Trouble in Iringa

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Iringa

When we left Dar Es Salaam for the second time, we picked up more people to join our tour. We also had two long days of driving ahead of us to reach Malawi. We started early in the morning and prepared ourselves for the long trek to Iringa (our overnight stop before Malawi).
It’s amazing the things you can and cannot accomplish during a 14 hour drive. There are always creative ways of passing the time: short cat naps, reading, eating, staring blankly out the window, rounds of card games like UNO and Asshole. Sandy even taught us all how to crochet beanies and I made almost a full pink one before I ran out of yarn. Which was okay, because it gave a place for my ponytail to stick through. Surprisingly, my little toque turned out alright, and it was a wonderfully relaxing way to pass a couple hours.
Mostly, the long bus rides are filled with finding unique and comfortable ways to sleep. Upright, head on the table, on the floor, unconscious on the person next to you, or some very unusual positions that Emily devised.
Our drive to Iringa was painful. A couple hours stopped in morning rush hour getting out of Dar, a broken truck and 500km on a mediocre highway. In the end though, we pulled up to our lovely little campsite and set up our tents.
The campsite had two very adorable bars at it. One was a candlelit mud building that had mini fireplaces scattered between low cushioned couches. The other was a large circular bamboo hut with large hay stacks for lounging on. After dinner, we sat around a fire pit outside the hay bar drinking beers and telling stories. Bedtime was pretty early at midnight, and wake up call seemed to come too fast.
At 4:30am most of us were woken by the rattling of our truck. HOW is it morning already?! Duncan, our cook, was probably getting organized for our breakfast, but my alarm wasn’t set until quarter past 5 so I wasn’t about to budge. I rolled over and snuggled back into my sleeping bag until my terrible iPhone alarm went off 45 minutes later.
By the time I dragged my sorry ass to breakfast, I could tell something was wrong. Worried, quiet faces surrounded the truck and our guide was yelling at a security guard. The truck had been broken into.
Three girls had their expensive cameras stolen, our guide’s wallet had been ransacked, and the big safe, which held all our local payments, and a total of over $16000US dollars had two of it’s three locks broken. Thank god. The men must have left in a hurry; their crowbar and tools had been left behind haphazardly on the table, not everyone’s things had been stolen, and the campsite’s cat had been killed…
We waited for hours for the police to come. And with the police, the entire town of Iringa came by to see what had happened. The older couple that owned the campsite was there too. They looked devastated. Three weeks earlier there had been another robbery and a man was shot. To fix the problem, they hired more armed security guards. There were about 7 armed guards the night we were there and our truck was the only thing to look after. This was the campsite’s last chance. When the word got out that our truck had been robbed, the rest of the tour groups going through Iringa passed it. The camp would be shut down after us, and all the time and money the couple had put into the campsite would be useless. It was kind of sad.
We were now two hours behind schedule on our 450km drive for the day. When we finally started moving, it was only to head down the highway to the police station to fill out more reports.
It was amazing that the process took so long. Robberies in African campsites seems to be fairly common. A couple people on our tour, who had started earlier in Uganda, had their tents ransacked by some armed men. Everyone was asleep inside their tents, when the men came around, unzipping the front door, reaching in, and stealing all their valuables. One girl woke up to the sound of someone moving around, and saw a man standing over her. She screamed until the rest of the campsite woke up and the men ran off.
Another hour at the police station and we finally hit the long road to the Malawi border. It was a late arrival that night, but we set up our tents and prepared for a two nights stay in one location (a luxury for sure).

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Zanzibar: Rastas in the East

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The next morning, 8 of us split off from the tour group and spent three days on the East coast of Zanzibar. Nick and Sandy were good enough to do some research and book us all into a little backpacker hostel called Mustafas.
The place was wicked. A super laid back Rastafarian joint that had quaint little bungalows, sandy paths, a huge fire pit and a bar/restaurant for everyone to relax at. The bar had a constant stream of Bob Marley tracks blasting out into the courtyard, and a steady supply of semi-cold Kilimanjaros (our favourite beer here). The locals who worked and hung out there each introduced themselves by their strange nicknames: Shaggy Dog, Scooby Doo, Slim Shabby, and the such. They spent most of the day smoking hash, lounging about, and serving us food and drinks as we needed. Life is sweet.
On our first afternoon, we walked the half block to the beach for a swim. The tide was way out, so mostly we just trudged through clay-like mud until we could find a deeper spot to wade in. That’s where we met Shaggy Dog: the supplier of all tourist needs! The know-it-all of East Zanzibar! He could get us scooters, bicycles, snorkels, paddle boards, kite surfing, or a large assortment of illegal drugs and have everything organized in a matter of minutes.
The boys had already done introductions by the time Kelsi and I waded up through the water.
“Hi, my name is Shaggy Dog”
“Hilary” I replied as I shook his hand.
“Hairy? Nice to meet you, Hairy.”
Great. The second he said it, I got sideways smirks from the boys and knew “Hairy” was going to be my permanent nickname for the rest of the trip. Oh well, embrace it. “Yup, that’s me, Hairy!”
We told Shaggy Dog we were going to take it easy, but we’d chat with him the following day about activities. That day, we took it slow. Finally a day to lounge at the hostel, relax in the surf and walk along the vast stretches of white sand beaches. The water in Zanzibar is a beautiful turquoise blue colour that I wasn’t quite expecting from the coast of Africa. It was paradise.
We all went to a local restaurant for dinner, waited over an hour for our meals (despite being the only people in the place) then spent the night laughing by the fire. One of the local guys, who we nicknamed “Colgate” because he only had 3 functioning teeth, took a liking to Sandy which resulted in more fits if laughter from us girls. Colgate spent the evening dancing, playing the bongo, and offering up flowers and coconuts to him. Endless amounts of entertainment! We finally had to escape for a midnight dip in the ocean and lie out on the sand watching the stars well into the night.
The next day we collectively agreed to rent scooters for the day. Although we couldn’t drive the scooters on the roads without a permit, Shaggy Dog said it would be no problem just cruising up and down the beach. Falafel (Mallory’s nickname because she is a vegetarian) was our only voice of reason in the group.
“Guys, none of us know how to drive scooters, we don’t have permits, we don’t know the condition of the bikes, I’m not coming”. So Kelsi and I sat and tried to explain our unreasonable side. If we were going out, we were bringing the whole dirty 8, no man gets left behind!
“Falafel, it’s just scooters, what could possibly go wrong?!”
Famous last words…
In the end, we did convince her to join us. We rented four scooters between the 8 of us and trudged to the beach.
“No worries,” we told Shaggy, “we all know how to use these!”
Immediately afterwards the boys taught us all how to drive (being the only 2 people qualified enough to work a scooter). And yes, even I drove a motorized, 2-wheeled vehicle for a little while.
When we’d all practiced for a few minutes, we decided to head out 6km or so north to the Blue Lagoon. We hopped on the bikes and started out. Sarah jumped on the back of Nick’s bike, and as he started revving forward, she leaned back and the two of them flipped backwards, the bike, with wheels still spinning, crushing them from above.
“Help!!! Help! Get it off!” Sarah yelled at Nick.
“I can’t! You have to let go of me!!” Unfortunately, Kelsi and I were already driving up the beach, and so I missed actually seeing this. But apparently it was fits of shrieking from Sarah as she death clutched Nick’s waist so he was unable to move… Everyone else just stood around and watched and laughed. Minor cuts and bruises resulted from the accident, and the two of them were up and speeding down the beach in no time.
It was hot that day, and the wind blowing in my ears made it impossible to hear what Kelsi kept talking about as we drove along the surf line. A few minutes down the beach I heard Kelsi yelling something.
“What?!” I yelled. “Your helmet? What’s falling off? Should I hold it on for you” Then I looked up and realized what she was talking about. Cara and Mel had drifted too close to the water and hit some soft sand. The bike swerved, stopped short and sent the two of them flying over the handle bars. Mel did a full front flip from the back of the bike and landed in the water. Cara hit the handle bars during her ejection and skidded face first into the sand. Kelsi and I pulled up moments after Sandy and Falafel to find the bike upside down in the sand and the two girls walking around in a shocked daze.
“Are you alright?!”
“Ya… We just crashed” they said, all too calmly.
Cara was walking around in a crooked line, her face half covered in sand, lip bleeding and a mangled nose ring hanging from her nostril. Mel was just soaked, trying to take off her helmet as she walked back up to the beach. We hugged them both, made sure everyone was okay, flipped the bike back into an upright position and sat on the beach laughing for a good five minutes.
“How fast were you two GOING?!” We asked.
“Don’t know, but we were in 4th gear.” Said Cara.
More laughter.
Turns out, the bike engine was flooded and the front wheel was crooked. The girls were still a little shaken, but in amazing spirits. We hopped in the water for a swim, washed Cara’s face off, and made bets on how bad her black eye would be the next day.
The bike wouldn’t start. We dreaded how much it was going to cost us when we brought a busted bike back to Shaggy Dog. Falafel shook her head at us and reminded us of our “what could possibly go wrong speech”. Oops!
Luckily for us all, a half hour later the girls were able to kick start the bike and we set out (at a much slower speed) to find Nick and Sarah at the lagoon. In the end we never found it. But we did come upon a beautiful light blue cove with a resort that was absolutely stunning. A dock went out into the middle of the water and had a restaurant floating above the ocean at the end of it (For guests of the hotel only).
We went for a long swim, lay down in the lounge chairs, and eventually stopped at a restaurant on the beach for lunch. The seafood in Zanzibar is incredible. Actually, I think we only ate seafood for the entire four days we were on the island. The restaurant we were at served this delicious octopus curry that blew my mind. We actually ended up eating there the following day as well, where 4 of us ordered the octopus dish a second time.
After lunch we packed up and headed home (Cara and Mel a half hour slower than the rest of us). The damaged bikes were no big deal and cost us just a few dollars. The rest of the night was spent lounging around. We had another campfire party, which ended up turning into a tiger balm massage party after not too long. (Mel gives incredible tiger balm head massages that became a continual necessity for the rest of the trip).
On our final day in the East we were determined to find the real Blue Lagoon. So we rented slightly safer bicycles, got some vague directions from one of the staff and set out along the road. All of the locals in Zanzibar are so lovely. Nearly every man, woman or child we passed greeted us muzungus with an excited “Jambo!” and a wave. It felt nice to be so welcomed in their community.
After 45 minutes of biking in the scorching sunshine, we finally came upon the “Blue Lagoon” sign. We were all excited! Exhausted from the biking, parched, and sunburnt from the midday heat, all we wanted to do was jump in a lagoon and cool off. We biked down the rocky path that the sign pointed to, came around a building, and realized we were at the EXACT same location that we’d been at the afternoon before. Fail.
Apparently “lagoon” doesn’t have quite the same meaning in Africa as it does other places; but we weren’t complaining! We rented some snorkels, lounged around, and ate more delicious octopus curry.
When we arrived back home we started drinking: sipping on Killis in the shade throughout the late afternoon. We asked around for a good place in town to eat, and were given the name if this great little place about a 20 minute drive away.
We were getting pretty tipsy by the time our cab arrived. The 8 of us piled in and our driver blasted ear deafening tunes the entire way. When we got to “town” (aka, a slightly more dense area than where we already were) all we wanted was another beer. Too bad. On an island where 95% of the population is Muslim, many of the restaurants opt out of serving alcohol. This restaurant was one of those.
So we sat, for ages, waiting for our food to come out, and began to sober up. We had joked all weekend that our food only showed up once the candles on our table had burnt out. But when the ones that night were getting very close to the end, our server laid fresh ones out… Looks like we were going to be waiting a long time to eat.
In our drunken hunger, we all ordered way too many dishes. Pizzas, pasta, seafood, chips, etc. all started filling the table. Us girls filled up quickly and gave all our leftovers to the boys. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen two people eat so much before. We could feel their pain as beads of food sweat ran down their foreheads. In the end, not a scrap of food was left; not even the pizza slice that had fallen off the plate and landed on the dirty table.
A couple hours later we piled back into the sub woofer that was our taxi and headed for home. We sat on the rooftop of our little bar and played a wild game of Kings cup. Part way through, Scooby Doo came to join us for drinks. Scooby was this laid back, dreadlocked Rastafarian that may or may not have worked at Mustafas. He did however sleep on the couch on the roof of the bar, and seemed pretty content smoking weed all day and chatting with the tourists. Scooby was pretty drunk when he joined in our drinking game, when we had finished, he was beyond wasted. At one point we apparently offended him and he blew up at us.
“I hate you all! No one has a heart here! Screw all you guys! Only Sarah and I have feelings!” (How he targeted Sarah as his favourite we have no idea). No matter how much talking down we did, Scooby just got more angry. Finally he stormed off in a fit of expletives and left us wondering what had just happened.
Hours later, at about 3:30 in the morning, he stumbled upon us on the beach with a machete. He angrily hacked away at any lamp posts or palm trees he could find in a blind rage… Perhaps it’s time to leave Mustafas.
So we waited til he passed, went to bed, got up early and checked out. At 8:00 am Scooby was already awake and stoking the fireplace. We tiptoed around him, not quite knowing what he remembered from the night before. As we snuck out the front gates of the hostel we could here him yelling to us.
“Hey! Hey! You better f*cking come back to visit us, you here?! You better f*cking come back!!”
“Sure, thanks Scoobs” we yelled back
“Sarah!” He yelled “Say hi to your mom and dad from me!”
Omg. What a crazy man.
We climbed into our van, exhausted, and made the hour and a half trek back to Stone Town. Time to get the hell out of Zanzibar. What a weekend!

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Stone Town: Zanzibar

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We woke up dark and early the morning after the Serengeti tour to start our 14-hour drive to Dar Es Salaam. The drive was fairly uneventful and long, and the traffic as we reached the city was atrocious. It rained as we arrived at the campsite, but Kelsi and I braved the weather, passed on the sleeping upgrade and set up our tent in the dark and the damp.
Our Dar Es Salaam campsite was lovely. Right on the Indian Ocean with a great bar looking out to the water. We had a couple of beers with the boys before bed and then up early to head to Zanzibar.
It took three bus rides, two ferries and a customs stop to reach Stone Town. Everyone has to go through customs to get to the island. It’s an unusual system; Zanzibar has its own government and flag, and passports must be stamped upon entry. Still, the island is part of Tanzania, and the government has to answer to Tanzania’s rules.
The trip over was muggy and hot. We dragged our feet from bus to ferry and back in a pool of sweat. While we waited in line for the first ferry a local man snatched Sarah’s camera from her bag. She yelled at him as he passed it to his friend, then Kelsi grabbed it out of one guy’s hand to get it back. We glared at them as they walked away while some other locals snickered in amusement. A close call and another great welcoming.
For the second ferry, we opted for the fast version. This meant, for $8 extra, we reached the island in a quick 1-hour excursion instead of an excruciating 4-hour trek. Although the ferry was air conditioned, I’m not sure if I could have handled a four hour trip. When the waves picked up, the boat was sickening. Our trip over wasn’t bad, but the ride back was so choppy, I woke up from a short nap with half the people around me vomiting into bags. People wretched over the side of the boat, and locals lay down in the aisles with their heads in the complimentary barf bags. I had to walk outside to avoid the sounds and smells or I would have joined in on the festivities.
By midday we arrived in Stone Town: 95% Muslim population, a huge supplier of various spices and a central port for the once African slave trade. Stone Town is a quaint city with a combination of Arab and Indian architecture mixed in with local stonework. The city is filled with stone ramparts, stone homes, stone boardwalks and the such. We stayed right in the heart of the city, half a block from the beach, in a hotel called the Karibu Inn (or Caribooin as I wrote on my customs card because I apparently can’t understand Tanzanian accents). It was a great location.
The first thing we did was head out on a spice tour. Although a six-hour tour about spices seemed a little daunting after such a long trek, we had heard great things about the tour from other travelers. In the end, I think everyone was satisfied with the excursion.
The tour began with a free lunch. Two of our woo girls had been feeling ill for a couple days and opted out on lunch. This was perfect for the rest of us, who were starving, and took advantage of “secondsies” by ordering for them and eating two meals ourselves.
When we were satisfyingly stuffed, we drove the half hour out of town to the spice groves. Our guide, Ali D (not to be confused with Ali G), was one of the most unusual characters I’ve ever met. His Tanzanian accent was muddled with this bizarre cockney slang that made him sound ridiculous. Over his years as a tour guide, he had picked up a million colloquial phrases from Australians, Canadians, Kiwis and the British that all mixed into one very strange sounding man. He would normally use about three different accents in every sentence which made us all crack up in laughter every time he explained anything to us. He did have a pretty good sense of humour, and was also pretty good at straying off topic. Nonetheless, the spice tour was very informative.
The thing I found most unusual about the spice groves was how everything was laid out. I was expecting row after row of pepper trees, then a whole field devoted to vanilla followed by a grove of nutmeg. When we got there however, it was just a forest of scattered plants and trees. The harvesters have to walk through the different plants, remembering where each tree is, so that the crop can be picked. Zanzibar grows a LOT of spices. As we walked around the place we got to taste and learn about each spice. We tried lemongrass, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, cardamon, and pepper among many other things. We also got to try star fruit and lychees, fresh mangoes and jack fruit (a pineapple/banana tasting fruit that is surprisingly delicious!). When we had successfully explored the spice farm, we all got to sit down and enjoy some fresh fruits and hot tea, we had lemongrass with vanilla extract, a strong chai tea and a third one, with ginger that I’ve forgotten the name of now. Lemongrass and vanilla was Kelsi and my personal favourite.
When the tasting was over, we went back to get a quick walking tour of Stone Town. Although we did learn some things, this is where I felt that the tour fell flat. I would have loved to learn more about the slave trade and the architecture, but the information was minimal and didn’t stand out in my mind. We did get to check out the slave holding areas, which were small dungeon-like stone basements that held 75 or so slaves chained together. The heat was excruciating, and the only air and light was from small slit windows on the far side of the room. The one we sat in was made for women and children. Sadly, only able bodied women and children older than six were allowed in the market. The others were simply murdered. The area where the trading went on is now covered by a church. It was the Christians who finally came in and stopped the slave market from continuing. To remember and pray for the souls of those who had lived or died there, they built a large church right in the middle of the market.
The Stone Town tour concluded our trip for the day. We made it back in time to have a quick shower, a beer on the beach and then to the open market for dinner. Kelsi, Nick, Sandy and I were so hungry and excited by the time we hit the food market that we forgot to set prices before we ordered and ate. Only a couple bites into the food we realized we were about to get severely ripped off like ignorant white tourists. We couldn’t even do anything about it. Four experienced travelers, and yet all we could do was sit around, waiting to hear the bad news of how much everything was going to cost us. In the end we paid fancy restaurant prices for sub par street food prices and couldn’t argue a bit. Our fault entirely, c’est la vie! We needed a beer…
So the four of us headed out to Freddy Mercury’s bar (Freddy Mercury was actually born in Zanzibar) and started drinking. Before long, the world’s worst singer came out with a keyboard piano and butchered all our favourite classic songs. I don’t have great ear for music, I must admit. Even tone deaf people sound not half bad to me. But this guy had some weird, echoey trill to his voice that sounded a lot like his microphone was just busted. To ease the pain, we began playing drinking games. Before long, the musician was just background static and we were having a blast.
When Freddy’s closed, the bartender took us to a local outdoor nightclub where we could dance the night away. We partied until Sandy “wigged” out. Then, to make an excruciatingly long story short, there was some drama, a missing persons report, some angry nail painting, and finally a comfortable sleep in an actual bed: our first long day in Zanzibar completed.
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The Masai

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During our two-day safari tour we got the chance to spend some time in a traditional Masai village for part of the afternoon. The Masai people are cow herders and nomads; they migrate with their flock and live in small huts as a community.
When a Masai tribe moves to a new location they send ahead about 20 women to build the village. They work, one home at a time, for close to a month to set up enough huts for everyone in the tribe. The huts are made from cow dung, mud and sticks. They are small. Very small. Inside, there is just enough room for two makeshift sleeping areas, a stool and a small fire hearth. Traditionally, the hut is for a man, his wife, and any children under the age of ten. There are also male and female huts for unmarried children over 10.
When we got the chance to go sit in one of the huts, it was like walking into a fly infested furnace. The heat was insane. I would have thought that the mud huts would have been a welcome afternoon escape from the scorching sun outside; unfortunately, the fire inside kept the hut as hot as hell both inside and out. A young man sat inside the hut and talked to us about the Masai ways. Sweat poured off my face and back while thousands of flies flew into my eyes and ears. Concentrating on the conversation was difficult to say the least.
The village that we spend time in consisted of about 20 or 30 small huts. They were enclosed in a fence made of bundled sticks that closed in the community. Just outside the fenced area stood a small, wooden hut. This was the village’s elementary school. 50 children attend this school every day: 25 in the morning and 25 in the afternoon, both male and female alike. When the children have passed all their classes, some will move on to a nearby town to attend secondary school. The others will herd cows or build huts with the rest of the community.
When our small group arrived at the village we were greeted by a traditional Masai welcoming dance. The men chanted and grunted in a line, then paraded around with small hopping movements and shaking sticks like batons in the air. We were herded into the dance with no preparation and looked like fools trying to figure out the steps without smashing into the person in front. When the dance had finished the men performed the “warrior dance”. All the men stood in a semi circle, yipping and hollering as two men step forward and try to out jumped each other. An old woman grabbed me by the hand and had me stand with the other women who were also chanting and lightly hopping as they watched the men. Then before I knew it, I was thrust a long stick and shoved into the warrior circle to out jump the men in the village. I thought I held my own against the first guy, who eventually stepped back and was replaced by a second jumping man. He kicked my ass. There’s no other way to put it. His feet were practically at my waist when he jumped. There was no keeping up if my life depended on it.
Overall it was pretty neat to see the traditional Masai way of life. The only complaint I would have is how the Masai have capitalized on tourism over the years. Even though it is required to pay $15 a person as an entrance fee to the village, before the tour was over, people were already bombarding us to buy trinkets and jewelry. I felt overly pressured to spend at least a couple bucks on a souvenir before the tour would continue. That was the only off-putting factor to the afternoon. Otherwise, it was an eye-opening peek into the nomadic world of the Masai culture.
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Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti

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We pulled up to the entrance of the Ngorongoro crater just as the sun was rising. Ngorongoro is the largest crater on earth, at 310 square kilometers and a depth of 760 meters. It also hosts one of the greatest biodiversity of wildlife in the world. Here you can spot tens of thousands of different species, and all of Africa’s big 5.
Africa’s “Big 5” are the 5 most difficult animals to hunt on foot, they are also among the most dangerous to humans. This is new to me…until recently, I had ignorantly just assumed they were the five largest animals unique to Africa (much hilarity ensued when I had suggested that giraffes were among the most dangerous big 5). So, for those of you as unlearned as myself, the big five consists of lions, leopards, the cape buffalo, the African elephant and the rhinoceros.
Our jeep absolutely lucked out the day we went! We managed to see ALL of the big five in a single day. Apparently this is incredibly rare. Not only that, but we came upon four prides of lions during our two day stay. Two of them, right next to our jeep, and one large pride with cubs ripping apart a water buffalo… The National Geographic gore you hope to see while on a safari tour!
Our little jeep held 6 of us: Kelsi and I, our token “woo girls” Mel, Cara and Sarah, and our friend til the end, Mallory! All of us were ecstatic about entering the conservation area. As we drove through the entrance we sang along to the Lion King’s “Circle of Life” and within seconds we ran across a herd of buffalo. First of the big five, check! The buffalo are apparently extremely aggressive animals and are the second most dangerous to humans (next to the hippopotamus). We snapped some shots of the small herd from within the truck and moved along to the crater rim.
The first glimpse of the crater literally gave me goosebumps. It was early morning light, slightly overcast with sunbeams shining down onto the sparkling lake below. Shadowed mountains framed the green grasslands below and dark coloured specks were signs of abundant wildlife. The scene was breathtaking!
The decsent into the crater took about an hour in the jeep and even before hitting the bottom, we were seeing all sorts of animals: weaver birds, jackals, zebras, wildebeest, gazelles, ostriches, and foxes, among many others. It wasn’t before long that we came across a couple large elephants cruising across the plains and away from the lake. The six of us were overly enthusiastic about each and every animal! Hyenas, hippos and warthogs were each met with an excited gasp and an occasional “woo!” from the jeep.
Before long, we came across our first pride of lions. A group of lionesses and one male all bathing in the morning sunlight after an early kill. Lions all hunt very early in the morning and only need to do so once every three or four days. Although we were so excited to see lions (especially up so close) I must admit, there’s only so many photos one can take of sleeping animals. Our guide told us this may be our only chance to see lions, and so, we stuck around for a while, just watching the sleeping beasts.
Amazingly, however, about two minutes down the road we ran into ANOTHER pride. These ones were slightly more alive, and they were actually lying on the road! Can’t get much closer than that.
By lunch that afternoon we had seen four of the big five. The rhinoceros was the only disappointment. There are only black rhinos in the Ngorongoro Crater, and they are very rare. In fact, there are only 20 of them in the whole area. We were fortunate enough to see three out of the 20, but they were so far away it was pointless trying to catch them on my sub par camera.
Lunch was a pre-packed meal that we ate by a small lake in the crater. We were warned by our driver to eat our meals inside the car. “There are many birds around that will eat your food! They will bite off your fingers if they get a chance” he said. But it was too nice of a day to sit inside the car, so Kelsi and I found a rock nearby to sit on and enjoy the sunshine. Before long everyone had joined us and I figured we would find safety in numbers and the circling scavengers above would ignore us.
We were still exploring the full contents of our little lunch box when the first bird struck. Poor Robbo was peacefully nibbling on a chicken thigh when a falcon swooped across the top of us, snatched the entire piece of chicken from his hands and caught a talon in the side of his nose. The damage was minimal; only a small mark and a single spot of blood was left on Robbo’s face… The chicken was never seen again. We all nearly choked on our meals we were laughing so hard. It happened so fast we weren’t quite sure what had gone wrong. But when the laughter died, we looked up to see a few dozen birds above us, just waiting for a similar chance… We ate the rest of lunch in the jeeps.
By that afternoon it was time to leave the crater and head to the Serengeti. Serengeti National Park is 14763 square kilometers of flat grassland. Moments into the park we got a flat tire. A very minor inconvenience when compared to other stories we’ve heard (a man we met in Zanzibar said his jeep did a full roll and he fell out the top). All we had to do was sit in the scorching heat for a quarter of an hour. A wonderful welcoming into the park.
The Serengeti hosts another array of animals to see. This is where we came across our first tower of giraffes (and yes, I learned that “tower” is the proper collective noun for a group of giraffes). The giraffes were one of my personal highlights of the day. It was so strange to see these tree-like beasts trekking across the plains like moving trunks. Their heads sway up and down as they move and it’s almost humorous watching them move along in a line of head bobbing beasts. Fun fact about
the giraffe: they are the only animal that doesn’t make a sound. Apparently all of their communication is done by body language.
Just before sunset, we came across a grove of sausage trees. Sausage trees (which have strange fruit that look just like hanging sausages) are a preferred relaxing place for leopards, and before we knew it, someone had spotted one in the trees. There was a mother leopard and a cub chilling out in one of the lower hanging branches. They had made a kill and were taking turns chewing away pieces of the animal in the crook of a tree branch. Once again, my 8megapixel iPhone fell short on the zoom. But we got out some small binoculars and spent a good half hour watching the two animals. The last of our big five!! I couldn’t believe we’d seen them all in a single day. What a feat!
As the sun set we headed to camp. We were spending the night out in the wilderness, with all sorts of animals just roaming around the area. Rules for that night were very strict. Don’t go to the bathroom at night unless it’s with 3 or 4 people. No flashlights in the tent, no sounds, no snoring, definitely no food, and good luck making it through the night alive! If you see an elephant, run the other direction, if you see a lion, walk calmly in the other direction… So many things to remember! So we all went to bed that evening thinking of wild animals. During the night a hyena scavenged around the tents, and strange sounds could be heard, but everyone was alive and well by our 5am wake up call (just in time for lions to start their morning hunt… Fantastic).
We did a final game drive that morning, had lunch, and then worked our way back to Snake Park for dinner time. Pretty amazing couple days if I say so myself!

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The Snake Village

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After a few hours of driving, we had reached the Tanzanian border. Already a new currency to figure out (and I still hadn’t figured out the Kenyan conversion yet). We were swarmed at the border by hoards of women selling beaded jewelry. They wore traditional dress, with long colourful capes, shaved heads and a plethora of piercings in their ears and nose. They followed us from Kenya to Tanzania trying desperately to get a dollar from us Mzungus. Other than that, the border was quick and painless and we hopped back in the truck.
Tanzania apparently has 117 different tribes within its borders. As you drive by the small villages and camps it’s amazing to see the women all decked out in Masai outfits, children slung in a blanket on their back and a 10 litre pail of water balancing on their heads. It seems like all the women carry things this way: bundles of sticks, buckets, or piles of goods wrapped in blankets. And yet their stroll is graceful and effortless… I have no idea how. And yet, city life in Tanzania seems to be an interesting mix between traditional and western culture; while one person herds goats along in a brightly-woven, caped outfit, the next person bikes along wearing jeans and a t-shirt.
Before long, we arrived at the Meserani Snake Park. This was to be our campsite for the evening. We struggled to set up our tent (which we have now mastered only a few short days later) unpacked our sleeping mats, and trucked off to the snake park.
The snake park was like a small zoo for snakes and crocs and turtles. Kelsi and I had an awesome time checking out the cobras and the scaly alligators for a good 45 minutes or so. We were only slightly put off when we saw a bunch of fuzzy baby ducklings huddled in the corner of one snake cage just waiting to be eaten. Ahh the sad facts of life! At the end of it all we got to hold a little snake of some sort and then we celebrated our bravery with a beer at the bar (which was conveniently attached to the park).
It was an early night for us after dinner as we had to be up early the next morning to make it to Karatu: our final campsite before our 3-day Ngorongoro Crater excursion.
In the morning, we set out to a nearby city to grab all the necessities for the Serengeti trek. Money, last minute snacks and an Internet cafe to book our accommodation for Zanzibar. We had an hour and a half to explore the place… I got nothing accomplished. After searching the streets for an ATM that was in service, we finally found a working bank and tried our luck. The MasterCard system is rare here in Africa, where most of the banks work through Visa (keep that in mind if you find yourself over here). Everything seemed to be going well at this ATM that we had found, until my card refused to pop out. I tried with some tweezers to grab it, when all of a sudden the machine shut off and sucked in my card. Great. So into the bank I went.
The bank was full of people lined up here and there. There wasn’t a line in the place shorter than 15 people. After asking some staff, and being placed in a number of lineups, I was finally moved to the end of a long queue at the back of the bank that moved slower than a glacier. Kelsi came to find me 45 minutes later where I had moved up a measly THREE people. No one was very helpful, and no one seemed particularly concerned with moving people along quickly. But a long story short, a little over an hour I was sent on my way with my bank card, no money, and told to use another bank’s ATM. The other ATM’s in the city believed I had already reached my daily withdrawal limit, and so, I was stuck borrowing the last bit of Kelsi’s cash to make it through the following three days.
After lunch back at the camp, we packed up and drove the two and a half hours to our new campsite in Karatu.
Karatu is only a short 20 minutes to the crater. We all had another early night so we could be up before dawn to start the day!

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