Now. Before I get to the content, the teacher in me screams out that I must fix up a misunderstanding of a word. The Swahili word ‘safari’ is used for ANY journey. So if we drive to the ocean, or to the next town for shopping or across the country to our new home, THAT is safari. Driving in a vehicle looking at animals is just a very small part of the great big whole of safari. (Great- now I have that out the way. That’s me. Fixing up all the languages in the world, one word at a time…)
When leaving on a journey of any distance the local people will wish you well on your way: “Habari safari!” Have a good trip.
We set out on the long drive of over 1000km from Dar es Salaam to Mwanza. We decided to make it into a bit of a fun road trip and take the scenic route via some of Tanzania’s famous tourist destinations rather than travel on the boring highway. It was not too far extra in distance and I jumped at the opportunity.
I thought you might like to join me on this trip, so I sat with camera in hand for most of the trip, snapping as we went along, to give you a sense of the amazing things we saw. The scenery is gorgeous, the range of ecology diverse and the people are interesting in their differences. Unfortunately our present driver has very little understanding of English and he knows very little of the country (we told HIM about the Wildebeest migration in the Serengeti!) so we could not learn firsthand information from a Tanzanian, but I thought to just share what we saw and hopefully it will pique your interest to discover a little more about this part of the world.
We left the Indian ocean town of Dar es Salaam very early on Saturday morning: one needs to make a silly-hour start to avoid the traffic, and even before 5 in the morning the roads were bustling with life. The first few hours we were trying to wake up, shake off the drowsiness from bad sleep (induced by loud clubs nearby) and see through the haze of smoky fires and jostling streets.
Some of our first views were of the Tanzanian side of the Usambara mountains. It was mostly overcast for the first 36 hours of our travels (it is the end of the rainy season in Tanzania) so we had the benefit of cool travel and cloudy sculptures formed around the huge mountains.
So much of life happens at the roadside in African existence.
The beauty of the huge coconut palms offset by the vibrant oranges and greens of the orange fruit being sold looked so delightful.
And people build shelters out of any imaginable material: you will see a few more as we make our way on this journey.
Gorgeous big trees provide shelter and life to rustic homes.
The view exactly as I saw it. Ah! A baobab tree! These monsters of the tree world can sometimes be over 13 meters in girth. They are the equivalent of living dinosaurs – some are thousands of years old. I love these trees so representative of hot African plains.
Tanzania produces large amounts of sisal. We saw many miles of sisal plantations.
More fruit sellers:
And ladies on their way to buy fruit.
Another kind of seller that is ubiquitous in Africa is a charcoal seller. Unfortunately far too much good quality indigenous wood is cut down and burned over slow fires to produce charcoal, which is the prime method of cooking fuel across much of Africa. About 17 tons of good wood is used to produce 3 tons of charcoal.
We saw many more houses.
And many many more trees (but I never tire of looking at trees!)
And more colourfully garbed ladies.
I erased hundred of photos like this one.
I did not want any posed photographs, and sat with my camera low in my hands, shoving it in the rough direction of an object of interest.
More often than not I got beautiful cloud configurations. Or blurs of trees. Or even sandy patches on the sides of the roads. Be glad I did not share all 723 of those with you!
We headed through the south Pare mountains and then the north Pare mountains.
What amazingly crafted beauty we saw formed in the cliffs and valleys as we drove past.
The terrain got considerably drier as we headed north. Scrubby plains replaced lush forests and the clouds began to clear.
And then we saw it… one of the highlights of the trip: KILIMANJARO!
The highest point in Africa, inspiration of many songs, legendary in the ambitions it inspires. Ah. The clouds opened up for us to view its snowy peaks, revealing the amazing forms wrought by a volcano. simply splendid.
There, high above the city of Arusha, cloaked in clouds, the icy peaks peer at passers by.
We spent the night at http://www.meseranisnakepark.com/ just beyond Arusha. A group of South Africans began the park almost 20 years ago to rescue snakes and a few other creatures from being killed by locals. They also do astounding work in the community with clinics, education and developing respect for the Massaai culture.It has also since developed into a thriving stopover point for overlanders. The atmosphere in the pub was welcoming and the people running the park really great. We are often amazed at how widely dispersed our fellow Saffers are, and the great job they do, especially in the field of tourism.
We were woken by early rains, but our tent kept us dry. Then off again, for a day I was eager to meet: to see Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti!
Over mainly dry scrubby terrain, into the world of the Massaai.
Cattle are the livelihood of this nation, and they pass their cattle across great swathes of land via muddy cow-highways. Across from one side one’s view to the other one sees herds of cattle and goats, with some rather young keepers to watch the herds, then more dispersed are settlements of the Massaai.
We made it to Ngorongoro! Wow! we paid the ridiculously steep entrance fees to transit through the park, and almost immediately our hearts dropped.
There was such thick mist that we could barely see the trees in front of us. Paying all that money, driving from far to fulfill a dream and we could not even see it! I was muttering silently to myself and God, sending arrow prayers for clearing of the air (which looked impossible) and for the Tanzanians to realise that high prices may keep several visitors away.
We stopped at the Serena Hotel for lunch, hoping a warm meal would help us feel a bit better. (I was wrapped in any warm items I could find by now, including sheets wrapped mummy-like around my legs. This is meant to be mid AFRICA, not the Arctic!)
As we entered the hotel we were amazed at God’s kindness. There before our eyes an amazing view of the crater, open enough to see a magnificent view.
The mists rolled over regularly as we ate of the gorgeous spread, but we were so blessed by this opportunity and would love to return to the spot to explore further.
The area between Ngorongoro and Serengeti is proclaimed nature reserve but is also the homeplace of many Massaai. It was startling to see their herds of cattle grazing between zebra and wildebeest clusters. It is also obvious that the Massaai have figured their tourist value and try to milk this appeal. Little herd boys showed that they were willing to jump up and down for several thousand shillings, or offered to sell us jewelry. A few of the homesteads have been opened for tourists to view and to see the dances, take photographs and give generously to Massaai tribes. Although I find the people highly photogenic and very interesting, I do not approve of the exploitative dependency from both parties.
There are few things as invigorating as the sight of a storm across the African plains.
Such amazing openness is very difficult to describe. And then we began to see that for which Serengeti is famed: vast plains, teeming with game. Zebras, Wildebeest, several types of gazelle almost as far as the eye can see.
Although our trip is at the time when the wildebeest should begin gathering for their migration the rains this year have been so abundant that it is not necessary for the herds to begin moving from the plentiful food they have. We did see this group thundering across the plains but it was nowhere near the million or so animals that make their way across the border to Kenya and the Mara.
The sun sank a little lower and provided amazing fodder for the camera lens.
We got to see these ‘lifers, which made me very excited! Bat eared foxes are found more often in dry terrain and I have always longed to see one. We found TWO, in the road in front of our car. Whoohoo!
Then more awesome scenery with more wildlife.
And with just a little light in the sky we finally arrived at our camp site for the night. We were based at one of the public camp sites at Seronera, the main hub of tourism in the Serengeti.
What an eventful night! Good for prayer life, good for making one glad to be alive and for checking that the old ticker still works… very well!
The campsite is part of the environment (ie sans fences). We started hearing hyenas quite early in the evening, but hey! We often hear the hyenas calling from far away on our farm. No problems there, right? Wrong.
I did wake a few times in the night thinking the hyenas were getting closer, but a few hours of prayer and pondering on the value of life cannot do anybody any harm. By 4am the prayers had become more fervent and the value of life very very meaningful. The hyenas were chasing wildebeest through the campsite. It is amazing how thin a tent can feel. The same thing which kept us dry and protected the night before now felt totally flimsy and unsafe!
Deon and I lay very still, whispering in the softest voice possible only when totally essential. To emerge from our flimsy protection would have been idiotic, so we lay and listened. We heard as the hyenas made a kill about 60 m away, and the maniacal laughter after their success. We heard the bewildered wildebeest stomping and snorting in dismay at their loss. We heard the crunching of bones as the hyenas made short work of eating their prey (one hour later their were only dregs for the jackals mulling around). Our dismay grew as all too soon it seemed like the hyenas were on the hunt again, circling about our tents. I very genuinely thought it was the end when I heard crazily heavy breathing heading straight towards our tent, but then it ducked away just feet from the entrance.
All those on the camping ground were most relieved when morning arrived and we were safe. The group of American students sharing the camp ground have exciting stories to tell back home!
These were the survivors of the night’s activities. They were sleeping at about 7 in the morning, and we gained a whole new appreciation for the huge number of perils these creatures face, over and over and over again. Kudos to all those who survive just one year of life across the plains!
Then back in the vehicle (which, btw, had been parked about 4 km away with the driver at his lodge! No safety for us there!) for the final day of travel to Mwanza. We had another 150 or so km of the western sector of the Serengeti, and then about 100 km to reach Mwanza.
Some banded mongoose were enjoying the sun.
Farewell to the Serengeti plains (we will be back!) and then through villages, passing by the edge of Lake Victoria to our new home town.
Mwanza is known locally as “Rock city” or “Rock land”. I will write a lot more about the city so will not make this post longer than it is already!
For now we are very busy. Looking for a prospective home, acquiring all the furnishings that make a house livable (for the third time in just over a year… not so much fun anymore!), getting internet and phone connections and beginning to find out all we need to in this new place.Deon is gathering all he needs for his job. I will need to study Swahili (English is not very well spoken here) and I will probably be helping some children with home schooling.
We live in God’s grace from moment to moment… what a reassurance that is! And how grateful we are to still be alive to tell our tales to those willing to listen!
Lovebirds are wild creatures here. How special to see these at one of our stops! I just HAD to share them.