It was a good road once we left the Ngorongoro Crater - no potholes, a white line down the middle, a yellow line down each side and wide enough for cyclists and walkers! We were still in Africa weren't we??
We descended the western escarpment of the Rift Valley once again past the incredibly beautiful Lake Manyaya shining in the afternoon sun. But the descent was interesting - a speed limit of 30kph, and rumble bars and speed bumps all along the hairpin winding road. After the relative cool of the crater at altitude, the valley became hotter and hotter as we progressed. The land became drier, with small acacia trees amongst very little undergrowth. What grass was present was yellow-brown and dessicated, and would have supplied a grass fire with plenty of fuel to spead with ease. Some attempt at agriculture surfaced from time to time, but it was just a few scattered ploughed fields and some cows. The biggest industry seemed to be the hand making of gravel from large blocks of basalt by the roadside. Hard, hard work in the heat.
Mt Meru clearly rose in front of us and beyond, hidden in clouds, was Kilimanjaro. Our camp for a couple of nights was the Maserani Snake Park, about 20 minutes outside of Arusha. The Park is run by two ex South Africans called Ma and BJ. Apart from the snakes and crocs in cages all around the camp, they had an excellent bar with cold beer, hot showers and, you guessed it, good flushing toilets. They have also involved themselves in the local Masaai community and have built a clinic, a school, a cultural centre and generally improved the lives of the tribe.
Next day was Jenny's birthday, so treats were in order. First event of the day was a camel ride to the local village. We were then given a tour of the village by one of the young men, looking inside their round mud and thatch house, watched grain being pummelled to death in a big wooden bowl, saw a display of the young men and women dancing and then were taken to the clinic, where we chatted to the nurse about their specialty, treating snake bites. After a look around the cultural centre with some pretty scary (but interesting) models of Masaai people doing Masaai things, we had free time to wander around the snakes and crocs. I think we have now seen every spitting cobra there is as well as the infamous Black Mamba - creepy!
Arusha was only a stop to get supplies before heading off towards Dar es Salaam. We parked in a secure car park that we were assured was fine to leave the car in because there were security guards there. We left the car for about 30 minutes while I went to the first internet cafe we had access to in ages and Russ went into the supermarket to replenish our supplies of water, chips and chocolate.
When Russ came back, he found our car had been broken into - seemingly right in front of the security guards' eyes - and all our camera and computer gear in backpacks stolen. Not only that, our passports were gone. We were devastated. The most serious thing was, of course, our passports, but the most upsetting thing was that every photo we have taken on the trip is gone. The cards that had the photos on them were with the computer. Debs immediately contacted everyone who was needed - embassies, police, the shopping centre manager and security manager, airlines, a driver in Nairobi - and was absolutely fantastic. She made sure we were speaking to the right people and kept in touch with us over the next few days constantly
To cut a long and distressing story short, we spent 7 hours in the Arusha Police Station (where the inspector wanted a "donation" from us, but shrugged his shoulders and shook his head when we asked if we had any chance of getting our gear back), drove to Kilimanjaro Airport where we caught a night plane to Dar, spent 6 hours the next day at the Canadian High Commission getting emergency travel documents (that long because the person who normally signed papers was not there and no-one else would take responsibility) and the following day flew to Nairobi to be at the Australian High Commission at 8.30am when it opened. We must say that the people there were terrific and we had new emergency passports in under 3 hours. Another flight from Nairobi back to Dar meant we could join the group having missed only one day on Zanzibar.
One high point was on the last flight - we passed by Kilimanjaro, completely free of cloud with a wonderful view of this huge mountain rising up from the plain. However, it was almost completely free of snow too - the climate change proponents have used the fact that Kilamanjaro no longer has any of its once permanent glaciers as further proof of global warming. It certainly seems that way.