Day One. Sunday 5th February 2017.
After arriving into Nairobi late the evening before on the BA flight, we were transferred to our hotel – Hemingways – by mini bus. Very slowly. Apparently all passenger vehicles are “limited” to 80km per hour, and when the speed goes over that something beeps at you. Fully laden lorries were passing us. Push bikes were passing us. No, they weren’t. That was an exaggeration – it just felt like that. But, after about 45 minutes we arrived at a hotel that looked as if it had just stepped out of the 1940’s. Beautiful. Peaceful. And the bed was comfortable!
Our morning started at 5.45am (I saw Paul mouth the words “boot camp” when I mentioned what time we had to get up) as we had a fairly long drive to get to Lake Nakuru. Adan our guide met us in the restaurant, and promptly sat down and had coffee and pastries. Excellent. That meant we didn’t have to hurry. Breakfast was good, and was taken on the terrace.
We set off in our safari vehicle with a fairly cloudy start at around 7.30am. Rain was forecast, then it wasn’t. Who knows – it either will or it won’t. The roads around the hotel were not too busy that early, and weren’t too bad. We even got on to a bit of dual carriageway for a while – although not to be confused with dual carriageway in the UK. Over taking can happen either side, or on the “hard shoulder” (which disappears as soon as it appears) or in fact on the wrong side of the road. Not for the feint hearted! There were several accidents on the way – mostly large lorries that seemed to have missed the edge of the road and rolled down the side into the land below. A couple were on their roofs – not sure what happened to the drivers.
The roads got progressively worse the further we got from Nairobi. We were following the Great Rift Valley most of the way – with the Aberdare Ranges to our right where a certain Elizabeth visited in 1952 as a Princess and left as a Queen. Can’t get a lot better publicity than that! The “towns” or settlements that we passed along the way were littered with stalls selling all sorts of goods, and concrete shops that I have no idea how they make a living. There were people virtually all the way along – walking, riding bicycles, mopeds with all the family on and some of the house as well as children playing in the dirt. There were huge speed bumps when we came up to a town – where everyone was trying to pass slower vehicles and a single carriageway road had about six vehicles wide trying to edge past each other. Best to keep your eyes closed!
After about three and a half hours we arrived at Lake Nakuru National Park. The roof went up in our safari vehicle so there was a gap to enable us to view the animals standing up. Well, you could if you were just a little taller than me. There was a wooden stool in the back that was used for old people to get in and out of the vehicle – perfect! When I stood on that I could see perfectly. Adan was an excellent guide – his knowledge of birds and animals was extensive, and he could spot the smallest of animals hiding in the bush. He had warned us that the Lake was famous for flamingos, but there are very few of them there now. He sometimes didn’t see any at all – but we were lucky. We saw most of what was in the park. Except for the leopard. I seem to remember we have searched for leopards several times before and never been lucky. Probably won’t be again on this trip. But, we saw giraffe, zebra, hippo, buffalo to name but a few, and many, many different species of birds. That kept me happy!
We then had lunch at Lake Nakuru Lodge – overlooking the National Park and lake. A congress of baboons (amazing how clever you can appear when you have google!) sat just over the wall watching us eat. There was an electric fence between them and us – and also a man with a big stick that was ready to poke the ones that jumped over. He didn’t have any action whilst we were there though. They obviously didn’t fancy what we had for lunch. We headed back towards Nairobi after lunch, and went through a couple of fairly hefty rain showers. No problem when we were inside, but the traffic was somewhat heavier going back as people were heading back ready for work on Monday. Even more of a scrap for that elusive piece of road.
We didn’t see any accidents going home, although there seemed to be more wildlife than on the way out. Baboons, zebra, all sorts. And they haven’t learned the green cross code – something else to contend with. But we got back in one piece – I never doubted it! Campari on the terrace overlooking the gardens and watching the sun going down. Perfect end to the day.
Day Two. Monday 6th February 2017.
Paul wants to change his travel agent. The 4.00am wake up call was not to his liking – and even that was negotiated from 3.30am. The flight we have from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro leaves at 07.35am. Unfortunately there was no other choice. So the alarm went off and up we got. Felt like we hadn’t hardly been to bed. The butler came to get the bags (I know, hard life!), and gave us a lift up to the reception in a golf buggy. There we also collected breakfast to take away – with lovely latte coffees. And all done with a smile. Everything is done with a smile over here.
There was very little traffic on the road at that time in the morning, but we did encounter some. And the queue to get into the airport was horrendous. Everyone had to get out of their cars, go through a scanner that wasn’t switched on (why?), put your bags through a scanner whilst airport security were going through the cars. Then we had to get back in the car and get in the scrum of cars so that we can be dropped off at the terminal. Still early though – could have had another half an hour in bed. We checked in at the self service terminals, dropped off the bags, and went upstairs to eat our lovely takeaway breakfast. And it still wasn’t 6.30am!
The flight to Kilimanjaro was just under one hour, and went very quickly. We had a fantastic view of Mount Kilimanjaro on the way in – a snow covered peak in a slight haze. That is when I had correctly seen Mount Kilimanjaro – the original one I pointed out to Paul was Mount Meru. Whoops! The visa situation was typically political. We had chosen to pay $50 and get one on arrival rather than do it beforehand. There was one person issuing visas, with quite a few people in the queue. Then you had to take it to the next window, then the next window, and finally another window to let you in. Good job it was only a small plane. A man was getting quite heated in front of us, saying that he wanted to get back on the plane and go back. Not sure what the problem was, but a very cheerful lady seemed to talk him round, and he ended up going through customs ahead of us so must have sorted his differences out. When we emerged from the terminal, there was a man with our name on a board. Two out of two!
We had a varied journey getting to our next destination. We first had a minibus to take us just over an hour to the Arusha Coffee Lodge. This mini bus went as fast as the ones in Kenya! We had a quick drink at the coffee lodge, our bags were transferred to our safari vehicle and we met our driver, Gabriel, who will be our guide for the next ten days. Let’s hope we get on with him then! The drive out of Arusha was as chaotic as some of the parts between Nairobi and Lake Nakuru, if not worse. The market, which is on every day, was absolutely heaving. There were hundreds of motor bikes, hundreds of ladies with goods on their heads that looked as if their necks would break, as well as all the other market traders and buyers milling around. Madness.
The public buses here, just like in Kenya, were buzzing about here there and everywhere. Here it seems there is more of a colour scheme going on – in Kenya the bus had a yellow stripe down the side and you had to work out where it was going. Here, it was colour coded. Maybe there is more of a choice of destination here. But they still stop wherever someone is hailing them down, and will drop you off anywhere on the route. For the right money of course – the longest of journeys don’t even get to a fiver. Maybe next time…..
When we left Arusha, the scenery changed somewhat. There are far more crops here, because the water comes off the mountains to enable more to grow. The area is mostly Masai, with virtually every person along the side of the road from that tribe. With or without herds of cows. With or without white painted faces. The cows looked deathly thin. There were several carcases along the way – the rains had not come when they should have done, and many starved to death. It seems our driver is from the Changa tribe, but married a Masai woman. Neither family were very happy with that. His mother is a politician in the Ngorogoro Crater region, where he was brought up and went to a Masai school. His wife is studying to be a doctor in Washington DC. Don’t think this is a normal family at all! Might be an interesting ten days.
The safari jeep didn’t go very fast either. We had quite good roads up to where we turned off to the Tarangire National Park, and hardly went over 50 kilometres per hour. The road then turned into a dirt track, and he put his foot down. We were then getting a “free African massage”. Must be a man thing – a woman would not be that illogical. We got to the park gates, and had to get the tickets to get inside. He met up with all his mates here, so we had a bit of time to wait. They talk in Swahili between themselves – probably telling them what a couple of nutters he has this time. We were advised to spray the bug spray here, as the park is full of tsetse flies that give you a bit of a bite. Didn’t need telling twice to do that! We went into the park for half an hour or so, then stopped for lunch at the Tarangire Safari Lodge. They are making sure we are fed and watered quite regularly. Paul managed to shut his thumb in the car door, so arrived in the restaurant dripping blood. The waiter went and got him a plaster – the guide had told him that he should have seen the other guy. Not sure if he fell for that one, but was very courteous. Obviously not taking any chances.
We then put the pop up roof up, and started our final part of the journey to Swala Camp, which is in a very remote part of the park. To start with, whenever we saw animals we had two jeeps in front and four behind. It was a bit like a production line. The further away we got from the gate, the less people we saw. We saw a few buffalo, then a few more, then hundreds more. Probably a herd of several hundred that crossed the road in front of us. That was spectacular. Meanwhile, Paul was doing his best to kill every tsetse fly in the National Park with my shoe. Either that or he was doing a rain dance.
We finally arrived at Swala Camp at around 7pm – just as the sun was going down. It was so quiet and peaceful. There are only 12 tents here (not the two man kind either) and only three at present are occupied. Six guests, and probably double that staff. The swimming pool is empty, as a herd of elephants had been in and drunk all the water. They are now trying to work out what to do to stop them – chlorinated water is not good for elephants! Emmanual went through what happens here, over a campari or two, before showing us to our tent. When it is dark, as there are no fences around any of the accommodation, a Masai Warrior accompanies you to your tent with his spear. Paul was still scared. He said that I was alright as I was next to him – he was walking behind so a lion could quite easily creep up and get him. Don’t think so. Our tent was perfect – the whole of the front of it looks over the plains and bush. All sorts of animals will be roaming out there all night. Don’t think it will keep me awake!
When we had showered, we had to open the door and shine a torch up into the trees to summon our Masai Warrior. Bit like the bat phone! He killed a snake on the way to dinner (only a small one) with his spear. Don’t think we need to be scared at all. Dinner was delightful – taken on the decking overlooking the plains. Although it was dark, there was one small light shining out, and a whole lot of impala came across. Magical. Wonder how many lions are waiting in the background to get their dinner?
Day Three. Tuesday 7th February 2017.
We had “negotiated” with Gabriel that we would leave this morning at 8.30am. He felt it was a bit late, but when he said we wouldn’t miss any animals going later in this part of trip it was a no brainer. We had a wake up call – a man knocking on the door with two lattes – at 7.30am. He set them out on the decking – I could get used to this. We both slept like a log – bearing in mind we had been up yesterday since 4.00am it was a welcome “lay in”. We could see the sun coming up from our bed – the whole of the front is one large mesh that is completely see through. We are in tent number 12 – the one on the furthest end of the camp and the furthest into the bush. The favourite one of the staff – or they had been warned about my loud snoring and had decided to annoy only the animals. We had heard a couple of things scurrying about in the dark, but I don’t think anything came in. Didn’t notice if it did! Perhaps my snoring is a bit like a bird scarer. It feels as if it is a mile and a half walk back to the room – probably only a few hundred yards.
Needless to say, coffee on the deck took longer than anticipated. We didn’t leave the room until nearly 8.30am – one of the naturalists here, Devon, came to sort out our router as we couldn’t connect to the internet. No electricity, the water comes from a bore hole, but every room has its own router. Incredible. He walked back with us to breakfast, and regaled us with a few more tales of animals in the swimming pool. The rains that were due October to December last year had not come, and so it was a fairly drastic drought in the park. Animals were trying to get water any way they could. They had to rescue five waterbuck from the swimming pool – he had us in fits trying to explain how they got one of these not insubstantial animals out of a swimming pool with only metal steps as a means to get in. It involved ropes, pulling ears and legs, and a lot of heaving. Apparently when waterbuck are scared the first thing they do is jump into water. As soon as they had got them out, they tried to jump back in again. Then the elephants came. There was a huge bull elephant that was “in charge” and brought his herd to the swimming pool. He had already been around the camp, and had dug up the water pipes with his feet to get to the water. He then dug up all the internet cables, as they looked like water pipes as well. This elephant had tusks almost down to the ground – Devon showed us a picture he had taken when they were all standing around the pool. Apparently this elephant migrates right up to Amboseli National Park, so he is a strong lad.
After a delicious breakfast, not sure how they do it stuck in the middle of nowhere but it involves generators and inverters, we set off jut after 9.00am. It was another beautiful day, and we had duly sprayed all over to deal with the tsetse flies when they wake up. They apparently don’t operate below 16 degrees – sounds like a good idea to me – so they hadn’t woken up yet.
We hadn’t long left the camp when we came upon a few elephants. Then a few more, then hundreds more. They just kept coming and coming. We had parked up next to a water hole, and they were all getting wet and muddy in varying degrees. The little ones were laying in it, splashing it all over themselves and generally having a good time. The big ones were a little more mature. Just like humans! We must have sat and watched this spectacle for an hour or more. A couple of male elephants had a bit of a tusk fight, but it wasn’t very serious as after a bit of pushing and shoving they both walked off together. They didn’t take any notice of us at all. We eventually moved off when they did.
The rains arrived here a week or more ago, so a lot of the vegetation is green again, and the animals now have enough to eat and drink. This does make some of the roads a little tricky to pass. Some of the “craters” are full of water, which sloshes up the side of the vehicle and comes in the windows if you are unlucky. I have suppressed the urge to shout “wave”. Don’t think either of my travelling companions would get it. The jeep is a little like the boat, as you need good core muscles to keep you in the right place. A couple of times I have been thrown in the air and deposited on the chair next to me (or the fridge in a couple of cases) – I could do with a short tether! Swala Camp actually closes in April and May when the long rains come, as the roads are totally impassable. I can well believe. Paul likened his trip today to “an awful Disney ride”. I think he needs to toughen up!
We made our way to Silale Picnic Site for lunch – we had a pack up that we took with us before we left. I was expecting sandwiches. No. We had meatballs and spaghetti, salad, mango chutney, flat bread, cakes and fruit. There were around ten other jeeps that turned up at the picnic site, and none seemed to be eating as we were – tablecloth and all. The birds and the bugs enjoyed it as well – I think I have given well over a pint of blood today to various insects. The tsetse flies, although they give you a nasty jab like a needle, don’t seem to have any lasting effects. These ones feeding on me this lunchtime I think will be different. They even had proper toilets. Not complaining.
We went a slightly a different way back to the camp – via a tree with a couple of lions underneath with their kill a few hundred yards away. They were quite happy under there, and didn’t seem bothered that we were there at all. One of them had a tag on – apparently one of every pride has a tag on so the numbers can be monitored. We made our way back to the camp – still looking for that elusive leopard up a tree. Another day gone without seeing one! I am beginning to think leopards don’t really exist.
A lovely cold towel and a cold drink greets us as soon as we get out of the vehicle back at the camp. This place is something else. A campari overlooking a huge swamp area teaming with animals is a great way to watch the sun go down. Monkeys, mongoose and impala to name but a few. Could sit there for hours.
Paul has recommended the outside shower tonight – as there is a leopard looking at you from the overhanging tree. Somehow don’t think that he would have a) been silent and b) still stopped running if that had been true!
Day Four. Wednesday 8th February 2017.
Have you ever woken up wishing that you had done something different the day before? Today I had that big time – I wish I had not worn my sandals for the safari yesterday, and put on my socks and hiking boots. Sitting in a car all day – why do I need hiking boots? Perhaps for the time that we got out to have a picnic lunch – and all the little bugs and flies had lunch on me. Literally. My feet and ankles are looking similar to red bubble wrap. Oh dear. How I wish I could have gone back in time and taken that decision again. Never mind – just have to get on with it. Good job I brought the tiger balm.
Wake up call this morning was again negotiated to a fairly decent 7.30am. Coffee on the deck again, just looking over the most peaceful scenery you can imagine. It took fully one hour to get to breakfast – you just can’t hurry these things. We were meant to leave at 9.00am, but Devon was at breakfast to chat to again, and it was nearer 9.30am by the time we decided to get a move on. Gabriel didn’t seem to mind – not a lot he could do about it really. We headed out of the camp for about 100 yards before we heard a loud whoosing sound – the rear tyre was completely flat. He had all the gear to change it, so we headed on back into the camp, sit on the lounge sofas overlooking the plains and leave the hard work to him. It only took him about 15 minutes – he must be used to it. So, at about 10.00am we headed out again.
The first thing we came to was hundreds of feathers in the road, and the newly deceased body of an eagle by the side of the road. “That was a leopard” says Gabriel. The elusive leopard. Was he hanging around there somewhere to wait for us to go before tucking in again? Then we came upon two female lions laying under a tree. Quite a distance away, but they were just lazing around. We moved on, and a few hundred yards later we came across two male lions on the other side of the road. Also lazing about under a tree – although these ones did sit up to see what we were, but soon sat down again.
A little further along the road there was a carcass of a buffalo with about five or six vultures having a good chomp. It was presumed that the lions had done the kill, and were now sleeping with their tummies full.
We came across waterbuck, zebra, elephants, giraffe – all the usual stuff, as you do – for the rest of the morning. We then climbed up to a picnic site that had a beautiful view over the valley. At least today I had shoes and socks on, so hopefully we humans will be the only ones eating. Another feast – all served on a tablecloth. Does make it taste so much better!
After lunch we started to make our way back down the hill, and around in a loop to get back to Swala. You could actually fly into Swala – there is an airstrip in the park around 45 minutes away. If you do this, you would need to book the “safari package” which includes a vehicle and a driver/guide for your time in the camp. Up to you when you go out, for how long and where. They only have three vehicles, as most people drive and bring their own guide. But the option is there if you have limited time.
On the way back we saw a migration of baboons. There were hundreds of them all swarming from one side of the road to the other. Bit like a scene from planet of the apes. No idea where they were all going. Just sitting and watching the animals takes up hours – I don’t know where the time goes. We went back via the carcass the and lions – the lions, all four of them, were virtually in the same position as where we had left them in the morning. The carcass, however, had disappeared. Probably dragged away somewhere by something else. We did see a leopard track – supposedly. No leopard though. Still very elusive. I also thought I saw a crocodile. I was soon corrected – there are no crocodiles here. It was a Nile Monitor. Pretty big though. Although it would have been a pretty small crocodile.
We have a full camp tonight – every tent is going to be full. A whole 24 people. We had ten last night, and that seemed busy compared to the night before. Might have to queue for something – the Masai Warrior is going to be worn out going to and fro between all those tents. But I don’t think so. We had “negotiated” a later departure in the morning with Gabriel – he wanted to leave at 7.00am and we bartered him down to 8.30am. The end of this little part of the trip!
Day Five. Thursday 9th February 2017.
Our last breakfast at Swala. Overlooking monkeys, mongoose, impala and the great swamp area. This is going to take some beating. Devon comes over for his usual chat – which makes us late again. But Paul decides to tell Gabriel that we are early – we are only fifteen minutes late instead of the usual thirty. Suppose you could look at it that way. Apparently people in Tanzania live for the moment – if you are enjoying what you are doing do it a little longer, but if you are not stop doing it. Good philosophy.
We set off, and made our way out of the park via the area where we saw the lions yesterday. They were long gone. We did find the carcass though – thoroughly stripped of every little piece of meat on it. We saw a couple of colourful lizards as well as the usual elephant, zebra, buffalo etc. You can get very blasé about seeing these animals. If there isn’t a herd, don’t bother stopping! The gate we came out of was a fairly new entrance and exit, and was not so well used. No queues for the paperwork. As soon as we got outside the National Park, all the land was given over to farming. Little houses and settlements littered the roadside all the way to the “main” road. We went through a small town, and pulled off at the local “kwik fit” to get the tyre repaired we blew yesterday. It was a fairly large hole in the wall of the tyre, but a bottle of gunk came out and it was fixed. Let’s hope it holds if we ever need it!
We were not on the main road long before we turned off for Lake Manyara National Park. It was thirty five kilometres from the turn off – and we got another free African massage. There were villages and stalls nearly all the way along. Some ladies had stalls with reddish liquid in soda bottles – that was petrol for the mopeds and motorbikes. Another world. We got to the gates of the National Park and had the usual bureaucracy to go through – but again we were the only ones there so no queue.
We made our way to the Lake Manyara Tree Lodge – our home for one night only. The way through the park was very different to Tarangire. We were skirting along the foothills of the Western wall of the Great Rift Valley, and it was heavily forested. It was considerably hotter here – the breeze doesn’t get over the hills, and it feels very humid. Rain may be due! We had a spectacular welcome – around seven of the staff singing and clapping as we pulled up. Cold towels (sparkling white until they wiped my face – think they may need the Persil) and a cold drink before taken into the camp.
The way in was lined with wooden canoes – old ones that the locals had used for fishing in the lakes that were now just decoration. We chose to go to the “room” before lunch – and was accompanied by our butler. Our room is a tree house – high up among the tree tops. All made of wood, and with views of the leafy tops of the trees from every angle. Amazing. An outside shower, a cool bag with cold beers and wine – even two pairs of wellingtons in case of inclement weather. Lunch was presented on a stand like afternoon tea – only it was full of fish, beans, salads, etc etc. I am trying not to eat too much but it is proving very difficult.
We had an hour to spare before going on another game drive, so went back to the room. An hour to rest – heaven! I apparently took very little time to start snoring. Paul took a shower. The taps were tied up with ribbon, which he undid, and left off when he had finished. A minute or two later he noticed the shower was running again. A monkey had run up the tree and turned the shower on to get a drink. Now we know what the ribbon is for! 4.30pm came round all too quickly – so off we set again. We first came across a herd of wildebeest with lots of little calves – they mate seasonally, and this is the time that they all give birth. Some looked less than a day old.
As we came up to the lake, we could see a huge line of pink in the distance. All along the middle of the lake was kilometre upon kilometre of flamingos. It is not very deep at this time of year, so the flamingos congregate in the middle. Some of it was so pink, there must have been tens of thousands. As we rounded a corner, there was a huge dense pack of white birds – a mixture of storks and pelicans. The lake had receded as the rains had not been to refill the lake, so we were able to take the jeep quite a way out to get close to them. I was waiting for the picture when they all took off, but they didn’t mind in the slightest that we were only about twenty yards from them. Had to give up on that one.
We headed back inland, and just behind a bush a canoe was laid out with snacks and drinks. A table and chairs overlooked all the birds – and there we had our sundowners. Surreal experience. Campari behind a bush looking at thousands of birds. And nibbles. The moon came up in front of us – what a sight.
We got back to the camp, and after a quick shower it was time for dinner. I could have just done with having a shower and going to bed. We are only here for one night, so make an effort! As I was having my outside shower, the moon was shining through the tree tops. I thought of all the people we had seen that were carrying water tubs miles back to their homes on their heads, and all I have to do is turn on a tap. Up a tree. Hopefully the money that comes in from tourism will help the local people, so we mustn’t feel so bad. A Masai came to escort us to dinner – and we were greeted with frozen gin and tonics. We drank them, with more nibbles, before going to our table laid in a semi circle of upright logs. Paul said it reminded him of the gladiators ring. Don’t think we have to do anything that strenuous to get our dinner! Dinner was lovely – in both camps they prepare such tasty food with such basic ingredients. Another excellent choice to stay!
Day Six. Friday 10th February 2017.
Lay in! It had been a hot night – the temperature here has been the hottest we have encountered so far, and the ceiling fan over the bed was quite ineffective. I don’t think they had it set up quite right. We didn’t need to leave the Tree Lodge until 9.30am so we had a leisurely wake up call at 8.00am with the “usual” man with two lattes coming to the door. It was indeed a lovely way to start the day – sitting on the decking gazing into the tops of the trees. How time flies – thinking that we had loads of time I sat out there too long. Then I had to rush to pack and get down to breakfast. At least we didn’t have a plane to catch – Gabriel is used to us being late now.
Breakfast was brought to us on a huge tray, with all sorts of fruit, cereal, yoghurt, pancakes, freshly squeezed juices on to name but a few. Then we could order our eggs – perfect. This place had certainly made sure that we didn’t go hungry. By the time we had finished and walked down to the jeep, our bags were there and Gabriel was ready to go. We had twelve of the staff wave us off – what a lovely touch. My bites are gradually getting more tolerable – the ones on the sole of my feet have now stopped itching. Although I think I may have picked up a few more. The cans of “no bite” they leave in the rooms for you to put on are not working – the bugs don’t seem to be able to read!
We headed off to exit the park from a different gate to that which we came in from. We skirted another part of the lake, and it was full of flamingos. There was a walkway that went out into the lake, but just as we were about to get out of the car some flew off and they all just peeled off and followed. The lake that had been as mass of pink was now empty. Didn’t bother to get out of the car!
Again, getting nearer to the gate the amount of vehicles that we encountered became more and more. People that are staying outside the National Park and coming in for the day. We exited the park (after having our papers stamped) and started the climb up the side of the wall of the rift valley. We climbed up and up, round a few hair pin bends, and came across a really busy town.
Gabriel had told me he knew exactly what I needed for my cough (the day we left the UK I got the most horrendous throat, cough and cold – yuk). We stopped at a petrol station to fill up, and he came back with not only a full tank of fuel but a little plastic bag with some pills in. “One should do it” he said. I duly took one of the pills – absolutely no idea what they are or where they came from. We’ll see how that goes then!
We got to the gates of the Ngorogoro Crater National Park, at around 1pm. We had a walk around the Information Centre – it had a good model of the crater and the surrounding area. Nice to know where you are. The bureaucracy done – it even takes two windows to get into a park – we were on our way. We made our way up again, the air had a marked difference in temperature. It was nowhere near cold, but certainly a lot more bearable. We got to a view point at the top where we got out to take pictures. It would have been a great view had it not been so hazy. We then had to journey down. The only car journey that I have needed to wear a sports bra – bumpy to say the least! After several forks in the road with no signposts at all we arrived at the wrong camp. Gabriel assured us that was where it used to be! It wasn’t too far away, so it only took another few minutes. This Sanctuary Retreat is a mobile tented camp, so the tents are a little more tent like. Well – if you could say that having robes hanging and slippers at the ready is more tent like. But it is canvas, and you have to zip in and out. And there is a bucket shower – although our “man” Emmanuel fills it with warm water. This trip is only taking authenticity so far!
Just as we were going to sit down to lunch the thunder started. There was only a few drops of rain, so I think the main storm was a few miles away. Sounded great eating lunch, looking into the valley with the thunder clapping away. We wouldn’t have got wet – there was a dining tent, where we were served our lunch with wine. Still a tent though! The rest of the afternoon was at leisure – my goodness, I must have slipped up! This safari lark is quite tiring, so like a couple of old people we took an afternoon nap.
Then Emmanuel shouted that our shower was ready – he had filled the “bucket” with warm water. The shower cubicle is a bit like the zip up toilet on the boat – around the same size and made of canvas. The water goes right through the floor. There is a chain – one end you pull is on, the other is off. Not knowing how long the water was going to last, I quickly shampooed and rinsed off. Needn’t have worried – there was plenty.
We made our way – with our “man”, as again we cannot walk alone at night – to the dining tent. It was a full camp tonight – twenty people. Canadians, Americans, Indians and we were the only British. We had a pre dinner drink around the camp fire, then were served a three course dinner. Considering what these people have to cook with, the food is pretty good.
When we got back to the tent, a fire had been put on and hot water bottles in the bed. I don’t think so. This is like a summer’s night in England!
Day Seven. Saturday 11th February 2017.
Gabriel had persuaded us that it would be advantageous to get up early today. So, we had a wake up call at 5.30am, and set off from the camp at 6.00am with a packed breakfast. It was dark when we set off, and the full moon was still out. Magical, overlooking the crater with zebra grazing and the moon shining down on them. The sun came up, but there were very few animals about. After an hour or so Gabriel said that 99.9% of the time we would have seen about ten lions by now, playing and hunting. Just our luck! We drove around a bit more, and then stopped at a large water hole full of hippos.
Surprisingly, it was safe to get out – Gabriel said that the hippos couldn’t exit the water from this side. We believed him! We had our breakfast (tables and chairs of course) overlooking the hippos with many birds coming to see what we were having. Then some zebra wandered down with a couple of hyenas. Surreal. It was a beautiful morning, and not another person in sight.
On our way back from the water hole we spotted some lions. At last! There were five of them, getting ready to attack. There was a leader, and four others that just seemed to know what to do. They were all crouching ready to go. The crater was now full of vehicles, and there were around another ten others as well as ours. I suppose in the great scheme of things it is not that big, and it is very popular. We must have waited around an hour, watching the lions changing position when they changed their minds on their prey. But everything lived another day – when there was one zebra singled out a whole bunch of buffalo came to protect it. All for one and all that. Then we saw, from the right, three elephants marching along with a various assortment of followers. They crossed the road in front of us, and marched onwards to where the lions were. The body language of the lions changed – they were now on their guard. The last elephant was marching straight towards one of the lions, so the lion got up and walked away. Not so, the king of the jungle.
We moved on from there, and the crater was now teeming with animals. Our next excitement was with the wildebeest. One of the herd was about to give birth – two legs were out and she was having trouble. A jackal was following her, which she was not happy about. She kept trying to chase it away, but it just kept coming back. After a couple more minutes a little wildebeest plopped out on the floor. Within minutes it was up on its feet and nursing from its mother. Wow. Just happened to be passing at that time.
The floor of the crater is a typical African scene. Flat plains, some bush, some water, and many, many animals. We saw several more today that we hadn’t encountered before – some I hadn’t even heard of. Still not sure what an Eland is! We went to another bigger hippo pool, but we could hardly get to see anything for jeeps. Nowhere near as good as this morning – it was worth getting up early just to enjoy some of the sights in relative peace.
We had been told that we could have lunch in the crater – I thought we were going to go to a picnic site like we did at Swala. No. We climbed up the side of where the main volcanic activity had taken place, and had a fantastic view of the floor. Gabriel even spotted two rhino – small white dots in the mass of green. Good eyesight. We went on a little further, and there under some trees, was a table laid for lunch.
Five members of staff, a bowl to wash our hands, a full drinks cooler, barbecued meat and vegetables and an assortment of salads. How good is that? There was a lovely breeze – I could have sat there all afternoon. And all for us – no one else. It was lovely. It is the little touches that make the greatest memories.
We went back to camp at around 3.30pm, and Emmanuel was there to fill up the bucket for the shower. It was really dusty in the crater, and everything and everybody had a thin film of dust all over them. We saw dust tornadoes on the way back to the camp – last time I saw something like that it was a water spout on the way to Sydney! The less than hot (but that was OK) shower was very acceptable – we did only give him fifteen minutes notice to heat up the water.
Before dinner this evening we were entertained by some Masai people. Not sure what the dancing was all about, but it was definitely Masai, involving a lot of jumping and jiggling. Not every night you have this accompaniment to pre dinner drinks. Dinner was the usual soup – I have never had such a varied amount of soups continuously, we have had soup every day, but each was extremely good and completely different to the last. I think Sanctuary should write a cook book for soup. Followed by lamb shank and banana bread. And wine. All served in a tent on the side of a valley in the crater.
Day Eight. Sunday 12th February 2017.
Almost an early start – Gabriel wanted to get going at around 8.30am. By this time we were the only ones left in the camp. I think breakfast had been left over from the 6.00am serving – I have had rubber eggs before, but not as bouncy as these ones. Oh well – have to make adjustments for the surroundings. And we are hardly starved on this trip.
Gabriel said the drive would be three to three and a half hours. The other people in the camp had said that their guide had said the drive was six hours – they had decided to fly. We’ll see. We had to go back up to the rim of the crater, and then drive around the rim to the other side. There were some fantastic views on the way. But the road was bumpy! As we descended the side of the crater the scenery changed dramatically. The rains had not reached this side, and everything was very dry, brown and extremely dusty. Gabriel seems to be on a promise – he actually overtook car upon car on the way down. Whilst being jolted about in the seats, we didn’t get the dust coming off the car in front, so I suppose that was a bit of a bonus.
The land turned flat and sparse. There were several Masai villages, and several Masai tending their very skinny herds of cows. The water holes here were not very abundant. We were still actually in the Crater National Park. The actual crater forms only a small part of it, and it runs directly into the Serengeti. We stopped in the middle of nowhere under a huge tree – this was a man’s “check the tyres” stop. Around the other side of the tree was a Masai man, who got up with his armful of bracelets for sale. Not sure how much passing trade he gets, but felt he ought to get a sale just for trying. Another three then turned up with their wares – from where? There was nothing and no-one else in sight. Tourists who are buying obviously have their own special “call”. We had to stop at a Ranger Station to “book out and book in” – we hadn’t used the main gate. Gabriel had said he was going to try a short cut, but said that he had decided not to use it. As we didn’t see a main road all the way here, and most trails had no markings on, I haven’t got a clue where we went. Not sure if he did either, but we always seem to get to where we should be going.
Not long after arriving into the Serengeti he pointed to a tree about two hundred yards away. Driving off road in the Serengeti is allowed, so we drove over to the tree. Underneath were four cheetahs, all males around one to two years old. Just getting out of the heat, and having a lazy afternoon. Gabriel had animal noises on his phone, and when he played the hyena they all perked up and looked around. Is that ethical? Not really sure, but at least we got some pictures with their eyes open.
This part of the Serengeti looks really dry – the dust is just incapacitating with the windows open. The migration apparently is not here – they have been in this area every year at this time, but this year the rains have not come. The vast plains are empty. There are a few gazelle, a few wildebeest and various other species, but not in the hordes that we had been expecting. Hopefully they will be within driving distance, but if not we will miss them. It will be just like that elusive leopard!
We arrived at Sanctuary Kusini at around 2pm. Nearer five and a half hours going at breakneck speed, so I think the American’s guide was a little nearer than Gabriel. I am sure he will have some sort of justification if asked. We pulled up at the front and there was no one to greet us. What is happening? Cold towels and refreshing drinks are a given. It didn’t take long – they appeared soon after we did. The manager came out and said he wasn’t expecting us until the evening. Another one that didn’t think the journey time was three and a half hours then.
We had a beautiful lunch – rustled up with no fuss whatsoever – and then retired to our tent for a few hours. We declined a game drive this afternoon as we are going to leave early tomorrow morning and see if we can find a few million wildebeest.
After a short rest and a cold shower we headed back to the main area. This is the only area with internet, there is none in our rooms, so we could catch up on the world. There is a large kopje (bit of rock in English) next to the main area, where cushions are scattered and canapés and drinks are served to watch the sun going down. Perfect. It wasn’t a spectacular sunset – we haven’t had one of these yet – but it was the best so far.
After that dinner was served, excellent again, and we were then escorted to our tent by a Masai Askari. He shone his torch into the bush at the side and two pairs of eyes were looking at us. “Buffalo” he said without breaking stride. If he’s not worried, nor am I!
Day Nine. Monday 13th February 2017.
An early start – 6.00am wake up call, 6.30am breakfast and 7.00am departure. We had decided that we would try and see the migration if we could. They had, apparently, already left this area, and were about four or five hours drive away. Paul said he wouldn’t be a happy rabbit if he had to drive all that way – not sure if that is more or less happy than a bunny – but he seemed up for it when we left.
Not far from the camp we came across three lions sitting on the top of a kopje. Not a care in the world, and looking every bit the king of the jungle. We came across a few stragglers of zebra and wildebeest, but you couldn’t really call them a herd. They looked a bit lost – I suppose they were really if they had been left behind.
We then came across a herd of a few hundred – all marching in a line north, to where the majority had already headed. It was memorising to watch them – it was as if they were marching in the military. We also came across a lion asleep up a tree. It was quite a way from the road – and this part of the Serengeti we were not allowed to go off road. Different rules apparently!
Gabriel then decided, as I was a travel agent, that I ought to do a site inspection of another property. As we were virtually there I didn’t complain, so we went and had a look around the Elewana Collection Pioneer Camp. Very nice, but different from the camp we are in. Tented also, but with an absolutely great view over the whole of the plains from quite a height.
We then saw another lion up a tree – this one was closer to the road, and awake. They are like buses – don’t see one for days, and then you see two together. We also saw a huge amount of giraffe all together – they have been in threes and fours up until now, but here there were twenty or so.
We also came across some hyenas having a bath in a mud pool. They took absolutely no notice of us whatsoever. It was heating up, and their water pool was cooling them down, so they were not going to move.
Then we spotted the elusive leopard. Hooray! It was up a tree and quite a way from the road, and had it’s butt towards us, but it was definitely a leopard. Ticked that one off the list then! We then came across a whole family of lions – mother and cubs under the tree, and another one laying on her back sunning herself. Obviously not too hot for her. It was definitely a lions day today – we saw several more under trees, and in them. We also saw a hippo submerged in a small pool – all on his lonesome. No idea where the rest were.
We then saw another leopard up a tree. Slightly better view this time, but still quite a way away. There were zebra and wildebeest under the tree – they had no idea she was there. Gabriel decided this was a good spot to get the picnic lunch out – well in really, we ate in the car. There was a nice breeze blowing through, so it was quite pleasant. Just after the salads were put on the plate the leopard decided to jump down and try and catch one of the baby wildebeest. They all scattered leaving the baby with the leopard, but then mum came to the rescue and got it back. The leopard just sat under the tree looking a bit bemused – beaten by a wildebeest! He jumped back up the tree, waiting for the next lot of unsuspecting wildebeest to wander over under the shade. Nobody got any good pictures of that, food got in the way! No leopard up until today, then two leopards, and a bit of action. Excellent!
We had caught up with a couple of large herds of wildebeest and zebra, but the herds had hundreds in instead of hundreds of thousands. We decided that we had gone far enough, so headed for home. We saw the march of the wildebeest, albeit in smaller numbers than we would have liked. We get the gist. Maybe another day. We saw the same lions and leopards on the way home – they hadn’t moved far. We saw more stragglers of wildebeest and zebra, as well as quite a big herd near a water hole. It was still amazing.
That campari beckoned, so we hot footed it (literally – I think Gabriel is an undercover rally driver) back to the camp in record time. It is nice to have a couple of hours relaxation – unbelievably we had been out for over nine hours.
After a refreshing shower, we had sundowners on the kopje watching the sun disappear over the horizon. The sky was so clear – the stars stood out like diamonds. I will catch up on my astrology one day.
Day Ten. Tuesday 14th February 2017.
Another early wake up call – Gabriel said it is best that we get out early to see all that we wouldn’t see if we went later. Out at 7.00am for the last game drive. Bit sad it is all coming to an end – even though we have had so many days game viewing not one day has been the same as the others.
First of all we came upon a family of bat eared foxes. No idea how Gabriel spotted them from the road – they weren’t very big, and were a good way in. We were on an “off road” bit, so could pull up right next to them. They didn’t seem bothered at all. Another new species to tick off the list.
We then came across another herd of wildebeest and zebra. Marching along, oblivious to the fact they are about two weeks behind the main herd. I wonder if they know? We then came to a water hole, with a beautiful black and white eagle and some storks. All just happily going about their business, although the eagle had his eye on something in the water – which I am sure will not be happy if he gets hold of it! Just at the back of them a huge lizard type thing crossed from one bush to another. Just another day by the water hole.
We then came across an even bigger herd of wildebeest and zebra – marching the opposite way to the others we had just seen. One lot must be confused! Apparently one takes the lead, and all the others follow. Wonder how far they will get before they realise they are heading the wrong way? A whole troop of baboons then crossed the road in front of us. They all came out of the bush, and just seemed to keep on coming. There were quite a few. Just around the corner there was a lion sleeping on a rock. There were rocks that the Masai used as drums up near the lion – it is apparently a walking trail, but not when the lion is there. Will give that one a miss today.
Another herd of wildebeest and zebra – we did see a lot of them this morning. We then found another lion sitting on top of a rock – not sure what they are doing out in the relentless sun. We went over a bridge, and saw there were seven lions lying under the bridge in the cool. We drove down to the virtually empty water hole, but they just kept on sleeping. As we moved off, in the distance we could see a small herd of wildebeest and zebra that seemed to be heading for the water hole. They suddenly stopped and changed direction, so not sure if they realised there was danger there or some other reason entirely. The grass, even though very brown, was quite long here but Gabriel spotted what we first thought was a leopard walking through the undergrowth. As it came closer, he said it was a serval cat.
Not sure what that is, and wasn’t expecting to see one, but it was a good find and another to tick off the list. It paraded back and forth beside the jeep for several minutes before we moved off. Another jeep driver stopped and spoke to him, and he said that there were three leopards in a tree up ahead. We got there, but could only see two. Only. We hadn’t seen one all the time we had been here up until yesterday, so we couldn’t be too disappointed one had slipped away. They were both very sleepy, and didn’t move a great deal and were also still quite a way from the road.
It was time to go back to the camp – we had quite a haul on both our last day, and our whole trip. We had seen all we had hoped we would see and more. The phrase “Can’t see me for dust” and “Eat dirt” was never truer than when I got out of the jeep. It was so dusty today, it just seemed to be forever coming in the back window and landing on me. I patted my knee and a cloud of dust appeared. I licked my lips, and it was as if I was licking sandpaper. Everything was covered with a thick grime of black dust – my camera, the camera bag and me. Yuk! This is the end of the safari part of our adventure – tomorrow we fly to Zanzibar.
Days Eleven to Eighteen. 15th – 22nd February 2017.
Well, that didn’t start quite as planned. We had a leisurely wakeup call at 8.30am with a cup of coffee, and were planning to pack and have an easy going breakfast to get to the airstrip for 10.30am. I gave the chap that brought our coffee our eticket for the Coastal Air flight from the South Serengeti to Zanzibar via Arusha to check just as a belt and braces – Gabriel had checked with his office the day before and everything was on schedule. After ten minutes he came racing back, and said that the flight had been brought forward to 9.00am. Great! At this point it was 8.50am – nothing was packed and the coffee was only half drunk. You can pack in five minutes – I am proof! We raced to the jeep, and went at break neck speed to get to the airstrip. Gabriel was convinced the flight hadn’t changed time, but drove like a maniac all the same.
We arrived at just after 9.10am and there were people there. Good sign – perhaps the plane is late? The camp had been very thoughtful and made up a box for breakfast and a box for lunch. When Gabriel went and spoke to the airport people (I use that term very loosely, as also I do airport – it is a grass landing strip with a concrete shed off one side) they said there was no change to the flight. Two others from our camp that were also heading to Zanzibar got on a plane that landed at 9.30am – but we were not booked on it. I was most perturbed. Gabriel told me it wasn’t our flight, so I let it take off without us. He said that one was going to four other airstrips before Arusha, so certainly didn’t want that one. We sat and ate our breakfast box in the concrete shed. At 10.30am another flight landed, and that was our flight. No idea why we had been told that our flight had been brought forward to 9.00am, but it certainly hadn’t. Perhaps they just wanted us out of the tent! It landed, our bags went on, and we took off. It was a small twelve seater Cessna – and as we took off we could see the lions, zebras and wildebeest below. It was a little bumpy, but not too much. Surprisingly Paul didn’t have any bad effects at all – he must be toughening up! We arrived in Arusha after about fifty minutes, where we had to refuel before heading off to Zanzibar. We could leave the aircraft, so we went and sat in the waiting area and ate our lunch box. The flight was due to take off at 12.45pm – at 12 noon a man came over and said “We’ve been looking for you – the plane is now going”. Obviously Coastal Air doesn’t always stick to the timetable.
We had a new pilot and a full plane this time. Being the last on, we had to take the last two seats – so had to get in between two lots of seats and make our way to near the front of the aircraft. Not easy when the gap is only about six inches wide, and the people sitting on the seats fill it with their portly bodies. Hey ho – we had to get there so we did. This flight was just about two hours. The best part about flying on small planes is that they don’t fly very high, so you get a very good view of everything below. We soon made our way out over the coast, and into Zanzibar. Forty five minutes early – would our lift be there?
The luggage was unloaded from the plane, and we took it into the customs hall ourselves – well, after a two and eight with someone who said he was going to get a trolley but then just left it in the middle of the runway. He eventually turned up with a trolley, as we were filling out the customs form. As it was a domestic flight, they had a cursory glance at the passports, and we were through. And the man with the taxi was there – three out of three. Must be a record for us. We had an hour’s journey to the south east of the island to our hotel – Baraza. We arrived just in time for afternoon tea – very civilised. We arrived at 3.20pm – the couple that took off an hour before us in the Sourthern Serengeti arrived at 5pm – so I am glad that flight left without us! The room we have here – or bungalow would be more apt – is one of the best rooms I have had anywhere I have travelled.
We have our own plunge pool in the garden, together with sun loungers, a double bed and a single bed in the shade. All completely boxed in with the most beautiful flowers. Inside we have a bedroom, sitting room and bathroom. Stunning. And this is a lead in room – the ocean view villa. The ocean front villas do not have the same privacy, as people walking past on the beach bit are right next to your garden. We also have our own sunshade and loungers on the beach bit, should we want to sit on the beach.
The actual beach is a public beach, so there are locals there selling tours, and zipping up and down on motor cycles. But not too many, and not enough to cause any problems. It is very tidal here, and every three hours the tide comes in, and then the tide goes out. About four hundred yards. When it goes out it leaves little rock pools in the coral that covers the bottom of the ocean. And it leaves mountains of seaweed on the beach. First thing in the morning there are a team of “gardeners” that are raking up the seaweed, digging a hole and burying it. That is fine, but it is there again in another six hours. The sand is also very course, and full of shells so not good to walk on without shoes. This is meant to be one of the top ten beaches in the world according to Conde Naste readers – sorry, but I don’t agree with you! Walking to the dive centre, which is two hotels up the beach, the sand changes and it is OK to walk on. The dive centre – the Rising Sun Dive Centre – is part of the Zanzibar Collection, and is found at the Breezes Hotel. It is, though, very expensive compared to other dive operators on the island. We did two dives, back to back.
The timing is tide dependent, as you wade out to get on to the boat from the shore. There is then a passage that takes you out past the breakwaters, and then on to the dive sites. Our two dives were average. The coral was quite pretty, but there was limited marine life. A school of barracuda, clown fish, and plenty of small pretty fish and a couple of small rays. The staff were very friendly, and it seemed a well oiled machine. When we finished the second dive we had to take the boat back to a different spot to get into the shore, and then take a car (I use that term loosely as well) back to the hotel. It was good to have dived in Zanzibar, but at $195 each per trip it would need to be spectacular to want to go again. We didn’t.
We had a visit to the old city of Stone Town, which was very interesting. The fish market was extremely smelly and full of flies. But amazing how each person has just one type of fish they are selling. And it was busy! The meat market was similar, but the fruit and veg market was a little more appetising. Our guide seemed to have memorised his script very well – dates, times, places were coming out of his mouth expertly. If he forgot where he got to, we got the same paragraph twice. Unfortunately, any questions that weren’t covered in his script he didn’t have the answer to so he made them up. Once I got the gist of that, I stopped asking.
We were told about the slave trade, where here was the market hub for East Africa. There is an Anglican Cathedral now built on the site – with an organ that comes from Ipswich according to the guide. Hmm. Stone Town consists of a maze of narrow alleys – that both cars and motor cycles seem to want to get up and down – that have a mix of Arabic and African buildings either side. Oman ruled Zanzibar for a good few years, so the Arabic influences came from them. Apparently the last Sultan that ruled here is now in exile in the UK. We went into Sultan’s Palaces and the Old Fort, and went past a hotel that was formally the home of Freddy Mercury. Probably their most famous resident, although a certain David Livingstone also lived here. I think Freddy beats him, as he was born here, and Livingstone was only here for a few years.
We had an ice cream overlooking the harbour – the water to the front and the fort behind you. It certainly is a very beautiful, if chaotic, city. Then we went to a former English Gentleman’s Club, (not the sordid sort) but is now a hotel, for lunch. How very lovely. We had lunch on the terrace overlooking the sea. In a calm atmosphere. Unlike everything two floors down.
During our visit here we also went to a spice farm. Zanzibar is known as the spice island, and there are so many grown here. We went to a community farm, where the local people are growing spices and selling them to help the community. We saw all the spices in their raw state, and had a local shin up a tree and get us a coconut. We drank the water – it was lovely. Apparently as soon as they are dry and hairy the juice is not good to drink – the state that they are in when they get to the UK.
Mostly, our few days here are for relaxation. Baraza is an ideal place for that – it is very small, and not a lot going on. Suits me. The food is good – albeit every other night is buffet, and you know how much I love getting up for my food. But when I say buffet, it isn’t food that has been sitting around for hours. There are five or six chefs cooking the fresh food as you want it, and so much choice. The a la carte nights consist of a five course meal. I think that I can survive the seven nights here!