And finally, the Serengeti…
We leave Mwanza, headed to the Serengeti. We have seen a lot, been to two national parks, stayed by Lake Tanganyika, travelled on some beautiful roads. Not feeling too bothered about the Serengeti, really, I’m not. At least the road is good (all relative) and we do not have far to go. We stop over for lunch at Papa’s on the lakeshore for lunch. The best part about Papa’s is that all proceeds benefit JBFC, an NGO dedicated to alleviating extreme rural poverty in Tanzania through its work with children. It is a truly beautiful place and we are tempted to stay the night but the Serengeti calls. Only another 50mns or so to the gate…
We are finally near the Serengeti but can not find the gate. We discover later on that the sign was blown away and has not been replaced so the entrance to the mighty Serengeti is hardly noticeable! Outside some baboons hustle the buses trying to steal food and whatever else they can grab.
The Serengeti is Tanzania’s oldest and most popular national park. It is also a world heritage site and recently proclaimed a 7th world wide wonder and is famed for its annual migration, when some six million hooves pound the open plains, as more than 200,000 zebra and 300,000 Thomson’s gazelle join the wildebeest’s trek for fresh grazing. We were hoping to get a glimpse of this and after speaking to a few guides we managed to locate part of the migration, eventually! More of that later…
On entering the park, the first thing we saw was a giraffe who had just given birth. She was cleaning her calf and the calf was making various unsuccessful attempts to stand. We watched for a while but not knowing how long it might take for the little one to stand, we decided to carry on.
The amazing thing about the Serengeti are the vast views, it takes your breath away. The views are magnificent and we immediately felt as if we were in a David Attenborough documentary. It is just like the programmes you grow up seeing on the television! It makes you realise the enormous task of tracking and filming the animals and how much work and time goes into a one hour documentary. Although we had seen many animals in other parks, we were not prepared for the vast numbers that awaited us in the Serengeti. In the other parks, we might see a few zebras, a few elephants and giraffes… Here we saw hundreds of them! It was extraordinary, coupled with the vast views, it was breath taking and no photo of mine is going to do it justice.
Having stated previously in a rather cool fashion that I am not bothered about seeing lions, I was forced to eat my words! Seeing lions was so exciting, if I could I would have got out and run around jumping with joy. The lions came right up to us and we were the only car there, all the other safari cars seemed to be elsewhere. So we enjoyed our close encounter in peace and quiet. The lions were chilled and were walking about the bush slowly rather than in their usual asleep poses. We just sat and watched them, the lioness chilling under a tree, the cubs frolicking and eventually the very slow appearance of the majestic looking lion, strolling into his territory, giving the lioness a nudge and a lick. They all started strolling off together just as other safari cars arrived.
We were ready for our picnic but discovered that the picnic site was right by where we just seen the lions so decided against it and carried on. I did get out to use the toilets but was very sheepish as I walked from the car to the toilets and back, keeping my wits about me. After all, we had not been in the Serengeti long and I was not about to become a lion snack just yet.
Our destination was Seronera campsite which as usual was not far but took most of the day to reach. We decided to take a route which according to a guide we chatted to would take us past the migration. Off we went, to find out that we were the only ones on that track and had no idea where to go. Geoff, being keen on maps, had downloaded some track thing of the internet and we were able to find our way, eventually. As it turned out, this was a very beautiful area and was absolutely packed with zebra and wildebeest.
We met a couple of older German guys who were doing their own safari. Turned out they were pilots and we ended up sharing the sunset with them and having a drink before retiring to our beds. Before coming here, camping in a safari park seemed petrifying. It was nothing of the sort. It was glorious, special, beautiful… During the night we heard hyenas laughing and prowling about and also the calls of leopards. We decided that it was perhaps best not to visit the toilet during the night although we were assured next morning that the animals would have run away should we have come out of the tent. Still, we shall never know…
Next day we pressed on to Lobo campsite and crossed the northern Serengeti to get there. This part of the Serengeti is isolated with a stunning selection of Kopjes and the most awful corrugated road. These roads are probably some of the worst to drive on. Having been on various types of “bad” roads, we were unanimously agreed on this.
Some corrugated roads are so bad that some people have actually turned around and given up, much due to not knowing how to deal with it and sometimes the road is really that bad it comes down to pure willingness. It took us a while to realise that the best way to deal with these roads is to go as fast as you can and to lower your tyre pressures. Going slowly is hell, the noise and the vibration is horrible and the car slides about as if on ice. Going fast is scary, especially on narrow roads which animals around.
Corrugated road aside, the drive was beautiful and we saw many more animals and no people.
That has got to be the best place I have ever camped at! Although there was no water available and the safari tour guides were horribly noisy from 5am onwards we still wanted to stay. Sadly, it was time to leave, it would have been good to stay an extra night but prices are extortionate so we carried on to Lake Natron. The drive to Lake Natron was spectacular both in terms of views and scenery and a pretty bad road. We passed Loliondo, a largely Maasai area with many Maasai walking on the road to Wasso as it was market day. The highlight was stopping in Wasso for lunch which turned out to be the usual chips mayay on the street. This was truly the wild west of Tanzania! The town was teeming with Maasai and there was a wild, unruly fee to the place. We needed petrol drove back to the petrol station, well, one pump on the road but no luck. We were directed to a small shop which turned out to be the local petrol station.
Lake Natron is a salt and soda lake with a very high ph, it is not the sort of place where you dip your toes in the water. Despite its inhospitable nature, the lake is a breeding ground for many life forms including huge numbers of pink flamingos. The area is hot and incredibly dusty, it feels like being on a deserted, inhospitable, hot moon!
Just to make it a little more desolate, Ol Doinyo Lengai looms in the distance, well, not that far. Ol Doinyo Lengai means “Mountain of God” in Maasai and is very much an active volcano. The last eruption was in 2013 and recently people living in the area reported several earthquakes. Still, all was well during our stay. We were well lodged at Halisi Camp, an expensive tented camp which I won in a raffle. It was nice to end our trip in some sort of luxury. I say sort, as despite the camp being luxurious (it’s relative!), it was hampered by clouds of dust that covered us and our belongings in thick layers of volcano dusty. The food was delicious and we had a bush TV in the evenings AKA campfire.
So to finish off our Lake Natron visit we embarked on a walk to the waterfalls with our trusty Maasai guide. Apparently you are not allowed to go anywhere without your own Maasai. As nice as he was, he was like a goat which made following him on the cliffs a little precarious. I think this was probably one of the most crazy walks I have even done. We wadded through the river up to our waists at times, clambered on rocks and slipped and fell (I did) all over the place.
Eventually we arrived at the falls and what a magnificent sight it was. The initial fall was surrounded by a large pool of warm water whilst the water from the fall was very cold. Walking through the waterfall into the other side, we found more waterfalls and pools which turned into rapids. It was a true oasis!
And there was nothing left to do but to make our way back to Moshi! We found out that the Maasai put up various road blocks where you have to pay a fee to go past. It costs $25 per person and given that we had not seen a bank for quite some time, we had no money on us. Geoff went to meet with the Maasai elders to discus the situation and it was agreed that they would give us a letter which ought to allow us to pass for free. We passed the first gate without peril. However, after travelling for some distance we came upon the second gate! There was a Maasai at the post which was a long metal pole padlocked to another pole. He said the letter was no good and we needed to pay. As we had no money, this was not going to go well. It ended up with us telling him we were going to put our tent up and just stay there to which he said no way. A slight impasse. During all this I amused myself by playing with their naked baby so as to look very unbothered about the whole situation. Eventually, he backed down but not after taking the few coins we had and off we went.
And so it ends, back to Moshi on yet another dreadful road and time to start thinking about where to go next…