Africa has always called out to me through memories of old movies, black and white reruns of tear jerker Born Free and the whistful lyrics of Toto's Africa, heard on late night easy listening radio stations, the images of mass migrations from every BBC, NatGeo and Discovery program, the ocean of grass that is the Serenggeti, the Masai Warriors, the mysterious dark jungles of the dark continent, the passionate words of Hemmingway that reached out to every schoolboy's adventurous soul (probably schoolboys above 40). I would always head out to the rubber plantation in the balmy afternoons behind my home playing pretend Great White Hunter, looking for prey to bring home truimphantly as a trophy to show my mum.
So it was only natural that we hit some Tanzanian national parks after descending from Kilimanjaro. We were to top it off by spending some time on the Serenggeti.
Our Toyota Land Cruiser, one bad ass motherlover, the choice of safari guides, Middle Eastern freedom fighters, and old Chinese uncles from Seremban to Batang Berjuntai.
We leave Moshi town which was our base to head to Lake Manyara about 7 hours away. Its a small reserve part of the near Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Manyara was small and I would advise most to give it a miss unless you're a hard core naturalist or just someone who likes driving 8 hours a day in a bouncing 4 wheel drive vehicle. Being smaller with more forests and as the trails were much closer to the foliage we get intimate with the baboons and monkeys personal grooming habits which include smelling and picking ticks out of each other's asshole. You would probably get closer to the elephants as well as the dirt road passed close to the foot of the hills where the elephants seemed to hang out.
We spend the first night at the Ngorongoro Lodge which is cosy enough, except that we were the only guests in the hotel, the staff seemed nervous, doors wouldnt shut, the black cat kept waiting for the girls outside the dining hall to escort them back to their rooms and also the quiet stealthly Masai watch man who would suddenly appear behind us or be seen in a distance just standing and looking at us. Can anyone say Tanzanian Chainsaw Massacre?
The road leading into the Ngorongoro Crater.
The next morning we drive up to the Ngorongoro Crater. This reminded me of Crichton/ Spielberg's Lost World where the national park lies in the massive crater.
The drive in is awe inspiring and the crater stretches as far as the eye can see. Being at altitude, clouds caress the crater rim as we drive down deeper into the valley below. Most of the elephants keep to the rim or the edge of the crater with exceptions to the bull elephants. The grazers and predators chill out on the valley below.
View from the crater floor. Awesome is it not my young Padawans?
Even in the bright sunshine the wind is cold. The grass plain stretches to the beginings of the hills and mountains and white clouds stretch out across the clear blue sky. We're bumping about in the Land Cruiser, the roof is raised and the chill wind envelopes our faces with the faint smell of animal urine and dung in the air around us. Good morning Africa, said the little boy who took a wooden slingshot gun into the rubber estates of Seremban to look for lions.
Lunch in a crater. We hit a swampy area, the main lunch spot for city slicker tourists
We drive around the the inside of the crater looking for the Big 5 (Lion, Hippo, Leapord, Rhino and Elephant) to check off the list most animal spotters sub consciously bring on Safari. We see all but the leapord inside the Ngorongoro Crater. We pull up to a lovely lake by the swamp which hosts a family of hippos. Here, with other safari-ers we hang out under the bright noonday sunshine and munch on our packed lunch.
Lunch spot at Ngorogoro Crater
You are here with me. The sun shine is hot but the cold strong wind is blowing hard and you have to squint hard across the shining rippling, startling blue water of the lake. White cotton candy clouds dot the blue blue sky as the simple egg sandwich settles nicely in our stomachs. The hungry cawing from the scavenger birds overhead sets a soundtrack as you walk against the cold wind under the bright sunshine towards the lake. Ripples race across the blue surface as the green reeds wind dance energetically at the lake's edge. Africa today was is a beautiful mood. Life for us today, just you and I, is good.
With dusk a less than an hour away we drop my a Masai village nearby the Sopa Lodges, our hotel for the night. This seemed like more a touristy cultural village than an actual Masai village although some of the huts looked lived in, and the herds of cows were seen nearby at the valley below. My personal feel is that many of the Masai in this village live in nearby villages and they just turned up for their 'performance' which included the traditional dance which they made the girls and one reluctant guy in the group to follow. They gave us a history of the Masai which you can find online anyway.
The unofficial PR officer for the Masai village near Sopa Lodges. She would normally
handle the ladies on tour to get them to dance with the Masai.
Masai accessories made for tourists. The beads are
bought in nearby villages where they craft it themselves.
Masai huts made from mud, leaves, cow dung and other exotic materials.
Keeps the cold nights out on the plains.
A little Masai kid that seemed the only real thing at the Masai village that seemed to be more an act for tourists (which they were charging US20bucks per pop to share a little of their lives)
I have to say that the Masai that i met along the way just came across an an opportunistic indegenious group who was living to dig out as much US dollars from tourists. On a drive as i was taking pictures of a valley with a mountain in the distance, one Masai goat herder ran up to the Land Cruiser demanding money just because his village was somewhere in the valley below. I believe our cool driver Chris told him to fuck off in Swahili.
We check into the Sopa Lodges which has an excellent 5 star service. I must say if there is any hotel you are going to stay during the safari or your stay in Tanzania make yours the Sopa Lodge at Ngorongoro. Where else does a smiling warm lady turn up at your door after you check in to put hot water bottles under your blankets so your bed's all warm and toasty when you crawl in? We celebrate Choe's birthday here with the fantastic accomodating staff turning off the lights in the lovely dining hall and parading in with lighted fire torches and the birthday cake to clapping of many hands from friends and strangers alike.
The view on the road from Sopa Lodges to the Serengetti. I screwed up the picture and now it looks retarded. I overexposed it and the original you could not really make out the background. Oh there's that Masai village just above the tree line on the left.
We leave the Ngorogoro Crater the next day and drive down gorgeous valleys towards the Serengetti.
The view from the lookout hill at Nabi Gate.
The Serenggeti stretches to the horizon.
We enter the Serengettin via the Nabi Hill gate. From the view point the plains stretch out to the horizon. The weather is fantastic as we stand on our green oasis as we look out onto the endless parched plains that surround us.
Wide, WIDE open spaces.
Lunch spot at Mawe Upei hill
After much hunting we pull up to the Mawe Upei Hill for lunch. I treasured these small stops as i felt i could take in more of the coutry just sitting on a bench, smelling the grass, trees, old dung, hearing the birds, the grunting of warthods nearby, the sudden movements of peasansts in bushes, to enjoying the startling white cloudscapes against a canvas of rich blue sky.
Oh yeah, the animals...
Can anyone spot the lion in this picture? Firt person who does gets a special gift card from moi. (not applicable to you fellers who Kili-ed with me)
Almost roadkill - Bucks running across the road in the Serengetti
Morning bath - hippos at the Serenggeti
Lioness at the Ngogogoro crater
Zebras at Ngorongoro crater
Elephant family at Lake Manyara
Giraffe on the main road from Moshi to the Ngorogoro Conservation Area
Can you say Blue Balls? The Vervet monkey at Lake Manyara
A well hung gentleman just for you ladies.
Buffalo herd at Ngorogoro Crater
Rock Hyrax at Seronera Lodges, Serenggeti
N'goro Crater zebras
Buffalo skull at the Serenggeti gate exit. No matter what it's just a
reminder that it's life or death anytime on the plains
Seronera Lodge pool
We spend our final night on the Serenggeti at the Seronera Lodge where the welcoming pool entices most of our group into a late afternoon dip while the sun set over the hills of the Serenggeti.
The Tree Hugger pulling a pose
The soaking Princess
The enchanting Seronera Lodge dining hall.
Not the best of shots. I need lessons!
After dinner the moon is out in full glory and i stand on the obsevation platform as the cold winds of the African night swirl around me. Its quiet bar the sounds of generators. The silence is broken by the night cries of birds in the bush somewhere. It cold here. Out there in the dark the predators are probably on the hunt. But up here on my patform with the wind against my face, with the quiet exchange of words between the tripod equipped photographers on my right, the Serengetti is peace personified.
The Lobo airfield along the way as we exited via the Serengetti Gate.
View of the Oldinyo Lengai volcano from the
tribal 'toll' booth near Lake Natron
The next day we leave bright and early. We're taking a different route today, heading North, past the Lobo air field, before exting via the Serenggeti gate taking us past Lake Natron and the Oldinyo Lengai volcano before exiting the hard rough dirt road at Mosquito River where we'd meet up with the main tar road that would take us back to Moshi. This roundabout path will take us about 12 hours to reach Moshi compared to the 7 plus it took us via a more direct road.
We are on non commercial grounds, passing by Masai villages where they have set up their toll barriers to charge dumbass tourists 'visa' fees. Chris our driver does an incredible job negotiating us out of the excorbitant USD50 per head they were asking for every tourist. We had to negotiate at least two of the barriers along the road. On this road there was only another Land cruiser heading back to Moshi with us.
Our 2 Land cruisers race each other across the barren dessert, kicking up white and brown dust like a knife cut across the dark brown earth. My ass is shuddering on the hard seat that had long lost it 'cushion'. The cold wind stings out face, young Masai shepheards wave to the twin metal monsters grinding their way across hard terrain.
Behind us, the Serenggetti spreads out to the heavens. its plains only giving way to the startling blue skies lovingly caressed by the fluffiest of white clouds. The grazers graze and the predators sleep off last night's kill. The history of mankind, it's aura, smell, spirit and being encompasses us, more a part of us than the grimy dust that cakes our faces, clothes, hair.
Africa called and we came. Now we needed to find a tree or a bush for an urgent toilet break without having to deal with the potential of a hungry lion wandering about. My kingdom for a plastic bag....
Lunch break on the parched volanic soil near the volcano
View from our speeding Cruiser as we head to Mosquito River
A painter at Mosquito River
I like the ending when we spent some time checking out some artists at Mosquito River. The quiet dignity of these guys put things in perspective after the roller coaster of peaking on Kilimanjaro, the frantic Land Cruiser escapades across the plains of Africa as these young men painted with vibrant colors, the life of Africa. Masai villages, lions, fishes, the strong elegant lines of Masai in dance and in daily life.
By the time we reach Moshi, we're tired and caked in sand and grime from the drive. We had driven through deserts, hard terrain, past volcanos and lakes and villages that not many tourists see. We had cut through lush jungles on a slender two lane road, past whizzing lorries, trucks, cars and bikes. And as we check back into the Buffalo Hotel in Moshi, we realize that there was still a lot more to see of Africa. For now, till i board another plane for the Dark Continent i can only touch Africa with rereads of Hemmingway, NatGeo and replays of that old Toto CD i have lying around.