2 Jan – 14 Jan 2016
On the road
Travel and camping/ bus
We covered approx. 1000 km over 6 days, shown in the map above, with London based tour group www.absoluteafrica.com (recommend by my cousin Brendan). It involved long days on the road mainly on a large yellow 30 seater truck but we switched to a 6 seater 4×4 for 3 days of Safari. In the large truck, the passengers all sat on the ‘top deck’ with the driver and all the camping gear/ backpacks underneath. The truck was around 10-15 years old with many miles and many adventures under its belt but we didn’t care, it had a great sense of character. Our new friends were pretty much all couples in their late 20s/ early 30s which suited us perfectly.
We camped in tents which we regularly put up in complete darkness using only our headlamps but they were easy to assemble and quite spacious for 2 people (see pic). The only real problem was the heat which we never got used to, a cold shower in the morning was heaven!
The traffic was surprisingly civilised. Anyone who has been to China, India, South East Asia etc will be able to relate to traffic junctions being utter chaos with the only rule being whoever is biggest gets to proceed, in Africa people actually obey the rules of the road! The beeping which accompanies almost every manoeuvre in other developing countries was noticeably absent, we asked why and it was simply down to heavy police fines (or bribes) for breaking the rules of the road, seems simple but also something the other countries haven’t yet been able to achieve.
Serengeti/ Ngorongoro crater
The UNESCO world heritage site of the Serengeti region includes the Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater. Its one of the world’s most unchanged wildlife sanctuaries. Ngorongoro Crater was formed when a large volcano exploded and collapsed on itself two million years ago, it’s claimed that before it erupted, it would have been higher than Mt Kilimanjaro. The Serengeti is most famous for its annual wildebeest migration where 1.5 million go in search of fresh grass, Africans say it’s “the greatest show on earth”.
We spent 3 days/ 2 nights in a 6 seater 4×4 exploring the region. The roof of the Jeep popped up so we could stand and the Jeep was always full of dust. It wasn’t the time of the year for the wildebeest migration but we lost count of the number of lions, elephants, buffalo, zebras, giraffes, ostrich, gazelles, jackals, hyenas and wildebeest we saw, literally within touching distance of our Jeep and we even got to see an ostrich mating dance, and a huge hippo yawn!
The highlight was probably when we parked near a pride of lions (4 of them) and they came towards us to take shelter from the sun using shade of our truck! It was fantastic. When driving away we had to move very slowly to make sure we didn’t squish their tails under our wheel!
We completed the ‘Big 5’ with sightings through binoculars of a leopard and 3 endangered black rhinos, which we would never have spotted without the laser vision of our excellent guide, George.
Our first night camping was no more than 3 miles from where we had just stopped to watch a few lions. The camp site had no protection whatsoever from the wild animals, we were all pretty anxious going to sleep. Our guide told us not to leave our tents unless absolutely necessary and if nature does call in the middle of the night, first shine your torch 360 degrees (twice) to look for any eyes in the wilderness and if you see any get back in your tent and hold it in!!!
True to form, around 2am we were all woken by the screech of a cat fight which can’t have been any more that 10-20 yards from our tents, followed by 10 mins of rustling through our makeshift bins. We had no clue which kind of cat and were all terrified. We stared at each other in the tent, too afraid to speak, just concentrating on breathing quietly, Jurassic park style! We learned from our guide the next morning it was a few hyenas. It wasn’t exactly a pride of lions but not the most pleasant creature either – these guys are super opportunistic and are nasty enough to prey on a baby being born from a wildebeest mother. Sort of like a midwife only different…
Our second night camping was with lots of other safari groups and the campsite had the feel of a mini music festival, it was also open to the wild as before and when we arrived there was a massive elephant the size of a small house drinking from our shower water tank and just walking among the parked jeeps. We weren’t sure what would stop it just trampling over our tents whilst we were sleeping! We strategically placed our tent so it was completely surrounded by others, just to be safe!
A small piece of luxury we had was the chef that came with us on the truck, he hadn’t a word of English but we never ceased to be amazed at the dishes he would concoct – banana fritters, eggs & sausage, pancakes, peanut butter and jam. Dinner would have 3 courses!
We could see Masai people everywhere throughout Serengeti and Ngorongoro with their red cloaks and long ear rings, always herding cows and goats which provide pretty much their only source of food through milk, blood and meat. Was cool to see coming of age warriors with their face painted white.
We stopped off to visit a tribe, a hundred miles from anywhere, who seem to have some kind of deal with the tour guide, it was $10 per head to see around their village.
We joined in the traditional welcome dance before entering the camp, which was fun.
Once inside the camp, we were asked to join in with the jumping dance they seem to love so much (think of television documentaries which show these guys jumping straight up into the air). They say the cows blood makes them strong and able to jump high; I volunteered to join in on the condition that it would have to be with their best man. Little did he know that he was dealing with the St Louis Grammar 1998 5th year high jump champion, so he was well hustled. He was about my height and we proceeded to perform the jumping dance and I think I may have shamed him in front of his tribe as the poor guy just couldn’t keep up. Hopefully it didn’t cost him one of the wives he earned for his jumping prowess.
We were shown around one of their little huts and learned that each man has multiple wives, with each wife living in a separate hut all in a row to keep it handy for him and so he doesn’t ‘stray’. His wives are arranged for him by his parents and he has no say in the matter. He is allowed to stay a max of 2 nights at a time with any one wife to somehow prevent jealousy. He claimed the Masai population has 8 women to each man which we struggled to believe. The more cows your family have or the stronger you are/ higher jumper, the more wives you are allowed. Its normal to have a few children with each of your wives.
We used their toilet which was an open stone structure about 50 yards from the village, fully open pointing out into the wilderness. Certainly unique!
Our group journey finished at the paradise destination of Zanzibar Island with its white sand and blue sea. We stayed a night in Stone Town (the home of Freddy Mercury), where we had a history tour to learn about Zanzibar’s troubled past.
Zanzibar was one of the largest slave ports in the Indian Ocean slave trade. The slave owners worked their way through Africa capturing (for free) or buying (very cheap) slaves from local chiefs and would then march them hundreds/ thousands of miles across Africa, often carrying ivory where they and the ivory would be sold on Zanzibar Island. The slave trade lasted 1000 years before being abolished under British pressure, lead by David Livingstone in the late 1800s. Turns out they did some good in the world after all 😉 We visited the Anglican Church which was build on the site of the former whipping post.
We finished up with dinner at the night market, which was excellent. Zanzibar pizzas all round!
Despite being the whitest man on the beach by a country mile, I joined in with the local beach soccer… and was on the receiving end of abuse in broken English “you are too old and slow” and you should be “young and fast like me” … I’m going to work on it. Hopefully the critic doesn’t pass on any intel to Peter Canavan or Benny Hurl ahead of next seasons Gaelic football campaign back in London!
We did our first spot of Scuba in Zanzibar – crystal clear water and beautiful coral.
A big shout out to the great friends we made on the trip; Americans Adam and Jess, and fellow “Londoners” Lochy (Kiwi) and Karen (Swede), they were great company and a joy to travel with, we hope to catch up again sometime!