African Odyssey Part 2: Tanzania

Trip Start May 04, 2011
Trip End Feb 20, 2014

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Where I stayed
Mt Meru Sanctuary, Olakira Lamia Camp, The Manor
What I did
Wildebeest Migration, Ngorongoro Crater

Flag of Tanzania  ,
Thursday, August 22, 2013

Flying from Jo'burg to Nairobi and connecting to Kilimanjaro in Tanzania was a lot better than I expected. Given the airport fire was a little over a week prior, a network of tents had sprung up and it was organized for African standards. Met at Kili airport and transferred to my overnight accommodation. The communities and buildings are almost identical to Ghana.

First time in years I've been bored. I had thought I could taxi into Arusha for haircut and shopping but I asked the tour company rep and he said no. Apparently not safe as a white man on my own. I found this odd but the next day when driving thru to airport I realised the town is very basic. So with an entire day in the hotel compound there was not a lot to do, especially after the very full days experienced travelling Botswana. I kept reminding myself that a quiet rest day is a good thing. A delicious lunch, monopoly on my phone, and sml tour of the caged animals, before an early night.

8 am flight took me for two stops before my camps airstrip. Arriving at Lamia airstrip in north western Serengeti National Park I was met by the guide (Elia) and a family from Finland who would be my companions for the shared game drives. First safari vehicle I've been in that has seatbelts! Within minutes I realised these Finnish people were quite odd - the mum wore an eye mask around her mouth, the dad asked how long til the next bathroom, the 26 yr old son put headphones in and I swear I saw Justin Bieber playing on his iPhone.

The Olakira Lamia camp is everything I expected and more. Two shared tents - a luxurious lounge and a dining room - and eight accommodation tents with kitchen, office and staff quarters behind. All solar powered. The camp only opened 1st July so everything is brand new. My tent is closest to the lounge and fronts the wide open Serengeti plain. It is a mobile camp that follows the natural wonder of the annual wildebeest (and zebra) migration. After a delicious lunch then a few hrs to settle in, we set off at 4 pm for first full game drive. What a drive! Instantly I knew this was the place to be. Driving with thousands of thousands of animals around you and not another vehicle in sight is incredible. Then spotting lions and six month old cubs feasting on a kill under a nearby acacia tree. Returning to camp the dark clouds unleashed and rain swirled into the vehicle from all angles. Met with umbrellas at camp I ran to my tent and called on the two-way radio for a perfectly hot bucket shower. The other guests said the night before was worse rain with strong winds which is unusual given this is the dry season. The meals are excellent and I’m impressed how they can prep fine dining in tents. The other people here are a honeymooning couple from Aust/England and a young Irish couple working in Luxembourg – all good funny people.

Next day start was a lot more casual than the set timeframes of the Botswana lodges. Today was all about trying to see the wildebeest crossing of the Mara River -the main attraction of the migration where the animals congregate on the river bank until just one gets the courage to risk breaking a leg or getting eaten by a croc (or both) and then the rest will follow across the river where the grass is literally greener on the other side. Seeing the crossing is no guarantee and involves waiting riverside and taking lunch packs for a full day safari. We spent hours watching the animals mass on the river edge opposite us. Running from the horizon to join their mates as if someone just called free drinks. I could sense something momentous was about to happen. We parked behind a tree so they wouldn't be spooked by the unusual sight of our vehicle. We waited. Then spotted a crossing down river and belted down there only to see five animals remaining in the river. Darn. I wondered if that would be it? We watched for another hour as animals came excruciatingly close to the water then backed away. Then Finnish mum got hungry. So despite being 10:30 am, we parked up for lunch and sat inside the vehicle watching nature's TV.

"They're crossing!" yells the guide and boom we're off. Holding belongings down, fetching camera, binoculars and hoping for something spectacular we bounce across the terrain to the same spot as before, only this time they are coming from the south...thousands upon thousands. A stampede. Breathtaking. So many animals. Nature’s drama on a stage like no other. And like any brilliant show I don't know where to look next. They rush in from the all directions, dive off cliffs, trample each other on rocks in the centre of the river and emerge wet and bewildered right in front of our vehicle up the slope. Only two vehicles witness this event. They moo similar to cows calling out for each other. Babies look for their mothers, one scrambles with a broken leg, and another is stuck wedged between rocks in the middle of the river yet they continue to cross as driven by an instinct developed over millennia. Then unbelievably, they cross back!! There are two streams of animals crossing to our side and now they turn around and some start heading back. Even the guide claims this as amazing and something he has rarely seen. The scene looks like a mass of ants and goes for about an hour. More than satisfied by our morning we agree to call off the full day drive idea and head back to the camp for a rest & celebratory drink before setting off on a 4 pm drive when cooler conditions would encourage more wildlife activity.

The afternoon game drive took us to see cheetahs by the Kenyan border. Driving back in the direction of camp, very dark clouds were building behind us with even a rainbow breaking thru. Beautiful I thought. Rain started as we pulled up the hill towards our tented home. I ran back to my tent in the hope of a shower before the rain got heavier. Within seconds of zipping up my tent, the heavens opened and heavy rain set in. Then wind. Lightning. Thunder. This was bigger than last night. Guess the bucket shower would have to wait. The wind buffeted the zipped tent and I was excited at nature's fury and filmed the tent breathe in and out. How cool I thought – I’m camping. Suddenly, the camp manager unzipped my tent and commanded that I drop everything and get out. Are you mad???  Running to the lounge tent the rain and wind was furious. It was hailing! The lounge was saturated and tent poles were lifting. Everyone was together in the lounge now and I saw a new family of four had arrived in the afternoon. With the lounge tent at risk of collapsing or worse, the manager ushered us all out into the howling rain. I’ve never been wetter or more uncertain about what would happen next. It was at this moment someone yelled out "look at the wildebeest!" - right behind us, the wildebeest were huddled together in a tight pack just like us. Wow. Then I rubbed my eyes to try make out my tent. It was gone. What! All but one of them had blown over. The wind eventually eased and we moved inside the drowned lounge. The destruction was shocking. Everyone shivered. The two children of the new arrivals had been laying on the bed in their tent when it flipped. The boy sprained or broke his ankle, the daughter dislocated her jaw. How scary for them to be inside and made me realise how lucky I was to be taken out only moments before my tent blew over. We converted the lounge into a big bedroom for the English family and the staff gave up their tents for the rest of us. It was decided that the kids could wait until morning before being evacuated out for medical attention and so we all bunkered down for the night in whatever dry clothes we could find and plenty of red wine.

The morning after the storm we each went through our tents to salvage what we could. All the staff were in disbelief taking photos and saying they’d never seen a storm like it especially in the dry season – some had never seen hail before! I got all my stuff out and put it in the hot sun to dry. Amazingly my camera was bone dry and my laptop sheltered within my backpack. My phone was in a pool of water but still working (although it is having issues now) and most of my clothes were in puddles of water that smelled like sewage. Late morning we were transferred to the airstrip where the English and Finland families went back to Arusha and 3 of us (me and the Irish) stayed at another camp. The new camp was permanent, storm-proof, and very luxurious (they even had a drier to do our much needed laundry!). The guests had heard of our situation and all very welcoming and in disbelief at what we had gone through; apparently other mobile camps in the area had suffered similar damage. The Irish couple are very funny people and by now we were having some big laughs about the whole event. This new location seems very good for animals, but a lot busier with safari vehicles everywhere. We saw another wildebeest crossing during the afternoon game drive. Less intense to the one I saw yesterday, but more crocodiles and even a hippo.

My hot air balloon ride was meant to be the next day (20 August) but was cancelled because the new camp is farther away and given the poor road conditions they advised I wouldn’t have enough time to do the ride and make my 10:30am flight. Bit disappointing but understandable. Anyway I was worried that bad things happen in threes and considering the Nairobi airport fire and Serengeti super storm, I didn’t want to add balloon crash to the list.

Ngorongoro Crater
I had a rare direct flight to my next destination. Bit bumpy as we flew over the crater, but a great view. My next lodge, is a very very nice colonial inspired Dutch coffee farm property. Bit far out from the actual crater but relaxing and a pleasant break from safari activities. Even had time for a massage. I lost my shoes in the tent wreck and so now only have my Aussie flag thongs which are a bit out of place in such a fine setting. 

After a quiet afternoon and early night, the next day was the reason for my visit to this part of Tanzania – full day tour of the Ngorongoro Crater. This is a volcanic caldera, not a meteorite crater that I had previously thought it was. It was a volcano similar in size to Mt Kilimanjaro that imploded and created a perfect animal trap. It took 2 hrs to get from the lodge to the crater floor. Way too long for what I wanted. You can stay at a lodge on the crater rim and if they weren’t fully booked that’s where I would stay. Being the dry season, the crater was brown, windy and dusty compared to my vision - I was thinking some akin to Garden of Eden greenery. I had the vehicle all to myself as the lodge was only 20% booked. Good I guess. I didn’t see the Rhino which was the animal I wanted to see most. Apparently in the dry season they hide on the perimeter forest areas where there is no vehicle access and there are only 18 Rhino’s here (there are only 2 left in the northern Serengeti due to poaching...very sad). A unique place to visit but quite touristy and lots of safari vehicles causing traffic jams. Worth the visit, but after everything I’ve seen it was not a highlight.

After two nights, I left the Crater area (22 Aug) with a short flight to Arusha where the tour company picked me up for a quick lunch and stop at an enormous souvenir shop before transferring to the international airport across town for 1 hr flight to Nairobi and then back to Accra. Good to not have an overnight flight for this leg and time to read a book and watch the in-flight movie which randomly was a VERY Aussie cricket comedy film. I think I was the only one who watched it and laughed.

So my massive dream safari break comes to a conclusion. A trip that exceeded all expectations and has given many new life memories. 2 weeks that felt like 2 months and very much worth the cost – most expensive break yet! Almost no news, internet, music or TV for the entire time. 21 individual flights in 15 days staying at 7 lodges and meeting countless people. Fantastic time that I’ll be talking about for a while. But for the moment, I’ll be catching my breath in Ghana and sleeping in the same place longer than 3 consecutive nights – I woke up in the middle of my first night back and it took me several moments to recognise where I was!! 

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Kaz on

Sooo Amazing

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