February 17th to 27th, 2010 (Part 1 of 2)
We all woke at 5am for our 5:30am departure from Nairobi headed south to Arusha, our first stop in Tanzania. The trip is a ‘simple’ 300km trip, and in Canada it should take 3 hours. Simple enough, right? Ha ha ha no. Picture a road that was once paved, but is in such disrepair that it has simply turned back into a dirt road; the area covered by potholes was greater than that of the ‘flat’ road. Add to the picture a 10-ton overland truck, off-roading to avoid the worst parts of the road, a 2-hour border crossing and extreme heat and you’ve got my 12 hour, 300km trip to Arusha.
Finally arriving in Arusha around 6pm, we setup camp at one of the more interesting campsites that I’ve ever seen. Snake Park was not only a campsite, but an animal reserve home to numerous dangerous snakes such as the African Rock Pythons (which are rumoured to have eaten people before) and the famous deadly Black Mamba in addition to their collection of crocodiles. After a few drinks at the coolest bar I have seen in a while, it was off to bed as we had another stupidly early wakeup and drive to the Serengeti, Ngorogoro Crater and the Olduvai Gorge.
The next morning, after a quick set of introductions with our new driver, Brown, we set off for the Serengeti in our 4×4 Land Cruisers. The Serengeti National Park is located directly South of the Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya, but since there is no official border crossing between the two parks, you need to drive 12 hours, through Arusha, to get to the other park. The animals of course don’t need passports. The drive from Arusha to Serengeti is a particularly stunning one. Travelling from relatively flat plains, we quickly ascend to lush green jungle-like mountainside forests interspersed with tiny mud-hut and cattle filled Masai Villages. It seems that as sudden as the lush hilly forests appeared, they disappeared and we were now travelling through flat, open grasslands (Serengeti in the Masai language means ‘endless plains’). Definitely reminded me of the ‘Lion King’, including rock formations that matched exactly that of ‘Pride Rock’ in the film.
Our first game drive that evening was definitely a successful one after spotting the incredibly hard to find (in daytime) Leopard. It was just sitting there in a tree as we pulled up, having just woken up from its daytime nap. As we neared the park closing time of 6:30pm, the park rangers showed up to ensure that the leopard wasn’t being disturbed too much, and to kick us all out of the park. Many of the animals in the park are night-time hunters, and the conservation authorities are trying their best to stay out of the way of the animals at night.
We finished our game drive and headed to our campsite for the evening. This camp site was located right in the middle of the park, and the only fence in sight was the one that surrounded the kitchen and eating areas. The site was very basic, with the only other ‘facility’ being the two squat toilets to be shared with the 100-or-so other campers. We were prohibited from keeping food in our tents and the smell would likely attract scavengers like Hyena, but also lions or wildebeest.
The following morning we headed for another game drive, but this one was much less eventful for animal sightings. A few hyenas, monkeys playing and a couple hippos rounded off the mornings sightings. About half way through our morning drive, one of the vehicles in our group broke down and so we all decided to stay and ‘help’. While they were transferring fuel between the two tanks of the land cruiser, we in ours did our best to pass the time. We opened the bar at 10:30 in the morning. We sat on the roof of our car pouring each other vodka and juices, while the others watched in envy (there was no way they were getting out of their cars as we had just spotted a lion) and watching our driver ‘supervise’ the fuel transfer (aka trying his best to not do anything and stay clean).
Finishing up with our drive, we headed to our next stop at the Olduvai Gorge. The gorge is home to the worlds oldest set of foot prints. A local guide explained the significance of the area to the study of human evolution and its effect on modern day theories of it. Finishing off our day, we headed to our next camp site, directly on the edge of the famed Ngorogoro crater. Quite a beautiful location for a camp site, with a massive tree providing needed shade and rain protection to a good 20-30 tents. We settled (aka drank) for the night around our campfire, not noticing that we were surrounded in our camp by a herd of Buffalo who also decided to also make camp for the evening.
Buffalo are one of the most feared animals in Africa mostly due to their unpredictability of their actions. Generally they’re calm animals, but as soon as they decide that they don’t like you, they’ll charge as a group and most have no hope of escaping it.
Waking up to the sound of Buffalo eating grass right next to your head while in the tent is certainly an interesting noise to wake up to, but probably one that I wouldn’t mind avoiding in the future. We woke the following morning all sharing similar stories of buffalo eating their way through our camp, but luckily there were no confrontations outside of a few sightings on the long walk to the washrooms in the middle of the night. Driving off from our gorge-side camp site, we descended into the crater basin. The crater is that of an extinct volcano which forms an almost perfect circle 10-or-so kilometres across. It is teaming with wildlife that can make the difficult descents and ascents of the crater (so no Giraffe as they’re too shaky with their lanky legs).
We definitely saw many more animals than I had anticipated including some Lions ‘getting it on’ in front of what must have been 20 land cruisers. They procreate up to 360 times over the span of five days to maximize their chances at reproduction as up to 40% of lion cubs don’t survive their first few years. Definitely one of the more spectacular scenes in the crater was hundreds, if not thousands, of vibrant pink flamingos sitting in the crater pond (which were shortly thereafter interrupted by a pack of Hyena who decides to chase the flamingo much like a child running through a pack of pigeons in a park. Definitely a good end to a spectacular day.
That night, we headed back to Snake Park camp in Arusha for the last night of one of our group members, Kevin (the other Canadian on the trip, from Victoria too!). He was heading up Kilimanjaro the next day, so what better thing would there be to do but get mangled as a group and send him off in style. The next morning we were greeted by various stories from the night previous including a broken nose, trips trough acacia thorn bushes, and heads through roofs (and that was just one person). As we wrapped up breakfast, we were greeted by the owner (‘Ma’) wondering who broke into the bar, breaking down the door in progress, and took their camera charger. The liquor however, remained untouched. We were the only people in the campsite that night, so we were able to narrow it down to one (unnamed) individual. How was the hangover Kev? Did you make it up Kili?
Almost no pictures again – slow internet of course. You’ll get to see them all when I make it to faster internet in Cape Town in a few weeks.
Up next: the beaches of Zanzibar and Malawi.