Archive for ‘August, 2015’

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…

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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.


Tiny baby by bus stop

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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.


Baboon eating ant’s nests on an acacia tree




Yes, he was really that close


Cute cubs


Posing vultures

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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.


Our little car competing with safari vehicles!


Such beautiful animals


Gimme shade….


Off the road!


Definitely my favourite animals


Camping at Seronera, we even brought our mat, very civilised.


View at the campsite


There are hundreds of these birds in their spiky nests and I can not remember their name!!


Sunset at Seronera, not a bad view for dinner

1170 1172 1183 1187 1193 1200 1211 1213We 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.


So many birds on the neck!


View at Lobo


We can’t afford the lodges but we can enjoy the views!


Sunrise at Lobo


From the campsite

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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.


Lunch stop


Local bus


Petro station

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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!


View of Lake Natron


There’s nothing here!


The road


Maasai boma


Our tent in the bush


Ol Doinyo Lengai


Joshua at the lake

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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.


All alone….


Volcano in the evening


Scary bridge

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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.


And he’s off

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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!


I’m disappearing into the falls….


Hello there

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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.


Volcano in the clouds


Quick, close the windows


This is my favourite photo!


Plenty of dry river beds


Watch out, there’s giraffes on the road. Now, that is not something you say often is it…


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And so it ends, back to Moshi on yet another dreadful road and time to start thinking about where to go next…

Road reveries in Tanzania

As beautiful as Lake Tanganyika is we can not stay here forever, or can we?  After much deliberation and pondering, we decide to head off in the opposite direction.  Let’s go to Kitavi Park, yes, it is bloody far and the roads are awful but it sounds rather exciting.  We seem to have shed our trepidations about breaking down in the middle of nowhere, in fact, we discuss it and come to the conclusion that we like the feeling of uneasiness that being in the middle of nowhere brings.  So off we go into even wilder territory.

1023The drive to Katavi Park looks short enough on the map.  As usual it turns out to be a very long way!  The road is so bad that after 20ks we both wonder if we should perhaps turn back.  Of course not, let’s continue, silly idea, maybe the road will improve.  Well, it does not improve at all and it takes hours to cover a few ks.  It is beautiful though and deserted.  Geoff is fretting about petrol, as per usual, I tend to drive way past the reserve light is flashing.  We stop at a small village and get some petrol, they always seem to have some in plastic containers which is handy.  People come to see us and gather around, probably wondering what on earth we are doing there, covered in dust and without petrol.  Still, they are friendly and helpful and I enjoy trying to talk to the women who just giggle and laugh at me.


On we go.  We give a lift to a man who appears to be stranded next to his broken motorbike.  He is young and very friendly but not long after we start driving he starts sobbing and sobbing.  Unable to communicate due to language barriers, we continue and hope that he is not a mass murderer as he is sitting next to the kids.  When we finally drop him, he stops crying and will not stop thanking us.  Eventually we manage to “get rid” of him and feel rather relieved.  What was that about?!

Arriving in Sitalike feels like a victory and the car is still in one piece.  There are two places to stay so not too hard to decide.  Both run down and lacking in facilities so we choose the one closer to the river and the hippos.  It is a beautiful location and our host, a Tanzanian woman from Moshi, is so welcoming and helpful that we fall in love with the place.  She cooks really good food too which makes us very happy and at night she lights a fire for us by the river.  Our little cabin is by the water’s edge and we can see and hear the hippos.  Flora assures us that they are not dangerous and that the fire will keep them away from us.  I agree that they do look extremely cute and cuddly but do some research anyway and find out that after the mosquito, the hippo is the second most dangerous animal in Africa and is responsible for more human fatalities in Africa than any other large animal.  I also think that being so huge they are probably slow but I later observe that they are bloody fast!  So sitting out by the fire in total darkness (there is no electricity here) is not so relaxing after all.  I still think they are cute though.  At night we can hear them walking about and making their incredible calling noises.


A whole hotel just for us!


River outside the cabin







Relaxing (kind of) by the hippo river

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From this base we explore Katavi Park, Tanzania’s third largest national park.  It lies in the remove southwest part of the Tanzania within a truncated arm of the Rift Valley.  It is isolated and seldom visited and a true wilderness.  We spent two days in the park and did not see anybody apart from one safari car with a couple of people.  We got lost as the only track often disappears and the map was useless but eventually found our way back.  The park is beautiful and has two distinctive areas.  One area is mainly lake and has thousands of hippos, the other area is drier and has huge crocodiles, giraffes and elephants.  Funnily enough when we went into the park, the rangers failed to warn us that the elephants are dangerous and not used to humans so that when they see a car they either charge or run away.  We found the first to be true.  I love elephants so was rather excited, as usual, when I spotted a family.  They, however, were not so pleased to see us.  The large male proceeded to waft its massive ears and trumpet.  Ok, I know you are not supposed to run, or in this case drive off very fast, but that is what we did.  Further encounters with elephants were rather scary from then on!


Park entrance


Out and about in the park


Wow they are huge!




Hippos running in the water, they were so fast!!!


Hippo pool


Spot the hippo


Sausage tree




Park road


Park entrance


Park road


Big teeth


Park road

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After so much wilderness we are ready to hit the big city.  Mwanza here we come!  The second largest city in Tanzania and we are excited.  There will be shops, restaurants, stuff!  Mwanza turns out to be big, busy and chaotic.  We find that we are craving the wilderness shortly after arriving.  We settle in a “posh” hotel with a pool to try and create some sort of balance.  The hotel is nice enough but we do not like being in a city.  We explore the town.  The market is a nightmare of people, stalls, very narrow passages, barging, noise….  We feel like screaming and go looking for a supermarket instead where we heard you can buy interesting food.  I get excited at the sight of Golden Syrup.  Odd as normally I would not give it a second glance.  I also buy garlic salt and biscuits.  We hike up to Capri Point where you get wonderful views of Lake Victoria and Mwanza and chill by the lake with a drink.  Two nights feels more than enough and we decide to go on to the Serengeti.  Onwards…


Roadside boutique


Sunset over Mwanza


Lake Victoria at dusk


Lake Victoria from Capri Point


Come on boys!


Joshua has got big and strong!


Boy crossing the lake on some weird contraption


Where to next?

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One year on…

One year on. How did that happen? Life goes on pretty much as before apart from our road trip in July. For lack of anything else to do and tight finances, we decided to hop in the tank and drive west towards Lake Tanganyika. We found that this was a very long way to drive, that the roads were quite dreadful at times, that Tanzania gets wilder as you venture west and that it is a beautiful country. We set off from Moshi, full of promise and enthusiasm for the unknown road ahead. Armed with a tent, provisions and water, what could possibly go wrong? Our destination was Kigoma on the lake, where we aimed to spend a few nights and trek to see the chimps. On the way there we passed some small towns, many tiny villages and not much else.   Stunning views, friendly people, stranded people, broken down cars, overturned lorries, many cows and goats and rivers and very long dusty roads.

Despite warnings of bandits, breakdowns and poor roads we encountered nothing but kindness.  We are strangers in this country but are welcomed everywhere we go.  We are travellers interested in seeing the country and talking to people and the smiles we get are priceless and welcoming.  People go out of their way to help us, we never feel threatened or frightened and there is always the feeling that whatever happens will be ok.  It is shameful that we do not, in general, give the same welcome to those who choose to come an live in Europe!  Having followed the news about the migrants dying by the hundreds at sea and the ones “trapped” in Calais and being treated like animals, I feel humbled that people here have it in their heart to welcome us as white people who once colonised their country, treated them worse than animals and were part of the slave trade.  Not only that, but some white people continue to profit from the spoils of Africa by continuing to live and exploit the country and the people as they did so in colonial times.

So how come “we” are still welcomed “here” with open arms, kindness and generosity and “they” are not welcomed “there”?  It saddens me to see such greed and hypocrisy still so entrenched.

So on a more positive note, get out there and explore.  It is a beautiful country with kind, generous people.  On the road, we stopped to give people lifts and to help those who had broken down.  One car, the only car, in front of us near Kahama, blew a tire.  It went flying off into the bush.  We stopped to help and were met with intense gratitude.  It turned out the guy we helped was the District engineer for Kahama and he insisted on helping us find somewhere to stay.  We ended up sitting with him and some of his colleagues for the evening as they insisted on buying us drink after drink and discussing politics.  We had to refuse dinner and a night out clubbing!

We had “interesting” breakfasts in the local hotels we stayed at.  A good introduction was liver stew and spaghetti with chicken broth.  What I would have given for a bowl of muesli…  The general chaos was the same in all the towns we passed.  To a western eye, chaos prevails.  Nothing seems to make sense or follow what we tend to see as logical and rational.


The long road ahead and nice tarmac too.


Only the odd bike for company….


One of many local churches


Mangoes and more mangoes


Local boutique


Charcoal transport


Water transport


Where is the tarmac gone?!


Singuida lake


Singuida lake


Not quite sure what to choose for breakfast….


Bananas for the road


Typical dusty roads, miles and miles….

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We stopped in Babati, Singida, Kahama, Kibondo and finally Kigoma.  In Singida region we saw the Nyaturu tribes, in Kahama a huge gold mine and in Kibondo we were transported to a wild west town!  After travelling for over 1,500kms we finally arrived, dusty and in awe of the scenery we had seen, the wilderness and the lack of other white people.  For a time, we were celebrities and aroused great curiosity in the people we came across.  I wonder what it was like 100 years ago and more…

Train station

Kigoma train station

Kigoma turned out to be a pleasant small town with a manageable market.  Kigoma the largest port on Lake Tanganyika since historically it was the only one that had a functioning railway connection.  The railway still runs to Kigoma but it is sporadic and unrealiable.  According to Michael Palin: “The train is not in good shape. Most of the windows are broken, and that’s only in First Class. There are, considerately, two types of lavatory, announced on their doors as ‘High Type’ (European) and ‘Low Type’ (non-European). Once we are underway, I approach the High Type, prepared for the worst, only to find that it is not there at all. The High Type has vanished, leaving behind only a hole in the floor.”  The train station at Kigoma is a beautiful building dating from the German times.

The MV Liemba sails every week from Kigoma to Mpulungu in Zambia at the southern tip of the lake, stopping at a number of other lakeside towns in Tanzania on the way.  It is incredible that this old boat still chugs along the lake.  Built as a warship in Germany, she was carried in pieces overland and assembled on Lake Tanganyika in 1913. At the end of the Great War she was scuttled by the Germans, and lay on the bottom of the lake until raised and refitted by the British in 1922. She was in regular operation as a steamship before being converted to diesel in 1978. After eighty years she remains the only way out of Kigoma to the south or to the west.


Still going strong!

We stayed by the lake in what looked like paradise, beautiful small beach, zebras and monkeys wandering about, no people, no power, peaceful and restful.


Hope they do not eat clothes…


Sunset over the lake from our camp

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We visited Ujiji where Stanley famously “found” Dr Livingstone in 1871.  Not a lot there but a small museum with a wonderful guide who met Michael Palin during the filming of Pole to Pole.  He was very excited to speak to us about Palin and asked that we pass on his regards.  The location of this historic meeting is now a small museum in a well-tended garden on a hill above the busy waterfront. A forbidding, lumpish grey monument, ‘erected by the Government of Tanganyika Territory’ in 1927, stands beneath two mango trees said to be descendants of the one under which Livingstone and Stanley met. On it is carved a map of Africa with a cross incised into it. It’s a brutal and arrogant image.  I am not sure how I feel about the place but the locals seem bursting with pride that the “white people” came here to spread religion and to want to give them a better life.  I struggle with my view of colonisation and the local people’s view.  How can we see it in such different ways?  To me, we are arrogant whites coming to Africa spreading religion and civilisation but to most Africans I speak to, we are the ones who brought education, medicine, religion…  I generalise, I know, but I am confused….


Daily life in Ujiji


Maybe another time.


Arsenal is everywhere!


Local accommodation in Ujiji


“Give my regards to Palin”

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The remainder of our time in Kigoma was spent by the lake.  Lake Tanganyika is the second largest freshwater lake in the world by volume, and the second deepest.  Having ascertained that the risk of bilharzia is low as the water is not stagnant, that crocodiles would not come in this far and sea serpents are all we had to watch out for, I we made the most of the lake. The water was clear and cool, the surroundings quite beautiful. No sailing boats or water-sporters to disturb the peace. Only the barely perceptible wake of a passing dugout troubles the placid water.  It felt like the Caribbean in Africa and without people. Monkeys came to the water to drink, fish swam around us (lots of cichlids), zebras walked about the forest, not much else…

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To finish off this leg of our journey we visited Gombe National Park, previous home of the famous Jane Goodall.

There are no roads to Gombe Park so we take a trip on a local boat to the entrance.  The scenery along the lakeshore is stunning, green mountains and troops of baboons entertain us on out long journey.  We pass packed boats coming from Burundi and the Congo, we exchange curious stares…

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We finally reach the park where more baboons roam on the beach and start our trek with the obligatory guide who assures us we will find the chimps.  We walk through beautiful forest, there are no other people apart from a couple of small groups leaving the park.  We pass by Jane Goodall’s house and continue uphill.


Park entrance


Beach at Gombe Park


Our boat

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An hour or so later, we find a chimp high up on a tree.  It’s breakfast time for chimps and they like to eat high up on the trees.  We wait and wait and start thinking that this is it, they are not coming down until one comes down and them another and another!  They walk right past our legs and suddenly an excited whoop erupts from deep in the forest, boosted immediately by a dozen other voices, rising in volume and tempo and pitch to a frenzied shrieking crescendo. We are warned that they are hunting monkeys and that we should be careful.


Baby playing


Spot the tiny baby’s head!


A spot of grooming


That is close!


Baby teeth

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.Well, that was quite amazing and so we continued our walk through the forest up to the waterfalls where we sat for a while taking it all in.

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Back to camp and onwards to more destinations.

To be continued…

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