Where the wild things are - Africa Safari (part I)

Trip Start Feb 18, 2004
Trip End Dec 05, 2005

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Thursday, December 23, 2004

The starting point for my overland tour of Africa was Nairobi. Nairobi itself isn't too nice though...just another dirty, big city. I didn't find it to be nearly as dangerous as all the guidebooks and such make it out to be. People were much better about just letting you go about your business than many other cities I've been in recently. I walked around the city trying to find a camping mat (for under sleeping bag). It was a while before I noticed the fact that I was just about the only white person around...I just hadn't stopped and thought about it. People didn't treat me any different or harass me like in Cairo so I wasn't bothered by it. The first couple nights I stayed at a hostel somewhat close to the center of town. Most the people staying there were actually from Kenya; not too many travelers which was kinda unusual. The people were nice and even shared some of their dinner with me (ugali - maize with vegetables and egg). My last night in Nairobi I stayed at the hotel the tour was departing from. I relaxed by the pool in the afternoon while there. A bunch of wedding parties kept coming through to get their pictures taken. It wasn't exactly that nice a place so it seemed odd that people would want their wedding pictures taken there. That evening I met the tour leaders and had an information session with the group. A few of us went to the hotel restaurant for dinner and drinks afterwards.

The first actual day of the tour we departed from the hotel in Nairobi in a few minivans. I rode in what we would later call "the singles van" (no couples). We drove into the Rift Valley and along some really bad roads to reach the Masai Mara Game Reserve. All along the way kids would be waving at us. We stayed at a campsite in the park in deluxe tents (they had beds). We went to a local Maasai village where they sang and danced for us. The Maasai wear the red cloth wrapped around them and do a jumping contest you would probably recognize. It seemed a bit too much like it was all done for the sake of the tourists though, which was confirmed when they took us to their shopping area hidden behind the village. The kids in the village were really cute though and most everyone seemed more interested in taking pictures of them than the parents in their traditional clothes. After the village, we got back in the vans and did a drive through the game park. That first drive turned out to be the best - we saw just about everything! Started by seeing a bunch of elephants, impala were everywhere, found some cheetah resting in the shade (though didn't get a good pic), found a male lion sleeping, some lions and cubs, leopards in a tree, giraffe, water buffalo and jackals. It was funny as we were going along in the truck I said "I want to see cheetah" and next thing we see are cheetah; Elissa says she wants to see leopards and we soon see leopards. Only the rhino didn't come out to see us. That evening we were discussing the Maasai and wondering if they really do live in the village or in some houses that were nearby (they do live in the village). Sean had bought a "lion's tooth" necklace from them which he was convinced was real but we knew better and joked around with him quite a bit.

The next morning we went on another game drive. Didn't see quite as much as the evening before but got some really good pics of lions right behind our van. Saw some warthogs that day too. After the game drive, we left in the vans for the drive to Lake Naivasha. We had been driving for a while when I noticed out the front window that we were awfully close to the ditch. Next thing I know, we're going in and the van feels like it's ready to tip over. Everyone tried to shift over to the upper side to counter-balance the tipping (no one was really panicking despite us looking over quite a fall). Of course the driver gets out to upset the balance of weight and give us all a momentary scare. One of our other vans saw us crash and some of the guys got out and held up the van so we could all get out. That van tried to pull ours out but wasn't powerful enough. Luckily, a 4x4 SUV had stopped and they were able to get our van out of the ditch. We were all a bit quieter on the rest of our drive to the Lake Naivasha campsite. For camping, we had tents to put up that slept two per tent. I stayed with a young Welsh guy named Simon who luckily didn't snore.

The following day we switched over to the big Acacia truck and piled everyone in. The day was spent driving on more bad roads to Kericho, an area with a lot of tea plantations. Some of the group went on a tour but I stayed at the campsite and took a nap. There were some monkeys around the campsite, but they didn't want to come play.

Maybe now I'll do a brief rundown of some of the people on the tour:
Lucinda and Danie - tour leaders (both South African). Danie was the "bus driver" (he hated the truck being called a bus), was a bit hard to understand and had a fiery temper. Lucinda was nice and tended to be the one to actually hang out and get to know us.
Simon [little] - young Welsh guy recently finished with uni. He's a self-proclaimed sheep shagger and had a funny sense of humor. He's the type of person that says whatever thought comes into his head (which of course isn't always politically correct). He would talk to the locals wherever we stopped and use his Swahili phrasebook to say things like "i'm pregnant".
Claire - Scottish lass recently finished with uni who's starting a rtw trip. She was cool right from the start and has a dry sense of humor.
Simon [big] - older English bloke on holiday from work for a while. He was fun to give a hard time to and has a quick wit.
Elissa and Juliet - Aussie friends who are both nurses. Elissa was working in the UK and passed through Africa on holiday before going back to Australia. Jules just came over for holiday. Both were fun to talk with and good gossipers.
Nigel and Angela - Kiwi couple returning to NZ after working in the UK for a while. Both were good fun and a kick to be around. Nigel was great at giving Danie a hard time.
Cathy - Canadian who kind of took on the role of "mum". She'd get stuck organizing our money and passports at border crossings and such. She looked out for us all and straightened out situations.
Shaun and Amelia - Kiwi couple living and working in London. They had a great story about their first meeting. They were nice and fun to watch them interact (Shaun often was penny-pinching or being too meticulous which would get on Amelia's nerves). Shaun had a great laugh and was always good to be around.
Josh and Amy - Canadian couple traveling rtw. Josh was the photography nut who'd always be snapping tons of photos (even climbing up trees for a better shot). Amy had a lot of patience. Both were very chilled and laid back.
James and Lauren - good couple from California. Both very nice. What I'll remember most about them is when they were exercising at the border crossing.

On our way to Tanzania, we stopped at an art shop that had lots of soapstone and wood carvings. The chess sets were really cool and there were some neat bowls and animal carvings. I would've liked to get some of the stuff but don't have anywhere to pack it and am too cheap to ship it home. The border crossing into Tanzania wasn't too much of a hassle. We stopped at a campsite next to Lake Victoria for the evening. There was another Acacia tour group there going the opposite route. I went over and chatted with some of them to bridge the gap and get our groups together a bit. There were some Canadians that were fun and ended up staying up late drinking with them. Simon [little] fell asleep at the table and we had to wake him up and help him back to the tent (he seems to have a problem falling asleep when drinking...more stories later).

Throughout the various villages and towns we passed, the kids were always smiling and waving as we passed. They seem happy despite living in poverty. Makes me feel bad that westerners are so spoiled...most of us couldn't imagine living under the same conditions as the people of these countries. You can think about that next time you're at a store or mall and some kid is screaming about not getting a toy.
I was reading "Dark Star Safari" by Paul Theroux during this first part of the African tour. He seems to have a grim, pessimistic view of Africa and its future. He made all the governments and politicians sound corrupt, aid agencies were doing more harm than good, there were "very bad" people to be avoided in most every country and infrastructure was far outdated. I'd like to think there's more hope for the people than he does. From what I've read and heard in the news, it does sound like a lot does need to be done to improve the various governments and remove corruption. It's hard to improve things in a country when its leaders are pocketing most the money. I've said before that I don't know how to fix the world...I don't really think Africa should be westernized but something has to be done to improve healthcare, AIDS education and treatment, crime and living conditions.

The Serengeti didn't provide a whole lot of animals to see at first - mostly baboons, zebra, impala and giraffe. (We were already becoming a bit animal snobby - "another giraffe (sigh)"). The scenery was pretty though - open plains and acacia trees. Around dusk we saw a wildebeest migration...that was cool. Also saw some elephants and a couple hippo crossed in front us. We camped in the middle of the park so heard hyena throughout the night.
The sunrise the next morning was spectacular. We continued driving through the Serengeti seeing more hippo, zebra, lions, impala and giraffe. We stopped for lunch at a spot with sweeping views of the plains.

The Ngorongoro Crater is a 16km diameter remnant of a volcano that has an abundance of wildlife. Some animals migrate between here and the Masai Mara going wherever the rains are. The view from the crater rim is amazing. We camped on the rim and got to see a cool show of lightning that night. Simon's stomach wasn't doing well that night and he was too scared to go out and walk to the restroom (we could hear hyenas and other animals). He spent most the night making strange moaning sounds. Around 4am I offered to walk with him to the toilets, but he got too paranoid once we were outside in the pitch black and raced back to the tent. He finally made it to the restroom around 6am.
We did a game drive down to the crater floor in 4x4s that morning. The animals there didn't seem as concerned with vehicles so we were able to get closer to many of them. We saw heaps of zebra and wildebeest, zillions of flamingos, hippo, warthogs and a few cheetah quite a ways off. At one point we came across a rhino charging. I knew exactly what to do and got out of the truck and took away its credit card. HA HA HA HA!!! Actually, we just saw a couple rhino from a far distance (not allowed to 4x4 wherever you want for closer pics). The crater was cool just for seeing so many animals in a small area.

We drove from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area to a campsite a little ways outside of Arusha. The campsite had a snake park that was kind of cool - python, black mamba, crocodiles, etc... Across the street from the campsite was an art store with Tinga Tinga art. Tinga Tinga art is cartoonish usually of animals and Kilimanjaro. Some of it is neat. Again, it would be cool to buy for home but I'm too cheap. That evening at the campsite bar we played some darts. Most the group went to bed and some of the guys decided to start buying shots. James could probably be blamed for instigating it as he bought the first round and several other rounds of shots. James, Shaun, Josh, (big) Simon and Debbie proceeded to get pissed. Debbie only lasted a few rounds before she had to be taken away. Amelia, Shaun's fiancÚ, was the only significant other to keep an eye on the goings on. She, Claire and I sat back and watched the antics of the group. They were hilarious - having a hairy back contest then slapping each others backs, Sean had his shirt above his head and ran into a wall and just the general goings on made for a fun night. At midnight the bar closed and we got kicked out. Josh ended up sleeping in a tree (he's a Canadian lumberjack), Sean was sick in his tent, Simon was poking his head into every tent trying to find his...

There were a couple hangovers on the truck ride the next day. We stopped in the city and picked up Claire's friend, Euna, who had been volunteering at an orphanage in the area. We continued on a long, long drive to Dar es Salaam passing Mt Kilimanjaro. Along the way, Welsh Simon created a family tree for the group. I ended up as his uncle and there were some interesting origins (Shaun apparently fathered three children from three sisters). We camped in Dar at a spot right next to the beach. There were some fun play toys there - seesaw, slide, etc...

The next morning we had a little bit of time to spend in town before catching the ferry over to Zanzibar. There we caught a bus up to the north part of the island where our hotel was. It was quite nice, especially after having been camping recently. Just a short stroll to the beach and there was a restaurant right on the beach. We had lunch there and just hung out in the sun. That evening we went to a buffet dinner at a nearby hotel. They tried to supplement their mediocre food with an acrobatics performance.
Most everyone in the group went on a snorkeling trip the following day. The snorkeling was alright - just average fish. The current was kinda strong and pushing people away from the boat. I played lifeguard and just swam around to make sure a few people were doing ok. They served us some nice, fresh fruit on the boat before we moved on to another spot. By the time we got back, many people had bad sunburns. We had dinner at our hotel restaurant that evening. I stayed up with Claire, Simon, Emma and Brooke playing cards 'til the wee hours of the morning. The bar had closed around midnight and we had a security guy get the barman to reopen it for us.
With so many people sunburnt, we just hung out in the shady covered areas most next day. Some local kids came by and brought us fresh pineapple and mangos - mmm! Later that afternoon we caught the shuttle bus back to Stone Town, checked into our hotel and had sundowners and dinner at Africa House. We went out to another bar afterwards. Simon fell asleep again at the table...though this time he says he really wasn't asleep.
We had the next day to spend shopping around Stone Town. Went about town looking for presents for Christmas (we had to get "secret santa" presents for a member of the group for under $5). So much of the curios are the same junk we've been seeing it was hard to find anything unique. I was buying for Josh (who loves photography) so I got him a picture frame...had to do a lot of haggling. We caught the ferry back to Dar es Salaam that afternoon.

The Africa Safari continues in part II...
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