A Travellerspoint blog


The Infamous Serengeti and Ngorogoro Crater

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We really need to learn how to rest more. We arrived back from our six day trek up Mt. Kilimanjaro in the afternoon and left the very next morning for our last safari. Alexandra and Oscar met us in Moshi after they spent a few extra days on Zanzibar and in Dar Es Salaam while we were climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. This time, they brought along a friend, Alexander, another Frenchman, who came to Tanzania for a short vacation before starting his residency. We were glad to get back in the trusty old Swiss Army Knife Car and hit the road.
Our first park, Tarangire National Park, is a small park between Moshi and the Serengeti which has year-round water. As a result, animals congregate here in large numbers during the dry season. We did two half-day drives in the park and in the process saw two cheetahs relaxing with full bellies post kill, droves of elephants, zebras, water buffaloes, impalas, vultures, and even a few lions. We kept waiting for the lions to hunt, but they weren’t hungry apparently. Also, Jeff took the opportunity to learn how to drive a stick shift car while in the park. Oscar and Alexander were kind enough to oblige Jeff and give him a lesson. It turned out to be a hilarious experience and now Jeff knows just enough to be dangerous :)
IMG_7266.jpg A view of Tarangire Park
IMG_7258.jpg A dik-dik, and yes, that is actually their name
IMG_7350.jpg The happily fed Cheetah
IMG_7354.jpg An elephant parade
IMG_7398.jpg Jeff learning stick-shift
As an aside, we have renamed Tanzania the “National Republic of Extortion” because some of the national park fees here are outrageous. To get to the Serengeti National Park you have to drive through and, therefore, pay for the Ngorogoro Conservation Area ($58 per person, per day, including the car fee). Then, if you want to drive down into the Ngorogoro Crater, you have to pay an additional $200 per car. Once you get to the Serengeti, you have to pay another $58 per person, per day (including the car fee) for the Serengeti National Park. Finally, the cheapest sleeping option in the Serengeti is camping and camping costs $30 per person, per night. So, in short, the National Park fees per person for one day and camping one night in the Serengeti National Park (without going into the Ngorogoro Crater) is $146. Outrageous!
We left Tarangire in the early afternoon and stopped along the way in the small town of Karatu for the night. After a good night’s rest, we set out for the Ngorogoro Crater, but, about fifteen kilometers into the Ngorogoro Conservation Area, the dashboard in the Swiss Army Knife Car started smoking…not a good sign. Oscar can seemingly fix just about anything, but none of us could figure out how to restart the car after we turned it off because of the smoke. We waited for about five hours on the side of a dirt road until someone came along who was able to restart the car. Apparently, the electric system shorted so the fuel pump wasn’t working. The Good Samaritan was able to restart the car by bypassing the fuel pump and electrical system. I’ve learned a lot on this trip!
IMG_7449.jpg Broken down
After returning to Karatu and having a mechanic fix the car, we set out again the very next morning. Problem was, the entrance fee for the Ngorogoro Conservation Area was good for just only one day. The park officials wanted us to pay again to reenter the park even though we did not get to see anything the day before. With some serious begging and negotiating, they finally agreed to allow us to drive through the Ngorogoro Conservation Area without paying again if we could get to the Serengeti National Park by 10:55 am (the time we bought our entrance the day before). So, we set out like a bat out of hell on dirt roads to get to the Serengeti before the deadline. We made it, but just barely.
The Serengeti National Park is 14,763 sq km of endless plains - it’s the stuff African dreams are made of. The vastness is incredible and the herds of animals enormous! We headed to the north end of the park (Lobo) to view literally thousands and thousands of wildebeests. They congregate near water sources during the dry season, which are more abundant in the north, and then head south when the rains come. You can check out their migration on the Planet Earth series if you have any interest. On day two, we also saw several lions which was a great treat. They are so much bigger in person and seeing them really lets you appreciate why they are king of the jungle. And if the animals in the Serengeti were not impressive enough, the landscape itself is also so beautiful. It is hard to describe and pictures do not do it justice. Interspersed among the animals and landscape are natives, the Maasai people. They are the Serengeti’s original inhabitants and continue to raise and guard cattle and goats in the park. They are pretty legit looking people with shaved heads, bright red plaid sarongs, huge holes in their ears, and face paint.
IMG_7500.jpg Giraffe's grazing
IMG_7558.jpg Our camp for the night- told you, it has everything
IMG_7600.jpg Amazing landscape
IMG_7615.jpg The massive herds and movement of the wildebeests
IMG_7651.jpg Two lions relaxing under a tree (that's all we saw them doing...uninterested in zebra steak apparently)
We had an amusing incident on the drive to camp the first night. We scared a water buffalo (a cow on steroids with horns) eating grass on the side of the road so it started to charge the car. In a panic, Alexander (who was driving), accidentally stalled the car and we just sat there bug eyed thinking this thing was going to do some serious damage to the car. Thankfully, the charge was just a bluff and the buffalo stopped short of denting the car. The incident had us laughing for a good ten minutes afterwards: “You were scared!!! No, I wasn’t…you freaked out! I can’t believe you stalled”.
IMG_7538.jpg The infamous water buffalo- I mean, they just look angry, right?
IMG_7676.jpg Baby hyenas- they were actually cute
IMG_7689.jpg Sunset on the Serengeti, followed by a massive downpour
IMG_7712.jpg With Alex and Oscar- and yes, Jeff is wearing flip-flops, amazing changes have happened in Africa :)
IMG_7722.jpg A Maasai man with his herd of camels
IMG_7724.jpg A Maasai village in the Serengeti
After two days in the Serengeti, we headed to the Ngorogoro Crater (what we missed on the first day because of the car breakdown). The crater is actually a collapsed volcano (also known as a caldera). The crater is incredibly unique and one of the largest calderas in the world at over 20 kms across. It has very steep side, but animals move in and out regardless because of the permanent water sources on the crater floor. We saw all of the normal animals in one small space, plus two rhinos at a distance (although Jeff doesn’t count them since they were not in picture range). We also happened upon a dead lion. The one ranger thought it died trying to bring down a water buffalo (really more dangerous than I thought initially). It was a unique place and a memorable last safari!
IMG_7442.jpg A photo of the crater from the rim
IMG_7742.jpg A lioness totally unconcerned with our presence
IMG_7760.jpg An ostrich wandering around the crater
IMG_7750.jpg They were so beautiful I had to put in two photos
After leaving the crater, we drove several hours to Arusha and had a big Chinese food dinner for our last night together. We parted ways with Alex, Alex, and Oscar, who were heading back to Dar Es Salaam and eventually home to France. The following morning, we caught a bus to Nairobi, Kenya, our last stop in Africa. We will write more soon. Much love from Africa!

Posted by geldere 08:41 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Conquering Africa's Highest Mountain

A 6 Day Trek Up Mt. Kilimanjaro

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I’ve been looking forward to and dreading the climb for some time. For one, it’s the highest peak in Africa at roughly 19,500 feet and there’s no technical climbing involved - if you are in reasonably good shape, you can simply walk to the top. On the other hand, we had just four and a half days to climb approximately 14,000 feet into thin air (we started our trek at around 5,500 feet) and neither of us had been inside a gym in months. We arrived in Moshi, Tanzania and set out to find a reliable tour company offering a six day, five night budget trek up the Machame Route (one of the easier but more interesting trails). In one day, we settled on Bryson Adventures and got all of our gear ready.
Day 1: We arrived at the Machame Gate early in the morning enthusiastic and energized. We signed in with about 100 other climbers; including one who was 69-years old. I was very impressed - the oldest person to ever summit Kilimanjaro was 88-years old! We met our guide, Paul (his African name was Makeme), and the rest of our crew. To get us to the top of Kilimanjaro required one guide, one assistant guide, one cook, and six porters - it takes a village people. Thankfully, the porters carried most of our gear; all we had to carry were our day packs (hard enough on the last three days). Because of cloud cover, we could not see the top of the mountain - probably a good thing for me, I might have cried if I saw how high we had to climb. On the Machame Route, the landscape changes every day with the altitude, so it is interesting to watch the surroundings change from rain forest, to scrub brush, to moorland, and then tundra. The hike through the rain forest on our first day was beautiful and we were feeling good. When we arrived at our campsite, we found that our crew had already set up our tent, laid out our sleeping bags and mats, and also set up a dining tent. We were given hot water to wash with, served popcorn, biscuits (cookies) and hot drinks as a snack, and later fed a huge dinner. There was no shortage of food on our trek.
1b.jpg Standing at the Machame Gate pre-climb
1a.jpg A shot of the porters carrying their loads; the scenery is the rainforest
1_11.jpg Inside our dining tent having some snacks :)
Day 2: We awoke to clear skies and had our first view of the peak. It was intimidating to say the least. The walk on day two was a bit harder as the trail got steeper as we transitioned from rain forest to shrubs. The phrase of the trip was “Pole Pole” which in Swahili means “Slowly Slowly”. Because of the altitude gain, climbers are forced to walk slowly during the ascent to prevent altitude sickness. Our camp for the night was located on a rocky field at about 12,000 feet. It was packed with tents that resembled lunar modules. By this point, the crew had given up trying to pronounce Elizabeth and nicknamed me “Eliza” (pronounced “Eleeeza”). Jeff was called “Joff”.
2.jpg Still smiling
2a.jpg Our camp for the night
Day 3: The morning views from camp were amazing, we were looking down on the clouds. During the hike, we entered the moorlands portion of the mountain, small shrubs and moss. We walked especially slowly, which was good, because my shortness of breath was getting more pronounced. We climbed up to about 15,500 feet for lunch and then descended back down to about 12,000 feet again to sleep (the altitude we were at the previous night). It was so depressing to lose all of the altitude we gained, but the exercise supposedly helped us acclimatize. Our camp for the night was in the clouds, so it was difficult to find the bathrooms. The bathrooms were apocalyptic by the way, but what can you expect at 12,000 feet? On the high-end tours, porters actually carry portable toilets for their clients to use (maybe next time).
3.jpg Sunrise at camp-and above the clouds-stunning
3a.jpg Some landscape views as we walked
3b.jpg A view of the climb- still above the clouds (it was an amazing view)
Day 4: We set off for our steepest climb yet, which turned out to be both fun and exhausting. Our walk took us through the most inhospitable terrain, all rock and no vegetation. We could see glaciers in the distance. During the final portion of the climb we encountered cold rain, sleet, and finally turned to snow. We “camped” at about 15,500 feet on a mountain ridge. We rested and ate an early dinner because summit day was scheduled to begin in hours.
4c.jpg A view of neighboring Mt. Meru
4b.jpg Taking a break- the sky was so clear and you can see the Uhuru Peak well
4.jpg The "lunar landscape"
4a.jpg Snow!
Day 5 - Summit Day: The day actually started with a pre-midnight wake up call. It was well below freezing outside. We felt like marshmallow puffs as we were each wearing several layers of pants, shirts, jackets, hats, socks, and gloves. Nevertheless, except for when we were hiking, we still felt cold. The air was so thin that we were extremely short of breath at times (particularly me). I like to refer to the climb up that day as ball-busting-soul-destroying-and-near-vomit-inducing. It took just over six hours to reach the summit and exhausted every bit of mental and physical energy we had. As we approached the summit, we wanted to burst into tears (not sure if it was from fatigue or excitement, but it was surprisingly emotional). We had our picture taken by the sign on the peak and watched the sunrise over Africa. We thought the worst was over, but climbing down was almost just as hard. It was steep, there was lots of loose rock, and we were already exhausted. Three hours later though, we made it back to camp and collapsed. After two hours of sleep, our day continued. We had lunch and then hiked three more hours down to our last camp. I got spanked by that mountain and in twelve hours of hiking she turned me into an old lady! I could barely walk and my knees were killing me, but we made it :)
5d.jpg Sunrise at Uhuru Peak (Uhuru is Swahilli for freedom)
5c.jpg On top of the world :)
5b.jpg A view of the glacier from the top- the cold wind blowing off of that thing was bone chilling!
5a.jpg Camp! It's really as far as it looks
5.jpg This is how you get rescued if you need to come down the mountain- it didn't look fun
Day 6: Before starting our hike out, we were treated to a song about Kilimanjaro by our crew. It was a relief to know that in four hours we’d be back in civilization. I was especially looking forward to a hot shower! Our walk out was leisurely and, fortunately, not too steep. Because of the downhill hiking the day before, I had to tape every one of my toes to cushion the blisters. In the end, it was an amazing and surreal experience. I am very proud that we did it! It was one of the hardest things we have ever done.
6a.jpg Me and Abi (one of our porters) on our last day
6.jpg Our Kili crew before we set out for our final hike
Although we wish we could rest for a few days, our remaining time in Africa is short, so we are getting picked up tomorrow by our French friends, Alexandra and Oscar and heading to the Serengeti for our final safari. We will write more soon!

Posted by geldere 01:46 Archived in Tanzania Comments (1)

Tanzania: Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar

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We left Ibo Island with Oscar and Alexandra and headed for the Tanzania border. We spent three long days driving to Dar es Salaam on mostly dirt roads. On our drive, we drove by a school soccer game right as a goal was scored. The students went crazy and charged the field in excitement. Given the enthusiasm, we decided to stop and watch. It was great fun and we were welcomed by two local teachers. We turned out to be an even bigger spectacle than the game itself. We were surrounded by children the whole time who watched us more than the game. I even found a small boy sporting a football jersey from Clemson University, my alma mater, so I had to take a photo.
IMG_6627.jpg The road from Mozambique to Tanzania
IMG_6646.jpg The boy with the Clemson jersey...he was so shy it took me forever to get this photo
IMG_6647.jpg The soccer match (some kids were playing without shoes)
IMG_6673.jpg The trusty car- Jeff calls it the Swiss army knife because it has everything you could need (fridge, water supply, extra gas tank, it's amazing!
Dar es Salaam was our first exposure to a noticeably different African culture - Swahili Africa – a melting pot of Africans, Indians, and people from the Middle East. The city is also largely Muslim. Given the large Indian population, we were excited to eat food other than fried chicken and chips (fries). We ate so much butter chicken and Naan that we had to be rolled out of the Indian restaurant . . . two nights in a row. Dar es Salaam was mainly a stopover on our way to Zanzibar, but it also provided an opportunity for Jeff to get a haircut and for us to resupply (including buying contact solution, which has been surprisingly hard to find). Most importantly though, we had hot water showers at our hostel – amazing – and were able to watch a movie in the theater, Rise of the Planet of the Apes (so so).
IMG_6675.jpg Downtown Dar es Salaam
IMG_6686.jpg Grabbing a tuk-tuk to the movies
IMG_6694.jpg A sign in our hotel in Dar (thank God they let me in :))
After two days in Dar es Salam, we took a ferry to the island of Zanzibar. You almost want to say it in a whisper…”Zanzibar”. Many travelers have spoken highly of Zanzibar, so we were really excited to get there. It definitely lives up to the hype. I don’t know if it made international news or not, but there was a large Zanzibar ferry accident the day before we left for the island killing about 200 people. We actually found out about the accident sitting on the ferry. A local passenger was reading an English language newspaper in front of us with the front page heading: “Ferry Accident Claims 208 People…” Needless to say, some of the locals appeared nervous.
IMG_6738.jpg The view from the ferry into Zanzibar
Zanzibar is a larger island, so we divided our time between the old city of Stone Town and the beach. Stone Town is made up of narrow alleys running every which way, making it very easy to get lost. Our map was basically Jeff’s compass on his watch that kept us going mainly in the right direction. It is the commercial center and heart of the island. We basically just wandered around town and watched life unfold. Many of Stone Town’s residents are conservative Muslims (a lot of burkas) and contrast sharply with the Western tourist population visiting the island. One of my favorite stops was the night market where we were able to sample local food including mishikaki (marinated meat kebabs) and sugar cane juice. Of course, Jeff loved the grilled meat and I thought the juice was to die for; I only wish I could find more!
IMG_6754.jpg An alleyway in Stone Town
IMG_6769.jpg A view from the top of one of the museums
IMG_6812.jpg Market in Stone Town
IMG_6849.jpg Ahh, a nice coconut drink :)
After getting our fill of Stone Town, we headed for the northern beaches and participated in a spice tour en route. For centuries, Zanzibar was a key stop on the trading routes between Europe and the Far East and spices were one of the main products passing through Zanzibar. The spice tour was by far the most touristy thing we’ve done in a while. Spice tours take tourists through plantations on the island were spices are now grown. On our tour, we met an Australian couple who were in their 70’s and still travelling. I was very impressed. After the spice tour, we spent two nights in Kendwa enjoying Zanzibar’s legendary beaches. The sand is sugar white and the ocean transparent blue- it doesn’t suck here that’s for sure :) We parked ourselves on the beach for a full day and just relaxed.
IMG_6863.jpg Guide showing us a spice fruit
IMG_6883.jpg Jeff and Oscar with their leaf ties appearing dapper
IMG_6905.jpg An old cave where the Arabs used to hold slaves before they were sent abroad
IMG_6943.jpg Jeff relaxing at the beach
IMG_6966.jpg The water was paradise!
We had a great time on Zanzibar. My only complaint is that we didn’t spend more time at the beach. Early on the fifth day, we temporarily parted ways with Oscar and Alexandra and headed for Moshi, Tanzania. We are planning to meet back up to go on safari through Serengeti National Park and the Ngorgoro Crater in about ten days. In the mean time, we are going to try to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa. We’ll write after we’ve hopefully (keep your fingers crossed) summitted the mountain!

Posted by geldere 21:40 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

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