Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Serengeti: Day 2. Still Amazing.

You know you are camping in an unusual campsite when the morning discussion goes something like this- Everyone else: "Did you hear the lions last night?" Me: "No! I missed lions?! All I heard were frogs and hyenas. Oh, and baboons. I heard a lot of baboons." The others: "Yes. There were definitely lions. And the group over there thinks they saw a cheetah in the campsite." Me: "Balls!"

We were camping inside of the Serengeti National Park and unlike other predator-inhabited game parks I'd been to, there is no fence separating us and the more ardently carnivorous mammals. How this works is still a bit of mystery to me. We were told not to worry, that we're not appealing to them since we generally don't yield a lot of meat, particularly when compared to a buffalo or wildebeest, which is true. But I'm pretty sure I have a good 20-30 pounds on an impala and they're called the 'McDonald's of Africa' by virtue of the fact that everybody eats them.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The indescribable Serengeti.

I have just typed and deleted at least a half dozen paragraphs, all of them trying to express how spectacular our time in the Serengeti was. It is not working. Everything I have written sounds cliche and trite and blah, which I guess would be fine if the Serengeti was any of those things. But it's not, it is so very, very....AAARGHHH (must keep finger away from the delete key, must control impulse, MacBook not so aerodynamic)

You know what? I took photos. Lots and lots of photos. They have a currency of approximately one thousand words each. How's about I just share some of those and let them speak for themselves. M'kay?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Ngorongoro Crater Needs more Cowbell.

Throughout our tour, there was some debate as to whether we were heading in the right direction. Not that we were lost, it was more that some people, mainly our crew, thought it was preferable to begin the tour in Nairobi and travel southward (as opposed to our more northerly route). Their reasoning was that with the more commonly run itinerary, you begin with a dusty and sweaty safari, followed by a series of early mornings and countless hours on a bouncy truck. By the end, you are nice and tired and are thus more excited at the thought of leisurely sipping cocktails on the beaches of Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam.

I get what they're saying and I thought they were all really nice guys, therefore it pains me to be the one to point out how completely and utterly wrong they are on this one. The safari in the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti is, bar none, the highlight of this tour. This is simply a fact. Doing the safari first means your 14 day tour has already peaked by day 5. It is akin to watching the finale of a firework shows and then having to feign enthusiasm for a guy with a sparkler. It is like eating the best desert ever prepared and then having to content yourself with a lackluster salad. It is like bedding down Brad Pitt and then having a go with Timmy, the chubby guy that delivers your office mail and is really nice but smells of slightly of cabbage. Sure, there is nothing wrong with sparklers, salads or Timmy, but they just can not compete.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Marangu aka As Close as I will ever come to Mt. Kilimanjaro

Moving right along on what was really the Road from Zanzibar, we continued on to the small town of Marangu.  From best I could gather, there is only one reason people come here.  They are either coming from or going on a climbing expedition that ideally results in their reaching the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Seeing as I would prefer smuggling a nest of angry cobras in my underwear to climbing Africa's highest peak, thankfully, this is not why we were camping there.

To be honest, I'm not totally sure why exactly this is one of the stops.  I imagine it has something to do with the logistics of getting us closer to the Serengeti but since that does make for a very sellable itinerary, we were also treated to another orphanage stop and village walk.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Rolling into Lushoto

Finally, we were on our magic bus, er, I mean truck and pointed north in the direction of the Usambara Mountains. By tearing down camp early enough to be on the road by 5am, we had successfully avoided the truly frightening fate that is Dar traffic and were now speeding past small villages and vast empty stretches of land.

Cruising along, enjoying this scenery with plenty of room to stretch out, not feeling like I have to keep an eagle eye on my belongings (as I did on the chicken bus) or worry about getting left behind on any stops- these are the some of the things I did not think I could pull off, traveling solo in Africa and were  amongst the top reasons I signed up for a group tour.  Now that our first real Overland day was finally happening,  I was loving it.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Zipping through Zanzibar

It was day 2 of our Overland Truck adventure and we were already ditching the truck and come to think of it, the land, as well.  We were taking the ferry to a place whose very name conjures up mystery and exoticism, we were heading to Zanzibar.

Our destined archipelago has been a part Tanzania since 1964, only before that time, there was no Tanzania. The mainland nation was called Tanganyika and only changed its name as a result of its merger with Zanzibar. In other words, Tanganyika + Zanzibar= Tanzania.  I imagine this is something that Tanzanian schoolchildren learn pretty early on.  Therefore, I am baffled as to why we had to undergo the full customs and immigration process both on entering and exiting Zanzibar City.  It's still the same country!   You would think that a nation that borders seven different countries would have sufficient real border crossings without having to implement an unnecessary fake one.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Country #90: Bouncing into Tanzania

Although it may not seem like it, there was actually a method to my madness. There was a reason that I voluntarily boarded a local bus for the 13 hour bone-jarring ride from Mombasa to Dar Es Salaam. It is not for naught that I spent more time sitting across from a woman whose carry-on was a cranky and vociferous rooster than I did on my flight from Miami to Amsterdam. It is not without cause that I put myself in a situation where, as the only non-African passport holder, I took the longest being processed at the Kenya/ Tanzania border and subsequently had to run like a crazy woman lest the bus continue on without me. Like the proverbial chicken (but not the one on the lady's lap), I simply had to get to the other side.

This is where I would begin my first Intrepid/ Dragoman overland trip.  I confess that in the past, when planning my own travels, I have cribbed many an itinerary from these companies.  In many countries, this is actually pretty easy to do, relying on public transportation in lieu of their signature overland trucks, at a fraction of the cost.  However, East Africa is different. My experience on the chicken bus had only emphasized my suspicion that this was in no way a practical alternative in this part of the world.  So, instead, I had signed up for a 14 day excursion, dubbed the Road to Zanzibar, that would eventually bring me back to Nairobi.