After getting stopped for speeding (see last post), I should have learnt my lesson, but I’m weak willed and the 50kmph limit is ridiculous in places, so yes I got caught again and this time had to pay an on the spot fine of 30,000 Shillings (about £11.00) for doing 63kmph in a 50kmph zone. Whilst talking about the roads here in Tanzania, I have to say they are probably the best surfaced roads that we have seen here in East Africa, but without a doubt the worst drivers that we have seen on this trip. Bar None! Its almost as though Tanzanians have no concept of risk or danger, over taking around the outside on a blind bend, over taking on the brow of a hill, all par for the course here. We have seen some horrendous accidents (some without a doubt fatal) and are still not sure how after doing about three thousand kilometres , how we haven’t been involved in an accident ourselves. Coaches are the worst, a total disregard for human life, other drivers, cyclists, motorbike riders, their own passengers, it doesn’t matter, its as if the are in some weird version of “The Wacky Races” (under 45’s may not understand this).
We decided to head for the coastal resort of Bagamoyo, just north of Dar es Salaam, on the warm Indian Ocean. We were surprised to find that a new tarmac road had recently been completed from the main Dar to Nairobi road down to Bagamoyo, great we thought…… apart from the speed humps (on the way back out we counted 115 speed humps in less than 70km). It seems that the only way to vaguely control the traffic here is to put in suspension busting speed humps, sometimes just to slow you down for a mediocre corner. Anyway eventually after a long drive we arrived in the old “slave town” of Bagamoyo, and headed to “Firefly Camp” in the narrow streets of the old town, drove in and drove back out, it was not good (it had been recommended to us by some other travellers). So we drove further along the narrow streets of town, ducking Colonel K under the very low power cables that criss crossed the road, and tried the Travellers Rest Hotel. This is a big place, and it was obvious from the signs everywhere that they were hosting the Tanzanian Rally 2016 here, oh bugger we were running out of options (I really didn’t want to eat humble pie and go back to Firefly Camp). After a quick chat with the manager, the head groundsman, oh and the owners “helpful” teenage son, we were told that we could park Colonel K in between the palm trees in the centre of the bungalow rooms. This was tight, very tight to get below and between the trees, but we got there and drove out into the more open area in the centre…. until we got stuck! Yup they had sent us into the deepest softest sand and we were proper stuck. In the heat and humidity of late afternoon, we got the Maxtrax sand ladders out again and used them to get back on the surface and turn around and thread ourselves out again through those same trees. We parked directly in front of the bungalows in the end.
Up to this point we had been very impressed with the campsites that we had stayed at in Tanzania, all that changed in Bagamoyo, the ablutions were not good, and we ended up using the shower in the truck while we were here. The only thing that kept us there was the promise of the Rally stopping here overnight ,this was the reason that we weren’t allowed to park on the expansive lawn area, as it was reserved for the cars and the support vehicles. In the end the swarms of Mosquitos and the horrendous Sand Flies, together with the very uncomfortable humidity drove us back inland onto higher and cooler ground before there was any sign of the Rally arriving.
To highlight the strange rules of the road we took a photo of this road sign as we drove through Mikuni National Park (sorry about the quality, Jac took it as we were moving), it lists the wild animals that are resident in the Park and next to each animal is an amount that you have to pay if you hit and kill that animal on the road. An Elephant or Giraffe will set you back $15,000 (and your car written off), but a poor old Baboon is only worth $110, even a Lion will only cost you $4,900, crazy!
After Bagamoyo, we had an overnight stay parked in the carpark of a Hotel in the small town of Same, and ironically this was a better camping experience than the time we spent on the Indian Ocean. That evening as we were sitting outside the bar having a cheeky beer, we witnessed the distressing scene of a domestic cat carrying her (fairly) new born kitten out of the bush and and hiding it in the nearby flower bed, hotly pursued by a huge troop of Vervet Monkeys. She gently laid it on a bed of leaves, and briskly set off, I assume to retrieve another kitten, we spent the next hour or so chasing Monkeys away from the kitten, while another couple tried to find where the cat went. Eventually it got dark, and the Vervet Monkeys disappeared off into the trees for the night, but we never saw the cat again. When we went to bed the tiny kitten was still asleep where it was left, but in the morning it was gone, hopefully the mother returned during the night to take it to safety (this is the story Jac wants to believe), but over grown flower beds are dangerous places for a little kitten in these parts. We managed to negotiate with the manager our breakfasts included in our “camping” fee, and we enjoyed a nice omelette with a sausage, and toast, they even had the BBC News channel on the TV. A good experience.
From Same, we drove along the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, and through the large town of Moshi, disappointingly most of the mountain was shrouded in cloud, and we didn’t get to see the iconic peak, we then pushed on to the city of Arusha to Maasi Camp. Based here were about 30 kids (about 15-16 years old) from two schools in Bristol, that were staying here for about 3 weeks and were constructing a fence around a local school nearby, these were great kids, and they were having a great adventure of their own. After the 3 weeks in Arusha, they had the choice of either a few days safari in Tsarvo, Kenya, or a six day climb to the top of Kilimanjaro. The majority opted for the easier safari…..
Tanzania is by far the most expensive country that we have traveled through in Africa (and that includes Botswana), especially once you get near the National Parks. Our original “plan” was to drive through Serengeti NP up to Lake Victoria, but we worked it out that it was going to cost us well over $1,000.00 just to drive through, and we would only have 24 hours to clear the Park (its illegal to drive after dusk in the NP), after that if we weren’t clear of the gate they would charge us another days fees. This is ridiculous, but we really wanted to experience both the Serengeti, and Ngorongoro Crater (we wouldn’t be allowed to take Colonel K into the crater anyway), so we looked at booking a 3 day safari. We ended up booking a trip with Tropical Trails (based at Maasi Camp) for just over $2,000.00 for the two of us, which included all our park fees, one night in a tented camp in Serengeti NP, one night in a lodge on the rim of the crater at Ngorongoro, our own Toyota Landcruiser and a driver/guide. This seriously blew our budget but it seemed to make sense if we truly wanted to see these places, and it meant not having to drive for those three days.
So early on Monday morning with our tiny rucksacks packed, we set off with Ole our guide in the enclosed Landcruiser safari vehicle. Ole is a genuine Maasi tribesman (with huge piercings in his ears), and it was great to understand more about this amazing nomadic tribe.
On the way Ole stopped on the edge of a small town (the NP is about 200km from Arusha), and showed us a huge colony of Maribou, and Yellow Billed Storks in the trees above the road, lovely to see, but the stench from the droppings was horrendous, I really don’t know how people would live near that.
To get to Serengeti National Park, you have to drive through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area ,this includes the Crater area, but paying to drive through doesn’t allow you to descend into the crater. So first stop was at the Gate into Ngorongoro, this took Ole about 30 minutes to sort out and enabled us to get coffees for the three of us. To highlight the “rip off” that is Tanzania National Parks, the three coffees cost us 24,000 shillings, this is nearly £9.00, you may think that £3 for a coffee is not bad but here its a seriously lot of money ,normally we would pay less than a £1 for a coffee in a nice coffee shop and don’t forget they grow coffee here.
After setting off from the gate, we hit the notoriously bad track and quickly climbed to the rim of the crater (we were just passing at this stage), this is about 8,500 feet above sea level, and the temperature here was markedly lower than at the gate, but it did give us our first glimpse of the crater floor, including the herds of Cape Buffalo that we could clearly see even though it was 2,000 feet below us. We couldn’t wait to get down there in a couple of days time, it was stunning.
Away from the Crater Rim we stopped for a packed lunch that Ole had picked up on route, during this trip we had three packed lunches and they were all very good, and this one included a chicken leg, a sandwich, a boiled egg, bag of crisps, bar of chocolate, fruit, a packet of nuts, drinks etc in each box. Each day was slightly different but all were equally as good, it sure beats our usual crackers and tomatoes that is our norm.
As we started to descend down towards the Serengeti Plains, we left behind the lush green almost “rain forest” environment, of the highlands and below us appeared the vast grasslands with the Maasi villages dotted around.
We even spotted an old ex British army T244 Leyland Daf (same as Colonel K) coming the other way, creating its own cloud of dust.
After about 30km we came to the edge of the national park, and Ole thought we might like to use the “bush toilet” here while he chatted to a few fellow Massi.
Next up was the gate where Ole had to pay the park fees, this took a frustrating hour and a half, and considering the amount of money that people like us had paid for this experience it wasn’t surprising that there were a lot of very pissed off people here! There were about 40 safari vehicles waiting to pay and enter and about 20 trying to exit the park, all had to queue up to sort out the appropriate paper work.
But as soon as we set off from the entrance we soon forgot about this crazy state of affairs, the wildlife was coming think and fast in the long dried grass, including this Jackal and the Grants Gazelle keeping a close eye.
And this stunning Secretary Bird
And of course there were Lions, and Hartebeest.
We saw these two Secretary Birds on the top of a Flat topped Acacia no doubt looking for a tasty snake for dinner.
There were birds of prey everywhere and of course many many elephants, and hippos in every available pocket of water.
Just as it started to get dark we arrived at Katikati Tented Camp, this consisted of eleven tents, each with its own bathroom with bucket shower and another open tent that served as a dining area. We were given strict instructions not to leave the tent during the hours of darkness (there are no fences here), and had to flash our torches for an unarmed escort to take us to dinner and breakfast. This all seemed a little over the top to us, as we had spent many many nights on this trip in just as wild places on our own, without any guards or fences. But I guess for some people this might be their first experience of “wild” Africa, so the comfort of an emergency whistle, and being led to dinner by a “responsible adult” is quite reassuring for them.
This was a really nice place and we were served with an amazing dinner, but ultimately we arrived in the dark, and left at sunrise.
Fifteen minutes after we left Katikati the following morning, we saw the sun rising through the early morning clouds, and in true Tanzanian style the sky filled with five tourist packed hot air balloons, (the cost of this 60 minute flight was $500 per person!).
Of course in this early hour with the chill of the night still evident, there was of course another dose of wildlife to see, like this Oxpecker hitching a ride on the horns of a Cape Buffalo, and of course more elephants.
Then came the highlight for us on this Serengeti safari, Ole spotted a Leopard in a tree about 20 metres from the track, she had killed a Gazelle in the night and to protect the kill, had dragged the carcass up into the Sausage Tree and was devouring it without the threat of it being stolen by the many packs of Spotted Hyena that move around the plains.
Those of you that regularly read our blog will know that we have been lucky to see Leopard on this trip, but we had yet to see one in the tree, so this was a real treat. We watched her changing position and tearing lumps of flesh off the gazelle, with most of the carcass hanging from the tree, then amazingly another slightly younger Leopard appeared from nowhere and leapt up onto the lower branch of the tree obviously tempted by the hanging rear leg and body of the meal.
In a flash the older female jumped down and chased the young pretender away (dropping the carcass in the process).
With the youngster gone, the older female seemed content with finishing her meal on the floor,not that there was much meat left on the carcass by this time and this was the last we saw of her, they are very difficult to see once in the dried grass. We also saw the head and shoulders of a Cheetah in the long grass but it was quite a way off and with the heat haze, the photos weren’t great, but it was our first Cheetah sighting, maybe we will see one in Ngorongoro the next day.
On the way out of the Serengeti, in early afternoon we saw a large pride of Lions, with both male and female, all of the Lionesses appeared to be pregnant, which bodes well for the future, (though perhaps the Buffalo and Gazelle might not think so positively). There were nine adults in the group and they were very slowly edging there way along a river, perhaps following their prey.
But time was moving on, and we had to get back to Ngorongoro for that night, so we left Serengeti, and again had the crazy situation of having to wait to get stamped out, this time it took a “mere” 60 minutes, and again there was some fabulous wildlife viewing to be done, large and small.
So what were our thoughts on the Serengeti? Well as you can see from the photos’s its a great place to see animals, in a Savannah environment. BUT……. and for us its a massive BUT, the” safari experience” was not that great, and its ridiculously expensive (our park fees made up over $800 of our trip), but the biggest issue for us in the Serengeti was the vehicle. Every single safari vehicle there is closed in Landcruiser with a pop-up roof for viewing, all identical (apart from a few Landrover Defenders, also with pop-up roofs, mostly broken down lol), and we ended up standing up almost constantly to game spot. No vehicle that we saw, and we saw hundreds during our safari, had a spotter, everyone only had a driver/guide, and it is left to the guests ,who are set higher than the driver to see over the grass, not such an issue for us, but we saw dozens of “guests” in other vehicles with ear phone’s in and looking at their phones, unbelievable! They use closed in vehicles for two reasons, first the drive from Arusha, which is where almost all the vehicles come from, is about 200km, and thats a long way in an open safari vehicle, and secondly and to me almost unbelievably, Tanzanian National Parks (the government in effect) charge a 50% increase in park fees if you travel in a open vehicle!!!!!
But all of the above does not take away from the fantastic wildlife that can be seen, the trouble is you are never, ever, ever alone! There were, hundreds of vehicles in Serengeti at any one time, and although its a vast area, as soon as a decent sighting is made, vehicles appear from everywhere.
We’ve been spoilt with game viewing in Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia, maybe you don’t see so much game but its a much nicer(and considerably cheaper experience.
But tomorrow we are off to Ngorongoro Crater and are very excited about this, we’ve read the hype and paid the money, so can’t wait! I’ll tell you how we got on in our next post.
Thanks for reading
Vince, Jac, and an abandoned Colonel K.