Safari time

Trip Start Jan 31, 2006
Trip End Dec 11, 2006

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Flag of Tanzania  ,
Saturday, February 18, 2006


Still suffering the after effects of the sunburn we inflicted on ourselves in Kendwa we climbed on another 'plane for our flight to the safari capital of Tanzania, Arusha. The journey was a fairly long but uneventful one and we were soon in the back of the shuttle bus heading from Kilimanjaro airport to Arusha proper.

With our usual impeccable timing we had arrived in Arusha when a coffee conference was on so most of the hotels in town were full. Fortunately we had managed to find what seemed like a reasonable place in the centre of town, the Arusha Crown hotel. The hotel turned out to be fantastic - quite cheap, very clean and with the best hotel breakfast I have had in a long time either in or out of Africa. Suitably refreshed we headed off the next morning to our rendezvous with the Exodus safari tour we would be on for the next 7 days.

We had booked our safari tour on the basis that it seemed to offer the most game viewing with the least driving. Lots of the tours you read about involve driving hundreds of kilometres a day either before or after you have viewed the animals. Our tour was billed as a walking safari which Fiona and I hoped would offer something a little bit different. One of the differences would be that 5 of the 7 nights would be spent camping with the other 2 in lodges. Now, those of you who know Fiona well will, I am sure, struggle with the use of the words "camping" and "Fiona" in the same sentence. However, I was comforted by the fact that we would be camping in Africa and would therefore not have to deal with the usual problems of camping in the UK - rain, wind, mud etc. It was therefore with a sense of excitement that we headed out of Arusha on the Monday morning with the other 10 people in our group.

Our first day was spent driving from Arusha to our first campsite in the Ngorongoro conservation area. We shared our jeep with Tony and Janet, a very nice couple who had come on safari by themselves, much to the annoyance of their two grown-up sons (I too remember the teenage claims of never wanting to go on holiday with Mum and Dad again)! By mid-afternoon we were close to our camp and the jeeps dropped us off for our first walk of the week. The walk was nice and gentle and we had our first view of a giraffe hiding away in the bush as well as a panorama out over Lake Manyara at the high point of the walk. The walk back to our camp proved slightly longer than expected (there were several mendacious claims by the guides of "it's just over this rise" and "it's up near that tree". However, we were soon in camp and looking forward to a hot meal and our first night under canvas.

I will mention at this point that we had two Park Rangers with us acting as guides. One looked like the real deal - hiking boots, uniform, gun and hat. The other looked like the African version of Rab C Nesbitt - white wife-beater, jeans, suede shoes and a gun. He also had a hanky which would come out to mop his brow when it got hot. All rather odd...

The second morning I awoke thoroughly unrefreshed. Our tent was on a slope which meant that after an hour or so of sleep I would end up halfway down the tent. My attempts to get back up the tent without getting out of my sleeping bag invariably woke Fiona (who was only sleeping fitfully anyway) and eventually elicited the chastening question "What the f*ck are you doing?" and a mumbled response on my part concerning slopes, sleeping bags etc. Things did not improve once we were awake as our second day was a hike up one of the local mountains. Apparently we were aware that we would be doing this but I was b*ggered if I could remember thinking that it would be a good idea. The more experienced walkers in the group (basically everyone else) thought that we climbed around 3,000ft during the day up to over 10,000ft. Interestingly everything is measured in metres so when you are told something is "3000 high" my immediate reaction was "that's not too bad" forgetting that I needed to multiply everything by 3 to get the height in feet. However, as with the gorilla hike we managed to get up and back down the mountain in one piece without disgracing ourselves. Unfortunately, half a mile from the camp it started to chuck it down. Depressingly we could see the camp but we were coming down a fairly steep slope meaning progress (especially for us) was slow. Accordingly, by the time we reached the camp we were drenched, muddy and I was very, very pissed off e.g "If I wanted to camp in the wet I would have gone to f*cking Wales...".

Again, another night of sloping sleep meant that by the third day I needed something to raise my spirits. Thankfully we got in the form of two game drives in the Serengeti. The game drives are where your driver/spotter comes into his own. Ours, Ngema, was top notch and we saw some fantastic sights. Highlights included the cheetah resting by the side of the road, the pride of lions we were less than a dozen feet from and Fiona's favourite, the family of elephants (including two babies) which were in and around our jeeps for over 20 minutes. Because the roof of the jeep could be taken off we had uninterrupted views of all of the animals and I have hopefully taken some good pictures of everything as well. We spent the third night in a different camp which was much better than the first - for a start there was flat ground and showers, well a bucket with a shower-rose underneath it but we weren't complaining. The campsite was also much bigger which meant that we could eat dinner in a much bigger tent that was open on all sides to get the full safari experience.

With quite a bit more sleep under our belts day four started brighter and we were soon off on another game drive in the Serengeti where we again saw many animals thanks to Ngema's sharp eyes. I was amazed how quickly he would spot something which I would have just driven past. We had lunch back at the camp and the afternoon was supposed to be spent relaxing before another walk, however, the rain decided to make a reappearance accompanied by high winds. This meant that we had to battle valiantly to stop the dining tent flying away while trying not to get drowned. The rain eventually stopped but the skies stayed dark meaning that when our guide appeared to take us on our walk the group split along comfort lines. The hardened walkers headed out with their wet weather gear while the rest read and played cards back at camp. It doesn't take a genius to work out which group Fiona and I ended up in... Day four ended with us watching a thunderstorm taking place many miles from the camp. Seeing the sky lit up with lightning was an amazing experience and one I will not forget for a long time.

Our penultimate day started with our final game drive in the Serengeti. The highlight of this drive was undoubtedly seeing 3 cheetahs make a kill. They sauntered across the road in front of us and then headed off towards a group of wildebeest. Watching them maneuver the group and isolate their chosen target was incredible. Watching them make the kill, however, proved impossible. All I saw was them go from a trot to flat out in what seemed like a split second. They were then surrounded by a cloud of dust and when it cleared all three were feasting on their kill. Needless to say watching the cheetahs in action was an awe inspiring event. After that amazing experience we headed over and into the Ngorongoro crater. On the way we stopped off at a local Masaai village to see how they lived. Seeing inside a Masaai hut is an interesting experience, particularly for someone like me as they are only about 4 feet tall! The cynic in us wondered whether the village was more of a tourist attraction than a real home, however, it was still a privilege to meet the Masaai and see their world close up.

For those not in the know the Ngorongoro crater is the largest unbroken caldera (a collapsed volcano cone) in the world and is basically a giant goldfish bowl filled with all the animals you could ever want to see. During our first game drive in the crater we were again indebted to Ngema who spotted plenty of animals including two distant black rhino, a mother and calf. Following the game drive our last night under canvas was spent up on the rim of the Ngorongoro crater in a public campsite. Having had private campsites the previous nights it was a bit of a shock to be surrounded by so many people and so much noise (I won't mention the toilets on the site either as some of you may have just eaten or be about to eat). However, the camp did provide a fantastic sunrise and sunset over the crater which I have (hopefully) managed to capture on film.

So to our final day. This started with our last game drive in the crater. As with the Serengeti the best was saved until last. Just as we were heading out of the crater we came across another black rhino. This time the rhino was amazingly close, crossing the road not 50ft from the front of our jeep. This sighting meant that we had seen all the big five, plus many more species, up close and was a fitting end to our safari. All that was left was our drive back to Arusha. Fiona and I resisted the urge to buy any more souvenirs at the handicraft shops we stopped off at and we therefore arrived back in Arusha a lot more tired and certainly much grubbier than when we had started, but with some amazing memories and hopefully some great pictures (watch this space).

The next three days we spent recovering first in Arusha and then in Dar Es Salaam. These days were pretty quiet but we were soon back on the road again heading for Jo'burg and our fourth country of the trip, South Africa!
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