The dust devils spin across the ground in Arusha, Tanzania. Mt. Meru stands guard, dominating the skyline, while Kilimanjaro is a whisper of snow in the background. I am standing inside a Maasai village, where a warrior by the name of Ollie is giving a guided tour. The Maasai children follow us, grabbing our hands. They know the “1, 2, 3, whee” game off by heart and after 5 minutes our arms ache from swinging, often two children at once. Sarah is a natural with children. She has them falling off her arms and on both hips. The Maasai women beg us to buy their jewelry and other wares. It is hard to refuse, and my bargaining skills get a work out.
The Oasis group are camped out at the Meserani Snake park. As the name suggests, there are hundreds of snakes about (behind glass, of course). I get to see a black mamba – the animal that had me intrigued about Tanzania from Roald Dahl’s “Going Solo”. I am much happier to see it behind glass than under my feet. It is one of (if not <B>the</b> most dangerous reptiles in Africa. The snake park owners push the feeding of the snakes early for our viewing pleasure, and we watch tiny chicks fight unsuccessfully for their lives. The morbid sight keeps us so enthralled that we nearly miss our own dinner. Thankfully we jog back in time for bangers and mint-flavoured mashed potatoes. Ah, the camping life. Only 54 more days to go of it.
I know I haven’t yet recounted the meet-up with the Oasis truck (and 22 new people!) However, since I have been many many days without internet, this entry will be long enough without all the boring travel details. Suffice to say that so far the group gets along really well, and that everyone we have met so far have been fantastic.
Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti
The jeeps fit 8 people plus the driver, so it is a tight squeeze. I sit up front with Dave (the driver), but mostly I stand on the chair and pop my head up out of the enormous sun roof. When all our heads are up, we look like meercats peering out of their burrows. Ngorongoro Crater is my first ever true game drive.
An anomaly of nature, the crater formed over 200 million years ago when a massive volcano – three times the size of Mt. Kilimanjaro – collapsed in on itself. Now, due to the presence of an enormous lake, animals flock to the crater in the dry season. People flock there too, and we are far from alone on our safari.
Driver Dame gives some of us in the jeep nicknames. Sarah is “giraffe” (“because she is tall like one”), Jason is “teacher” and I am “ma-china,” which is a Swahili word meaning “Chinese.” This is after he inquired about my heritage. It is a common question over here, as if the guides and locals I meet are infinitely curious about the past and family background. A boat driver in Lamu thought I was Arab – he himself was from Oman. Driver Dave could have sworn that I had African heritage – hwere he gets that from, I have no idea.
We pass by two black rhinos in the distance.
“Ma-china,” says Dave, “do you want to shoot a rhino?”
Well, you can imagine my reaction to that. But when I looked over at him, he was grinning from ear to ear.
“You would get much money from a rhino horn. They are believed to give men sexual virility. For the men with many wives.”
This and many other interesting facts are distributed in a similar, wayward manner throughout the day.
From the Ngorongoro Crater, we drive to the Serengeti. We do a brief dusk game drive before setting up camp. It is the most isolated camp site that we have been to so far. We are right in the middle of the Serengeti; a giraffe strolls by metres from our tent, while in the dark of night we can hear the cackling of hyenas and the roar of a lion. The night comes quickly in Africa. It surrounds us, engulfs us, until we can see nothing but the moon and sky. The sky is resplendent with stars. Sarah, Jason and I sit outside in our sleeping bags – covered in mosquito repellent, of course – and search for shooting stars. We see them. It is magic.
We are up at 4:30am for a sunrise game drive. Our most spectacular sightings so far happen within these short hours. Water buffalo trundle across the road in front of us. A leopard leaps out of the grass and snatches a bird out of the air. A hyena’s den is just off the roadside, and we see the babies suckling. One curious hyena approaches the side of the truck, so close you could almost reach out and touch it. But most spectacular of all, three male and one female lion sit right next to us, yawning and growling while patiently having their pictures taken. Lions are such posers.
We have seen all the Big Five in two days: water buffalo, rhinos, elephants, lions and leopards.
From the Mountain to the Coast
Another 4am start, and we are all fast asleep in the truck. Stu, the truck driver, pulls over and Stu, the tour guide (confusing, I know), shakes us out of our reverie.
“Mount Kilimanjaro,” he says to the confused and sleepy faces. “The sun is rising over Mount Kilimanjaro, and there are no clouds.”
It is a first for our tour guide. The view is spectacular. We are all wide awake to whip out our cameras and we shoot the mountain with the sun rising in the corner. The snow is visible at the top. Then we all pile back into the truck and fall asleep – 13 hours of driving left to accomplish before we reach Dar-es-Salaam and more importantly, Zanzibar Island.
The resort that we are at on Zanzibar Island is called “Paradise” – and the name states the obvious. Crystal clear blue water laps up onto white sand beaches. Our hotel is on stilts up out of the water and when the tide is in, as it was during dinner, the waves lap beneath our feet. The seafood here is delectable, and I have been dining on prawns, king fish, red snapper and all sorts of wonders.
Sarah and I have decided to get our PADI scuba-diving certification while we are here on the Island. Today was packed with theory – and a trip to a 5-star resort to use their swimming pool. If ever I found a perfect honeymoon destination, that 5-star resort could very well be it. Our Paradise hotel is housing us at $15/night. I can only imagine what it costs people to stay at Ras Nungwei (the 5-star) but whatever it is… it can only be worth it. After wiping the drool from our chins, we completed all our closed water dives in one long and exhausting morning.
Tomorrow will take us out on our first real open-water dive, and then onto a beautiful marine park. Scuba-diving is half terrifying, half relaxing. I’ll tell you which half after the break…