The first post on my new blog Atlas in Pictures [Zimbabwe in Pictures] is now available.
17 July 2013 – Day 24
It was “morridge” for breakfast – our camping version of porridge made with muesli and milk powder rather than porridge oats. It was a welcome late start for us, with a trip to see the snakes that Snake Park camp is named after. In enclosures not very far from where we had pitched our tents was a large collection of local wildlife, mostly snakes but including crocodiles and owls too. It was only as we read the information on each of the local snakes that we started to really appreciate how many dangerous creatures we were sharing our homes with. A mental note was taken by many to double check our tent doors were always shut. We had (luckily) missed out on the snake feeding the day before as we had been in the Serengeti, but those who stayed behind reported that it was fairly gruesome – they fed the snakes live rabbits. After we got a chance to hold some of the snakes and (baby) crocodiles, we headed back to the truck to head off for our next destination, Marangu.
Marangu is in the foothills of Kilimanjaro. When we arrived it was still early afternoon. There were reports that that you could see Kilimanjaro from the campsite bar so we rushed off to see it. There were quite a few photos taken until someone pointed out that it probably wasn’t Kilimanjaro after all… So we were never quite sure if we got to see it or not.
It was a beautiful evening so we grabbed a couple of drinks and sat outside. At this point I was refusing to use the Internet unless it was free (my resolve weakened later) but a few people bought WiFi vouchers. After diner we stayed up a bit longer to continue to get to know our new passengers. Milla provided us with excellent cheesy music to sing along to, which divided the group somewhat. Eventually we went to bed for an extended sleep as we had a free day the next day.
18 July 2013 – Day 25
Finally, time for a lie-in – except that I found I couldn’t stay asleep beyond 7am now anyway due to the shift in my body clock. Despite the fact that there were activities on offer, I decided that I’d stay behind at the camp to chill. We ended up watching Django Unchained up on the truck beach and heading to the bar later to relax. When you’re on the go all the time, it’s nice to just stop and take a break every now and then.
19 July 2013 – Day 26
We had a long drive day. We were now heading towards the coast to catch the ferry to Zanzibar. In the morning, it was my cook groups’s turn to buy food for our meal the next day. We stopped at a roadside market before leaving Marangu – this was our first try at market shopping in Africa because up until this point we had been to supermarkets. We combined our money with the cook group for that night so that we could buy a treat – goat. They were making a vegetarian meal and so didn’t need so much money. We managed to find potatoes eventually and between the six of us we bought out the whole vegetable stall. Feeding 24 people is no small task, after all. After buying out supplies we jumped back in the truck and set off towards the coast.
20 July 2013 – Day 27
Today was the day we were off to Dar es Salaam, the port on the Indian Ocean where we could catch the ferry the next day. The weather had started to seriously heat up the closer to the coast we got. The nights being cold, this shift in temperature was noted by all. I had certainly not dressed for the stifling heat. This would have been fine normally – with the canvas sides up and the truck rolling along we usually got a good breeze even if we got dusty. However, the traffic in Dar es Salaam was really bad, meaning we got stuck on the main road and we we had no way of cooling down other than to break open the eski and pass the time by having a few drinks. Before entering Dar, Joe and Kyle had told us to keep an eye out of the sides for thieves, who would likely try and steal anything that wasn’t screwed on to the truck while stationary in the traffic. At first our only visitors were vendors trying to sell us fizzy drinks and a man trying to sell us machetes, but soon enough we heard that someone had managed to take the oil stick.
We arrived at our beachside camp in Dar and after setting up our tents (some members of the group struggling due to the amount of alcohol consumed during the traffic jam…) we jumped into the sea for a bit until I had to go off and cook our goat stew & mash potatoes. It seemed to go down well and we all headed to bed fairly early. We would have an early start to catch our ferry to
(My camera was out of battery at this point so thanks to Drou & Mandi for the photos!)
15 July 2013 – Day 22
It was an early start for us all again as this time we were heading off to the Ngorongoro Crater, a national park situated at the centre of a huge crater. By about 8am we had reached the crater lip, a few hours after we had left Lake Manyara, We all bundled together at the viewpoint to take a few photos and get a feel for how huge the crater was. All kinds of animals and birds all lived together inside the bowl of the crater, providing both fantastic game viewing opportunities as well as a beautiful backdrop.
We had an excellent day for game viewing. We saw managed to see the Big Five again, this time with the special addition of a black rhino in the distance. We also got to see a porcupine, which was larger than I expected. Our safari guide told us it was the first one he’d seen in 9 years. Porcupines are nocturnal and so you don’t usually get to see them when you do game drives.
We stopped for lunch at the side of a large lake filled with hippos. It was sunny and hot, but we were advised to keep our eyes on our lunches at all times. It became apparent why when eagles kept swooping down to try and take our sandwiches. Baboons too were present yet again but we had learnt from our previous encounters and managed to fend them off.
Sometime during the late afternoon we crossed from the crater park into Serengeti National Park, perhaps one of the most famous game parks in the world. A few of the local Masai were waiting at the gate. I say local, when in fact they had to walk for miles to get there. They await the tourists and will pose for photos in exchange for coins. We were told that the dry season is the best time for game viewing because the animals have little choice of food and water and so often are found at the same watering holes or nearby. In fact, just as the sun was setting we were lucky enough to spot a cheetah in the grass and lots of plains game.
When we made it to the bush camp, we were delighted to find that our safari guides had set our tents up for us – the best treat of the trip so far! After tucking into a pre-cooked meal (another treat! We were truly being spoilt), we were advised not to venture outside in the dark alone or without a light, as we were camping in the middle of the game park and there were no fences between us and whatever animals were roaming about in the dark. Indeed, Caz and Brendan swore the next morning that they heard a lion outside of their tent during the night.
16 July 2013 – Day 23
Finally, the day I’d been waiting for the entire trip – the Serengeti! Up early as normal, tents packed away and we were off again into the park. Our luck was in almost straight away. Our safari guide got wind of a cheetah sighting so we sped down the dusty tracks to find them. We were more than lucky – we found two cheetahs. We watched them for a while before we set off again, only to swing by later and find that something more exciting was happening. A jackal had arrived, along with a young impala and they were giving chase. Our guide said that apparently cheetahs don’t like to eat young impala or something, but I wasn’t sure how much I believed in this so-called conscience on the cheetah’s part. The jackal managed to slip through the cheetah’s barrier and snatch the impala. It ran off, the cheetahs at full speed chasing after it. Although the cheetah’s are far faster than jackals, they’re not strong at all and so didn’t manage to win this fight. We were all fairly gutted when the cheetahs gave up and the jackal ate the baby impala. Such is the circle of life.
We had another good day of game viewing, though by now we were dusty and tired. Dirt from the dry tracks outside poured in through the windows we kept open to cool ourselves down. We eventually made it back to Snake Park, Arusha, where our truck, tour leader and a few of the others who had stayed behind were. The Numpty for that trip went to Jenni, who bravely asked “are there penguins in the Serengeti?”
That night we stayed in the camp bar late into the night, relaying our adventures and getting to know the new members of our team who had joined us in Nairobi. Another tour company’s driver let us try some biltong (dried meat, beef in this instance). Emma showed us her incredible moves, doing the worm for us on the dusty floor and she ended up gauging holes in her feet and banging her chin, but she was awesome all the same. It was very late indeed when we got a scolding from a teacher staying in the campsite and after that it was time to call it a night.
13 July 2013 – Day 20
I had my first night on my new “mattress”, a kind parting gift from Stebbs. If you recall the earlier “roll mat” incident (where my roll mat got lost somewhere during the journey from Birmingham to Nairobi via Amsterdam), I had to buy a new roll mat from the local supermarket, Nakumatt. Stebbs had found herself without a roll mat too but instead of buying a mat made of thin foam and the cries of many uncomfortable campers she bought a thick foam child’s mattress. Since this was going to be a difficult thing to transport back to the UK, I was lucky enough to inherit it. I no longer had to worry about waking up with a numb arm or with my shoulder digging into the “cold hard ground”, as Becky’s idol Taylor Swift would say.
We got a later start that morning while we waited for the new passengers to have their induction to the truck and truck life. Once that was done, we piled onto the truck for the drive into Tanzania and onto Arusha.
Due to a weight limit issue at the border (in that with all our new passengers we were over the weight limit allowed at the weigh station), the “oldies” were given the task of walking across the border and pretending we didn’t know anyone else from the trip. Joe kindly gave the directions to a chapatti restaurant a few hundred yards across the border where we could wait to be picked up (and get breakfast at the same time). Personally I was really looking forward to this reward for yet another successful border crossing, but sadly we never got that far. It turned out that the chapatti place wasn’t there anymore, a fact which became apparent when we reached the end of the row of shops and hit a dusty track leading off into the distance.
There was little shade and we had left all our water on the truck so we hurried inside a roadside bar to get out of the heat and find water and toilets (though from what I heard, “toilets” wasn’t the right word for the facilities the others found, but we were used to that by now). We stationed a psychedelic tie-dye t-shirt-adorned Luis on the side of the road to act as a sign-post to the truck so they could find us and the rest of us amused ourselves with trying to through stones into a column of old tyres, much to the chagrin of a Masaai man who walked past us and gave us a glare. Oops.
Eventually we were picked up and we set off on the road again. What was only supposed to be a 7-8 hour drive ended up being our longest drive day to date, taking almost 12 hours. When we arrived into our first camp of Tanzania (famous overland haven Snake Park), it was late and we were hungry. Tents were set up in the dark and food was quickly thrown together.
The sky that night was truly one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Being so far away from light and other forms of pollution, the nights in Africa are dark indeed. With the milky way stretched above me like a roof of diamonds, I was sorely tempted to just stand there craning my neck up and watch for shooting stars all night. Sadly we had an early start the next morning so that was very much short-lived.
14 July 2013 – Day 21
It was an early start the next morning to pack for our 3 day safari into the Serengeti and surrounding parks and we piled into three safari jeeps. It was a couple of hours drive until we reached our first park, Lake Manyara. During the drive, there was plenty of singing to songs from the Lion King, as was to be expected. The Serengeti is famous for its perfect savannah landscapes as became well-known in the Lion King.
As always, the first glimpse of wildlife we saw came in the forms of baboons, though luckily this time none of them decided to climb in the jeep with us! They did, however, manage to steal some marshmallows from one of the empty jeeps while we had a toilet stop. Cheeky monkeys…
We were lucky enough to see lots of elephants, thus already completing our Big Five collection (lion, leopard, rhino, water buffalo, elephant). We stopped for lunch at a viewpoint and took in the beautiful weather and scenery.
11 July – Day 18
The next morning we all piled back onto the truck and hit the road for the last stretch back to Nairobi. I was banned from the beach due to the horrendous sunburn I’d picked up a few days before but it didn’t matter anyway because as we drove on, the weather suddenly took a turn for the worse and the heavens opened. This coupled with the WORST roads we experienced the whole trip, it made for an uncomfortable and noisy drive. The reason for this was a massive diversion off road whilst they did up the real roads, except in Africa they don’t really have that many choices for diversion routes and so we had no choice but to endure the bumpy track along the side of the main road. Well, we survived.
As it was Nick and Stebbs’ last day with the truck we stuck on the cheesy tunes on the stereo and arrived in style into Karen Camp, Nairobi, doing the YMCA to what we later discovered was the alarm of our new passengers. We were lucky they didn’t run for the hills at that point. Before the YMCA we’d been doing the Cha Cha Slide (as had become tradition, which was difficult to do on some of the more bumpy roads and resulted in many minor injuries). We’d been thrown about so much that Kyle (our driver) later told us something was wrong with the truck suspension.
We then had our first truck clean – everything got taken out, from the contents of our lockers, the eski (including its alcoholic contents, mostly belonging to “Pineapple Gin” Becky) to the seats and the cans from under the floorboards. Everything was coated in dust so we cleaned the whole lot.
After that, we all delighted in having a hot shower and got ready for the goodbye meal in a restaurant just up the road. We were all fairly merry by the time we got to back to camp to continue at the bar.
12 July – Day 19
We had a free day in Nairobi so a few of the girls and I headed to the nearest shopping centre to get our nails done, something we’d been dreaming about whilst grimacing at our muddy and Africa-beaten feet. It was hot so the half an hour walk in flip flops through the dirt to the shopping centre left our feet in a shameful state – so shameful that the ladies in the salon had to wash our feet twice and even took our flip flops away to wash them for us. In any other place in the world I would have felt mortified but I was very grateful for their sympathy. Mandi happened by chance to be in the same salon as we went to for our nails – she was getting another weave/set of braids done. I was very tempted to get my hair done that day but I resisted, though it would have been easier than fighting with the birds nest my hair was every couple of days. The heat combined with the windy truck just never gave it a chance not to be knotty.
In the evening it was time for a few last drinks with Stebbs before she left for the airport. It was some random person at the camp’s birthday and he bought a round or two of Tuskers (local beer) for everyone.
We’d successfully made it through the first section of the trip! Onwards to Tanzania and the Serengeti.
8 July 2013 – Day 15
We were up at 5am to head back to the Kenyan border, which wasn’t particularly welcome after the previous night’s advice of “have a drink! we can sleep on the truck tomorrow”. I can vouch that being on a horrendously bumpy and hot truck when you had too much to drink the previous nice is not at all enjoyable. Much later, we arrived in Kericho, Kenya, a tea plantation owned by Lipton tea.
I was on cook group, so Chris, Emma and I set about cooking what had come to be our signature dish, sausage and mash (sweet potato this time). Brendan got the honour of the Numpty for his appearance in the ladies’ bathroom the previous night.
9 July – Day 16
It was another early start for us so we could go on a tour of the tea plantation. The tea pickers have to pick around 60kg of tea leaves a day! We all had a go at picking some tea ourselves but none of us were as deft as the tea pickers, naturally.
We then got back in the truck and drove to Lake Naivasha, Kenya. I’m pretty sure when I was doing my research for this trip that I read somewhere that someone’s tent got trampled by a hippo here, but we were not so unlucky. Unfortunately I fell asleep on the beach that day and got so horrendously sunburnt that I won another Numpty award. I was still sunburnt a week later, just for the record. That night we ate amazing kebabs and followed this up with a pub quiz, hosted by Nick.
After dinner we had another truck party, but when I went to get into my tent I found a good 50 horrible looking ants in there so I quickly grabbed my stuff and went to share with Emma.
10 July – Day 17
We got to have a lie in, followed by a cooked breakfast. As I went to make my morning rooibos, I had an unfortunate run-in with an ant – it had been on the side of the mug and found my finger most objectionable and promptly stuck its pincers into it. Bloody hell did that hurt! I tried to fling it off with some enthusiastic shaking of my hand but it was stuck in. Emma had to come to my rescue, but when she pulled the ant off me, its head was still attached to my finger. It was unbelievable sore after that and when we managed to get the ant’s head out of my finger, it bled for ages. Predictably I didn’t get adequate sympathy for this…
After doing my washing, it was time to head out onto the lake for a late afternoon hippo cruise. We were promised hippos and we definitely got them – maybe as many as 50! This was slightly alarming as we were on a particularly unstable-feeling boat.
There were some interesting quotes from Becky, of course, including claiming that crater lakes were formed from stones that fell from the sky (and later, she admitted she didn’t want to say ‘meteorites’ because she didn’t know if they were real…).
7 July 2013 – Day 14
My method of coping with my fear of doing this whole rafting-on-the-Nile thing I’d signed up for was to completely ignore the fact that it was happening and not think about it at all. This obviously had to be addressed when a small truck turned up at our camp to take us to the rafting starting point further down the river.
We got kitted out and then were given a scary health and safety talk that they deliberately left until the point of no return so we couldn’t chicken out at the last minute. Their assurances that if you fall out the raft you’d be fine didn’t really make me feel much better. “Don’t panic” – easier said than done. The principle for surviving the rapids is to tuck yourself in, relax and wait for the Nile to spit you back out again, and in the event that you were spat out near the rocks, a friendly kayaker would come and rescue you. No problem.
Our group were split between two rafts so Becky and I (being the more nervous of the group) found some less insane rafters to join up with. So we said goodbye to our “I want to flip EVERY rapid” friends and joined the “we don’t really like flipping” group quite happily.
It just so happened that after a traumatic first rapid, our friends decided not to flip again whilst we picked up a somewhat mental guide who decided he’d flip us on every rapid because he thought he’d enjoy it. I did actually start to enjoy it too, even though I didn’t think I would.
The Nile is a drop-pool river, which means between each rapid there’s a flat stretch of river where you get to relax, go for a quick dip and then resume fierce paddling to get to the next rapid. During one stretch the guides chopped up fresh pineapple for us to have. Not much of it ended up getting eaten due to the outbreak of an energetic food fight between the rafts, resulting in many pineapple to the face incidents and the fish beneath us getting an unexpected free lunch.
We walked around one rapid (a Grade 6) but almost immediately after we got back in the raft after that one we were flipping and back in the water again. This is where I won my first Numpty Award – as I fell out of the raft on that rapid, I somehow managed to take out Nathan, our rafting guide, and drag him into the water with me and leaving our raft unattended. I ended up being rescued by a kayaker – we were told at the briefing to always do what the kayakers tell you to do, but it was with some trepidation that I followed this one’s instructions to swim directly towards the white water instead of towards him. Good thing too – I’d have ended up in the rocks otherwise before he could reach me and deliver me back to the raft. I then proceeded to cough up a fair amount of water that I’d swallowed while I’d been underwater. Apparently you’re only underwater for a maximum of 5 seconds but it definitely feels like a lot more! You can’t tell where you are or where the surface is or when you’ll be able to breathe next and when you do breathe you swallow more water than air. You really do just have to wait until the water spits you out again and trust that it won’t be too long away – that’s the thing about white water, it’s mostly made up of air from the surface so you know you’re never far away. Still, it’s enough to test anyone’s nerve.
I thought I would white water raft again when I got to Vic Falls but in the end I decided that one experience was enough and I didn’t like the look of the very narrow gorge you were sent down. I got such a buzz from it all the same and it was a really fun day.
It’s worth noting that Nathan was pretty awesome too – he kept us amused all day with jokes and funny tales and he didn’t seem to mind too much that I knocked him out of the raft. Sorry Nathan!