stone Town, it wasn’t as dirty as Dar Es Salam and had a rustic feel to it. It is a basic, small town with simplistic designs from mostly wood and stone. The streets are narrow as well, for some reason it makes me think of what a small town in France would be like. While everyone else was dropped off, Danni and I took a taxi directly from Stone Town to Nungwi (the others are coming up tomorrow).
The taxi ride took us from the small city feel of Stone Town to the wild and untamed countryside of Zanzibar. We were also stopped by the police who, as our driver informed us, are corrupt. They also didn’t give him back his license, though the driver didn’t seem overly concerned about this.

At this point, I was too tired to care anyway. I’d been up for 6-hours already by then.

Finally we reached Nungwi and it is one sexy beachside resort town. The town itself isn’t much, it’s just wooden huts and a lot of diving shops but the beach and the ocean are stunning. The ocean is that crystal blue you see in photos of the Caribbean or resorts in Bora Bora.
The driver dropped us off at our hotel – Doubletree Hilton – and we were greeted with a cold face wash, iced tea and a cookie. It was the kind of reception a King would get I imagine. Even Kings love a cookie.
We managed to check-in and admired our view of the ocean from our room before doing some washing, organizing diving for the next day, having lunch (which wasn’t very nice) and talking a walk down the beach to see what is around. There isn’t a whole lot, though there are quite a few restaurants that we browsed before settling on one called Blue Ocean for dinner later on.
Also, as like the rest of Africa we were accosted by people who carry the same stuff trying to sell it to us (necklaces, beaded bracelets, paintings etc) also, as a strange twist, we were approached to buy some “good stuff from Kilimanjaro” weed.
Politely declining this request to buy drugs from a complete strangers, we returned to our hotel and relaxed for a bit, caught up with the family on Skype and then headed back to our restaurant of choice.

Spoiled for choice, I reluctantly (ha!) settled on the large Lobster for $35. Yes, it cost $35 for a big-ass, full lobster. I wouldn’t even get a lobsters leg for $35 back home. Danni bought a plate of calamari and octopus.
I can confirm that the seafood here is amazing. We enjoyed our meal on the beach, watching the sunset. I considered a second lobster, and perhaps a third but sanity got in the way of greed and we headed back home to get some sleep, ready for diving tomorrow.

Day 2 of diving was another pleasant day, it was a little cooler and overcast but we still got some good time underwater, logging in 40 and 50-minute dives. There wasn’t much new we saw, but we did see another octopus hiding amongst the corals, changing colours, and a spotted eel that looked very similar to a sea snake. We also found a giant lobster hiding in a cave he was a big boy. Aside from that we saw a lot of nudibranchs and the usual assortment of fish.
It started raining as we surfaced on the second dive, Danni had a problem with her regulator and had to ascend early, the divemaster handing me the SMB and I was a divemaster for a little bit before he returned after making sure Danni was ok.
Aside from that, it wasn’t overly exciting but still pleasant and the water temperature was good. Zanzibar has some beautiful dive sites and well worth the visit to dive.

It rained throughout most of the day so we didn’t venture out, rather stayed in the hotel and relaxed, dealt with the sunburns from yesterday and packed our clothes ready to leave tomorrow morning.
We had dinner at the hotel, a buffet which was ok, but I seriously missed the lobster I had the other day.
The next morning we were picked up and met up with the rest of the group and finally got to meet Sebastian, who is chronically late. He was still in bed while everyone else was ready to go so he hadn’t endeared himself to many people in his short time with us.
We went home the same route we entered, via the ferry. The ocean was rough and a lot of people were refunding their lunch, including a few from our group. I felt perfectly fine which I was quietly proud of myself for considering I remember my first boat ride in South Africa 2 years ago where I wanted to hurl. I guess I am used to it now.
The second ferry was the usual mad rush with everyone in a hurry to get on and then get off, the body odour was still there and by the time we returned to our camp site in Dar es Salam, I was relieved to be there.
We set up our tents and had dinner, a lovely barbeque grilled chicken with potatoes and vegetables before we went to bed for an early wake up.

I don’t think anyone slept that night. It was so hot, I almost flooded the tent with sweat and somehow we managed to spring a leak in the airbed, though I think I have sealed it. It seems to have come from the patch job when it first got a whole, so hopefully it is all good. We’ll see tonight.
We were awake at 3.30, although I really didn’t sleep much at all neither did anyone else in the group due to the heat, and left at 5 after breakfast. Most people slept on the truck for a good while and I am thinking most people will be keen for a early night as we headed to Iringa, still in Tanzania but heading towards Malawi.
The drive to Iringa was long and we drove through Makuru National Park. It’s a bit weird because the main highway runs through this park and you don’t have to pay to get in, but you are not allowed to stop to see the animals.
There weren’t many animals there any way, we saw some baboons, buffalo, warthogs, zebras and giraffes but very few and far between along the 50km stretch.

We finally arrived at our camp, it was a nice place based on a farm and they had hot showers so it automatically rated highly with me. One of the workers also had a gorgeous 3-month old baby golden lab that was very playful.
It was already late when we arrived so we had dinner and pretty much went to bed.
Unfortunately sleep was hard to come by as the air mattress was officially diagnosed with a puncture so I spent half the night sleeping on the ground.

We awoke the next morning and begun our journey towards Malawi.

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