Second passport approved!
We got a reply from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that our second passport was approved, so we drove (yet again) to Dar es Salaam for a second visit to the Dutch Embassy. We completed all the paperwork and the waiting started. With this positive outcome, our initial plan remains in place; after Tanzania, cross to Rwanda, and move clockwise to Uganda, Kenya and then into Ethiopia, Sudan to cross the red sea with a ferry into Saudi Arabia.
To complete our stay in Dar, we visited the National Museum. We wandered through the ‘history room’ and ethnographic collection for insights into Tanzania’s past and its mosaic of cultures, including the Shirazi civilisation of Kilwa, the Zanzibar slave trade, and the German and British colonial periods. But despite recent renovations, the museum still has much work to do on appropriate displays and the curation of a coherent narrative. Having been told the ‘original’ door of the Kilwa Kisiwawi fort was in the Museum, we concluded that this was the door we found in the first room without narrative.
Some of the rooms of the museum are still empty and/or are being used for temporary exhibitions like the cartoon section on current African-‘Western’ relations and the room that displayed several contemporary art pieces made by local artists. The natural history section was really nice especially the explanation of the game and predators and how they evolved since the prehistoric era.
In the courtyard of the museum is a small collection of cars, including the Rolls Royce used first by the British colonial government and later by Julius Nyerere (the first president of Tanzania).
As our business in Dar was done we made our way towards Arusha, where we need to be December 17th.
Usambara mountains and Irente Farm
From Dar we drove towards the Usambara Mountain range. Although not too many kilometers, it still took about 6 hours to get to our destination due to all the speed humps in the (little) villages we passed (and the high number of ‘end 50-signs’ that is missing at the end of several villages). Once passed Mombo the road winds inland and the landscape changed into rolling hills and wide fields of pineapples plants (that had just been harvested).
Once in the Usambara mountains a really scenic winding road brought us deep in the mountain range passing several waterfalls close to the village of Lushoto. Before we reach the Irente farm we are treated with a refreshing rain shower. By the time we got to the farm, it had cooled down to a nice 26 degrees Celsius.
The next day was a nice cloudy, windy day, perfect for doing the laundry. However, by the time we had it all hanging, it started raining… By the time we had all washing lines under our awing, it really started poring, but luckily the wind had disappeared and it came straight down. In the end we ended up hanging the semi dry cloths in the truck for the night…no need for curtains anymore…
Waking up the next morning Wilfred was not feeling well, a headache, no appetite, and painful muscle aches on his chest. Since we had been traveling in countries with malaria carrying mosquito’s for a couple of months, we choose to be on the save side and went for a malaria test at the nearby Montessori Sisters who are running a clinic. It turned out a very positive experience; after filling all personal details on a small piece of paper from a cashier and waiting for about 10 minutes, Wilfred’s blood was taken and brought to the lab. After an African ‘15 minutes’ that lasted for 45 minutes or so the diagnose came back negative… Luckily it was not malaria. In hindsight we concluded it was likely a heat stroke from reading the full morning under the ‘lightly clouded’ sky without sunscreen and the heavy duty of laundry J. We left the clinic feeling relieved, but on advice of the doctor with another set of antibiotics… After contact with the KLM health service, Wilfred decided not to take them unless he got a fever. The next day all was back to normal and we headed for Simba farm on the west side of Kilimanjaro.
West Kilimanjaro and Tarangire National Park
Simba farm is the last overnight stop before we go to Arusha and meet up with Judith’s family who are coming to Tanzania for Christmas. The farm is Dutch owned and renowned for it’s excellent food, fresh vegies and a nice collection of wines (we haven’t drunk a glass of wine since Zomba Plateau in Malawi… so we were looking forward to a nice dinner with a good glass of wine ;-).
The past days it had rained every day… and also during our stay it remained cloudy. We did a short hike on the farmland to try to shoot the famous snow covered peak of Mount Kilimanjaro (with a height of 5600m, the highest freestanding -old volcano- of the African continent). Wilfred was really disappointed that he was not able to see the peak during the two days. Luckily we would pass it again on our way from Arusha to the coast after the Serengeti safari…
Tarangire National Park
Having still another day to spare, we decided to visit Tarangire National Park, which was excluded from itinerary of our safari trip with Judith’s family due to it’s in accessibility in the rainy season and most of the animal moving Northward during this time. As it had not rained a lot, we decided to take our chance and visit it.
We booked ourselves into a nice lodge overlooking the nearby lake. On arrival we are warmly welcomed with a glass of fresh juice and a wet towel to wipe of the dust after the long drive… Looking at the small towels afterwards, it turned out a very necessary gesture (we wondered how they will ever get them clean again). Our luxury tent gave room to the biggest bed we had seen in six months… almost twice the size of the matrass in the car.
The next day we went on game drive in the national park with a packed lunch. Entering at the recently opened gate south of the park just ten minutes from the lodge. Tarangire NP has the second-highest concentration of wildlife of any Tanzanian national park (after Serengeti) and reportedly has the largest concentration of elephants in the world. After our game drive we definitely agree we haven’t seen this many elephants anywhere else, not even at the Chobe Riverfront. The Tarangire ecosystem, with the park as its heart and soul, also has more than 700 resident lions, and sightings are very common. What sustains them are large herds of zebras, wildebeest, giraffes, buffaloes and other herbivores. We however only saw one lioness… With more than 450 bird species, some say that Tarangire is the best birdwatching destination in Tanzania and we indeed came across some birds we hadn’t seen before. The nicest sighting of the day were vultures feeding of a freshly killed impala and it looked to us as if they had chased away the leopard or cheetah that had actually killed it.
In the evening we tried the local gin named Konyagi, with some tonic. It was okay-ish but definitely not as nice as Saphire Bombay G&T. The next day we left the lodge after a late and lazy breakfast for Arusha, our home for the next 4 days.
Arusha is the starting point of many safari’s to the Serengeti, the Ngorogoro crater and the surrounding National parks. As mentioned, we met a Canadian couple in Kilwa Masoko who invited us to stay with them in Arusha… As they don’t really have an address, we encountered a slight gps powered navigation challenge as it sent us up into Meru mountain through all sorts of small backstreets… When we were close as possible to the coordinates they had sent, we gave them a call. Still not entirely sure if was the right street, we were relieved to see them walking up behind us. After crossing the gate and the beautiful garden of landlord, we find our selves in their private ‘compound’ with nice 4 room house. Our quarters are a nice bedroom with our own bathroom across the hall.
After getting settled, we leave together for one of the most popular restaurants of Arusha; Khan’s BBQ. A spare parts auto shop during the day (really?) and a BBQ restaurant at night. The tables are on both sides of a busy street. We ordered a mixed grill and a fresh juice (asking for alcohol, would have gotten us in trouble was mentioned on the wall…). The tandoori chicken was very tasty and for three of us we had to pay less than $20,-.
In the night of December 16th Judith’s family arrived at Kilimanjaro Airport and the next morning we met them at their lodge in Arusha. As they arrived very late (4.00AM) at the lodge we spent the first day relaxing and having a rather long lunch at the Blue Heron in a nice garden setting.
Eight days safari of the Northern circuit
For the five of us we booked a private safari tour taking us to most of the highlights on the Northern safari circuit; Lake Manyara National Park, Serengeti, Ndutu, Ngorongoro Conservation area and crater and as a bonus, we added Arusha National Park for a walking safari and game drive. Our driver and guide, Emmanuel picked us up at the lodge at sharp 8.00AM with his 7 seater Toyota Landcruiser and we headed towards the Lake Manyara area.
During the safari our own truck is safely stored at the secured compound of the tour operator, it did however feel weird leaving our ‘home’ of the last six months behind.
Village tour and Lake Manyare National Park
Before going into Lake Manyara National Park, we did a cycling tour visiting the local tribes and their trades…we learned about banana and rice farming as well as woodcarving. At the last stop we get acquainted with the local food during an incredible lunch.
The first game drive for Judith’s family turns out to be rather good one ! We come across olive baboons, impala, bushbucks, waterbucks, elephants, zebra’s, wildebeest, (cape) buffalo’s, vervet and blue monkey and even a pair of sadlebill storks. The first two of the big five were covered…
Having been up since 6am, we were all glad to arrive at the lodge at sunset. We were all at the first floor of the two-story banda’s and had an incredible view over the Manyara Lake, park and escarpment.
The next day we headed for a long trip to the central part of the Serengeti. On the way we learned that Serengeti translates to ‘endless plain’, but should actually be spelled ‘Sirengeti’ in Swahili. We arrived at the lodge close to three for a delicious lunch and headed back out for our late afternoon game drive. As we drove from the lodge, Boudewijn excitedly asked to stop the car after a bare 500 meter… “What are those ears”, he asked… We immediately noticed it was a family of bat-eared foxes and were quite excited our selves as we had only seen them in the distance and never got a good picture due to the poor light ! The remainder of the drive we came across, several herds of elephants (one even crossing the road just metres from our car), a small croc, close to 40 maribu storks, plenty of zebras, wildebeests and giraffes, but also 9 lions and our first leopard up in a tree very close to the road… As we started to head back to the lodge, we came across another leopard that actually walked up to us and crossed the road just 50 centimetres from our car as if we were not even there. After two drives we had now covered four of the big five.
The following day, our goal was to find ‘the migration’… Emmanuel had been asking all his friends and colleagues if they had found it, but so far no one had. The feeling everyone had was that due to the very limited rain, they had actually moved into the private (hunting) game reserve next to the park. Never the less we headed in the direction where they were the most likely to be found. On our way, we stopped at a rocky area where lions and leopards are frequently spotted… We were not disappointed. A mother leopard decided to raise her two cubs on the rocks and we found them posing and playing in the early morning sun. After a couple of minutes enjoying the spectacle, we decided to continue our drive to find the migration. After about an hour and a half in which we saw various animals, we came a cross a seriously larger herd than we had ever seen before and we got hopeful… after another half hour we found another one and while we were watching it we heard from the other guides, that this is the largest one still in the area. Although not millions, we still guestimate that this hurt came close to a thousand wildebeest and zebras. Emmanuel called it ‘leftovers’ of the migration. On our way back, we came across four cars parked next to the road looking at a bushy ridge with binoculars… When we heard they had spotted a black rhino some minutes ago, we decided to stay a while as well. Unfortunately it did not come out any more and we headed back to the camp for a late lunch. The late afternoon, we headed out once more in a different direction hoping to spot a cheetah. We did not however, but did come a cross several lions, three leopards (one sunbathing on and rock and mother with a one year old resting in a tree), two large and very noisy owls and to all our surprise Emmanuel’s most favourite cat, the serval, a graciously moving mid sized cat with a beautiful pattern (compared to the lion/leopards and the regular house cat).
The next morning, we head to Ndutu in south Serengeti for what should have been the location where the migration would be under ‘normal’ circumstances and the home to several cheetahs and plenty of lions. Knowing the migration is not there; we focused the drive on the cheetah and drive through the ‘lake beds’ (according to Emmanuel they are not river beds…). While searching, we got treated to a hugh male lion with beautiful manes that did not seemed to mind us driving up to about 1 metre !? (personally we felt were too close and invasive, but it did give us beautiful shots of its mature scarred face).
After a few minutes we headed to higher grounds where we find a large plain that provides a perfect hunting ground for cheetahs. As we drove out of the bushes, we immediately noticed five other cars circled around a tree… When we get closer, we also noticed a cheetah lying dead still minding its own business. After a few shots however, it suddenly stands up and started moving across the plain intensely looking to each side…it was clearly looking for a meal. For about a kilometre, we followed along interested to see a him in full action. As there was not a single antelope around, he went to rest under another tree… likely hoping that all cars would leave it alone quite soon as the sun had started setting.
After a good nights rest, we headed back into the direction of the main gate bringing us close to the Ngorongoro crater. We enjoyed a good lunch outside of the park at a Dutch ran restaurant and lodge that runs an orphanage and primary school in parallel. After lunch we went to our lodge and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon, preparing for a very early rise to be one of the first to enter the Ngorongoro crater.
The crater has the highest density of animals within its about to 325 square kilometre rim of 600 to 800 metres high. After descending, we were immediately treated with plenty of zebras, wildebeests and buffalos, but also with about seven hyena’s of which we thought they were nocturnal…little did we know. We kept seeing them across the day and learned that there were more than four hundred of them living in the crater and keeping it clean of all the kills that the hundred lions leave behind. The crater also houses a high number of crested cranes and we came across over twenty pairs. The main goal of going into the crater was (and for many is) to see the black rhino. As in all the other nation parks in Africa, they keep quite how many there are and the rangers that watch them closely will never tell you where they are either… Knowing that their favourite living environments are the thicket and swamp, some of us are a little disappointed that we did not start there… Emanuel had however kept close contact with his colleagues and none of them had yet seen a rhino the whole morning. The new mammal that we did see for the first time was the golden backed jackal. A bit disappointed that we were not able to close of the big five, we did need to hurry back to the gate (one is only allowed 6 hours per day in the crater…). With five minutes to spare, we continue further east towards Arusha National Park where we would spend the next two nights close to the gate.
Arusha National Park
This park is one Tanzania’s smallest, only 552square kilometres including the surrounding mountains (without the mountains only 150 square kilometres) It is one of most beautiful and topographically varied northern circuit parks. It’s dominated by Mount Meru, an almost perfect cone with a spectacular crater and many small saltwater crater lakes.
The last day of safari existed of a game walk followed by a drive looking for the black and white Colobus monkey. During our walk we learned we will not come across these monkeys during the walk as they live in the area that is not open for walks. While walking for a couple of metres, the guide mentioned we are going to be lucky… it turned out he had noticed several giraffes in the back of the field we were heading for. It even got better; while getting higher up to the field, we notice large herd of buffalos.
On our walk we got as close as 10-15 metres from the giraffe and more than 50-75 metres from the buffalos. On our last game drive we saw bushbuck, a flock of greater and lesser flamingo’s, (many, many) giraffes, warthogs and last but not least the black and white Colobus monkeys with their distinctive long white hairs.
This was the last day of our safari and we will head to Pangani on the east coat of Tanzania to relax at the beach and learn kite surfing.