We landed in
Dar Es Salaam, the largest city, and we remarked upon the well-spaced but haphazardly arranged houses of which many had blue, tiled rooves. On arrival we had to queue a while to get our visas ($50 each). Then we had to walk down a long, dingy corridor with a maroon, tread-bare carpet to reach domestic departures. We caught a FastJet plane to Kilimanjaro airport, from where we took the hotel taxi to Korona House B&B, Arusha ($50). Yusef and Omani, who worked there were really helpful and made us feel very welcome. The room was great. It was safari-themed with pictures of animals everywhere (even the toilet roll holder had an elephant on it). The room was a good size, the bed had a mosquito net (which we only used on the final night) and the wetroom was only separated from the bedroom by a curtain. We had dinner at the hotel, but only one of two things from the menu were available (as the rest needed defrosting in advance). Mark had a chicken stew and I had veg and we both had coconut rice, which we ate in the separate restaurant at the rear of the property. The weather was a pleasant change from Oman and Dubai, as it wasn’t humid and even got cool enough for sweaters in the evening.
The next morning Omani arranged for a safari company that put people into groups to come round. The enthusiastic agent, Loy from AAA Express Adventure, had a group going to the two parks we wanted the next day for four days (we had hoped to do just three days to save money). I got him down from USD$170 per person per day to USD$150, and booked it up. Omani agreed to change the days of our room booking and look after our large cases. Later we asked the hotel to take us to a restaurant for lunch with wifi as the hotel only had a good connection after 6pm. We suggested a place like McDonalds but they took us to another hotel in the suburbs, which had good food but it was a bit isolated, and the taxi was $20 return. Later, back at the hotel, we had a meal on the balcony while trying to see Mount Meru or Kilimanjaro but it was too cloudy.
After another breakfast of Habiscus tea, fried eggs, toast, yoghurt, juice, fruit and pancakes we were collected by a car and driven to the clock tower at the centre of Arusha, where we met the Safari agent again. We were then driven to the safari van where we met the others and our guide and driver Anwar ‘Cheetah’. On our group there was a 75-year old, sprightly Kiwi called John. There was a couple from San Diego, called David and Yoryanna or Jor for short. He was a straight-laced, Christian engineer and she was a louder-than-life Mexican teaching assistant. There was also a Japanese lad called Rikiya who was training to become a boxer. He couldn’t speak much English but we found out half way through the trip that his Swahili was pretty good, so the guide spoke to him in Swahili! The van was an ageing ‘Snorkeler’ with seven seats in the back and a roof you could raise. Luckily for us the two of us got the three backseats so we could spread out on the way. We stopped at a supermarket on the edge of town for any last-minute snacks. We then passed through some checkpoints in a military training area, before passing some Masai towns and villages on the way to the Ngorongoro National Park.
On the way we saw cyclists carrying banana stalks full of fruit, Masai boys waving, baobab trees, a Masai market, donkeys, mobile payment agents and Masai shepherds walking their goats and cattle. Arriving at the Ngorongoro National Park we were left to explore the little museum and learn about the animals while our guide paid the entrance fee. We learnt that the Big 5, so named as they are the most difficult to hunt, are the Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhino and Cape Buffalo. By this time we had picked up a little Swahili. ‘Jambo’ means hello, and we must have heard this thousands of times as we walked around in Tanzania. ‘Mambo’ or ‘mambo jambo’ means what’s up and ‘hakunda matata’ means no problem.
Back on the move we saw our first wild animals, a family of Baboons just inside the gate. As we drove up the windy road up to the edge of the crater our guide announced that this was the end of the tarmac road and to prepare ourselves for an ‘African massage’. The scenary changed from the arid plains of the Masai area to a jungle-like forested area as we climbed the heavily cambered road. There was a viewing point on the side of the caldera crater where we were able to enjoy the views of the tiny Elephants 600m below. Anwar explained that it’s the largest complete caldera in the world, a caldera being a collapsed volcano. It was there that we first met the people from our sister vehicle. There was a 26-year old, Californian girl, called Megan, working in Zambia in the Peace Corps. She was teaching a village how to farm fish, and living with them in a mud hut with no water or electricity. She was accompanied by her teacher sister, Zania, her Dad and her uncle who were visiting her.
We then pressed on to the lunch stop which had a view down but consisted of just a grassy field with a couple of trees and cut logs for seats. It would have been quite pleasant if it wasn’t for the ants running up our legs and biting us. The guides wisely ate in the van. Lunch consisted of a white, cardboard box containing a piece of chicken, a carton of juice, a banana, a cucumber sandwich, a boiled egg and some biscuits. They did their best to accommodate my dietary requirements. We were warned to watch out for black kites swooping down from the tree and pinching our chicken. We saw them but we were fine. Anwar then drove us out of the Ngorongoro Park and into the Serengeti National Park. While he queued to pay we used the toilet facilities and scaled the small hill to the lookout point over the Serengeti plain and saw a red and dark blue agama lizard.
Anwar then drove us at a good speed through the park pointing out zebra, grant gazelles, thompson gazelles, giraffes and the odd jackal. We saw a hyena with its spotty coat and lollopy gait. From the very far distance we saw our first wild lions. Anwar explained that we couldn’t drive closer because one of the other safari vans next to us would report us and we would get fined. Still it was our first of the Big Five.
The truck then rumbled on past outcrops of rock (popular amongst the big cats) and various types of acacia trees on our way to the camp site at the centre of the park in Seronera. Just outside the camp we saw a group of elephants and some of the others saw cape buffalo. Us men assembled the tents we had been carrying on the roof of the truck. They were green, 3-man, dome tents and the single men had one each and there were two for us couples. We were given a sleeping bag each and a camping mattress. We got the tents up just before it started to rain. We were brave enough to use the cold showers before dinner (for the rest of the trip we decided not to bother). They cooked for us in one building and served it to us in the other. In the dining building we sat on a long trestle table in a vast space illuminated by just a few weak energy-saving bulbs. There were about another thirty people eating, apart from our two groups and there were power sockets there but they didn’t work. Anwar didn’t eat with us as he was observing Ramadan, and Charles, the guide/driver for the other group did not either. Dinner consisted of popcorn, tea and coffee followed by spaghetti bolognese and vegetables.
David kindly lent us one of his torches which proved invaluable as it got dark at 7.30. Exhausted we retired to our tent after dinner to discover that my sleeping bag was wet at the end as Mark hadn’t closed the tent properly. Also the zip on the inner door of the tent was broken, so we had to sleep with that bit hanging down. Anwar warned us that wild animals do wander through the campsite at night, so we should go to the toilet in pairs and listen for five mins before venturing out. It was my first time camping and I loved it despite the rain.
Our first morning there saw us visit the toilet block for a wash (but not a shower) before returning to our table in the dining hall. Breakfast was similar to the fare we received at Korona House but without cereal and yoghurt. Someone had to wake up Rikiya as he overslept or maybe didn’t understand when to get up for breakfast! Before we set off Anwar showed us a plastic drum that had been chewed to pieces by hyenas the night before, but we hadn’t heard anything. We pushed up the roof and drove off past several giraffes by the entrance to our camp and we were full of expectation, not knowing what we might see. We soon past several large deer-like animals such as the impalas, with their twisty horns, topis and biggest of all, the elands.
The first real natural wonder we saw were two cheetahs close to the van. Anwar and two other trucks drove off-road for a closer look and suddenly a third appeared. The three vans circled the cats and we were able to see them from about 3 metres away for a good few minutes. It was a wonderful experience. Such slim, sleek, athletic animals you could see how they can run so fast. They had small, round heads and beautiful silky coats.
We then passed more thompson gazelles, the most plentiful animal in the park, and got to see some warthogs up close. We could make out the nodules on their faces and the curved tusks. However, the funniest thing was watching them run with their stumpy, little legs. We also spotted a black viper snaking through the long grass and Anwar pursued it for a minute or so before it eventually escaped us. After a bit longer we headed back to camp for lunch thoroughly satisfied with the morning’s safari.
We had a good lunch and got back to animal spotting. That afternoon we saw two male lions relaxing just next to one of the jeep trails. They were completely unconcerned about the proximity of our van or us inside snapping them. It was a real privilege to be able to get so close to them and observe them. We saw some groups of elephants before we were treated to a large solitary jumbo stripping bark of a tree right next to the track. We could see right into its mouth and proceeded to eat the soft heart of the tree. We knew it must be something special as even our guide was taking pictures.
Anwar explained that there were no rhino left in the Serengeti as, sadly, they had been hunted to extinction. That meant everyone was on the lookout for leopards. We couldn’t find any but our guide spied a dead gazelle in the top of a tree that had been carried up by a leopard, to save it for later. Back at the camp we ate dinner and discovered a bit more about our fellow travellers namely that Rikiya worked paining cars, John was an engineer in the navy, and his wife was visiting her family in Burnley. Also that David was a resident landlord in a small block he owns and him and Yoryanna are on a gluten-free diet and don’t normally eat bread. They even told us they make bread-less bacon-base pizzas! Mark and I attempted to walk off our dinner by walking up and down the short length of crazy paving from the toilet block to the car park.
As instructed we rose at 5 to leave at 6 having already packed our cases. Our early morning safari took us back past the leopard kill, which was still undisturbed, and to a river flanked by palm trees were we saw a herd of hippos which was quite spectacular. We also saw a huge amount of stinky, hippo poo clogging up one end. We passed a van full of Japanese tourists who were all asleep, rather surprisingly. We were extremely lucky and saw a cheetah hunt a gazelle, and later lift up the body while checking for predators. It then disappeared out of sight to devour it. We saw more of the herbivores and a large ant trail across the road before we closed in on a group of elephants wading across the river. We were one of many vans within metres of the beasts but we had a commanding view. Suddenly a large female was startled while I was filming it and it threatened to charge at our van. I kept filming and Anwar had to rev the engine to make it back down, which was exciting.
Then later while we were following an elephant walk along a small stream we were fortunate enough to see it flush out a leopard! Such a beautiful animal! It has an amazing coat and it is massively stronger than a cheetah, with powerful shoulders. We tracked it for some time along with twenty or so other vehicles until it disappeared from view. We then scooted back to camp for brunch, packed up the tents and headed for Ngorongoro. The drive took us back the way we had come on the first day and we saw more Masai shepherds walking their herds (they are not allowed in the Serengeti).
We arrived at our campsite on the edge of the crater and re-erected our tents and ate dinner. We were careful to ensure someone else got the one with the broken inner door (particularly because it was so much colder in Ngorongoro due to the altitude)! After dinner people saw an elephant approaching the camp and Anwar told us to come stand next to the vehicles for protection as he knew where it would appear. A large jumbo then came out of the forest a few metres from us, lifted its trunk and started drinking from out camp water-butt. It was so nice to be so close, and we felt safe despite being outside the vehicle. After a minute or two it disappeared down the slope again, as quickly as it arrived.
That evening we lost track of which tent was ours, as they all look the same. We wandered around in the dark for some time trying to find ours. Mark even tried to open the wrong tent, much to the guy’s annoyance! It was actually very funny! It was very cold there due to the altitude. We accidentally left David’s torch hanging from the roof of our old tent so we had to try to find who had it that night, and of course it was Rikiya. We assumed he just thought the torch came with the tent! Just before Mark and I turned in for the night I spotted Rikiya’s tent window flap was open and Mark went over there to close it for him to keep him warm. When Mark called his name to see if he was in there he jumped out of his skin, which was very funny. To keep ourselves warm we were sleeping in pretty much all the clothes we had with us. I was wearing my hoody with the hood up and pulled tight around my face. Mark even had his jeans on over the top of his linen trousers.
The next day we packed our bags and left them in the tents as instructed. We then had breakfast before heading down into the crater. There is only one road in and one road out, and it was still freezing cold when we reached the 22sqkm caldera floor. Once we were down Anwar gave us the chance to get out the vehicle to take pictures, which felt a little risky. Then we clambered back in and got close to the soda lake where we saw half a dozen flamingos. We also clapped eyes on our first wildebeest, with their shaggy forequarters. Anwar explained about the mass migration of 1 million or so that lap the Serengeti and Masai Mara in Kenya, but they were on their northern stretch at the moment across the border.
Soon after we saw a few cape buffalo, which are so big and stocky they need to be seen to be believed. Ploughing on we saw more of the ubiquitous gazelle and even a pair of lions mating. We saw more zebras and hippos at a picturesque toilet/lunch spot by a lake and I tried to pat the zebras but they were too skittish.
Back on the trail Charles spotted a rhino in the distance by the crater’s edge. It was barely visible to the naked eye but we could see it clearly from John’s binoculars and our camera. The Big Five! We gave Anwar a high-five in celebration. We then saw a huge herd of wildebeest, spreading out either side of the road. It was interesting so see them walk in a line, one behind the other. After that we were treated to a couple more rhinos. Again they were warily grazing a good distance from the road. Anwar explained that there are fewer than twenty remaining here and they are rightly scared of humans, their only predators. He went on to say that they have good hearing but can only see 50m, which makes them a bit jittery. Interesting about half the people we spoke to only saw four of the big five, normally missing the leopard or rhino, so we were very lucky.
Finally, we saw a wildebeest carcass being dismembered by three or four hyenas. One was tackling the ribs, another had the skull and a third crossed the road with a hoofed led in its mouth. There was a jackal there too, tucking in, and a couple of species of vultures waiting their turn.
After taking some wonderful pics we drove back up to the edge of the crater and ate our packed lunch. We then pressed on to the camp and loaded up the van with our bags and the tents before taking the road back to Arusha. On the way we stopped at a Masai village where we manage to haggle and get in for $5 each. John had already agreed to pay $10 sadly, but Rikiya also got in for $5. David and Yoryanna stayed in the van as he wasn’t interested and she was feeling ill. It was a great experience. They started by dressing us in their red or blue robes, then the men and women lined up and danced for us. I went and danced with the women and they dressed me in a one of their wide, white necklaces. John, Rikiya and Mark did the same and they gave them a pole to hold while they jumped up and down with them. After that they showed us how they make fire using a hardwood stick and a piece of softwood. It only took a few minutes. Then they separated us and Mark and I went with the chief’s son to his mud hut. They said we could ask them anything so Mark asked about his shoes that were made from sections of car tyre. He also explained how he supports Man Utd and would be watching the World Cup final 15km walk away in the town. He showed us inside his hut. It was completely dark inside except for a very small shaft of light coming in from a small window hole. There were just two rooms and both had flat, leather beds in raised above the earth floor in short stilts. The one in the kitchen/dining room was the parent’s bed and it had a washing line with modern children’s clothes on, suspended above it. He invited us to sit on plastic drums around the fire spot, which had a pan on it. He then explained that the adults eat meat and only drink milk and animal blood, no fruit and no veg. The children ate the same but supplemented by a mixture of maize flour and blood. We were then taken past the ‘market’, just three tables with jewellery made of coloured beads, and were shown a mud hut under construction. They explained that the women build the houses with their thin wooden frames made from branches, mud walls and thatch roofs. The women also have to walk 15km there and back to fetch the water and the men don’t do much, which I wasn’t very happy about! The chief’s son told us he had more than 200 cows, goats and sheep and was surprised to hear that Mark’s mum and dad only have one goat! He took us to the kindergarten school just outside the village where the littles ones sang for us.
We said goodbye and drove on but we didn’t get far before the van broke down. After a few minutes Anwar got it started again but not before we had a chance to give some crisps and biscuits to the two Masai kids that appeared next to our window. We then stopped in a small town so Anwar could by a mandioca, a soursop and a custard apple. About a couple of hours later we were back in the hotel, enjoying a much-needed shower. At dinner we met a black American woman from south Jersey who worked with the trauma caused by the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. We also got talking to a young Belgian couple (Yuri and Lisalot) who were both at uni still. The American woman was kind enough to leave the four of us with her bottle of white wine, which was nice. Later that evening a Polish/Canadian chap called Peter introduced himself and we later met his Russian/Canadian wife Marina. Omani arranged for us to tag along with them on their tour of Arusha before we caught the plane to Dar.
However, the following morning we woke to find our flight booking was cancelled again, it had happened the night before too. So we agreed to stay another night and do a full day town tour with the couple. We found out that they were both medical writers and Peter had a blog of some of his travels, which was nice. We agreed to split the $100 cost between us. Omani drove us to the Masai Market, where I bought a couple of small bags. Next we parked in the centre and walked through the Central Market and tried some baobab fruit, which was hard and powdery.
Omani led us to the top floor of a modern building where the Tanzanite Experience and shop was. We had teas, coffees and biscuits then watched a small video about the history of the gemstones. After a quick circuit of the museum we were shown a $28,000 gem before settling on one for $600 and paying half each. The beautiful blue or yellow stones are only found in a small place near Arusha, nowhere else in the world. As you shine a torch onto them they light up in two or three different colours, and they are 1,000x rarer than diamonds.
We stopped for lunch in a western cafe that reminded Mark of Starbucks. Afterwards we went to the Arusha Natural History Museum (Old Boma) in the old German administrative buildings ($5 entry per person). There were a 23-year old guide explained how the Laceys discovered the earliest signs of humans in the Olduvai gorge in Tanganyika and talked about the wildlife there. At the back of the building they have a taxidermist, an eagle and several tortoises in with a few storks. One stork was pecking at a tortoise’s head, the tortoise would then retract it into its shell for a minute before reappearing and then the whole thing would start again. It was quite funny to see.
After leaving we drove to Faraja’s Orphanage in a village just outside Arusha city. The Belgian couple had been the day before and they inspired us to go. Like them we asked Omani to stop in a wholesaler in town to buy $150 of rice, cooking oil, sugar and soap, and we split the cost with the other couple. Faraja explained that it would only last 3 days though. When we arrived all the children came running and wanted to touch us and speak to us, it was very touching. It was a lovely welcome. We got some nice pictures and videos with the kids, they love being photographed. Faraja then invited us into a dormitory and told us a bit about the place and one of his teenage volunteers translated. He explained that he used to be a street child and he founded the orphanage six years ago after he discovered that he couldn’t have children. There are plenty to be done there, so if you wish to help contact Omani from the Korona House B&B and he can take you there.
Western guilt partially assuaged we drove back to the hotel, briefly pausing at a quite modern shopping centre to visit the supermarket. The others tried to get takeout from Khan’s barbecue but it was closed so they have to settle for pasta and salad. Mark had the chicken casserole and rice at the hotel and the four of us sat together which was nice.
The next day we had breakfast and took a taxi to Kili airport to catch our FastJet flight to Dar. After takeoff Mark craned his neck round because the man behind him thought he could see Mount Kilimanjaro. He saw what the man was looking at and it could have been it. So maybe he’s seen it, maybe not.
What a spectacular place!