3rd June to 6th
02.06.2010 - 06.06.2010
Wednesday, 2nd June, 2010
Leaving Amboselli, we experienced a further taste of true African roads, they hare unsealed, potholed and unpredictable. No warning of how bad these road conditions were could have prepared us for this experience. Our exit from the park was also a further example of true African bureaucracy. A number of park officials processed our park permits , some even having to disturb their morning crossword to do so. Masai woman and children hounded our car again selling their beaded wares, and once again I was struck by their statuesque, lithe bodies and their fascinating ear jewellery. Had their earrings not been sewn on animal skin, I would have been tempted to purchase some--- as ornaments only- but the animal skin will defiantly cause some complications with Australian officials. We arrived at the Kenyan /Tanzanian border on our scheduled time of 11.00 am and soon met Julius the driver for the Kenyan tour company who was there to collect the car and hand us over to David, the driver/guide, from their Tanzanian tour partners,'B2B'- 'Bush2beach'. The crossing was easy and uneventful with a few passport forms to complete. It doesn't appear to be too mindful of goods or people crossing over, and as we had pre-purchased our visas – at a premium-we were able to access the short line and avoid the queue .
David is a Tanzanian local, living and working in Arusha. He has been a driver/guide for 16 years and has a good command of English. Despite the language not being taught at school as in Kenya. The Swahili language is pre dominant here, with 36 different dialects. The Masai people have their own language, which we soon discovered when we stopped on the side of the road to photograph 2 Masai children,about 8 and 4 shepherding their goats and cows. They did not understand David but were delighted to see their faces in our camera . What a huge responsibility these kids have at such a young age, and finding 2 young girls doing this task is unusual as its the role of the teenage yonai- young pre- circumcised males of about 15 years old- who usually do this job.
The road from the border to Arusha-120kms- has been under construction for over 3 years and for the most part seems unattended by any workers at all. There is no air-conditioning in the Land Cruiser in fact there is also a void of turbo charge , radio or any extras-as these vehicles are made to be as basic and bush tolerant as possible- so much for my insistence of bringing a fm/ipod converter – the pounding corrugation road noise was so bad that we could hardly even converse let alone listen to our music collection or the latest podcasts that David downloaded before we left. As we approached Arusha, we took a slight short cut through sprawling lush coffee and banana plantations and we also drove past the typically colonial plantation Mansions, owned we were told by the Indians of Tanzania. It appears that like in Kenya, the Indian community dominates commercial and business life. The security guarding these plantations was strict and made us wander what else they were confining in these barbed wire strongholds. We made our way directly to the Lake Manyara National Park which took about 2 hours, again through villages and on poor roads. We did stop to briefly outside the local Masai market, which appeared to include the selling of a myriad of household items as well as cattle and goats. I would have got out the car to look and browse at the people, but the driver, was not happy for us to do that, and David breathed a sigh of relief, yet again, safe in the knowledge that I more than like would not have found anything to buy.
Lake Manyara N.P. Has within it a magnificent rain forest and a different eco system to what we've encountered so far. The remainder of the park surrounds Lake Manyara, a huge permanent water body with cranes, flamingoes and hippos as residents. We were able to leave the car and view these animals from a short distance , wading in the water. With the knowledge of the dangerous habits of hippos- this was actually too close for comfort for me. We saw beautiful giraffe families and for the first time loads of baboons.
Kirumuru Tented Lodge is exactly what it professes to be- we had a simple tent on stilts with an en suite toilet and shower. The tent was erected over a concrete floor and a permanent structure with a very comfortable bed and linen. The authenticity of the décor was in the hurricane bedside lamps which were electrified. Our dinner began with us reminiscing yet again over the sweet bread(mossbolletjies) As there was no internet or service on our phones, we were not able to post the blog at that time.
Thursday, 3rd June, 2010
As dawn broke , David went on a nature trail with a local Masai warrior. He pointed out the various trees used by local Masai people for medicinal purposes. He could relate the Latin name for each tree and described his upbringing as a warrior and claimed to have single-handedly killed 2 lions. When David inquired as to how many cattle he had he was embarrassed to tell him that he only had 4. He proceeded to report that his father was the chief of his community and that his father was blessed with 10 wives and 47 children. His oldest brother took over when his father died , with each child only receiving 1 cow and his brother- the new chief- took the balance.
At 9.00am we left the lodge for our next stop- 2 nights in the Ndutu hills on a fly camping experience. We passed into the Ngorogoro Conservation Area and the plan was to collect a ranger for a hour walk. The ride up the mountain to the rangers post was harrowing as the the cloud cover increased and soft rain was falling. The visibility from the car was no more that 50 meters ahead and our driver insisted that he didn't see the necessity to drive below 60 kph. There was a sheer 350m drop on the edge of the road into the crater. As it was wet, miserable and we couldn't see a thing, we decided to head off to the the Ndutu Hills and do a bush walk once we arrived. As we made our way off the cold mountain and into the plains below, the weather cleared and 130 kilometres later, we passed open savannah plains, mountains and the mountain Masai people and no fencing whatsoever. We slowly gained the sense of isolation we were heading into. Our camp was set up miles from anywhere and consisted of our bedroom tent, camp toilet- a longdrop- , camp shower- fed from a an overhead water bucket - , the 'dining room tent' and then the staff tents and kitchen. The team from B2B had arrived earlier in the day to set it all up and were awaiting our arrival with wet towels and passion juice . Our tent has a double raised bed , small bedside table with holes for the large water bottle, and the dining room has traditional safari linen and a wooden butlers tray- the true use of this furniture. This is camping in the authentic sense of the word, and my bush gear donned , including the bush shoes, socks ,hat binoculars camera and bush hair do, we were off to collect the ranger, Sharbanee, who with his AK47 walked us through the bush savannah on a 8 km walk. We didn't encounter much game too close by and by the time we returned it had started raining- now my real comfort zone was been stretched out of all proportion. Dirty, dusty and now a little wet, we soon organised our tent and belongings so that once dark we could be settled. David even braved the shower! I think he was thinking about his time on Killi, when there was no option but to go to bed 'dirty' and to wake 'dirty' Soon we were sitting alongside a roaring camp fire and drinking a glass of South African red wine and eating hot freshly made popcorn.
The camp manager, James is a modern Masai man who told us that he was saving US$700 to buy his wife,to pay her father this dowry. He was delightful and he enlarged our knowledge of his people- whom we have become fascinated with. He described his wedding day set for December, and gave us detailed descriptions of the goats and oxen to be killed, the blood to be drunk and the ceremonies and traditions to happen. He told us of his dream to be a priest in the Catholic church, as he had been educated in a missionary school. This never happened however as because his father had 2 wives , he was considered a heathen and was unable to take up the priesthood.
Dinner was great, and they have accommodated my vegetarianism to the end detail. The camp chef who has trained as a sous chef, baker and pastry maker, keeps amazing us with his delicious, tasty meals. In discussion with him, Valance, he has been a chef many times on Killi- about 60 he says- and loves to cook in the bush. He had never heard of Jamie Oliver- can there still be a male cook in this world who hadn't heard of him? He will pass on his recipes before we leave. Dinner consisted of fresh Leek and Carrot soup, Ratatouille and Avocado Pear salad with a delicious vinaigrette and banana fritters. The waiter/ crew man , Jackson donned his B2B dinner tunic to serve us. This for both of us reminded us of a bygone era that we lived through in South Africa. Around the camp fire, Jackson shared with us his dream to be a driver in his company and to add French and German to his known languages.
A challenge I soon needed to master was to take out and put in my contact lenses at a bush camp washbasin. As I also didn't have a mirror tomorrow was to be the first time in my life that I think I had gone 24 hours without looking in the mirror- when did you do that last?
Friday 4th June, 2010
An early start saw Sharbanee, the miserable large-set ranger take us for another 10km bush walk. The only time he smiled or indicated that he could speak any English was when he put his hand out for a tip
We came across a myriad of small wildlife including a family of foxes. We have been continuously amazed at the number and variety of insect life we have experienced. This land is teeming with all sorts of 'gogas' and we both have many insect bites to prove it. Fortunately for me, the snake population is dormant presently and other than the dead puff adder on the road, we haven't seen any of my dreaded enemy. I have each and every night with a strong torch, checked the bed and room/ tent- I aint sleeping with them !!
The day unfolded as I imagined the original colonialists out on safari or in the bush would have experienced it - the midday heat set in, we had a leisurely breakfast , I took up the challenge of the bucket shower after Jackson had heated the water- I don't know how-, we both dozed , ate lunch and I took the chance to write this blog and soon David , the driver had us in the Land cruiser and off on a game drive. After one and a half tedious hours and seeing little more than buffalo, we were on our way back to the camp and as David crossed the drying lake bed there sunning themselves were 4 magnificent cheetah, a mother and her 3 cubs. We drove up really close by and watched as after about 20 minutes the 4 spectacular beasts eyed us, got up and walked into the night bush . This was spine-chilling to say the least, and what a way to end a really 'rustig'- restful- day.
Once again, dinner was great and lights were out by 9.00pm! I couldn't help but think again of how totally cut off and isolated we had been- here we were with 4 black Tanzanian men in the middle of the world, with no power, telephone coverage, internet and outside communication whatsoever. A little scary for me.
June, 5th , 2010 Serengeti.
Coastal Aviation, the air company we were to fly into the Serengeti with, notified the guide that the scheduled departure from the Ndutu airstrip was cancelled and that wed have to travel 2 hours into the Serengeti to Seronera to fly to the Grumeti River where we would be spending tonight and Sunday night. Again , another taste of Hakuna Matata- all will be ok -no worries mate. At first I was a little irritated at this , but it all worked out for the best, as we drove into this 15000.00 square km national park and within hours saw a pride of lion resting in the sun, a beautiful leopard cradled in a tree with its wildebeest kill in the branch below and the tail end of the migration for about 1000 zebra. As I write this blog in our tented lodge, Kensington, the rain is bucketing down and pounding against the tent canvas. This is not meant to be the rainy season and with these unexpected and unseasonal rains, the whole migration is upside down. We may not see the actual crossing of the 1 and a half million wildebeest, as parts of these herds are still kilometres away, but Mike our new guide has told us that these animals can cross 100kms in a night. Tomorrow we will depart early and head out about 50kms away and try and catch some of the migrating herds.
We took the 20 minute flight to Grumeti on a 12 seater plane, flown by an American woman pilot called Lisa. We were her only passengers and David flew in the co-pilot seat alongside her. I do not like small planes- in fact I don't really like big jets either- but I have to admit the journey was really ok. That was until she dipped the plane to point out some wildlife below.
Mike the new driver/guide collected us from the airstrip and after an hour wait while the Serengeti Park authorities tried to get their card system working and tried to work out why we had paid park fees already, we set off for a 3 hour game drive which included wonderful sightings of hippo, crocodile and storks sharing the same little patch of river, and all so close by. What a magnificent sunset we watched, a bright red/orange ball of fire speedily descended into the horizon and David captured these few minutes with the skill of a professional photographer- quite superb!
The Kensington camp is not as luxurious as I recalled from their internet site, but we have a lovely large tented room and en suite bathroom- and after having to leave the tent for all ablutions- this is pure luxury! Again no internet facility and poor phone coverage, so we will be posting all these day entries once we get to Kigali on Monday. There are 3 other guests in the lodge, a woman , her adult son and sister from Toronto.
Dinner was ok and after a really steaming shower its off to bed but not before a quick whiz around in and out of the bed with the torch- the noises abound and David is already sleeping soundly.
June 6th 2010 Serengeti.
It is 5.45pm and we have just returned from a very long day out on safari. Our tent is quiet and the same dove noises that awoke us this morning, are closing this very still evening . The 'window' flaps are down and I am overlooking the vast grass plains with the magnificent Serengeti mountains in the background.
Over a simple breakfast us and the Canadians shared ideas about which animals had created the noises we heard in the night- was it hippo, elephant or lion? I did not enter into the conversation, for as per usual, I was so sound asleep, a lion could have roared outside our tent entrance and I most probably would not have even woken. David had heard it and the camp manager soon confirmed that it had been lion. There are no fences around the camp and the lion could have been really close by.
We departed the camp after placing our washing in a blue plastic bucket to be completed by the camp staff. We have returned to find it on our beds, beautifully laundered, folded and ironed- what a pleasure! Not sure what type of iron was used, as the power is very limited , there wasn't even enough for me to use my little travel hair-dryer- no choice but to wear my bush hair-do for another 24 hours.
The days game drive confirmed to me yet again, the totally unpredictable ways of the African bush. We drove for about 8 hours chasing the elusive game sighting- to be specific ,any early migratory animals and off course the lion. David had told Mike , within minutes of meeting him, that it was the lion, preferably during a kill, that he wanted to see- no pressure on the poor guy! As they have a substantial lion population in the park, this didn't seem to hard an ask- but chased the whole day with no luck. We did stop for about half an hour on a water-filled bridge which had below it a crocodile, bird, hippo and baboon infested river. We didn't know where to look first as the many crocodiles opened their jaws into the waterfall created by the bridge. 2 Hamerkop brown birds challenged the crocs fishing abilities and put them to shame as they caught fish after fish in their beaks. The Marabu stork nearby just watched , while the White stork also braved the waterfall and continued to catch the 'flying' fish . The crocodiles were aplenty and we even sighted a large Nile monitor lizard leaving the water for the shade of the river bank. Baboons were cautious and alert as they drank within 4 meters of a dozing crocodile. All in all it was a truly melodic symphony of sounds and sights.
We encountered 9 vultures in the beginning of the day presiding over a 2 day old kill- a buffalo. They were guarding their breakfast closely and we watched and waited as well as smelled the rotting and diminishing carcass.
We stopped for lunch in the bush and Mike the guide made a point of ensuring that we were in a safe spot- in an open plain with gazelles and impala nearby. They were to be our watchdogs I couldn't help but wonder who was actually watching who. We were advised to use the 'bush wash room' close to the car, and then we enjoyed a box packed lunch, mine marked 'NO MEAT' – I couldn't help but notice that David too has steered away from eating chicken mostly after his food poisoning experience after climbing Killi.
We later spotted a rare Leopard tortoise and an old male buffalo that had been attacked and had a gaping back wound. We saw some of the beginnings of the wildebeest migrating herd, good giraffe spotting and all day fought off the irritating Tsetse fly in the Land cruiser. Mike assured us that with our white skins we were not the feeding or stinging target for this fly- his black skin was its ultimate destination. He over the last 2 days has continuously served a zillion Tsetse flies from on top of his black attractant skull.
Another breathtaking sunset and a drink around the camp fire enabled us to reconnect with Canadians Betsy McGregor, her sister Barbara McGregor and her son, Mac Faulkner- a professional ice hockey player currently playing in an Italian league. Betsy is presently running as a Liberal member for Canadian parliament and her sister Barbara is a lawyer. We shared stories of our day and passed on some tips for their forthcoming trip to Johannesburg.
We enjoyed dinner which we shared with our guide, Mike. During dinner the roaring of lions stopped all conversation and these very African bush sounds continued after we arrived back into our tent.
The lions sound like they are almost outside the tent, but we have been reassured that the sound travels well in the African night and they could be up to half a kilometre away..... is that far enough?
Up for an early game drive , light brunch-David has ordered ugali, the Tanzanian version of South African pap-maizemeal- and then our flight to Kigali.
The end to a wonderful few days in Tanzania- Laila Salem- good night in Swahili.