I was exhausted waking up this morning and more than a little bit downbeat. Today we drive via Arusha where we will drop off Sarah who has decided to leave the tour early (she is a free spirit and prefers it that way) to travel on her own into Rwanda to see the gorillas. Sarah always planned to do this alone. For a start, Nomad doesn't go to Rwanda, they see they gorillas in Uganda instead. But she had planned to stay with us until Nairobi.
The thing is, tomorrow some of the group will be going on a 3 day tour into the Serengeti. This is very expensive and not everyone can afford it, us included. So for the rest of us we will be sitting around at camp for 3 days waiting for them. Understandably Sarah doesn't really want to do this and that's why she's leaving.
So I'm down beat about that, and about the fact we are not going to the Serengeti. If you're wondering why it isn't included in the tour, it's because it is so very expensive and is therefore an "optional extra". A huge tease if you ask me!
Between us Adam and I have also managed to lose one head torch and break the other so we will be using some downtime in Arusha to go shopping as head torches are invaluable when camping!
So we were heading roughly northwest after leaving camp, not including the big double back we had to do to get out of the mountains after last night! We stopped briefly a couple of times along the way to take some pictures of the views and then we were once more back on level ground.
After a couple of hours Mandla stopped for a break, but he was very selective about his parking spot. This is because the whole area is covered in termite mounds and he wanted to take the opportunity to give us a bit of information about them.
If there are large holes in a termite mound it means it's been abandoned and is now home to snakes, so don't get too close! This was the case with the one we went to see so we all kept a safe distance as Mandla was telling us this.
All mounds also lean slightly towards the sun, this means their narrowest point is the only part facing directly at the sun which helps to regulate the overall temperature inside. Temperature is a major issue for termites and the structure inside the mound is a very complicated array of tunnels that each helps to regulate the temperature and assist with ventilation. Some of these mounds can be hundreds of years old and are only abandoned when in danger! Interesting!
Moving back to the truck Mandla found a squashed snake on the road, urgh! This is a common site anywhere in Africa as the snakes come to the road to warm up at night only to get run over by fast moving vehicles. No one could identify this particular snake though as it was well and truly mangled! Nice!
By this point we were only a couple of hours or so from Arusha which meant one thing, we would be passing Mount Kilimanjaro at some point!!! Unfortunately though Mandla told us that the mountain is often completely covered by cloud and therefore invisible and he really didn't hold out much hope of us seeing anything at all…
So most of us went back to playing cards on the truck or catching up on some sleep when suddenly, an hour or so later, Vincent comes on the tannoy (quite rare in itself) and is clearly very excited!!!
He's just spotted the very tip of the mountain, above the clouds!!! The clouds themselves are moving fast and it keeps disappearing from view but it's definitely there when you know where to look. The only issue is the snow-capped mountain is the same colour as the surrounding clouds making it even more difficult to spot.
We pulled over and everyone got their cameras out and between us we must have taken about 100 pictures in a matter of seconds but I don't think any of us could really capture what we were seeing in front of us.
The mountain is HUGE. Much bigger than I ever expected and this is probably more noticeable because it is free standing and all around us is completely flat. The bit we could see is also perfectly dome shaped. It's the type of perfect mountain you see in children's drawings. Absolutely breathtaking!
With the clouds constantly shifting the mountain top soon disappeared from view completely and with other drivers beeping their horns at us for stopping on the side of the road Mandla decided we should move on much to everyone's disappointment. Both he and Vincent were very happy though saying that we probably don't realise just how rare such a sighting is…
The mountain showed itself briefly once more a few minutes later and we all tried to take more pictures although I don't think they were any better than the first ones and as soon as it disappeared once more we moved on with no further sightings. Still, I was glad to have even seen as much as I did! I want to climb that mountain one day!!!
Before long we were driving through the streets of Arusha and after a few wrong turns and Mandla kidnapping a guy to get directions from we eventually found Sarah's hostel and it was time to say goodbye once more…
Moving on we found the central area with a huge supermarket for yet more supplies (poor Vincent seems to spend his life in supermarkets, when he's not cooking that is) and nearby were some shops where Mandla assured us we would find a head torch.
It took a while but we eventually found a little camping shop, that was very expensive, bought just one torch between us and headed back to buy some food in the supermarket. Afterwards we joined the rest of the group sitting in the shade around the back to eat our goodies.
I feel I should mention this next part just because I want to remember other people's stupidity in the hope that I never do something so stupid myself. Let's just say that our Japanese friend on tour really put herself in a potentially dangerous position today.
For reason's unknown to the rest of us, Hisako has been withdrawing money from ATM's every time we see one. She then never spends the money but just collects it. It is rare for her to join us on any of the activities we do so we could not understand why she needed so much money,
What we found out today is that there are only 2 activities in the whole tour that Hisako plans to take part in, the Serengeti and gorilla trekking in Uganda, fair enough! These activities are both very expensive so she's been slowing building up her supplies of American dollars to pay for them. Dollars are the currency of choice in Africa. Several countries such as Zimbabwe have now abandoned their own currency in favour of the dollar and many others will accept dollars. Visa's for example are preferably paid for in dollars.
So Hisako decided to walk around with what amounted to several thousand dollars in her hand in full view. She then sat down on the side of the road and proceeded to count her money into little piles on her lap, in full view of many poverty stricken locals!!!
Let's just say that nothing happened but this blog is as much for us as family and friends and we want to remember such acts of sheer stupidity. And the moral of the story is………..
Moving on, after an hour Mandla came back from the fuel station with the truck (queues for fuel in many African countries can make our own queues look like a breeze, in Malawi people often queue for a week!!!) and we were met by yet another guide.
This guy is from the company that runs the Serengeti tours and has come to give a talk to all those going about what to expect and what to bring etc.
We piled onto the truck where he proceeded to stand over me with his hand up on the luggage rack and clearly not wearing any deodorant (ewwww - but quite common in Africa) and he talked to us all about what you can see in the Serengeti, what is involved in the tour and, essentially, what the rest of us will be missing out on :-/
Well, what can I say, IT'S THE MIGRATION!!! Gutted!
When he left Adam just looked at me. And I know that look! It's the same one I was giving him! WE WANT TO GO!!!
So we sat for a while and weighed up the pro's and con's.
PRO: This is THE perfect time of year to visit the Serengeti and it promises to be the best game park of all, not to mention the fact the tour also involves a night on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater and a further game drive in the centre on the last day!!!
CON: We REALLY can't afford it!!!
In the end we resorted to some advice that Siziba gave to us all those weeks ago "you can always replace money but you can never replace time!". So true!
So in the end we basically said "what the hell!" and went to find Mandla to find out if it was too late to book a place on the tour. It took another hour or so to get everything arranged and paid for but then it was done, we were going…………………
After leaving Arusha we headed on for another hour and a half or so into the mountains towards the Crater and our campsite for the evening in the local town of Karatu.
This is another new campsite for Nomad and has been chosen because it is closer to the Crater and therefore allows more time on the first day of the tour into the Serengeti. Those staying behind have the choice of staying here for a few days or moving back into Arusha tomorrow to another campsite where we will stay before heading to Kenya!
This is the most up market campsite we've stayed on by far. The accommodation is 4 star at least with a really nice bar and swimming pool. The downside, you have to pay to use the pool…no chance!
So Adam and I have chosen to spend the evening packing for our next adventure…………