Northern Tazania and the Serengeti
Up before the sunrise to the sound of the mosques pray call was an ideal start for us, we had a 7 hour drive ahead of us, breakfast has become a familiar event in the car, bread and jam on these sorts of early start days. Edwina and I cannot grumble the kids have gotten so used to being up really early on these days, but to make it easier we let them sleep in their clothing so they can then just stumble out of there sleeping bags bleary eyed, have a quick pee and snuggle up in the car. We have nothing but praise for them especially that they have no electronic gadgets to occupy themselves with and they don't even complain about waking up, I wonder if this will be the same when they get back to their own comfy beds? The other day Maddalena asked how long it takes to drive from our house to Nonna's house my response was 1 hour and 30 minutes and Maddalena's response "oh that's nothing!" The hours fly by and before we know it we steadily climb in altitude and arrive in Marangu a small town on the slopes of Kilimanjaro but today was overcast and not a chance of even a glimpse of the mountain. Still optimistic we looked for a place to stay the campsites are tiny and there is no fire wood available and we are out of our backup supply of gas. A decision was made to head back down to another town as we felt that it was also too cold. The places we find on Tracks for Africa are full so our last attempt was Honeybadgers, I had read that they had stopped doing camping but we thought you never know in Africa, down the bumpy dirt road we park up and are greeted by the Maasai security guard, he has little English and directs me to speak with management who inform us there is no camping. It's getting late by this time and after a few minutes discussing our options he leads be down a road to a Kindergarten called Second Chance Education Centre quiet fitting given our situation, lucky for us the owner is present with some workers her name is Lucy Margaret Renju she has managed the site for the last 10 years and greets me like a long lost friend. She is more than happy for us to pitch up on the grass in the middle of the school for the night, kids can play on the swings, we have use of the toilet block and supplies us with wood for cooking all for a donation and a few pairs of the girls sandals, a kids backpack, pencils and toy cars, she was totally made up with our offerings and spent time talking with the kids feeding them popcorn and telling us more about the Kindergarten. Asking how we could help more she used wise words, "You can give a fish, but a rod is better to catch lots of fish" in other words sponsoring a child gives them a better chance at education and helps cover the costs of schooling directly at the organisation, education is power. We also noticed that Rotary groups from Canada had built the toilet block, a classroom built by a UK group and two massive water tanks and sanitation had been supplied and implemented by a Christchurch NZ Rotary group, amazing! Edwina feeds us quickly and gives the security guard a warm meal too and it doesn't take long for my food to settle and I drag myself off to the rooftent and fall asleep before the kids. These long drives are a killer but now the hard drive is over for the next 7 days as we leisurely get up in the morning and head to Arusha only 2 hours drive but with plenty of police on the road 50km per hour is the best kept speed, we did get stopped by a very grumpy police officer looking for something to pin on us but gave up on his 4th request for paperwork that I handed over happily. First things first in Arusha to find a gas supplier that can refill bottles being Sunday no such joy so head to supermarket pick up some supplies for our next adventure and head to meet Simon at his house who as organised our 5 day trip to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, after paperwork and payment we walk to our local hotel two rooms, wifi and hot water. We relax for the afternoon and arrange to meet who Simon refers to as adopted son a young Tanzanian man well-groomed and now a mature 20 year old, Simon took into his home when he was just 8 years old and basically raised and guided him through his adolescent years he speaks highly of Simon. He takes us for a short walk through the dusty backstreets to a small bar called "Shark bar" here we are told we can get a good Tanzanian dish of pork, chips and salad. Waiting with baited breath for this local fare, Luca is still complaining of a sore tummy and looking rather pasty, Edwina takes him for a walk along the dirt road and good job she did he pukes up, poor fella really was feeling sick. The rest of us enjoy the pork dish, despite Luca looking rather miserable sipping on a bottle of water we quickly finish off and head back in the pitch black winding our way through the back streets to our accommodation, jumping drains and potholes. We arrive back to our rooms with the sound of pumping music it was making the rooms shake, Maddalena and Arabella looked out the window to a huge marque and a wedding in full swing, we asked reception how long the music will go on - "oh till 10.30" but you have to include African time and the music vibrated the rooms till 1.30am, somehow the kids managed to sleep. It's the first time Luca has been sick on the whole year trip and it's not over yet just as the music stops at 1.30am Edwina is up for round two with Luca, he ends up being up for pretty much the remainder of the night sitting on the toilet. It's a really rough night but on reflection in the morning Edwina manages to find one positive which was being extremely thankful that Luca wasn't in the roof tents whilst having to deal with sick and diarrhoea and she also got to spend the morning relaxing in the hotel dozing on and off catching up on lack of sleep from the night before. I head into town first the bank which took over an hour to get dollars so I could sort out paying the Park Fees for Ngorongoro. Other than that it was an uneventful day in Arusha and we were all eager for an early night and thankful there was no music vibrating the rooms, we were ready for the Serengeti adventure.
One of the main reasons for coming this far north was to visit the Serengeti, we all love wildlife experiences and the Serengeti had been on my bucket list for a while. We alwys knew it would be packed considering we are here in peak season and expensive, over £500 alone for 1 day in the Ngorongoro Crater alone. But we really wanted to see animals and heard they were here in abundance.
We meet our driver/guide Jammal and cook whos name escapes me early morning and we depart Arusha hoping to make our way to the Serengeti in good time, we had a full day driving ahead of us and it turned out to be a mission to get into the Serengeti. We arrive at the Ngorongoro gates and have to get a transit visa to travel onto the Serengeti Gate. We then drive round the crater rim, every now and then we get glimpses into the crater but proceed on, after the crater we drive down the Great Rift Valley onto the Serengeti plains and can certainly see why Serengeti translates to "endless plain", it's a huge expanse stretching as far as the eye can see. As we drive onto the plains it is a stereotypical view of Africa, dirt roads, mud huts making up Maasai villages surrounded by wildlife. After a few hours we arrive at the Serengeti gate just as everyone else has, Jammal seems to make himself scarce and I end up being the only tourist queuing with all the other tour guides for 2 hours, funnily enough Jammal appears just at the last minute to give information needed. We pass through the gates late afternoon and have no choice but to head straight to the public campsite to set up, Jammal speeds along the corrugated roads at full pelt whilst making us all listen to his taste of music, when we come across a herd of elephants I kindly ask him to turn the music off, he is probably used to tourist that like that kind of thing but I just want to listen to nature. At camp Edwina and I are taken back by the setup, the public camps are a shocker nothing like we have experienced anywhere else on our travels. There are two concrete buildings with wire caged windows one for the cooks to cook in and the other for all the tourists to eat in making us feel like we were penned in caged animals being observed by the animals, tired we ate a welcomed meal in the darkness with head torches and watched rats scurry around scavenging off other tables any scarps they could find. We put the day behind us and headed to bed ready for an early 6am breakfast and game drive, this was not the case at 2.30am all hell broke loose, almighty crashing and bashing and the sounding of metal grinding waking the cooks who ran around yelling hysterical as an elephant tried to break into the cooks area for food. Edwina was the only one to wake at the commotion but we all woke when we had the cooks all nattering in the kitchen like old woman from 4.30 and engines revving at 5am this was going to be a familiar theme for the following three days. Stepping out of the tent first thing in the morning you would think a bomb had gone off, rubbish scattered all over the place, hyenas frequently visit the camp and go through the trash scattering it all over the place, why they don't have lockable bins like in other camps we stayed in, I don't know. Breakfast finished we head out for our first game drive I get Maddalena to write down everyone's animal choices for animal bingo, Luca buddies up with Jammal thinking he will have the best animal selection to win. Within metres of the camp we spot impala, zebra, buffalo, gazelle and within 5 minutes Arabellas sharp eye spots a lioness soaking up the early morning sun 10 metres from our vehicle, things only got better and within the hour we enjoy observing 3 more lions all snoozing with full bellies near the remanence of a zebra kill hours earlier. Maybe our Bingo game would be won within a few hours. The next few hours of the morning we search for game and occasionally Jammal hears news over his radio and we all hold on for our lives as he speeds like a manic down the tracks to get to the next major spot. And not to be disappointed, we arrived just in time to see a leopard in the long grass, it had been chasing a gazelle but had given up and just casually walking through the grass passed the other safari vehicles making its way over to a tree with the occasional glance over its shoulder, we waited and watched it pounce up the tree and relax on a branch we were all mesmerised observing the young leopard and felt so privilege to see it in its nature habitat. Arabella was practically over the moon with seeing the Leopard especially as we watched the gazelle jump and run trying to escape the leopards jaws, Arabella had put down on her bingo list that she had wanted to see a kill even though it was not a kill it was a good to observe the behaviour of the leopard and its attempt at a kill. With hungry mouths to feed we head back to base camp for lunch and a few hours down time preparing ourselves for the afternoon drive. Back out our first major spot on the afternoon drive was a leopard in a tree surrounded by 10 cars, not put off by our presence but chased out of the tree by a large male baboon. We then took a long drive across the plains seeing hardly any activity, the sun was lowering in the sky and we had almost given up all hope of a good spot but in the distance we spot the tell-tale sign of something exciting, more than 5 vehicles parked up in one place, within 10 metres lying beside a tree were two young cheetahs, we stayed with them for a good 40 minutes but had to leave them as the sun was setting and race back to camp before dark. As much as we don't like the campsite the wildlife makes up for it, barely 5 mins went by today without spotting something, we saw 9 lions, 2 leopards, 2 cheetahs, zebra, hyena, giraffe, buffalo, warthog, gazelle, hippos, elephants, hippos, crocs and plenty of different birds.
Eager for another early game drive were up and off by 7am, Jammal takes us off in a different direction and we see spotted hyena and that's about all for a good hour or so, the land is flat with long grass and very much what you picture the Serengeti to be like, we keep heading further and further away and soon see 3 other vehicles near a lone tree, we go to observe but see nothing then there is radio talk and we head off in convoy towards a mound of dirt here we see a young female cheetah and her baby cub it's a huge WOW moment! We don't stay more than 30 seconds not wanting to disturb the new mother. We then head towards a hill of rocks once again a few cars there but they soon leave and we are left alone with a leopard sleeping up on some giant rocks, we wait for a good hour just to see it stand and move position. We stopped off in a picnic area for our lunch where we have company under the tables, hyraxs, basically they look like large rats, we eat lunch with the kids legs folded on the chairs and watch them run around. Back in the truck satisfied with our sightings we spend the afternoon observing buffalo, elephant etc. till late afternoon and we came across a pride of lions slumbering under a tree one had a young cub. On the other side of the road in the bushes was a young male lion, this was on Edwinas bingo list and she was keen to see a male lion up close as so we waited and waited and waited for an appearance which we finally managed to get. The sun was setting and we raced back to camp, dinner and bed. Early morning start packing the tents and heading to the Ngorongoro crater it was a long morning to get to the campsite on the crater rim and it would be cold, this filled us all with dread thinking it would be very cold overnight. Hastily we dropped the cook and all the tents and head down into the Ngorongoro crater, it's a very steep dirt one way track down, we pass Maasai goat herders taking their herds down into the crater, the view is stunning and something really special to view, in the distance you can see thousands of wildebeest moving looking like little ants. Once down in the crater we are blown away by the abundance of wildlife in such a small space it's about 15km sq very small. Driving around we come across over 40 vehicles parked up looking at a Black Rhino so we follow suit, it was a ting speck in the distance you could hardly see it, but they are a very rare sighing. The trucks were all gridlocked and we were stuck in a traffic jam in the Ngorongoro crater rather a comical site. Finally on the move again and within 15 mins we are parked up in the presence of a large fully grown male lion with a lovely bushy main, this is the male lion Edwina had been wanting to find on our safari. The male was baking in the African sunshine so decided to move and he made his way directly towards the shady side of our vehicle and lay down to continue his rest, it was a very special moment we all loved being in close proximity. Other vehicles showed up so Edwina seizes the opportunity when I spot some Japanese tourist and handed over her camera for them to take a family photo of us with the lion. We enjoyed our day in the crater and observing the wide range of animals, but it did feel a little like a large zoo and much preferred the Serengeti experience. We head back up out of the crater to the very busy campsite only to be told by Jammal that he has a problem with his safari truck the drive shaft and he would have to check it out tonight and may have to send another driver to pick us up early morning, we had to be out of the park by 8.30am, so we empty out the truck. I was a little sceptical about this so call Simon who is rather bemused by this and tells us he will call back. We sit down to dinner in the cold and contemplate how we are to get out of the park, we are left with the cook, tents and our belongings. Just as Edwina is putting the kids to bed with three layers of clothing and thermals, Jammal shows up as if nothing is wrong, what came to light when we return to Arusha, Simon informs us that Jammal was going to ditch us in the Ngorongoro as he had another private safari job he wanted to start the following day. On the drive back to Arusha we stopped at a Maasai village for the kids to observe their way of life and listen to singing and to see the Maasai men jump. Back in Arusha we have coffee with Simon and bid farewell, we had a fantastic time in the Serengeti and totally blown away by all the wildlife we saw. I am relieved to see The White Elephant and get back behind the wheel, we drive out of Arusha and head to the Snake Park for the afternoon, the kids get to go round and see all the snake and Luca and Arabella get to hold a green grass snake. Edwina cooks up several meals for the nights ahead as of tomorrow morning we start on the long road back to Johannesburg to sell the car, we decided to go fast for 4 days to reach Botswana, which means early starts and over 3000km to cover in the next four days.