Its an early start this morning for our long drive to the Tanzanian border. It takes two days to get to Kerepehu Beach on the other side of Dar Es Salaam. Its the final days of Ramadan here and when we arrive in Dar its early evening and the streets are full of muslims eating after a day of fasting. The women and children are dressed beautifully and as the truck weaves slowly up the narrow streets, we become a spectacle amid the crowds of people . Theres lots of noise and activity. We’re not allowed to take photos which is a real shame as there is such charactor here.
It’s extremely hot and humid when we arrive at the ferry terminal the next morning. Having a long walk with bags adds to the discomfort. Theres hassles at the office and it soon becomes evident that we have no tickets for the ferry to Zanzibar. Apparently the man who took the money for the pre paid tickets has skipped the country and gone to Russia !! After much stress by our guide and phone calls, we are later given new tickets but now have to wait in this dreaded heat for a later ferry……we are directed upstairs to the top level of the ferry. We sit there for another hour before departure. There is no circulation, no open windows and no air conditioning. The chairs are old and dirty and the carpet is disgusting. After some time , I am finding this humidity unbearable . The sweat is constant and draining so I decide I must get outside before I expire. There is no air inside which is dreadful and it smells bad. On the way outside , I step over mothers and children who are asleep on the floor. Babies are crying. Outside is packed and no one moves to let me past. Finally I find a little place near the edge and sit there until we arrive in Zanzibar after 3 hours on board this vessel. Getting off is bedlam. Everyone is pushing and shoving and there is only a small doorway. Some people have big bags or boxes and try to push past. One person has a hen in a cage !!!! There is no politeness here. I feel like an animal in a stock truck being unloaded. Horrible.
After checking into our hotel in Stonetown, its down to the waters edge to find some lunch and try and destress. There are Ramadan celebrations going on in the park tonight. It’s interesting to sit and people watch. There is lots of activity and again the women and children are beautifully dressed. Loes and I decide to walk amongst the people and get a feel of their experience.
A morning walk around the shops and quaint alleyways of Stonetown…I’m learning the art of bargaining and I have my own way of doing it. I’m not sure they like it but it works. My suitcase is getting heavier as this holiday progresses. The alleys are narrow and the cars drive through them. If you hear a toot from behind that means …get out of the way ! Everywhere the taxi drivers are asking for business and shop owners are lurching out the doors looking for a sale. Best prices anywhere maaam…yeah right !!
My room on the northern beach of Zanzibar is upgraded to seaview. Its gorgeous. The water is beneath the floor almost. There are lots of bungalows and hotels along the stretch of sand. Some seem to be predominantly Italian clients. At dinner in our restaurant there is a maasai warrior selling his jewellery. Strange place for a maasai I think to myself. It looks a little out of place here on a beach. After talking to him ( and buying some wares of course ) Loes and I are invited by him and his friend to a bar outside the compound. I’m very hesitant when I look through the cracks of the entrance and realise that she and I are the only white people there. Its a bit late to back out now and I soon find that my preconceptions are misguided. Its a maasai bar and everyone is friendly. We certainly stand out, thats for sure !!
The following day, walking along the beach, there are maasai everywhere ! They tell us they are from Arusha and come to Zanzibar to sell their wares for 3 months then go home. I am not sure how much money they would have left if they are drinking alcohol each night. They are a very thin breed and look striking in their predominantly red attire. Most of them are male and in their 20’s. They come and chat as you walk and want to know which country you are from. I note that they can speak Italian…hhhmmm…wheres their culture gone to ? This doesnt seem right ( I later find out from another maasai from another tribe that he’s not impressed with this lot ) . Hitting on white women is certainly not their culture but they’re giving it a good go. There are lots of little shops along the beach too to attract the tourist wallet.
As I walk a lady comes at me asking if I want my hair braided. At first I say no…my hair is short after all so how does a braid stay in anyway ? I later relent and decide to give it a go a s she says it’s no problem. While I wait for her to go to the supermarket ( yes…the supermarket !!! ) to get my colour, I have a henna tattoo done on my arm. Its the thing to do here and it only lasts a few weeks before fading off. At times there are 4 women braiding my hair…2 locals and 2 maasai. It takes 5 hours sitting on the beach in the sun. When it gets dark we have to move elsewhere where there is light. The power goes off so it’s done by candlelight for a time. This is getting tedious to say the least but I cant leave until its finished. These poor women are getting as tired as me but its taking so long because I have thick hair which they didnt realise.The mozzies are biting…finish, please finish. The group will be wondering where on earth I have vanished to. DONE….it feels like a lead weight on my head. I’m not sure how long this will last before I rip them out but I’ll give it a go. Sleeping is a mission too. oh well….the things we do !
The ferry back to Dar Es Salaam is much nicer thank goodness. After one night at Kerepehu Beach its off to Arusha.
The next adventure takes us into the Serengeti Plains and Ngorogoro Crater. Its a camping part of the tour….eek a tent !! We have one overland jeep for passengers ( theres only 7 of us at this point plus the driver ) and one jeep for the camping gear. There are 2 cooks. In the afternoon we have our first game drive in the Serengeti NP and lucky us…..we are priviledged to see a lion kill. I saw it coming. On the right side of the road was a herd of buffalo with two mothers and a baby at the back. On the left side of the road were 3 incoming lions who , at this point, had’nt seen the buaffalo. Once the first lion sighted the baby at the back her ears changed position and her eyes were fixed in only one direction. The kill was on !!!! Slowly at first then….she’s off. The baby buffalo let out a bellow and the mothers turned and chased the lion. The other 2 lions had joined in and it was a case of cat and mouse ( or cat and buffalo in this case ) until the buffalo mothers were outwitted and outnumbered. The baby, at this stage’ was still alive but grounded and we wished for the lions to finish it off and put it out of its misery…..which they did swiftly. Two more lions joined… Our guide had seen his first kill in 5 years on the job and told us we were so lucky to witness such a thing . Its not nice to see something killed but , at the same time, the lions need to survive too. Its the law of nature.
Our game drive continues…..would you know it ? Another rare occurance…a leopard sitting in a tree. Our driver has spotting eyes like you would not believe. Even when he tells us where to look we still can’t see it at once. And he saw it while driving !! Leopards are night creatures and very shy so it’s not often they are spotted.
On our way back to camp we are treated to something special again. Two cheetahs are stalking something in the grass. Apart from seeing elephants, zebra, giraffes and all manner of small grazers, it’s been a lucky day this one. Arriving at camp, our tents are already up and the cooks are preparing our evening meal. All cooking is done in a concrete building with wire netting to keep out animals. This is a wild area and we are in the domain of the animals who can wander into the camp at leisure. We are told to stay in our tents at night. I hear lions not too far away and during the night the strange , high pitched noise of the hyena is right outside. What an amazing feeling knowing they are close….very close.
I am picked up at 5am the next morning as I have opted to do a sunrise hot air balloon flight over the Serengeti Plains. I am the only one from the group doing it but I understand that I will be flying with people from other groups and there will be 16 of us in the basket. On the way to the lift-off zone the driver stops at the office to pick up the pilot. We chat on the way….his name is Frank and he is a 62 year old American who has been flying for 30 years. I tell him I am a photographer and he is kind enough to place me on a corner section for good photo opportunities . He is also kind enough to have the balloon off the ground before the sun peeps up over the horizon. The basket consists of 8 sections with 2 people in each plus Frank. I am in a corner section with a man from Germany. The next corner section has a couple from England on their honeymoon. The rest are predominantly older Germans.
We lift off and proceed into the early morning air. Its peaceful and quiet except for Frank talking and boosting the balloon when firing up. There are few animals below but thats ok….I’m not really here to see animals at this point.
About half way through the flight Frank says we are going to descend a little and follow a river below. Thats ok I think to myself. In the distance I can see a stand of acacia trees. As we go lower I note that we are in a direct line with the trees and getting closer. Frank is behind me and I hear him firing up the balloon so I assume he has seen the trees too and is getting a little more altitude to clear the tops of them. As we get closer and closer it becomes dramatically clear that we will not miss and I look around at Frank in panic but its too late to say anything. What is this man doing ?? At the last moment I get down in the basket, hold on for dear life ,close my eyes and wait to die…….. We hit the trees !!! There is a terrible noise as we hit the branches and the basket is tossed in all directions. It tips and tips back. People are screaming. I’m holding my breath and waiting to hit the ground or be tipped out….I’m not sure which is worst !!! After what seemed an eternity the basket rights and stops tossing. I stand up and look around and notice we are still flying. The German man is ok but the English man is doubled up in pain and resting his head on the edge of the basket. Everyone is in shock and disbelief. Frank is concentrating on keeping the balloon up and asks if everyone is ok. I tell him “No…this man is hurt ” . He says nothing so I access the injured man. He has been hit across the head by the branches and has cuts and abrasions . Both his hands are cut, he can’t move his neck and his shoulder hurts. His camera is broken too which doesnt seem important at this point.
Frank again asks if everyone is ok. I repeat ” No,….this man needs medical attention “. I expected him to land and call up his men below and seek help….but , no, he keeps flying. I start to get annoyed and wonder how responsible this man is and what his priorities are. It is clear now that he intends to fly to the designated landing point and acts if nothing is wrong. He instructs us to put away our camera gear ( as if we are using it now !! ) and get down in the basket and hold our grip ropes. He says we may hit termite hills and bounce !! OMG…this is scary enough without a good landing. I can see through the cane sides that the ground is getting closer and I’m not liking this. It’s like waiting for something bad to happen again . We , in fact, hit 3 termite hills and bang and crash along the ground. Eventually we stop and beside me I can hear an elderly gentleman groaning in fright. The pilot says to him ” You’re ok, you just dont know it yet “….such tact !!! The basket landing position is not up right but lying on its side so you’re still hanging on but looking up at the sky. Its a horrible feeling and you dont know where you are. I was waiting to tip right over and be under the basket….it didnt happen.
The English man was asked to get out first. I didnt wait for instruction and got out anyway. Frank handed me the first aid box and asked me to take the injured man to the side and attend to him. His new bride was upset and could do nothing but worry. And rightly so. The other passengers were taken to the side and given the organised champagne and orange juice. How could they just act like nothing happened I wondered ?? Oh well….I had other things to think about. I opened the first aid box and assessed it’s contents. Its full of dust and not well maintained. No surprises there !! I find some wipes to clean the blood and notice the branch marks across his head. He won’t sit down when I ask so I dont push it. I clean him up and when he goes into shock and starts shaking , I ask for assistance from the crew standing nearby. He drops to the ground.My kiwi beanie is in my coat pocket so I put that on his head to keep him warm. I had noticed a silver emergency blanket in the box so wrapped him in it and yelled at the crew that he needed to be taken to a doctor… ” NOW “. There is finally some action !! Soon he is taken away and I give his wife my contact details. After they are gone….I walk to the group. A nice German lady walks towards me and places her hand on my arm and asks if I am Ok ? When my focus is now gone , my own shock sets in. The rest of the day is ruined. Frank takes me aside later and admits it was his fault…..he didnt see the trees !!!! I cannot comprehend how that is wildly possible. With all his so called experience….how could that be possible ???? I am angry and shocked that he could endanger lives in such a manner. We are lucky to be alive.
And…..I dont even know that man’s name. I hope he contacts me to let me know if he is ok now.
Its freezing tonight….camping on the rim of the Ngorogoro Crater. There are zebras walking around here and an elephant in the trees. Yep….theres the roar of lions again. The next morning we descend into the crater. There is a high concentration of animals here. All co existing . And in amongst these animals walks two maasai men tending their cows. We’re on the lookout for a rhino and we are lucky to see a black one in the distance. Life seems good for the animals here. the wildebeest have come from the north. As we ascend out of the crater I make the mistake of looking down and panic sets in as I get a flashback from the day before. The height factor kicks in. Deep breathing and keeping quiet sets me right eventually. No one notices.
Its time to leave this place behind. The Serengeti holds both good and bad memories. The game viewing here is special , thats for sure. The roads from Arusha to Nairobi , in Kenya, are horrible and rough , to say the least. The truck gets stuck in a roadworks diversion and we have to sit in the baking afternoon sun while the driver finds a way to get free from this problem. The truck is going nowhere in a hurry as the back end is stuck fast. No going forward and no going back. Patience and perseverance prevail and all’s well in the end.
On arrival in the busy city of Nairobi, its time to say goodbye to our group. Its the end of tour number 3 for me. We have one last night together before some go further and some go home to their respective countries.
Tour 4 and my last week in Africa is impending…..