Day 9: To Ngorongoro Crater

Monday 17 July

Our earliest start yet, 5 am, tents down, bags packed to leave around 6 am. It was too early for me to eat. I shoved bananas and a packet of biscuits in my daypack for later. The drive would take a minimum of five hours to reach the Ngorongoro Crater. We saw a few animals on the way but yesterday was the best. The desert changed as we rode from red to sandy to grey and sparse grass to acacias to stony wasteland. In parts, there were dry water courses to cross, evidence that the rains did come.

The highlight of the day was a collision between a truck going the opposite way and our bus. The truck driver misjudged the available space or the size of his vehicle. Both drivers edged onto the scree at the sides and nearly made it.

We were holding our collective breath when a nasty grating sound came from the roof at the rear. Because both vehicles were tilting towards the middle, their roofs had crunched. We all piled out, with cameras to record the event. A couple of Masai materialised to check what was going on, one jeep drove off road, through our group, around the blockage and sped off showering us all with dust. There was much discussion as to the best way out of the situation. No blame or fist waving as might have been expected, no exchange of insurance companies. Large rocks were placed in front of the wheels on the road, presumably to lever them upright when they moved. Our bus teetered so far over I thought it was going to tip completely on its side. Karimi pulled over to safety and we congratulated him as we re-boarded.

At the top of the crater we boarded two safari jeeps and set off downwards through the jungle-covered sides to the plain at the bottom. It was the Great Valley from the dinosaur series of DVDs. There was a river, fresh water lake, alkaline lake, dry grassy plains, lush grassy plains and bushy vegetation for those animals who wanted it round the edges. We ate lunch by the hippo pool, along with quite a few other tourists. We were warned to eat in the jeeps because the local pest birds, red kites, would snatch food out of your hand. We watched them circling in the air spotting unwary sandwich eaters they could swoop. This hippo pool was quite different, clean water and fewer hippos so they could move around. They come out at night to graze when it is cool. Here is where we saw herds of wildebeest, zebra, a solitary lion. There are also cows mingled in with the wildebeest. They follow the lead cow’s bell when it is time to go. It is a peaceful place.

We arrived late afternoon at our accommodation. We camped in the grounds of a very swish hotel, Kudu Lodge. Rooms here were for wealthy tourists, $186 a night. A couple of the group did opt for a room and offered us use of the luxurious showers. The itinerary allowed for a 15km ride before dark. Everyone was tired but rallied with some encouragement. I was tripping over on the gravel paths and not sure what my knee was doing so I declined. Pat did 5km, Adriana too, then joined me in the truck. It was a downhill tarmac winding road, looked like fun. The uphill was of course the reverse. Most enjoyed the ride, but would have done without it after the long day. Karimi parked the bus and jumped on his bike to ride it when the others had come back.

 

 

Day 3: On the road to Longido

Tuesday 11 July

On the main road towards Kenya, we rode on tarmac, mostly downhill and fast, we were flying! Unfortunately, my knee disagreed and when I got off en route, gave me intense pain. I did get on again but the next time was final. I could not move. I was riding with Adriana and Arman, who went on ahead to get help. Amos was on his way back already. A taxi was organised to take us to the guest house, only about another 2 km away. Bikes went in the boot, one wheel of each draped over the side, no problem.

Our route took us past goat and cow herders keeping their animals off the road. Some had donkeys and we saw others carrying enormous loads – grass or sugar cane, water buckets slung each side, bundles of sticks. Jen and I met two Masai boys, who posed for a photo.

Our guest house is usually a training college for girls. They come for education, to learn job skills and avoid being forced into early marriage. The building is circular with bedrooms around the outside opening onto a central dining room/classroom. Our room is quite cool with twin beds and clean sheets and towels. Again, hot water for showers was heated in large pots on the stove and carried in buckets to the bathrooms. We were delighted to see actual bathrooms. Dinner was delicious, Juma knows exactly how to feed hungry cyclists. Arman went with Justaz to a Dr of sorts and obtained antibiotics and Pat decided to do the same. His cold is affecting his breathing. We waited in the village while the young man jumped on his scooter and zoomed off to the nearest pharmacy in Arusha to buy them. Local price was 2000 shillings, about $1.00. Justaz was emphatic that we pay local price or tourists will be exploited in the future. I went too and Justaz organised a gel like Voltaren for my knee.

My diary notes that Justaz is a great leader, except for making plans and sticking to them, and time and distances. We are adjusting to African time. Organising a lively group is a difficult job.

polé polé means slowly, slowly.   polé means sorry

Our Last Day: to Arusha Day 12

Thursday 20 July

It was a lovely morning for the last ride of the trip, cool, sunny and not too many hills. Adriana and I were in the bus and Pat rode 20 of 40 km before joining us. We all stopped at a café on the outskirts of a town/village for picnic lunch and ordered coffee, or tea, as I got the last teaspoon of coffee in the jar. I bought copper bracelets from a street vendor. From there we were all in the bus for the three hour drive to our hotel in Arusha. Before the crew disappeared, we had a big thank you to say and gathered on the balcony where we had all met. I was given the job of thanking them and had to refer to my diary to include all that we had seen and done. It felt like much more than 12 days. We had taken up a collection which was presented in a picnic lunch bag, decorated brilliantly by Rashma with memorable pictures, hippos, leopard, Juma’s cooking pot, the bus and Justaz on a bike. He kept the bag.

We had thought of going into town but rested instead, showered and got reacquainted with the rest of our baggage. There was a big night ahead. Cocktails at 6pm followed by dinner at the restaurant across from the bar. We squeezed into two taxis. It was an odd experience eating western food. And not washing up or flapping the plates dry.

Towards the end of the evening, an announcement was made by the maître d’h. A special occasion. The entire staff came out and sang Hakuna Matata to Pat for his birthday. It was organised by Justaz, I had no idea and had to quickly grab the camera as a birthday cake appeared with not just sparklers, but a firework on top shooting silver stars to the ceiling. It was a perfect surprise. Goodbyes were hasty as we realised that Pat and I were leaving early, before breakfast, the next day. What a fabulous end to the trip of a lifetime.

To Mkuru Training Camp, foothills of Mt Meru. Day 2

Monday 10 July

Day 2

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We tucked into a big breakfast to prepare for our first ride. The bus took us to the outskirts of the town on a new tarmac dual highway. Our ride through Arusha National Park began after that, on the dirt road, rocky and gravelly, a challenging start. We were thrilled to see giraffe with babies, a herd of zebra, a monkey and an antelope dashing across in front of Jen and Leigh. Leigh fell off soon after. There were two more falls that day, Adriana hurt her hands and knees and Hilary tumbled down the gravelly bank of the road tangled in her bike and scraped herself all over. We all took extra care now.

At Tengeru we visited a local coffee plantation where we saw the whole process from coffee beans to drinking. We took part in de-husking the raw beans, pounding in a tall wooden bowl with 2 club-ended sticks. The beans were roasted over a methane gas ring in a ceramic pot until they smelled delicious. Back into the deep wooden container again, this time to grind the beans. Two people pound in turn and sing a song to keep the rhythm. Finally, some of the coffee was put into the ceramic pot of water and heated to make our drink. The whole plantation was built for sustainability. Methane from the cows was stored in a type of septic system and piped to cooking rings. Cows and goats ate chopped down banana plants.  Papyrus grasses were being used to weave basket style sofas and chairs for sale. We were lucky to be there for lunch. Huge bowls were laid out, fragrant lentils, meat, soya beans, potatoes and greens, with a kind of nan bread.

It was almost dark when we arrived at Mkuru Training camp, down an extra rocky pathway off the road. Our head torches were the first things to be unpacked. We slept deeply that night, upgraded from dorm to permanent tents because Justaz was so pleased with us. The caretakers even heated gallons of water for hot showers. Juma produced another satisfying meal, we were very hungry.

 

Panorama Lodge, Lake Manyara Day 10

Tuesday 18 July

Ngorongoro Crater to Panorama LodgeIMG_0359

Only a 25km ride today. The night had been cool and refreshing for sleeping. A small group of us were not riding and sat in the posh hotel having coffee and taking turns in the shower before squeezing into a taxi for the short trip. Panorama lodge is well named. Perched on the edge of the escarpment, it has a view of the whole crater. I took six photos from left to right.

The igloos are delightful, thick adobe, cool and comfortable. The roof inside looks like an upturned clay coil pot with a window and vent in the top.

 

Our afternoon game drive was in safari jeeps. We drove through tangled jungle to the lake, passing baboons, ancient trees with buttressed roots, fat-trunked baobabs, giraffes and zebra appearing at intervals through the bushes.

IMG_0386The absolute highlight of the entire trip was our encounter with elephants. We stopped beside a huge elephant munching on vegetation a couple of metres into the bush. The tusks were a metre long, a perfect curve. Its ears were fanning like palm leaves to keep cool. Then out of the bush behind our jeep stepped another elephant. It walked purposefully towards us on the track, closer and closer. There was no noise of giant footsteps. I had stopped yelping by this time and was holding my breath, eyes popping, every muscle tensed. About 3m from the jeep it swerved off to follow the first one. I was shaking all over. Tears welled as emotion overflowed. Less than a minute later they had vanished into the undergrowth.
There was another later, with a calf, crossing a sandy riverbed near a lioness relaxing in the warm sand. Mounds of dung all along the sand suggested this was a favourite elephant spot.

I said, ‘If it’s getting late, don’t worry about seeing the pelicans, we have them at home.’ Not like this. There were thousands of pelicans, noisily washing at the edge of the water, stinking of fish. I felt small. Our drive lasted for four hours. It passed so quickly. Late returning once more, I said to Justaz who was in our jeep, ‘You see now why we were late before? This is African time.’ One of his own favourite phrases.

There were a few other tourists in the dining room but our group was the largest and liveliest. After dinner, there was a show. Two musicians with a wooden xylophone and a tall tomtom drum struck up Hakuna Matata, and a group of acrobats bounced in singing and tumbling. They entertained us with limbo, juggling, building human pyramids and fire stick dancing while the music played on. We were clapping, cheering and thoroughly enjoying it all. We could not understand how one family kept their backs to the show and ate dinner. The irresistible rhythm was reminiscent of Mexican music, they use the same instruments. I think it likely that the African slaves who were brought to the Americas took their music with them.

 

Tanzania by Bike: Day 1 Neojobugg Palace Hotel, Arusha

Sunday 9 July 2017

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We are a group of twelve. All are younger than us, Ged, 57 and Lei, 56 are relieved. There is a mix of accents as people exchange names and origins. Canada, U.S., Scotland, London, Venezuela/Germany/Au, Australia, N.Z. Most are single, in their thirties and look fit. Our leader, Justaz, appraises the group as he walks in and is pleased we are all talking already. This is a good sign. He chases up our meals, orders more and we eat with our fingers from communal plates (bonding rapidly) while listening to the briefing. Our team is introduced: Karimi, our driver and owner of the mountain bikes, Juma, our cook and Amos, who works for everyone. We are told breakfast is at 7.00 and to have bags on the bus by 8.00.

‘Asante sana’ means ‘Thank you very much’ and ‘Karibu’ means ‘You’re welcome’.

 

Day 8: Serengeti Game Drives

Sunday 16 July

Around the campfire last night, we discovered Jen and Hilary had booked a private jeep safari for the morning. They were happy for us to join them and share the cost. It meant another early start but we were getting used to that. Gerard had the earliest start because he had booked a balloon trip, starting at 4.30 am. He had a sleepless night worried that he wouldn’t wake up in time. We saw his balloon later.

P7165840Our first sighting was of an impala in the golden morning sun. The black twisted horns rise in a curve from the brow and its coat is the same tan and cream as the red earth and dry grass. We saw lots of impala and never tired of their graceful beauty. A vivid patch of green announced a waterhole. The grass and vegetation contrasted sharply with the surrounding area. A pair of pretty, brown geese lived there, and along the stream were tall storks, looking like old lawyers in black gowns stooping over the water, looking for a meal. The stream meandered on and beside it strolled a lioness, quite purposefully. She saw a gazelle, which prepared to run, but the lioness decided not to chase and they both returned to their own business.

The jeep stopped whenever we wanted to watch an encounter. There was no sense of urgency, no set route. Drivers radioed each other about sightings and there were many connecting tracks to see the ‘Big Five’ animals especially. Next was a male lion, sitting regally in the shade of a bush. While we watched, he rolled over and fell asleep. Baboons crossed the road in front of the jeep, mothers with infants clinging to their backs, males stalking arrogantly, in charge of the troupe.

To our left was a group of ostriches, two males and three females. They were flapping their enormous wings at each other in a mating ritual. On our return journey, hours later, a couple were walking together and the others had gone.

Quite often we saw zebra and warthogs grazing together, or zebra and giraffes. A flock of guinea fowl fluttered nervously at our approach but did not screech. They are used to raise the alarm on farms.

A young giraffe was grazing by the track and the jeep slowed to a stop. He stared at us, perhaps we had interrupted a meal, ambled to the centre of the track and turned to stare once more, posing for photos, before stretching out to nibble the tasty tree on the other side. It is impossible to not take photos.

The highlight of our day was the Hippo pool. As we pulled into the car park, we couldn’t see any hippos but this was one place we could disembark. Other people were looking over a fence and bushes. As we joined them, I gasped. There must have been a hundred hippos wallowing in the scummy, muddy water. They were tightly packed, barely moving but for their little stumpy tails twitching, splashing mud over each other. Then a large bull clambered onto a small female and proceeded to mate with her. I was quite fascinated. How on earth did he cling on? His bulk nearly drowned her, she shoved her nose up for air briefly. Another male decided to try his luck. He was soon chased off, the bull raised his head and thumped down into the water, sending a muddy tidal wave over nearby bodies. Oblivious to this drama, several crocodiles lay on a sandy bank soaking up the sun.

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The bird life in Tanzania can be strikingly colourful in contrast with the camouflage of animals. One about the size of a small crow, was iridescent peacock blue, another looked like a satiny, emerald green ibis.

On our way back, under a large acacia were two mother elephants and their calves. Perfect. I felt as if I had eaten a banquet.

There was a fuss when we arrived back at camp. Where had we been? We were late. It looked as though our driver was in trouble so I made sure his boss and our leader knew that it was not his fault. Apparently, another driver had misinformed Justaz that our jeep was stuck for an hour and he was worried. And so, to lunch.

The rest of the group had seen pretty much the same from the bus as we had, but not the ‘hippo porn’ which caused lots of laughter.

The afternoon was relaxing and washing clothes. Some went out for another game drive but we had such a great experience already we stayed back.