We are packed and raring to go. We even have most of visas all paid and approved. But first another long flight. This time all the way north to Dubai, taking many long hours and then west to Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania. Finally, we reach our truck. The parking spot is the dirtiest we have ever had, but at least it was secure. She starts first pop and we clean and unpack before jetlag hits us and we crawl into bed.
Our early start is delayed as the promised truck cleaner does not arrive. This is Africa after all!! Of course, he turns up once John commences the job himself. Late morning, we head through the centre of the city detouring through the historic area and trailing along the waterfront past John’s hospital (The Aga Khan). But before we leave the never-ending suburbs we fill up with food, then head north through scruffy countryside to the historic waterfront town of Bagamoyo. Before we find our campspot we detour south along the coast to the old ruins at Kaola, site of an interesting old Mosque and a group of graves all made from coral reef rock. Then back to town where we get snarled in tiny alleys filled with atmospheric crumbling old buildings. Another Stone Town like Zanzibar, but rapidly decaying. After doing a few 10 point turns we find a slightly more main road and locate our camp, except there is a wedding on, so they send us to the Funky Squid. We settle into a grassy spot well back from the beach. This place has seen better days, but it will do. We wander into town to see the Stone buildings with intricately carved wooden doors, admire the rows of dhows tied up just off the beach and wander through the shanty-town shops. On the way back to our camp we stop to watch a group of men carving with hand tools. We are impressed with the hand lathe that is run using a bow and string. Another day is done!
We toy with the idea of continuing north up the coast through Saadani National Park, but dismiss this idea for a few reasons. The road is reportedly just a rough track, we must pay excessively for the privilege of driving through this rough track and finally and more importantly we are time poor. Our carnet is due to expire and we must exit Tanzania before that happens. So, we are on a roll……. We decide to hit the road to Moshi and Arusha.
Before we leave town, we head out to the Cathedral complex to have a look and then on out of town. The road is good, traffic thin on the ground and police stops frequent. There are a few corrupt ones wanting money, saying that we are speeding, which we are not, but mostly we are waved on. We spend most of the day driving, finally stopping for the night at the Korogure Executive Lodge. It is not a campspot, so we simply drive in and ask how much it would be to park for the night. Easy peasy! We head off bright and early passing the lovely Usambara Mountains. Then miles of sisal plantations with all the plants in orderly rows. At one point we see locals threading the leaves through a machine before hanging it out to dry. As the day progresses the number of incredibly slow trucks increases, making it very slow going as there always seems to be solid white lines on the road, and we dare not overtake on one as a policeman might be sitting around the next bend! As we near Moshi the traffic thickens and we now see lots of cars. We have made good time so decide to try out the local food at Moshi Delights. My samosas are delish, but Johns local dish of beef, bananas and potato is not quite so exciting. Just over the road is a workshop. Just what we need. I forgot to mention that the horn had stopped working (and golly a horn is essential here!) so we had stopped on our way out of Dar to get it fixed, but later discovered that while that when they fixed the horn, they somehow managed to muck up the windows which now will not open. So now that is fixed too! We are finally out of town by 4pm. Just enough time to get to our campspot on the western slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro with great views of the volcanic cone of Mt Nero.
On our map there is a road right beside our Lodge campsite that runs up the western flank of Mt Kili, so we plan to drive as far as we can and walk to one of the lookouts. We might even get lucky and get a glimpse of the mountain that is currently shrouded in clouds. We are hardly any distance up the road before the first stop. This one is Forestry. They want to charge us $50US to drive through their land – in total 8kms. Then there will be a National Park stop and fee. Of course, they do not know how much that will cost so we check our paperwork. Hmmm. It will be $300US plus VAT of 18% for us and our truck to drive up. That is a big NO considering the current cloud cover. Instead, we decide to drive part way around the mountain, but when the clouds stay put and the road turns nasty, we give up that idea too. Maybe we will see the mountain from the Kenyan side!
Instead, we head to the big smoke of Arusha with all manner of vehicles, from overloaded trucks to overloaded motorbikes, as we pass through countless busy villages. Traffic is mayhem as we hunt down first a supermarket and then the Tanzanian Tourism Board to get a permit to drive our truck in the Ngororuru Conservation Area. Finally, a petrol station and an ATM before we head out of town. We are on a roll and I do not notice that we have bypassed Tarangire Nat Park (pity that, as I had planned to visit, but it just is not to be. John will heave a sigh of relief at not paying for another park!) We find a gorgeous camp area with great views over Lake Manyara, and even better it has a lovely swimming pool. We are prepared for our big day tomorrow. National Parks charge a 24 hour entry fee each person and the vehicle, and we have been warned not to overstay or another full day will be charged. On top of that there is a vehicle fee of US$295 to drive into the Crater itself. And of course, camping fees for both of us! Phew!!! It will be a very expensive day as we are charged by the weight of the vehicle. Do not ask how much we paid…. We are trying to forget!
We reach the gate at about 9.30 and head in. The track is terrible making it very slow going and the forest on the crater rim is swirling in mist. Fortunately, it clears as we drive through some superb dry mountain scenery dotted with Maasi villages. It takes at least an hour to get to the road descending into the Crater where there is another queue of game viewing trucks. (We have been warned about the sheer volume of traffic here, but this is a must do for us). All the signs say no vehicles over 3.5T, but we have the paperwork and are let in. YAY! The view is stupendous as we ease down the very steep track into the crater. What can we say but “Wow!” The place is teeming with wildlife, the lake glistens an aqua blue and the grass is verdant green. We spend all day exploring. As the day progresses the number of vehicles decrease so we are no longer jostling for viewing spots. We love watching the hyenas wallowing in the water, the humongous hippos snorting and yawning in the pool and all the lions, especially the one curling up beside the drainage pipe. Much later we wind our way up out of the canyon and find our camp area in amidst zebras, giraffes, and antelopes.
The next day we must exit the Conservation Area by 10am and enter Serengeti National Park. We do not have far to drive but we have heard the road is terrible, so we set off bright and early through even thicker mist. Fortunately, it clears and we enjoy the magic views and more glimpses of animals. The road is very slow going, but fortunately we reach a freshly graded area and make up time. The last 10km is washboard stuff, but we get to the border with 40mins to spare, only to discover that although this is the border the gate is another 18km further on, and more washboard track. When we arrive, I leap out of the truck, paperwork in hand. There are drivers everywhere and its chaotic, but a helpful official takes me straight to the correct desk and we are stamped out with 5 mins to spare. Phew! A much-needed coffee break before we start the process of more paperwork for Serengeti. We decide to camp there for 2 nights, thus incurring twice the cost, but the park is massive and roads so bad we will need more time. By 10.40 we are stamped in and we are off. Huge plains loom in front of us with not an animal in sight. The track is appalling with massive puddles from unseasonal rain (apparently it is the dry season)
After a disappointing start the park grows on us. When we see a row of trucks we head over for a look. Just a peak of a leopard, but enough to get us in the groove. Later, we discover 6 lion cubs sheltering in a tree from the rain. We spend ages watching them play. A night at our bush camp (totally open to the wild) is followed by a full day of exploring lots of tracks. We pass a huge group of elephants with lots of babies right beside the track, then a huge herd of wildebeest and zebras racing across the road – rather like our very own mini migration. Later we head back out to the Maasi Rocks to hunt for lions (they like sitting on the rocks when the ground is wet) and are rewarded with 3 lions sunning themselves on top of the tallest rock. As we meander more soggy muddy back tracks, we see a few vehicles stopped and head over. There is a cheetah sitting in the grass. We sit and watch and before long see that she has a cute furry bundle with her. A tiny baby cheetah who tumbles after Mum as she watches out for lunch. Sadly, torrential rain starts and we decide to follow the other vehicles back…. They will know the better tracks. Once back at the main Seronera River area we decide to go hunt out our leopard, but find a jostling group of trucks all trying to spot the leopard legs hanging down. Some of the lens pointed at the leopard are huge! Well time to head back to camp, John has had enough, but as a bonus we follow a few vehicles heading in another direction to find 9 lions sunning themselves right beside the track. Awesome. And as an extra bonus 4 cheetahs in the distance not far from camp. The Serengeti had not disappointed.
Well, it is our last morning here. We have opted to head to a nearby gate because we have heard the road that runs to the western gate is appalling and we do not want to overstay. No stops this morning. Well only brief ones as we spy our 9 lions right near camp sitting on a rocky outcrop, then much later a huge migration crossing the plains. What an amazing sight, wildebeest stretching on for miles, all following each other. Our last sight before we leave is of 6 lions sprawled in the grass sound asleep. We reach the gate with plenty of time to spare and check out. Time now to head west to Lake Victoria.
More to come…..