STOP 19 | Day 55 to 59 |
Following an amazing couple of days in the Maasai Mara, we were due to kick-off our 41 day African overland adventure from Kenya to the Cape with Nomad Africa Adventure Tours. We started the day early by meeting our tour group at a hotel a short distance from the Westlands. A was slightly nervous for this portion of our trip as we had signed up for the camping not accommodated package (this is actual camping, not glamping – pitch your own tent, bring your own sleeping bag and towel type camping), and camping isn’t really her style of travel (let’s be honest backpacking wasn’t either before the trip!). Also the thought of surviving 41 days with no a/c (the truck does not have a/c either), in temperatures between 30-40 degrees celsius made A cry a bit inside! The truck that would be taking us overland is custom built to carry all items needed to prepare meals, including tables and chairs for dining, lockers for our backpacks and tents. We would be joined by a crew of two that would have the duties of driving, tour guide and chef. We met G (tour guide/chef) that morning, who to our surprise told us we were two of the three people on the tour! Usually these tours have average 14 people and this was one of his smallest groups ever! Although we were slightly disappointed to not meet some other travelers we were excited for this private tour (plus ample space on the truck!).
That day we traveled from Nairobi to Arusha, although only 285km it was a long 10 hour drive. The travel time was compounded by exiting Kenya and entering Tanzania and getting visa-on-arrival, which adds time to the stop as most land borders conduct everything manually with no rush – thankfully we were a group of 3, as a full truck of 24 people crossing borders can be 2+ hour affairs! Typical with a long days on the road we stopped on the side of the road after crossing the Tanzania border to have lunch, which consisted of sandwiches. Unfortunately the bread purchased at the the border for lunch was ridden with ants! A decided to go carbless while J decided to toast the bread and have cooked ants! Additionally the travel time is impacted as the road once you reach Tanzania meanders through lots of villages of which results in speed limits of generally 50kmph, making the commute quite a bit slower/longer.
We arrived at Ndoro Lodge where our truck would be based for the next 5 nights. This was probably one of the worst camps we stayed at and so A was greeted into the camp life with rundown facilities and an ice cold shower (she put a brave face on for the first night). Typically most individuals only stay two nights in the Arusha area as there is a three night optional Serengeti activity package, however as we had done the Maasai Mara already we looked to coordinate our own overnight trip.
The next day we headed into the town center of Arusha, approximately 20 minutes from the lodge. One of the employees was kind enough to show us how to take the local transport – dala-dala. A dala-dala is a van with four rows of seats that drives along the main routes picking up and dropping off passengers randomly, we quickly learnt that over 20 people can be crammed into this van. We spent the day walking around Arusha and met with our tour guide for our two day trip to Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro Crater the next day. Our tour guide from Kenya had provided us contact details for someone that would be able to freelance and take us out there which cut the costs down by over half! The most significant costs on this trip are the park fees, for example each individual pays $80USD to get into the crater and $300USD for the vehicle! In Arusha there are tons of overly friendly individuals near the clock tower, which is the center of town, eager to help you and selling you a painting or map. These were things we certainly did not need or want, but a firm response of “asante” in their native Swahili does the trick. On the way back to the lodge we managed to get on a dala-dala that wasn’t packed with locals and had available seats, however less than 10 minutes into our ride (as there were only 4 people in the van) we got ushered onto another dala-dala which had standing room only!
The next morning we headed off at 7AM to Lake Manyara for a game drive. After grabbing our pack lunches in Arusha we started on the 3 hour drive. Along the way we were stopped numerous times by police and soon learnt how corrupt the police in Tanzania were. They often stop people, make up an offence in hopes to collect a pay off, J originally thought about self driving but after seeing how the police operated we were glad we had an experienced guide – definitely would’ve been frustrated and fleeced for a decent amount of money! Lake Manyara National Park is 330 kilometers squared and is know for the alkaline waters which cover over half of the area, although as it was dry season there was large exposed areas of mud flats. The area is also known for the millions of pink flamingos which migrate along various lakes in the Rift Valley to feed on the algae. The landscape is very different from the Maasai with lots of greenery and trees. In addition to the flamingos the park is know for its population of baboons, but we also saw elephants, giraffes, cape buffaloes, hippos, impalas, velvet and black-faced monkeys. One of the highlights of this park was when an elephant came within arms length distance from the Land-Cruiser! The park had an abundance of the tse-tse flies, although they are known to carry the sleeping sickness which can be transmitted in their bites apparently the flies do not carry this in this region (clearly as we were both covered in about 15+ bites each). We spent a good part of the afternoon swatting at these during the game drive! That evening we stayed at Lilac Campsite and Tented Camp, where we had the luxury of staying in a permanent tent that had an ensuite bathroom! The campsite is located just outside the Lake in a town called Mosquito River – the mosquito nets in the tent were definitely needed and let’s just say A was bathing in deet on a continuous basis (as would be the daily theme during all stops in Africa).
The next morning we headed to Ngorongoro Crater, the entrance is the same for those driving to the Serengeti making it quite busy to process the fees and enter. It took about 2 hours from our accommodation to arrive at the actual rim of the Crater. Ngorongoro Crater is the world’s largest inactive, intact and unfilled volcanic caldera – its floor is about 260 kilometers squared. Again we were treated to a variety of wildlife – adding a rhino to our list. However, as the crater is quite small (compared to other reserves), once a rhino was spotted all vehicles headed to the same spot within minutes. As we were one of the first to arrive we ended up being boxed and having to wait at least 40 minutes to be able to continue on our way! We actually ended up spotting another rhino in the distances later on in the day which was a lot more peaceful and less chaotic! One of the highlights here was the hippo pool where not only did you see lots of hippos lazying around but just above on the ridge there was a pride of 25 lions, where are one point they were having standoff with a herd of cape buffaloes! It was amazing as in this one spot you could look and around from our stationary vehicle and spot hippos, lions, cape buffaloes, wildebeests, zebras, gazelles, hyenas, jackals and various species of birds. We ate our packed lunches around Lake Magadi, however inside the vehicle as there are birds around the lake which are know for swooping in and stealing food. We left the crater in the late afternoon making the drive back to Arusha with the glow of a beautiful African sunset behind us.
The next day we decided to relax at the lodge and test A’s hand washing abilities with some laundry. We also had our first experiences with how unpredictable power and wifi can be in campsites with most of the previous evening and hours in afternoon being disconnected and in the dark (hence why we are so behind on our blog posts!).