TanzaniaWritten by admin on January 11th, 2009
Wednesday 3 December
After finishing our project work we crossed the border into Tanzania to Bukoba in order to catch a ferry across Lake Victoria to Mwanza. Getting the tickets for us and the car took some negotiating and as with most things in Africa a fair while! We realised on seeing it that it was not really a car ferry, but for passengers and an unbelievable amount of Bananas! Bob had to be lifted onto the ferry by a rather flimsy looking crane…..which caused a fair bit of sweating from Marc, particularly as we had pointed out a few times that they had underestimated the weight of our vehicle by about 2.5 tons!
On the first attempt this resulted in the front lifting and the back barely getting off the floor. Everyone, including the captain, predicting disaster, panicked and shouted to lower him back down. We then had to quickly offload everything heavy from the back and put it on the front 2 seats to try to balance the weight a little more evenly. Nervously we watched as Bob went up, still at a bit of angle, and was lowered over the bananas and into the hold. This nervous anticipation wasn’t helped by the ship’s music being the Titanic theme tune, as we boarded!
Thursday 4 December
We arrived in Mwanza around 06:30, then about 4 hours later, once every single banana had been offloaded we had Bob safely on the quay and were on our way.
Bob’s brakes were still not 100%, so we headed to a Land Rover garage again to get them looked over. Once again the mechanics decided bleeding and adjusting them was the way to go, despite explaining to them that we had done this several times and it was just a temporary fix.
We then headed to visit the street kids centre and spend some time there.
Friday 5 December
The boys from Solefield School in the UK, where Marc’s mum teaches had kindly donated some football boots, which we gave to the boys at the street kids’ centre. They absolutely loved their new boots and looked well kitted out along with football strips that had been donated by Liverpool Club and spent the next hour or so tearing about, playing in the yard/football pitch at the centre. They loved the boots so much that once the game had finished they all kept them on whilst watching a film. We are not sure if they slept in them too, but can imagine a few of them did!
Saturday 6 December
We caught up on emails and work today; not a bad location for it, overlooking Lake Victoria!
Sunday 7 December
Another long driving day from Mwanza to Arusha. We made good time initially, but then came the standard bad stretch, which hampered progress, battered the shocks again and 13 hours later we limped into the popular Maasai campsite just outside Arusha.
Wednesday 10 December
After a couple of days spent catching up on work, sleep and cleaning and tinkering with Bob we were well ready for our friend Katie’s arrival from the UK.
We met her at Kili airport, but unfortunately not her bags, so we sat and had a drink and catch up while we waited for them to come in on the next flight and Katie had an early opportunity to adapt to Africa time.
We then headed to the foot of Kilimanjaro and visited some rural schools in beautiful settings on the mountain’s lower slopes.
Thursday 11 December
We split up in the morning – Katie and Felicity visited some of the community development projects in Arusha, while Marc tried to make a supermarket sweep style dash around town to get some jobs done and supplies bought ready for Ngorongoro and Serengeti.
Later than planned we were on our way, but fortunately made good time to the gate, getting there with about 30 minutes to spare. However, this time was eaten away, debating with Park staff and trying to communicate with a couple of contacts who had agreed to assist us in some way with our entry. At the last minute (well actually quite a few minutes after that) our man came through, which was very much appreciated and we made our way to Simba A campsite on the crater rim, stopping briefly for some buffalo and hyena.
It had just started to get dark when we reached the camp and we chose to set up away from all of the other tents and vehicles. Maybe unsurprisingly this is where a herd of buffalo and an elephant felt they wanted to venture out on to the open grass area and we sat slightly tensely cooking and eating dinner, stopping every now and again to shine on the watching eyes of the buffalo that were often just a little too close for comfort.
Friday 12 December
06:00 was a little on the early side for Bob, so a jump start was needed to get him going. We then drove down into the volcano Crater. The Crater is around 25kms across and takes about ½ an hour to drive down into. After only a few minutes down in the crater we had an amazing view of two big male lions, which walked right in front of the car.
The sightings continued to be excellent; as well as general game we saw many buffalo, some huge tusked elephant bulls, we had two more close lion pride sightings and black rhino. We stopped for lunch at a picnic site by a small lake and watched the many hippo, as weaver birds flew in and out of and around the car.
Bob’s battery had run flat again in this short time and we had to get a shunt start from one of the other cars. The battery had now started to steam and stank when we were driving, so was clearly stuffed and it was confirmed by a mechanic when we got to the rim of the crater that it was overcharging. We had little option of what to do, so quickly swapped the batteries over, so that our second battery was driving Bob and the Solar panels driving the fridge and headed for Serengeti.
When we got close to the gate of the Serengeti the concentrations of wildebeest and zebra had increased considerably on the plains. At the gate we decided to change our plans slightly and reduce our time in Serengeti by one night to camp at a special (wilderness) campsite for our final night in the nearby area of Ngorongoro that we heard the migration was now in.
We had only been a few minutes inside the Serengeti when we found a pair of cheetah lying on a small bank right at the edge of the road. They didn’t hang around for long though and we carried on to the campsite, arriving their after dark.
We quickly set up camp, so that we could get ready for the ‘alternative’ Real Gap Christmas party, as the office party was going on at a similar location – ‘The High Rocks’ in Tunbridge Wells back in the UK. This was a slightly different affair though, as we actually ate all of the BBQ food that we cooked rather than throw it at each other, or rub it in people’s hair, and we had to keep an occasional watch out for wild animals that may come through camp and not for Matt who may decide to rugby tackle you at any time! We also had Santa’s lucky dip, which Marc had bought luxury gifts for in Dar, as opposed to Secret Santa. Felicity drew a Yoyo, Katie got a turbo racer dinky toy and Marc got ‘Lick and Learn’ safari animal lollipops!
Saturday 13 December
Game viewing started off with the ‘spot the animal win the corresponding lollipop game’ today and it wasn’t long before Marc had won a significant proportion of the lollies, which for everyone else at least meant we were seeing a lot. Driving along the river we saw many hippos, much to Hilda’s excitement and she managed to get her photo with one stood quite close behind her.
We decided to stop for breakfast at pretty much the only picnic site we could find on the fairly vague Park map. We were pleased to find it though, as it was a beautiful and, for most the time we were there, deserted spot on a little hillock that gave you 360o views of the surrounding plains. After breakfast Marc decided this would be a fantastic spot for an open air bush shower, laid out the water bag to start heating from the sun and went about setting it up. Just when it was all about ready another vehicle turned up and then the whole plan was scuppered when the lady saw a leopard jump down from a tree not far from where he had rigged the shower! We packed up and spent the next half an hour watching the leopard instead.
Katie then decided she would like a turn driving Bob. She enjoyed it, but also found the pressure of driving an almost 4 ton vehicle quite nerve racking. Game drives are supposed to be quite slow, but she took this to a whole new level! One car even stopped and then reversed back up to check she was OK, because she had been going so slowly.
It wasn’t long before we had another leopard sighting and this was a classic pose; slumped along a branch of a tree right beside the track, with two legs hanging down on either side. The sightings continued to be excellent. Katie was put under further pressure when we came across a small, relaxed herd of elephants. We sat as they walked toward us and crossed the road close by. The matriarch then approached closer and closer and Marc told Katie to be ready to turn the ignition on immediately if he said to. She reached about 2 metres from the vehicle opened her ears and then turned and slowly ambled away. We all enjoyed the sighting, although Katie seemed to also enjoy it when we got going again!
Sunday 14 December
We made our way via the picnic site back to the Serengeti/Ngorongoro border and chose to explore around some of the rocky kopjes en route. This resulted in a really good lion sighting where a large male walked straight past our vehicle and lead us to two lionesses basking in the sun on top of a large boulder.
We entered Ngorongoro and soon left the main road, following a track across the plains and through large numbers of general game animals towards Lake Ndutu, a less explored area of the Park, which we had heard the main part of the migration was near.
The tracks here were not marked on the map and we had to start using the GPS to try to locate the ‘special campsite’ that we had booked. Special campsites are called special campsites, much to Katie and Felicity’s confusion, because you pay more and get less! No showers, no toilets, no water, for an extra $20 per person usually! They later understood what made them special though.
When we found our spot we set about collecting dead wood for a fire and preparing our early Christmas dinner. Dan and Hilda joined us for a Christmas drink, the Christmas table cloth, crackers, hats, party blowers and flashing santa were brought out, and we played traditional Christmas games like calling the Pearl Spotted Owls, ‘Think While You Drink’ and animal impression charades. We cooked a delicious meal of chicken flatty (instead of turkey), butternut, potatoes and onions roasted in the fire and veg.
After a few drinks we saw some giraffe moving in the tree line nearby, so we were quiet and turned off our lights, sitting in the shadow of the vehicle and watching them in the moonlight. Gradually, one after the other, nine giraffe moved very quietly out into the open and then from tree to tree and much closer to the vehicle, seemingly unaware of us watching. As we continued to watch Marc caught sight of something out of the corner of his eye and asked Felicity to quickly shine the torch, which lit up a hyena that had crept within a few metres. Everyone leapt into action to scare it off; Marc ran at it with a stick whilst Felicity and Katie quickly dived into the front passenger seat! It was pretty cheeky and didn’t back off far each time Marc ran at it and it kept coming back when he turned away. However, eventually when Katie and Felicity got out of the car and Marc threw a large rock in its direction, it grew bored and loped off to lie in the nearby bushes and watch. When we all retired to Bob’s roof terrace for a final nightcap he ambled back out and walked around the vehicle, sniffing at the area where we had cooked the BBQ – this is what made it a ‘special’ campsite and very worth it.
Monday 15 December
Our last day in the park, so we dragged our arses out of bed early again to go off in search of the migration. There are relatively few vehicles in this part of the park, which also meant the tracks were fairly hard to follow at times and most of them were not on the increasingly pointless map. The directions we had been given by the ranger the day before of where the main migration had last been seen were along the lines of that way (as he pointed), past a swamp area and when you get to the plains pass three trees and then head off-road south and don’t get lost!
We were quite excited by the feeling of exploration, trying to find where the migration had moved to and the freedom of being able to off-road once we reached the plains, but to be safe we marked a couple of waypoints in our GPS as we headed out.
After a couple of doubts as to whether we were going in the right direction we came across a large herd of wildebeest moving down to a drainage line from a ridge of trees and others continued to filter out of the tree line. We pressed on feeling that we were getting close and crossing the small ridge came into a plains area where we found lines of wildebeest and zebra feeding from several directions down to a central plateau. There was no longer any clear track and although it was quite difficult to determine we headed towards where most of the animals seemed to be converging. Once we were surrounded on all sides by tens of thousands of wildebeest and zebra grazing, or filing nose to tail across the plains, we were pretty confident we were with the migration.
We spent some time parked, or slowly driving in the ranks until we decided we should make our way back and see if we could find any cats on the return trip. Very soon we spotted 3 cheetahs lying in the open grassland and still being in the plains area and some way from the track we were able to get right up close. They were very attentive and as we watched one jumped to attention and started slinking quickly and optimistically towards an approaching zebra. The other 2 followed, but the zebra soon spotted them and despite a bit of a run from the cheetah was never in any great danger.
We followed and sat with the cheetah a little longer and then agreeing we had had a fantastic safari headed back to the camp and then out of the park and back to Arusha and Maasai Camp for the night.
Tuesday 16 December
Today we made the long drive to Dar (about 10 hours). Despite our best intentions to set off quite early we stopped to get our first puncture fixed, which we picked up in Serengeti on safari. While we were at it we noticed the transfer box was still leaking a bit and decided to get that looked at, another tyre developed a large bulge in the sidewall when we pumped it up, and we asked the guys at the garage if they could get us a replacement battery. All in all we didn’t set off until gone midday.
The drive at least was quite scenic and we made good time. On the outskirts of Dar though Marc quickly remembered why it was his favourite city! At about the same time we hit a wall of traffic and humidity. We sat and occasionally crawled into Dar, Marc slowly melting, puffing and fairly regularly swearing (obviously in good humour) at pretty much everything that moved, or didn’t move!
We met our partner eventually and grabbed a pizza and quick beer and finally hit the sack at about 01.00.