4 day safari - Moshi, Tanzania

Moshi, Tanzania

6 September Our safari bags packed, photo gear collected, we awaited the arrival of our East African Safari driver. Waited, waited, finally a man entered the lounge, William, he had been lost, apologising; you could tell immediately that he was a lovely, friendly man. We were marshalled outside the Otakef gates to a beatup old dark green 7-seater Land Rover - not exactly what expected, uh-oh. The non-arrival of our pickup yesterday was mentioned, William was to bring a USD80 refund from the company to reimburse us ... he went to his pockets, a little quizzical frown, then more searching, the patting, padding and investigations grew more disturbed to the frantic to stress - he couldn't find it. "****." "****." " "****." We were moved by his great concern - it's a large sum of money for a Tanzanian. "Mr Benedict, the manager gave me the money and I put it in my pocket. Where is it?" He started to search his seat, the stripped back dash, the floorwell, everywhere he could think of, we joined in as well, you could see he was very upset - who knows the kind of sh*t he would be in for losing that sum. William was then resigned to the fact the money was gone, that he was late, and that we were on safari, no time to waste. The beast loaded, we piled in, noticing the interior lacked any comforts, no belts, headrests, radio, heater, brackets that may have held a cb was empty; we sat on damp cushioned seats - hmmm. Farewells to Alfred and the Otakef staff, a reverse start rolling down the slight decline - William couldn't start the engine the regular way - hmmm, will this vehicle break down? We pulled away, passing the nextdoor houses, the tiny Ebeneezer Primary School, turned left down our street, locals walking or on motorcycles both sides of the lumpy, dusty, unmade track, past the various little shops, squeezed in between dwellings, all haphazard, many built or hanging together by a lick and a promise. A puff and a huff and you'd see much of it blown down. And onto the main road ... we could tell the William was not only driving and navigating but stressed about the lost money, poor fellow. "Please, William, when you can, just pull over." We were worried that William would be distracted, so told him the money's gone, Mr Benedict doesn't have to know, we are OK with it, just forget it, we are on safari, let's all get on with it. You could see his face change to relief and acceptance, his shoulders drop ... kilakito iko sawa, everything is OK. Rejoining the mad, congested Arusha traffic, we lurched and weaved our way out of the sprawl, noticing many shop signs were sponsored by Coke, with the shop name inserted in the middle, "GODMARK LTD FUNERAL SERVICES". Virtually all signage - streets, directions, shops, warnings, traffic, offices - are handpainted, any out of work Australian signwriters would make a fortune here, especially if they could also paint realistic food, faces, illustrations, and can spell! The roads are clogged with foot-traffic, motorcycles, large wooden handcarts rolling on an axle with bald car tyres, insane dalla-dalla, vans and trucks. Two-lane roads become 4 or more, road shoulders are used as noone wants to wait if there's a space available to squeeze through. It takes amazing skill and determined concentration to drive in Tanzanian city traffic! The main road in and out of Arusha is tarred, but not well maintained, so there are many potholes, lumpy and bumpy, with handpainted warning/caution signs - speed limits, crossings, cattle crossings, etc - directly onto wood, cut in triangles, squares, circles - held in place on the road shoulder by a few big lumps of rock. Every now and then a road bump to slow traffic down. We saw that the surrounding countryside is dry, it is in drought, the "small rains are due soon," William told us. People walking, brightly coloured Masai cloth distinguished them from other locals, tall, thin, dark-skinned men, with their sticks in hand, sometimes Masai women with bright silver earrings, incredibly exotic - the photographer in me wishes he could take "National Geographic" style, simple, respectful photographs of them all, stunning! Along the route there are the usual "DIVERSIONS", where traffic goes offroad on rough, incredibly finely powdered dusty sideroads, each vehicle raising massive explosions of dust, all manner of adjoining vegetation, habitation, shops, human and beast coated in a layer of white, cream, red or brown ... some part of the highway is being made or remade. We reached a very touristy Costco of souvenirs about an hour out of Arusha, many a spick and span, luxurious-looking - in comparison to our shitheap jalopy - Land Cruiser, sparkling in the Tanzanian sun - dark glasses required to stave off their collective glare, as well as to afford us a modicum of anonymity. This barn was chockers with dark wood carvings, trinkets, Masai cloth, kangas, hats, caps, beadwork, maps, books, dvds, the usual stuff, but no beer stubbies. The drivers collected themselves at the small refreshments bar while the mzungu grazed and foraged for their little piece of Africa. Onwards then for another half an hour or so, through the parched landscape to a much-smaller "local" arts and crafts stop, with picnic tables and benches off to the side, for our lunchbox stop. A pleasant little hiatus. Nature called, sauntered to the nearby toilets; the male standing urinals were open to the road, so any local walking or driving by would have seen a short, stout mzungu on his tippy toes, struggling - those facilities were definitely built for accommodating long-limbed men, hahaha! On the road again, heading past Lake Manyara, climbing the low hills which became the steep incline of the walls of Ngorongoro Crater, with huge sweeping views of the plains below. Reaching the gates of the park we stopped for a little bit while William saw to the official paperwork. More grand 4WDs, some filled with very well-to-do looking mzungu, others much like us. A quick peek at the information display, showing how the crater came to be, as well as flora and fauna. Excitement and anticipation. It's a place Kerry has always wanted to visit - she's a wee bit disappointed it is so dry where we've come from, generally speaking, but the area of the plains below us, and on the edge of this crater is very lush, verdant, beautiful. It certainly is drier than our recollections of our first time in Kenya/Tanzania in August/September 2008. Onwards and upwards ... Erm, what's this? What was that loud gear crunching noise, and why are we rolling backwards? We've just entered the park gates and we've lost four-wheel-drive? What a heap of junk! Yep, you heard me, the 4WD is now cactus! Great! Grrrrrr! Poor William, his job just keeps getting worse for him. When he managed to restart off we lumbered along a dusty road, winding and bending a course along the outer rim, raising clouds of red dust - you felt it could have been somewhere in outback Australia - all the roadside vegetation choked with red ochre. We wound up the windows every time another vehicle approached to not then find the interior of ours swirling with rouge powder. The next stop was at a viewing layover, which was in the process of being rebuilt, offering us a stupendous panorama of the vast crater below us, with it's large silver-tinted salt lake, dusty floor, and strings of lush vegetation of the natural springs. Can't wait to get in there tomorrow. We took in the natural wonder for a few minutes, then headed off to the park rangers' compound where we were to pick up a ranger with a gun to accompany us on a walk. Michael returned with a tall young chap in a green uniform , red beret and AK47, Romanos (what a great name!). Michael drove us to a drop-off spot, and off we set, ambling through the rim-edge vegetation, Romanos pointing out various plants and their medicinal properties, wild jasmine, various scat and a large fur-ball, probably hoiked up by either a leopard or simba (lion). We saw bits of vistas of the crater and it's walks through the vegetation from time to time. After about an hour we reached a place on the rim's edge where we took in a glorious view, took photos, then onwards to our pick-up point, reunited with Michael. Returning to the rangers' base, we farewelled and tipped Romanos, drove on to our accommodation for this night, the Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge, which was lodgings for Sheryl and myself in 2008, so had a welcomed, familiarity for us. It has the most perfect location, being on the rim's edge, with a monumental vista of the crater. The reception staff brought out rolled up warm, moist face towels and a camomile drink, yum. We registered and were given our room keys, time for showers, fresh dust-free clothing, later reunited upstairs for pre-dinner drinks in front of the fire, followed by a yummy buffet dinner. An early night, we were happy yet tired from all the bumping around in the "ship of sh*t" as I've come to christen it." Poor Michael, hope he has a good rest tonight. 7 September A restful night's sleep, followed by buffet breakfast, no sunrise could be seen as it was foggy and cool - hope it's not like that in the crater. We packed our bags, loaded up sh*theap, eventually made our way through the mist to a layover which had views - yes, the crater was in sunshine, phew. Onwards down the road to the crater floor. The morning was spent driving from spot to spot, as well as dusty tracks through herds of zebra and wildebeest, which were plentiful. We came across a solitary lion with quite an obvious full belly, lying in the short grass, awake, he popped up for a little while, had a look, then lolled down once more, hahaha. There are slices of heaven in this quite dusty, dry place, bodies of spring water that are a cornocupia of animal and birdlife ... fantastic. Zebra, wildebeest, water buck, impala, grant's gazelle, thompson's gazelle, ostrich, wart hog, hippopotamus, darts, guinea fowl, secretary birds, bustards, rollers, olive baboons, flamingo, superb starlings ... the list goes on. At one place we saw many safari vehicles parked - it was obvious something was going on - once we took up position overlooking a lush looking reed-filled pond, we saw a Mexican standoff situation: a group of 5 lionesses lay in grass at the water's edge, holding off the progress of many hundreds of zebra and wildebeest from having a drink ... every now and then a 'brave' zebra would skittishly attempt a short, nervous run of perhaps 20 metres closer to the water, but would always retreat with a whinny. Now that's the power you have being top of the food chain! We stayed there for a little while, witnessing this tableau, then took off, on our way out of the park, rising gradually through ever-changing vegetation, admiring the flat-topped acacia, then lush rainforest as we climbed up and onto the rim, reached the viewing platform we stopped at yesterday, turned left, and returned down the crater rim to the Park gates for some paperwork. Ngorongoro is a very special place indeed, and it would look amazing with rain ... maybe next time (?). On past Lake Manyara, stopping at a small town where William was to pick up our cook for tonight, Mr Costas (no, not Greek). We alighted for a little walk, were cheerfully invited by arts and crafts shopkeepers to look at their wares, came across 2 old guys playing avery competitive game of draughts on a hand-made/painted wooden board - they were the "master" players, with a small group of young men watching or moving pieces, as well as the 2 players themselves slamming down the pieces as they intimidated eachother to dare take the orher's piece. A game over - who knows how long the guts were at it - we ambled towards the service-station we started from. As the ladies walked ahead of me, chatting, I saw a tall mzungu and he asked "Aussies?". Yes. He (Ben) told us he was part of a group that had just climbed Mt Kilimanjaro for charity - www.kilimanjarocharitytrek.com - perhaps you could look it up and tell us what they are doing. We wished him good luck and rejoined William, Mr Costas and a big sackful of food. Onwards, to Tarangire National Park, bound for a campsite for tonight's dinner, stay, and night drive. Like Ngorongoro, and everywhere else we've driven through, it is dry, dry, dry. Massive boabab trees are dotted in good numbers in the Park, love their size and individual shapes, some laden with bird nests, kind of like bush Christmas decorations. A bush track, with constant mini-diversions where it has been washed out, no well-made tarred roads here, anything off the main highways is pretty much as made by human foot or vehicle traffic. Where is the Park fee money being spent? Arrival time was towards sunset, our "rooms" were divied up, Kerry and Jacqui are sharing, Sheryl and myself have the other. I. Between us is the meals pavilion: a simple but spacious structure, concrete floor, table for 4 plus chairs, a kind of 'bar' area with an airing cupboard containing spare utensils, etc. The accommodation for us is a rather large tent set up in a concrete floor, thatched roof open hut, the rear wall rocks and concrete. The view from the bed through the tent mesh is of vegetation, acacia and distant low hills. There are a few large boababs nearby and before settling in snapped off a few sunset pix. There's no running water nor electricity, there is a screened off western toilet that has a cistern but you ladle in water from a big bucket to "flush". There is also a screened off bush shower - the staff need to boil water, go up a ladder to fill the shower bucket, which uses gravity to run down to a simple shower head outlet. We had a bush shower of a very quick 2 minutes before dinner, very refreshing. Dinner was scrumptuous, Mr Costas excelled himself: spicy pumpkin soup with slices of bread, followed by very tender pepper steak, bean salad and roast potatoes, delicious! A night drive was offered, about an hour seemingly aimless wandering in the 4WD, a masai man sitting in the rack above William, pointing or sweeping a bright spotlight in trees and the bush; every now and then a quick 'wiggle' of light on the ground indicating to William which direction to drive. Not much to see, a bushbaby (possum), hyena, cervaat cat, hmmmmm, oh well. Again, so very dry. Home, thanked our "spotter", to bed after admiring the amazing night sky. Listened to the peace, quit and stillness, it was special, awesome. 8 September We were both awake before sunrise but it was Sheryl that dressed and went outside to take pix. A basin on our outside washstand was filled with warm water for us. No shower this morning. We freshened up, loo with a view, and a yummy breakfast while the sun continued to rise slowly in front of us, bathing us in a beautiful golden glow. Brushing of teeth, pack, load the 4WD, thanks and tips to Mr Costas and the Masai man, and off we trundled along the dusty, lumpy track. Today was spent at Tarangire Wildlife Park on a drive, looking for birds and animals. Very dry and dusty, any animals were mainly found near water, plenty of zebras, some wildebeest, gazelles, waterbuck, ostrich and monkeys, as well as elephants. This Park is known for it's elephants and giraffes, we came across many elephants in groups, some individual creatures less the 3m away from us, so incredibly special. You just held your breath and hoped they'd not be spooked, wowwwwwwww. One special moment was watching a small baby suckling, awwwww. We had a boxed lunch at a large picnic ground, overlooking the Tarangire River, with a small group of elephants below a railed cliff, doing their thing. One of the shyest creatures we saw are the smallest antelopes, the dik dik (I kid you not about the name!), they are so very cute, perhaps no more than 35 cm tall, always found in pairs. We saw more here than in all our game drives in 2008. We were a little disappointed we hadn't seen any giraffe, and I was determined to spot one before leaving the Park. It wasn't till very late in the drive that we saw a few, dotted here and there, in the distance, which was great. We left the Park, taking ages along ****** unmade, weathered tracks, passing by villages and bone-dry farms. We were headed towards our accommodation for the night, Boundary Hill Lodge. We were travelling along the plains - I'll add the name later - with a hill on our left, distant hills on our right, a huge expanse that stretched as far as the eye could see. Stupendous, as seen from a rise we drove over as we entered the plain. So, as we drove under the rocky hill we spotted interesting small structures dotting the top of the hill - William said something earlier to me about ending up somewhere with "beautiful views" - could this be where we are staying tonight? We drove up and around - yes, a lumpy, bumpy, grassy, rocky, unmade track - and yes, these buildings are some of the rooms of the Lodge, yeeharrrrrrr! We arrived at "reception" which was a simple outdoors affair, looking more like some massive lintels lumped onto eachother, with a "desk"of stone where Joseph, a good-looking, polite young man checked us in. We were dry and dusty and appreciated a cool juice 'welcome'. Sheryl and I, Kerry and Jacqui, were escorted to our rooms, J&P are sharing again. We were shown to "The Suite", a 2-level room with a full-width balcony overlooking a massive view of the valley plains below. We were shown the room/lounge above, the bathroom below, ordered some sodas, and, as the sun was disappearing I quickly set up tripod and camera for a multi-shot panorama. Wowowowow, hope the pix work. There were some chairs on this balcony, a fully-functioning bath too (cold water only). What a fantastic place, I could imagine this to be the kind of paparazzi-free destination Brad and Angelina would retreat to, with personal maid, chef, flown in hot water service, canapes and fine wines from France, hahaha. A magical place and we felt incredibly fortunate to have this suite for the night. There are furry little creatures here called High Rex rockhoppers, which we see around the place, like cute double-hamster sized rodent things. Enjoying the sodas we took turns to have showers and freshen up. At dinner time we were escorted up the confusing network of paths by a man with a torch, to the outdoor eating area under the billions of stars and a grand sized fireplace, a table for 4 set up, wowwwwwwww! Had to pinch myself, it felt straight out of the movies. Soup for starters, with bread, main course, red wine, plunger coffee, yummmmmmmm. Joseph was our waiter. Had to pinch myself a few times in order to believe we were in fact having this unique experience. At times like this, and at other times during past travels I'd say to myself "do you realise you/we are the ONLY 1-2-3-4 people of the entire population of this planet that is here in THIS spot at THIS time having THIS experience?" I know, kicha, crazy! I feel so damn privileged, so bloody lucky. I feel very fortunate also to be sharing these experiences with Sheryl, Kerry and Jacqui. Took some long-exposure pix of the stars, not sure if they worked out. We were escorted back to our rooms, then to bed. Aaaaaaaaaahhh, what a day! What a night! 9 September Sunrise, amazing views Flocks of birds darting round our hill Showers - cold - brekky Walk round the firebreak, with Masai man, checking out the scats: cattle, hyena, dik dik, elephant Cattle and herdsmen on the plain below, sound of bells and whistles Drive back to Arusha, puncture, stopped off in a town on the way to get repairs; walked around the masai market with a few guys explaining everything; round the back near the "garage", in the village, saw banana beer being made, grotty, snotty little kids. Old ladies trying, persistently, to sell us beadwork; tips to the guys. To Otakef, big thanks and a tip to William; unpacked, great to see Stella again and to meet Alfred. Laptop has died in the interim To be continued ...

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