Africa part 5 of 6 Tanzania AKA Paradise and Animals

Feb 12, 2012 by     2 Comments    Posted under: Brandyn's blogs, Malawi, Tanzania, Uncategorized, Where we've been, Zanzibar

For part one of my Africa series, please click here
For part two of my Africa series, please click here
For part three of my Africa series, please click here
For part four of my Africa series, please click here

Paradise and Animals

Dar es Salaam
Stone Town
Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Recap and Reflections

Before we left Malawi our tour leader said to us something like this, ‘okay everyone, sorry to interrupt, everyone, hello…we will be going to Tanzania, for the first day there will be no ATMs. Make sure that you get out enough Malawian Kwacha so that you can change it for Tanzanian Shillings across the border. No one will accept Kwacha once you get further into Tanzania.’ Once we crossed the border, there was a man on the other side who was exchanging Kwacha for Shillings. The official exchange rate was about 10:96, so ten Kwacha equals about 96 Shillings. The exchange guy was a friend of our tour leader and wanted to give us 10:75. We were all livid. A lot of us felt as if our ‘leader’ completely screwed us over and more than likely got a commission off the sale, especially because he made sure to tell us that we should probably take out enough Kwacha to change.

We drove to the highlands into Iringa, Tanzania through coffee plantations, banana groves, and some really cool street scenes. Iringa didn’t have much to offer, but because it was at a higher elevation, it was much cooler than a lot of the country. To cope with the cooler temperature Cori got Amarula hot chocolate. We went to bed early and had to get up at the crack of dawn to drive to Dar es Salaam before heading off to Zanzibar.

For Iringa and the drive to Dar es Salaam please click HERE

Dar es Salaam (place of peace) was very crowded. We stayed on the outskirts of town on an island away from the city itself. It took us something like 8 hours to go 300kms. Cori and I spent some time in Dar es Salaam on our own after we left the tour and will talk about it in part six.

For a few pictures from Dar es Salaam please click HERE

After a two and a half hour ferry ride we arrived in Stone Town. Stone Town is a multicultural mixing pot of colors, flavors, smells, architecture, heat, fraud, allure, history, and everything you could imagine. We arrived during the holy month of Ramadan, which meant that very few restaurants would be open during the day; we’d have to dress more conservatively, and hide our water when walking down the street.

Because we were afraid that we wouldn’t be able to eat, we decided to take a spice tour with the group. A spice tour sounds lame but it offered 1) lunch 2) a brief tour of the city 3) a trip to a plantation where we’d get to see the spices grow 4) coconuts and refreshments later. Sold. The tour was pretty cool and I would definitely recommend doing one. I think that it is easy to do on your own so that you wouldn’t have to pay the inflated Africa Travel Co prices or deal with their BS representative on Zanzibar.

That night we went to the night food market and ate like royalty. We had octopus, crab legs, barracuda, sugar cane juice with rum, and many other delights. I could tell I was going to fall in love with Zanzibar.

For pictures from Stone Town, Zanzibar please click HERE

It is important to introduce a few key people in this blog who played such a huge role in our enjoyment of this leg of the trip.
Charles and Thein An, from France, have been traveling with us since Cape Town and we’ve been getting on well with them the entire time. Charles and I were involved in the nabbing of Pumbaa.
Dominic and Francis, a Welsh couple, Liverpool season ticket holders, and would always have a beer with us. They’ve been with the trip since Victoria Falls but we clicked immediately.
Liz, from Australia is amazing. At first I didn’t know how much we’d get along, but it was a strong finish. She was on from Cape Town.
Nate, from the US of A. My beard buddy and super fun to be around. He’s also been on since Cape Town and was going to study in Nairobi for a semester when the trip was finished.

This was a great group of people and hanging out with them enriched our African trip exponentially. It also allowed me to have some guy time. As any couple traveling for long times together will tell you; it is really hard being a husband, best friend, gossip buddy, fashion advisor, and Joanna (Cori’s best friend back home). When Cori needs to just talk and doesn’t need a response, she’ll start with, ‘okay Joanna…’ and that is my cue to listen and not talk. I’m sure that Cori was happy to have women around that she could talk to that would give her more than one word answers half the time.

The eight of us decided that in Zanzibar, we would ditch the group and stay on the east side of the island. The east is known to be more of a relaxed environment and more beautiful (and cheaper) than where our leader wanted us to stay. The next morning we left early to head out to the east of the island to a village called Jambiani and stayed at the Oasis Beach Inn. We arranged a driver with the representative (the same BS one I mentioned above). Our driver spoke zero English and had no idea where we were going. We stopped probably 10 times to ask directions. If you look at a road map of Zanzibar, you can see there are only a few roads and you have to be completely idiotic to not know where you’re going, especially if your profession is a driver. About an hour into the drive we were getting really frustrated and the driver pulled over to the side of the road and yelled WAIT! We were sitting in the car for about 15 minutes watching him run up and down the road. Finally a van pulled up next to us and we were motioned to leave and go with the new van.

When we arrived we got our first glimpse of heaven. I’ve flown in an airplane many times and know that above the clouds there is no heaven; but there, right there, off the coast of East Africa on a tiny island, that is where heaven is.

I paid for the first round of beers. We all were absolutely stunned at how beautiful it could be. The water was glass. The sand was the color of paper and soft as cotton. We all were hooting and hollering because of how excited we were to be out of the minivan and in heaven. We dropped our stuff and just sat and looked around us. The women sat on the beach and relaxed while we guys started horseplay with the kids from the village. We raced them on the sand, played some football and brushed up on our Swahili.

The tide was low which meant that swimming was difficult at this time of the day. It also meant that the local women were picking seaweed from the seaweed farms in the water. The women would sell the seaweed to Japan. It is known to be some of the best in the world. We ordered lunch; this was our first taste of Zanzibar time. It took approximately two hours to receive our food after ordering (which is about the standard). The food was worth the wait. We could taste the spices we’d seen the day before mixed with coconut slathered on a fish that was swimming that morning. Heaven is the only describable word for Jambiani.

Being on the east side of the island meant that we had amazing sun rises and that it was ‘winter,’ meant it wouldn’t be up too early. The sun rises made going to bed early worth it. Oasis had free breakfast so we’d have a fried egg, bread and fruit every morning. The next day we went to The Rock Restaurant for lunch. Easily the coolest restaurant I’ve ever been to. It was the first time in a while that we had good white wine, perfectly cooked pasta, and amazing seafood. The beauty cannot be described and pictures don’t do it justice. Take my word for it; The Rock Restaurant may be the best restaurant in the world.

We came back and found a dead shark which Captain Kiko and the other boys caught. I really wanted to go out with them and catch one myself. I knew I would be back in Jambiani in about a week and wanted to go out with them next time. We went out on Martin’s boat for sunset. Because it was Ramadan, everyone was starving and as soon as the sun was setting, they all quickly left us to go eat. We had a fire on the beach that night and had a really great and chill time.

For pictures from Jambiani please click HERE

We left Jambiani too soon and met up with the truck in Dar es Salaam. The next morning we had to be up and leaving the campsite before the sun came up to drive around 650 kms to Arusha. The traffic made traveling slower than slow. It had taken us three hours to get 100kms. It was torture. We were all excited to get to Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater and to see animals. We got to a campsite a few kms outside of Arusha as sun was setting. That night we picked our groups; naturally, we picked the same eight that went to Jambiani together.

We left for a campsite on the outskirts of the Ngorongoro Crater. Ngorongoro Crater got its name from the Maasai who live on the lands in and around the region. Ngorongoro is onomonopia for the way that the bells around their cows’ necks sound when dinging. It is a volcanic crater and one of the densest populated places for African game. It is a Unesco World Heritage Site and home to all of the Big Five.

We were all in our groups of eight and riding in open aired safari vehicles. I really felt like Steve Irwin or David Attenborough. Arriving on the rim of the crater as the sun was coming up was a beautiful experience. When the sun rises and sets in Eastern Africa it lets you know that you are but a minor cog in something far greater. The sun is three times the size in Africa as it is anywhere else on the globe. It was freezing on the rim of the crater and through the early morning mist, we saw buffalo. This brought the Big Five count to four. We were excited at the possibility of seeing a rhino in the crater (the only one we had yet to see).

I’m not a photographer, nor is my camera anything more than a point and shoot, but I hope that they do some kind of justice to the sheer awesomeness of it all. This was Africa, absolute Africa in its primal best. Getting to see a male lion do its mating ritual and let out a roar was definitely a highlight of the day. Seeing hundreds of wildebeest run across the road in front of us made my hair stand up on edge. Observing animals who seemed absolutely oblivious to the droves of trucks made me think about how amazing and truly a once in a lifetime opportunity we were having; not only being on a safari, but the whole trip. There wasn’t much driving inside of the crater nor where there many places for the animals to hide. We had some lunch and saw some of the biggest elephants we’d seen yet and their tusks reached out in front of them a few meters in length. We got to walk around for a bit around a lake. Hippos where 3/4 underwater, giraffes were drinking, and warthogs were running all around. I was stunned and can’t begin to describe how magical an experience it was to be there.

All of the guides use walkie-talkies to communicate with one another so that if they find an animal of interest their friends can get in there as well (maybe for a better tip or maybe because it is the good thing to do, I don’t know). If you are lucky enough to find something awesome on your own, your guide will undoubtedly call his buddies over to share with them. This leads to tons of vehicles all running around to the same spots, which means that the animals may not act as naturally as they had, and it means that there will be one group who does not know how to whisper that will piss everyone off.

Before we left to the Serengeti National Park, we saw in the distance (too far for my camera to take a picture of) a pride of lions with a fresh kill. Our guide told us that the male lions don’t even really hunt. That the female lions hunt in packs kill and then the male lions eat. That kind of put a damper on the whole ‘King of the Jungle’ thing for me, maybe it should be ‘Queens of the Jungle.’

For pictures from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area please click HERE

The drive to Serengeti National Park was arduous, barren, pot holed, and made taking a nap difficult. We arrived in the early afternoon after driving four or so hours. We set up camp and went out on a quick safari. I had only ever heard about how amazing the park was. It was incredible, but massive. It was impossible for us to see a small fraction of the animals that we saw in the crater. That afternoon after the triumphant morning we had, it was going to take something magnificent to make the day much better. The sunset was that something magnificent. The most beautiful sunset I could even imagine was gracing us with its presence. It was remarkable.

One particularly awesome thing about that night was that we were going to camp inside of the Serengeti National Park. I couldn’t believe it. I was so excited I didn’t know how I was going to sleep. The eight of us set up our camp away from the main group of people so that we could hear animals in the distance if at all possible. One downside to that was the far proximity to the bathroom. Which inevitably meant a night trip to the bathroom with the wife…I hoped with the same hilarity as when we crossed the Orange River and Cori accidentally opened the wrong tent and grabbed Cameron’s foot, and not to find a man eating female lion in our path.

We had on this trip our guide, who is a registered guide with the National Parks and our trip leader, the guy from the truck who says about 14 words to us each day. Our leader from the truck, for whatever reason came on the trip as well. We didn’t see him all day and he was at the camp when we arrived that afternoon. Our cook and driver weren’t here because there was no need. We were being cooked for, guided, and cared for by local people. The only thing that our leader had to do; again because he wasn’t leading us this whole time, didn’t go on safari with us, and arrived hours before us to the site, was to get fire wood for that evening.

The entire 20 something of us sat in the dark while all of the other groups were sitting around their fires and having a great time. We had a big box of wine that we were all getting into, but even that was not great because we couldn’t see right in front of us. It turned out to be an early night. Cori and I got ready for bed and walked together to the far end of the campsite where the bathroom was. On the way back to our tent about 4 meters in front of us was the giant head and neck of a hyena. It looked right at me and its eyes lit up like green fireballs from the reflection of my flashlight. It didn’t seem to care and went about its business. It was a pretty cool ending to a very cool day.

That morning was ‘baby day’ at the park. It seemed like every animal we saw had a baby around. We saw baby monkeys, baby elephants, baby pumbaas, baby lions, and a few others. The highlight of the morning was when we came across a beautiful cheetah a few meters from us.

The Serengeti is so massive and the area that we covered was so small that it would never (for me) be able to compete with the majesty that the Ngorongoro Conservation Area had. We drove around for hours seeing animals here and there but mostly in the distance; too far to get good photos. It was an experience of a lifetime, but, I’d almost have wished that we’d gone to Serengeti first, then to Ngorongoro. We did see a leopard lazing behind a dirt mound before we left the park that afternoon. The drive back was more of the same; we stopped by the rim of the crater to take a few pictures then drove all the way back to Arusha.

Cori and I made a mutual decision to end our tour in Arusha rather than carry on to Nairobi and see the Maasai Mara with the tour. We’d had it. I couldn’t stand another extremely long drive in an uncomfortable truck, we didn’t want other one of our cook’s meaty meals, our leader didn’t even know that the visa fee for Kenya had doubled when we asked him, the list goes on and on and on. We decided that this was going to be our last night and we were going to go see Arusha, Dar es Salaam, and more of Zanzibar on our own. That night we all got a little loopy. Thien An, Charles, and I exchanged photos and movies. Dominic and I had a few too many beers. Charles, Nate, and I had some beard love…and before we knew it, Cori and I were on our own in Arusha.

For pictures from the Serengeti National Park please click HERE

Recap of the second half of the trip from Victoria Falls to Nairobi.
I think that the area that this trip covered on the second half was insane. The first four days of driving were to get through Zambia to get to Lake Malawi with nothing in between. The buses in Africa go faster than our Africa Travel Co truck did (on the second half) and run at different hours so that you don’t have to spend all day on a bus, you can take an overnight bus instead.

There was nothing between Lake Malawi and Zanzibar and nothing between Zanzibar and Arusha. We took the public bus from Arusha to Dar es Salaam and even after breaking down for two hours, we were still faster than the ATC truck. Reflecting back, I would not have done the second half of this trip as a group and believe could have easily done it on our own for a fraction of the cost.

I do not regret the decision to have overlanded Africa; we met some amazing people who we’ll be friends for life, saw some incredible animals and landscapes, and shared a number of once in a lifetime experiences.

If I was to do it again, I would do the overlanding trip from Cape Town to Victoria Falls. We were in the middle of nowhere and didn’t go on the main roads the entire trip. The drives were short and the truck was fast. I would split from the group at Victoria Falls and take a public bus to Lilongwe. I would then take the bus to Lake Malawi and stay for a week rather than just a couple of days. Then it is easy to catch a bus up to Dar es Salaam, relax a day or two and explore the city, then take a bus to Arusha, set up a safari on my own, see the animals, then I would take the bus back to Dar es Salaam and Ferry over to Zanzibar where I would spend the next week or two relaxing in paradise.

Part six is Cori and I on our own in Tanzania.

2 Comments + Add Comment

  • [...] For part one of my Africa series, please click here For part two of my Africa series, please click here For part three of my Africa series, please click here For part four of my Africa series, please click here For part five of my Africa series, please click here [...]

  • [...] always shrouded in mist (hence the name Mystic Rain). During the walk I was regretting taking the spice tour we took in Zanzibar, Anil showed us everything from pepper vines to cloves and turmeric. The walk [...]

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