Africa has been a blast so far! On Tuesday morning at 7:45, I was picked up from my hostel in Nairobi to join the tour. There were five other people at the hostel with me – three Dutch girls, one Brazilian guy, and an American girl. We joined the rest of the group who had already been travelling for over a week. This kind of caused a division in our group, and most of the newer people ended up sticking together because we found it quite hard to integrate ourselves with many of the people who had already formed relationships with each other. We were also joined by an American couple and a Kiwi girl (who has also been living in London for the past two years, and we lived five minutes away from each other for 1.5 years!). Our drive to Arusha was quite long – we ended up getting to Arusha after about 9 hours and then we were given one hour to stock up on food and water in an empty grocery store (it literally didn’t even have water). We then got to our campsite and learned how to set up our tents (which we’ll be experts at after the next few weeks!). However, we weren’t given a briefing when we got there so all of the new people have felt quite lost with trying to figure out what to do and how everything works. We had a great pasta dinner (which has been the majority of most of our meals) and then had an introduction evening, where we learned everyones’ names and occupation (mostly everyone is a teacher, and there are 22 people in our group). The next morning, we had to be ready by 7 to leave for the Serengeti. However, at 5 in the morning, we were all woken up by the (very loud) call to prayer that blasted throughout the city.
To get to the Serengeti, we had to separate into three vehicles. I went with the three Dutch girls (Kar, Susan, and Donna), three Americans (Yusef, Cassie, and T), and the Kiwi (Michelle). Our driver’s name was Hamadi, and he was the best driver! We all formed a great bond singing and dancing to endless music while being in the vehicle for about 10 hours each day for three full days together. The first day was a lot of driving! We drove all the way to the Serengeti, which is less than 300km away, but it took over ten hours. We were able to see a few animals on our trip (zebras, giraffes, ostriches, and hyenas) and watched the sunset as well. We stopped for a picnic on the rim of Ngorongoro Crater and we also stopped at a souvenir shop. Late in the afternoon, they took us to a Masai village. The Masai live without electricity, live off of domesticated animals, and still have to collect their water from miles away. Many men become “warriors” from age 14-28, and they’re in charge of standing guard and protecting the community from wild animals. In order to become a warrior, they have to get circumcised and then they put white designs on their faces with paint, and have to wear traditional clothing for three months. Warriors aren’t allowed to get married so they have to wait until after they’re 28. When they reach this point, they have to kill a lion in order to get married. Then they have to go to another village to find a woman to marry, and bring back to their community. The Masai people believe in polygamous relationships, and one wife is usually equivalent to 25 cows. We were allowed to go into one of the houses as well as look at their school, which was just one tiny room with benches and a lot of kids. While it was cool to see, a bunch of us were wondering if it was just for show, as we all had to pay in order to see the village. When we arrived at our campsite in the Serengeti, all of our tents were (luckily) set up for us since it was already dark. We then had a late dinner and went to bed.
On Thursday, we had to be packed and ready for breakfast by 6am. We left to explore the Serengeti at 7. Within the first hour, we had already seen so much – buffalo, zebra, gazelle, and a whole bunch of lions! It was so crazy to have the lions walk right in front of your vehicle so that you were metres away from them! We also saw many giraffes, monkeys, different types of birds, elephants, hyenas, warthogs, and ostriches. It was insane! We drove around the Serengeti for about five hours total, then went back to camp to have lunch, and then we drove to the Ngorongoro Crater, which took about five hours. We got there just before sunset, which was lucky because the entire campsite was covered in poo! We set up our tents, had dinner at about 8:30, and then went to bed. As soon as we got into our tents, we heard hyenas laughing in the distance – it was so crazy! It was freezing that evening because we were sleeping on the rim of the crater, which was at very high altitude. I stupidly got the thinnest sleeping bag I could find (forgetting it would be winter in Africa), so I’ve been finding it quite difficult to keep warm. The next morning, there was a fresh buffalo poop about 5-10 metres away from our tent, so we had at least one visitor! We had breakfast at 6am again, in front of the sunrise, and then we started our tour around the crater. The crater was gorgeous! The clouds would start drifting down into the crater, so it looked like there was a constant cloud waterfall around the rim of the crater. We had to drive down into the crater, and then we could drive throughout it. Within the first 15 minutes, we saw six lions slowly pacing towards a lone buffalo. We were hoping to see an attack, but the lions didn’t seem too determined. Every time they got 50 metres from the buffalo, he would turn around and run for awhile and then wait for them to get close again. That day, we saw a lot of buffalo, wildebeest, zebras, warthogs, hyenas (play-fighting in the water), giraffes, gazelles, and hippos! One of the groups got a flat tire so we had to sit for quite awhile so our driver could help change the tire. As soon as we got going again, we saw a lion that looked like it was ready to pounce. It started sprinting towards a lone buffalo and kept clawing and biting at it while the buffalo ran away. Once it reached its pack, the entire buffalo pack turned onto the lone lion and started running towards it so the lion ran away. It was such a cool thing to see, and definitely topped the whole trip! After driving around the crater for five hours, we went back to camp to have lunch and then we drove back to Arusha. It was a long trip back, but it was a lot of fun since it was the last time we’d have with our driver. He taught us how to sing a traditional song in Swahili, which was really awesome! We got back to camp before sunset, but the tents hadn’t arrived yet so we had to wait over an hour until we could set everything up. There was quite a bit of hostility between the entire group because we were supposed to tip our drivers at the end of the trip and many people cheaped out. We were supposed to give all the tips to one person, who would split all of the tips evenly to the three drivers, but one vehicle was unhappy with their driver because he kept stalling and got a flat tire, so they wanted to tip their driver and only their driver. They ended up giving 5 dollars each to their driver, while the other group gave 10 dollars each to their driver. Our group had such a great time with our driver and I’m glad we were all on the same page cause we all gave 20 dollars each to our driver. Our group has felt quite isolated from the original group, so I’m glad we all have each other! It was some peoples’ last night, so now our group is down to 19 people.
Saturday, we got to sleep in a little bit and had to be ready for 7am. However, we were still woken up at 5 for the call to prayer. We then headed towards Dar es Salaam, but had to stop halfway in a small town called Korogwe. That night, a bunch of us volunteered to help prepare dinner, which basically just involved chopping up vegetables so the guide could add it to the soup, stew, and salad. After dinner, I saw the guide walk away with a jar of Aromat, which is a European spice that’s equivalent to MSG. I knew I’d be sick, and I ended up being sick for about four days straight. While it seems quite normal for most of us to have upset stomachs (our group is VERY open about that kind of thing cause you have to be), it’s still been difficult to be hungry, eat, and immediately be sick (and stuck in a vehicle for 7+ hours each day). Anyway, the next morning we continued to Dar es Salaam, which took about six or seven hours. We stayed in a campsite right on the beach and we had a private pool! However, it wasn’t as sunny as we were hoping so most of us just sat by the pool and visited with each other. That evening, we had a special prepared dinner (usually people take turns preparing the meals), which was great! The next morning, we had to get up early again so that we could catch a ride on a tuk-tuk to the ferry. The first ferry we took only took about two minutes and it was just to the other side of the river. We then had to walk about 20 minutes with our heavy bags (in the sun) in order to get to the next ferry. Since the ferry didn’t leave for another hour, we just sat around and cooled off in the air-conditioned depot. The ferry ride to Stone Town, Zanzibar took two hours, so we arrived at about 11:30am. Even though Zanzibar is technically still part of Tanzania, we still had to fill out entry forms and go through passport control. We went to the hotel and I was paired with Michelle (the kiwi girl). Our room was humongous! It had a king sized bed, as well as two single beds. And we didn’t have to sleep on the floor for the first time in days! We all went for lunch, where I had chicken biryani and then we were given the option to go on a walking tour (not free) or have three hours of free time. I downloaded a self-guided walking tour so the girls (Michelle, Susan, and Kar) and I did that instead. We checked out the beach and a market. Then we went to Zanzibar Coffee House, where we had dessert for the first time in over a week! I had an iced latte with chocolate mousse pie, which was amazing! We then took a walk to the food markets, but stayed closer to the outside when we realised we would get hassled. We then met up with the rest of the group at Africa House, which is a rooftop bar with a view of the ocean and sunset – it was nice and relaxing! Afterwards, we went to the night market to find something for dinner and I got a Zanzipizza, which has a crepe bottom, and then the toppings of the “pizza” are mixed with egg and then poured on top of the dough to cook. I tried to keep it simple with just tomato and cheese since I had been feeling sick the past few days, but it still didn’t help 😦 the antimalarial pills might be having an effect on me. However, the Zanzipizza was still really good! On Tuesday morning, we had the option to go to Prison Island, which was originally built for a prison but was never actually used as a prison. This is because they had an outbreak of cholera and chicken pox many years ago, so they ended up quarantining all of the people who were sick. Now, the island is used as a turtle sanctuary, where they have giant tortoises (which are an endangered species) and they’ve been breeding them to increase the population. The tortoises are huge! We got to feed them and touch them, which was really cool! After that, we got back in the boat to make the half-hour trip back to Zanzibar, but we also stopped so that some people could do some snorkelling. That day for lunch, we got to go to a local’s house, who made us a curry rice dish and it was so delicious! We all had to take off our shoes at the door, walk through the huge living room and dining room, and then there were two large rooms with only rugs and food placed on them. We sat on the floor while eating our meals and I think normally, we’d have to eat with our hands, but they gave us a spoon. After our meal, we went to the spice farm where we saw the different plants and trees that made different spices and fruits. It was really neat to hear what the locals used certain spices for (in terms of medicine and everyday needs). We got to see turmeric root (which turned our hands yellow), we bit a stem which tasted exactly like pepper, we got to smell lemongrass, cloves and cinnamon. The cinnamon tree was really neat cause the bark smelled like cinnamon and the roots smelled like Vicks rub (used to put on chests to clear the sinuses). We also got to see vanilla, jackfruit, papaya, nutmeg, durian, and ginger root. After the tour, the locals had weaved all of the girls vine crowns and all of the boys ties. We then got to sample some of the fruits, such as grapefruit, mandarin, pineapple, watermelon, and banana. We took a one-hour ride to the north part of the island, which is where I am now and where we’re spending the next three nights. Unfortunately today, it’s been cloudy and rainy all morning so I’m hoping it’ll clear up soon so I can enjoy my time on the beach. Hope everyone’s enjoying their time back at home! Love always
Africa – Toto