It's a "Mwanza Moment"

Trip Start Apr 09, 2008
Trip End Aug 30, 2008

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Where I stayed
Peace of Mind Lodge

Flag of Tanzania  ,
Tuesday, May 6, 2008

After getting up at a more reasonable hour (6am) we ate breakfast while marvelling at the Serengeti sunrise, packed up Foxy, bid the others farewell and went down to Makoma Hills (where the guards yesterday told me we would find the famous migration.) He was right. After driving for only about a half hour, we saw hundreds of thousands of zebras migrating north. They are such splendid animals, so graceful and elegant, travelling in single file more or less, a solid line of black and white stretching far into the distance.

Wanting to follow this migration by the river, we made our way north, going through some pretty rough terrain, huge muddy ruts and horrible corrugated gravel. Many people commented in the guest book at the Park entrance about the outrageous fees and the horrible road conditions, not to mention the fact that facilities at the public camp site are next to none. One would think with the price we're paying, some maintenance work would be done. Apparently there are only 6 rangers to cover the all of the 36 campsites! But I suppose it is the Serengeti, and if anything, the name of the Park draws consistent visitors from around the globe. We're no exception.

After seeing the zebra migration, a rare sighting we're told, we came across another clump of kopjies with a couple of safari jeeps stationed at the base. It's always a good sign if there are stopped vehicles, it means that there is something interesting happening right then. And there was! A pride of lions (we counted 7 at one point, including a tiny cub) were lingering around the rocks, lying, sleeping, yawning and what was more incredible, absolutely devouring a wildebeest carcass.

Although we had missed the actual hunt 'n kill, watching them attack their breakfast with such passion and viciousness was unforgettable. We were literally not more than 10 metres away, probably the closest you could get at a safe range. We sat there for more than an hour as each lion had their share of the meat. There is a highly respected pecking order and while one would eat, the others would wait nearby, no doubt salivating.

For the rest of the day, we saw plenty of giraffes, wildebeest, gazelles, elephants (and super tiny baby ones as well, probably a few weeks old only), baboons, monkeys, hippos, crested cranes, ostriches, and a few more lions. Our quest for spotting a leopard was coming to a disappointing end and we had to move west towards the Ndabaka Gate before our permit expired at 15:39.

The Western Corridor stretch of the Serengeti was quite dull (in terms of game viewing), just as our guidebook suggested. We took a few side roads, one going through the Kyabatero Hills, hoping to spot the elusive leopard. Bad move. Instead we got maliciously attacked by swarms of tsetse flies. It happened so fast that by the time we rolled up our windows and closed Foxy's vents, dozens of them had already entered.

I have never encountered a tsetse fly before and I would not wish it upon anybody. In Canada, I've had my share of getting bitten by horse-flies and blackflies, but tsetses are simply the worst of its kind. They are quite cunning: they don't make a buzzing sound so you don't know when they're around, they hover and wait until you've forgotten about them and then land on you without so much as a tickle, and by the time they've bitten, it's too late. You're squirming and squealing and in excruciating pain.

For the remainder of our Serengeti safari, we had the windows rolled up, the vents closed, and as Matt was negotiating the rough tracks, I was looking everywhere but outside for any tsetse flies that needed a good whacking with my guidebook. Usually I'm quite a humane kind of person when it comes to unwanted insects and bugs. I normally catch them and release them outside. But there was no chance of that today. With every kill, Matt would cheer loudly, even if it meant whacking him as hard as I could if one landed on him.

Afterwards, I read in our LP, that tsetse flies cause Trypanosomiasis (aka. Sleeping sickness) and "causes headache, fever and eventually coma." We will be looking out for each other over the next few days to see if any symptoms creep up. Hmm

Without a breath of wind in the air to begin with, it started to get quite stuffy in Foxy. Luckily the fans worked and we had some hot air blowing out of the vents while we drove on. Images of us driving in Sudan and Egypt's stifling heat danced in our minds and we both agreed it was time to seriously consider putting in an air-conditioner, maybe in Mwanza or Kampala.

Needless to say, we were happy to see the Park gate a couple of hours later. Now we can say we didn't get chased by lions or leopards or cheetahs in the Serengeti; we got chased out by tsetse flies instead.

But the day had more excitement in store for us.

As soon as we pulled up to the Ndabaka Gate to get a cold drink and use the toilet and pump up Foxy's tires again to normal road pressure, the car wouldn't turn off. The lights wouldn't turn off either and in the end, Matt had to stall it in order for it to actually shut off. We had planned a R&R day in Mwanza tomorrow but now it looks like we'll have to take Foxy into a garage to be fixed.

There was nothing we could do except carry onto Mwanza and find the Mwanza Yacht Club, apparently "the best place to camp beside Lake Victoria" according to one of our guidebooks.

Once we arrived, and it was indeed a gorgeous setting overlooking Lake Victoria with grass and open space, we realized that they didn't have hot water for showers and the internet connection we had been hoping for didn't exist. And it was 10,000 Shillings per person to camp! There was no question we needed a good shower to scrub off the past three days' dirt and grime. Disheartened, we fired Foxy up again and left in search of another campsite.

Matt had spotted a little sign from the road earlier advertising a campsite by the water as we whizzed towards the Yacht Club, but because he couldn't remember exactly where he saw this sign, we retraced our route all the way out of Mwanza again. In the meantime, we spotted another sign which promised "resort-style lodging and camping" so we went to investigate that option. Turns out, it was in the middle of a crowded lane with no chance of camping. So back we went towards the Yacht Club, thinking we would have to stay at a hotel for the night, when we spotted the Peace of Mind Lodge sign. I noted their numbers down and off we went in search of this promised haven near Bwiru Beach. After numerous scratchy phone connections and a maze of wrong turns, we arrived exhausted, filthy, famished but overall, relieved.

From now on, we have decided that whenever we have finished something as energy-consuming such as the past few days (ie. not having washed for 3 days, coated in dirt, mud, dust, sunscreen, and then another layer of dirt, mud and dust; being attacked by vicious tsetse flies; finding out our car won't turn off; and when we think we've arrived at last, hearing that there's no hot water for showers, where then you have to spend more energy searching and navigating a new town for a campsite; getting lost and turned back at random alleyways meant only for pedestrians), we will simply call it a "Mwanza Moment."

But in life, most good things are earned through hard work and a lot of sweat, and this was certainly no exception. The entire staff of Peace of Mind Lodge were waiting for our arrival and as soon as we pulled in, began pampering us as if we were expected royalty! Beer and popcorn were brought to us immediately, and a tent was set up by 4 workers for us in the perfectly manicured garden.

Curious about all the Chinese paper lanterns and décor at Peace of Mind Lodge (there was even Chinese writing on the key chains!), we inquired about the owners. Apparently it used to be owned by a Chinese family but had just been bought 5 months ago by a local Tanzanian man.

We had probably the best shower of our life (with HOT WATER!) and then settled down to eat at the lodge's adjoining restaurant. One of Celine Dion's album was being played on repeat, which after a while, did the skipping thing (why no one stopped it we don't know), the TV remote was placed on our table so we could change the channel, and along with our own personal waiters, we had our very own cook as well! We could see from the registry that not only were we the only guests for the night, they hadn't had a guest for over 10 days! Hence the pampering I suppose.

Being the only customers certainly had its advantages, but it also meant waiting for over an hour for our dinner to be cooked, and where our waiter, a Ugandan and so thrilled that Matt had lived there once, forgot about our starter. It didn't matter, the food eventually came and we were thankful. I had a sort of (chewy) chicken curry and steamed rice while Matt had a pepper steak and mashed plantains (a Ugandan staple).

Our starter, a chef salad, came as we were standing up to leave.

Sleep came fast and deep, but we were both woken up a few times during the night by the cries and shrieks of the neighbourhood dogs. There seems to be some sort of night-time ritual that dogs all over Tanzania perform which include loud incessant barking to each other from one end of the town to the other.

Start: Serengeti Dikdik Campsite, TAN. 08:20
End: Peace of Mind Lodge, Mwanza, TAN. 18:20
Distance Traveled: 318 km
Road Conditions: in Serengeti, some horrible corrugated dirt roads and deep ruts; after exiting Park, fairly smooth tarmac to Mwanza with the expected speed bumps and traffic.
Temperature: hot, dry and not a breath of wind. Made worse by having to keep the windows rolled up so crazy tsetse flies wouldn't get in. Light rain at night.
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