This Is Africa, things don't come easy here but this continent offers some amazing sights. We spent two weeks here and can't wait to plan our trip back.
08.04.2012 - 21.04.2012 28 °C
T.I.A. stands for ‘This Is Africa’ and it's a phrase that is applicable in all situations while traveling through this incredible content. It can describe the inflated prices for foreigners, the obvious avoidance of confrontation, and the excitement of watching a lion chase its prey. Africa is an experience that leaves you romanticizing about safaris and beaches and forgetting the difficulty that comes with the territory. The laid back African culture, the immense wild life, and the obvious struggle people face here are all part of the experience. Travel in this part of the world can be long and bumpy and it can also be expensive to get accommodation along the way, but when you see the Great Pyramids of Giza, watch sunsets on the beaches of Northern Zanzibar, or photograph lions in the Serengeti the struggles are all forgotten, T.I.A., get used to it.
A long travel day took us from Tel-Aviv to Amman, and eventually to Cairo early in the afternoon. We arrived in Cairo with close to 8 hours before our flight to Dar Es Salaam. Just enough time to catch a taxi to the Pyramids of Giza and snap some photographs. Getting there was no easy task. Traffic in Egypt is like nothing we have ever seen before. The highway has no lane markers and what should be a four lane highway quickly becomes 7 to 8 lanes of snarled cars and trucks. Vendors walk up and down hawking bread and news papers while cars weave in and out of “lanes.” What should be a 30 min drive from the airport, slowly becomes 2 hours during the afternoon rush.
We finally made it to the gates of the Pyramids with only a half hour to explore some of the most notable ruins in the world. Before we could get to the entrance gate we were corralled into a small room where another salesman begins his pitch for camel rides. After a five minute sales pitch and a “good price” offer, we kindly declined, opting to walk to the Sphinx and the first two big pyramids ourselves. He continued to follow us making a better offer with each step we took towards the gate. The final offer he knocked almost 70% off his first offer. Which just reenforces what we already knew, walk away from the sale and the seller will finally start to make good on his promise of a “good price.” Camel jockey thwarted we headed off to the Pyramids with precious minutes left to see them.
The pyramid in the Giza Necropolis were constructed around 2500 BC and contain three large pyramids, three small pyramids, and the Great Sphinx. The process of construction and the accuracy attained by these ancient architects is amazing and a popular topic of conversation for historians. The largest of the three pyramids in known as the Great Pyramid of Giza and was built for the pharaoh Khufu and remained the tallest man made structure for almost 3,800 years. They were every bit as impressive as we had heard and read about. We had fun taking pictures and using the power of optical illusion to our advantage for some great memories.
We braved the traffic back to the airport, getting there with plenty of time to have dinner and check email before boarding our next flight. Only having a few hours to do this and as painful as the traffic and hagglers were, it was well worth the trip and better than sitting in the airport. Next stop, Tanzania for 10 days!
We arrived in Dar Es Salaam early in the morning. The sounds of vuvuzelas were buzzing loudly outside the airport, and at 6am we had no idea why so many people were out and about. Turns out the Simba Soccer Club, which was on our flight, was returning home after a being victorious in a tournament. The red clad fans were greeting them with feverish joy. They ran along the street chasing their team as they paraded through town. It was quite the introduction to Tanzania.
Exhausted from the 25 straight hours of travel we checked into our chalet at Kipepo Beach and immediately went to bed. The rest was made us both feel brand new and we headed down to the beach restaurant for dinner and drinks. It was Easter Monday and all of Dar Es Salaam was at the beach celebrating the day off. They sang, danced down the beach, and played in the ocean. The party raged on until the wee hours of the next day, making us wonder how work would be for all the party goers the next day?
We checked out of room and checked in with our tour guide, Moses, with Geckos Grassroots Adventures. We would be camping next to the beach that night so we set up the heavy duty safari tents and spent the rest of the day relaxing on the beach. The ocean is a gorgeous bluish green color and clear as glass. We took turns jumping in the water to cool off and lounging in the shade. That night we meet the rest of our tour guides, our cook Pete and the truck driver Alfred. Pete cooked a great dinner and we sat around talking with the other two people in our group. We started this tour with only 4 people and would only meet up with another two people in a few days. Six total for a tour that normally averages 20.
The morning came quickly, and while neither of us slept because the tent was more sauna than breezy, we were ready for the trip to Zanzibar. As we walked to the first of two ferry rides, the skies began to cloud and the rain came pouring down. This rain would only intensify as we coasted along the ocean headed for Stone Town. We arrived to chaos in Stone Town, the rain was pouring and the streets were flooded causing havoc for taxis. As we made our way to the hostel we were sometimes knee deep in puddles of rain. The alley way leading up to our hostel was literally a cascade of water rushing down. Everything we had brought with us was soaked. We all took a moment to hang our clothing up in the room and rest awhile before heading out to tour one of Zanzibar’s best known attractions, the spice farm.
A mini bus carried us a few kilometers out of town to small spice farm specifically set up to show tourist what they grow on Zanzibar. Our local farm guide was enthusiastic about showing vanilla vines, cinnamon trees, lemon grass, pepper trees, and about 10 more spices. By the end we had a small collection of naturally grown spices and the smells were wonderful. Along the tour we had two younger boys from the farm who were gathering samples of spices for us to smell and weaving crowns and necklaces for the girls and crowns and ties for the guys out of the palm leafs. The rains came back and we hid under a canopy while tasting some amazing fruit from the farm, we had green oranges, watermelon, bananas, and grapefruit. We bid farewell to the spice farm and headed back to town for some swahili prawns with pilau rice and drinks at a rooftop bar.
The next day the sun came back with vengeance and soon the buckets of water that fell yesterday were all dried up. We started our morning with a tour of Stone Town that included the slave market museum, which was the last market of this kind to be shut down. We strolled the alleys of Stone Town looking at the shops, checking out the famous doors of Zanzibar, and the fish market. Our last stop was the history museum. The museum had a great balcony overlooking the coast and all of Stone Town. It was a great place to view what the rain clouds had blocked the day before.
That afternoon we headed up north to Kendwa Beach to settle in for two nights on the amazing Zanzibar beaches. By far the best beach we have been to on this trip is Kendwa, absolute paradise. We had just enough time to drop our bags and grab a Zanzibar Pizza on the beach before our next activity, swimming with sea turtles. None of us on the tour knew whether we were going to another beach, on a boat, or to another island. We all just grabbed our snorkel gear and loaded up in the van and away we went. We drove down the road eventually turning into a neighborhood headed away from the beach, we were all confused. We turned down a drive way with a sign that said Natural Aquarium and we all exited the bus. We were still unsure about what we were doing. A man greeted us and led us down a stone path to what appears to be a naturally occurring lagoon fed by the ocean. He casually plopped some seaweed at the edge of the steps and a few minutes later there were four sea turtles gleefully chomping away. We spent the next hour swimming with the sea turtles in this little lagoon, feeding them sea weed, and snapping photos of each other holding these adorable sea creatures. It was such an amazing experience out of know where, TIA.
The next day we were up early to try and get on board a scuba trip. We lucked out and there was some room left on the boat and just like that we were off on the Indian Ocean to rack up two more dives. We dove at two coral formations just off the northern tip of the island. We had a great time, we saw some beautiful coral, sea turtles, scorpion fish, and colorful nudibranchs. The scuba trip was great, but we had a few issues with the laid back effort of the locals workers. There were a few panicky moments floating at sea waiting for them to notice us and bring the boat around. Chalk it up to TIA.
The next morning we boarded the ferry back to Dar Es Salaam meeting up with our truck to spend one more night at Kipepo Beach. We opted to upgrade to a chalet instead of camping. It would be our last night in hotel until Niarobi, as we would be camping the next five nights. The next day we drove for over 14 hours covering 800 km reaching Arusha and our camp site around 7 pm. It was a long ride along the highways of Tanzania that are covered with speed bumps, pot holes, and a few off road jaunts around construction. The drive was a chance to see the change in landscape from the beach to mountains.
The next morning we rolled out of camp and straight back to school, the School of St Jude. This non-profit organization was started by an Australian woman ten years ago and is an absolute dream come true for Tanzania. It began with three children and one classroom and has blossomed to over 1500 students and consists of two campuses. The school was set up to provide education to the country’s poorest children and strict guidelines are followed when selecting a child for attendance. The school provides breakfast and lunch for all the students and for some it provides housing and dinner as well. It was an incredible facility and such an amazing place. Kids who attend this school are extremely lucky and have a chance to greatly improve their lives and the lives of their family and community.
After the tour we headed about 80 Km to the town of Mto wa Mbu, which means mosquito river. We set up camp and grabbed some bikes to go on a mini safari tour of the Lake Maynara. We cruised through town and out the village banana farm road to this large alkaline lake. Along the way we saw some Zebra and numerous birds, but before we reached the lake we had to stop and reverse course. A lone water buffalo had taken up ground near the trail and if a water buffalo is alone, it means that he has been kicked out the herd and is angry enough to charge at humans. We redirected our course and headed a small pool where one of McKenna’s favorite animal was resting, the hippo. About ten hippos were lounging in the water and we took some time to view them from a distance.
The bike ride continued back through a colony of screaming baboons and an eventual stop at one of the banana fields. We learned about the village’s main cash crop and all the uses of the banana and the leaves, including the village favorite banana beer. After hearing about the banana beer we were all curious to try it. Our local guides took us back to the main town and down one of the alleys to a small hut to taste this local concoctions. The local guides proceeded to explain the process of making this banana beer, all we can tell you is that it is long, complicated and the beer cannot be bottled because is continues to ferment in the bottle. After the long explanation they brought out a communal cup for all of to sip from. On top of the beer the grainy remnants from the process remained and as we sipped the beer we couldn’t avoid swallowing a few floaties. It tasted nothing of banana but more like sausage on a bbq. It wasn’t the best beer we have ever had, but it was a good experience. After the beer had been passed around and finished of by the guides, who love the stuff, we moved on to tour some of the arts and crafts sights of the village. We started at the painting studio first where we learned about the brush and knife painting techniques of the local tribe. After that we moved on to the wood carvers who were happy to show us around their shop and studio. We headed back to camp for dinner and then early to bed, tomorrow our safari would begin early in the morning.
The next morning we were greeted with a new safari vehicle and guide named Simba. He looked a lot like Samuel L. Jackson and he was just as cool. We struck out before sun rise headed for the Ngorongoro Crater and National Conservation Area. The Ngorongoro crater is large volcanic caldera and has millions of history including the foot prints of some of the first hominid species from 3 million years ago. The name Ngorongoro comes from the sound of the Masai cow bells attached to their cattle. The ringing of the bell can be heard all around the craters edge where their villages still exist today. The people of Masai are still allowed to herd cattle through this conservation area but not in any of the national parks surrounding it.
We ventured down into the crater, unsure of the wildlife we would actually see. With the roof of our safari vehicle off, we had a 360 degree view of the green grass landscape covering the floor. Our first sighting was a herd of Wildebeest, a funny looking creature with horns like a water buffalo, a white neck beard, and a black and grey stripped main. They would be a common sighting for the next several hours. They are everywhere in the area right now gathering for the biggest and oldest migration in the world, that starts in July. Inter mixed with the Wildebeest were their partners for the migration, the Zebra. The Zebra were grazing all around us, strategically standing together to brush flies off each other with their tails. Soon we came upon a group of spotted hyenas bathing in a mud pit to cool off in the hot sun. They are another interesting looking creature, their back legs are shorter than thier front making them look awkward when they run our walk.
Suddenly we were on the move, Simba had gotten a call that a lion had been spotted. We got our first glimpse at a lion, a young male with a short main and several scars that were evidence of a struggle with other older male lions. He seemed to like the attention, and the shade that the vehicles provided. Soon Simba was off again, and the next sighting was incredible. Two fully grown male lions sauntering around the grass looking for shade and shaking their gorgeous manes. They were unbelievable. We stayed for a while snapping photos and watching the two lions hang out together. We eventually moved along to a nice spot for lunch and then making the drive up to the top of the crater.
We were headed towards the Serengeti National Park, but Before we reached the park entrance we stopped at a small Masai village to take a tour. They greeted us with a song and dance and even included us in the dance. We toured the village and did some shopping in the circular market they constructed in the middle of the village. The Masai people have lived on the plains of Africa for thousands of years and rely entirely on cattle and goats for nutrition. The village lacked medical care and proper schooling. It is a little heart breaking to see these people struggling to get by, but they were extremely welcoming to us and we appreciated the cultural experience. After the stop we were on our way to our camp ground in the Serengeti. We arrived at our camp site just in time to set up our tent and crawl in before the rain started.
The next two days we spent riding along in the Safari truck with Simba leading the way. The Serengeti is a phenomenal place, animals every where. During our three game drives we saw hippos, giraffes, lions, hyenas, leopards, crocodiles, elephants, impalas, gazelles, and warthogs. We took over 600 hundred pictures and two hours of video. We had incredible luck spotting multiple lions, close encounters with elephants, hippos all over the place, and leopards everywhere. The entire trip was amazing and there are so many things we want to write about but will stick to three major highlights during our two days that made the trip absolutely incredible.
During our first game drive we spotted three lionesses lounging in a tree. One of them slowly crawled out of the tree and quickly moved through the tall grass until she was crouched in front of an unsuspecting warthog. We waited in anticipation of seeing some live lion hunting. The lion was crouched, stalking her prey, and ready to pounce. In a split second she was off chasing the hog, who let out a loud squeal. Luck was with the hog that day as he narrowly escaped the claws of the Serengeti’s most notorious hunter. Unsuccessful in her hunt, the lion slowly returned to her branch in the tree to rest up for another hunt. It was thrilling to watch!
The second came on our lunch break the first day, when we arrived back at a camp there was bull elephant munching the trees and shrubs right next to our lunch shelter. We all collected in the protected lunch shelter while he trumpeted at some of the cooks for crossing his path to get water. He made his way across our camp and blocked us off from our bathroom for the afternoon and even refused to leave when a herd of female elephants stomped through. As we gathered to leave for the afternoon the bull elephant started making a play for the shrubs behind our tents, even pushing a tree over to get to them. We left that afternoon wondering if our tents would even be there when we got back.
On our last day we struck out of camp earlier than usual and Simba had a plan. We rolled past the usual hippo hangout pool, only to find them missing. We drove down the muddy road along the river until the graceful hippo poked her head out of the shrubs. Our first out of water hippo sighting of the trip. Every night the hippos walk around 30 km to graze on grass and shrubs. If you get up early you can spot these oversized creatures tramping back to the pond to meet up with their herd. We watched her let out a big yawn and crash in to the cool water. She submerged herself in the water and made her way over to her fellow hippos. it was a rare sighting and a great way to end our safari.
Over the next two days we made are way back to Arusha and across the Kenyan border to Nairobi. We spent one last night with the group and bid farewell to our new friends. We are off to Rome and back to the modern world.
Africa is an amazing place. We have seen and done things here that are phenomenal and the best of our trip. At times the difficulty of traveling, the laid back way of life, and witnessing the hardship in this area of the world got to us. But the experiences made it all worth it, after all ‘This Is Africa’! TIA, Hoo-Ray!!!
McKenna & Scott