Touring Tanzania and Zanzibar
The camp-site rules are strict, because there are lions around
Nights are noisy in the Serengeti: lions, zebras, hyenas and monkeys. Most animals in Ngorongoro never leave the crater. In Mto Wa Mbu, meetings are held over a banana beer. A Masai village turns out to be built for tourists. Zanzibar is the home of many household spices. Looking for dolphins in little boats.
Travelogue & photos: Johan Siegers
It takes a while to cross the Kenian-Tanzanian border. We spend the night in Speke Bay Lodge. This lodge, with its own camping site, sits on the bank of Lake Victoria and is run by Dutch people.
Our group splits: some go bird spotting with an expert, others go mountain biking and I join a group that leaves in a canoe to visit a nearby fishers village. Unfortunately we are not allowed to take pictures there.
The tide is low when we leave, which doesn't make it easier to pull the canoes loose. We have to avoid contact with the water, because of the risk of bilharzia.
In the village we are welcomed by children who immediately want to hold hands with you. There is so little entertainment in the village that they are happy with tourists. We certainly draw attention. The kids are carried around on our shoulders, are tossed in the air, etc.
After our tour of the village the canoes take us back to Speke Bay Lodge. We are going downstream now and also have the wind in our backs, so it's a lot easier for the canoe paddlers. They even have enough energy left to sing, keeping beat by tapping the paddles on the edge of the boat.
A noisy night: lions, zebras, hyenas and monkeys
We enter the Serengeti National Park only at the end of the morning. We will stay for 48 hours: two nights at a camping site in the Serengeti.
Because there are lions and hyenas, the camp-site rules are stricter here. We can't leave our tents at night, not even to pee. A cut-off plastic water bottle serves as an emergency toilet.
This seems a little exaggerated to me, but later we see a lion at a distance of only 300 meters from our camp site. Our guide sees two hyenas warming themselves by the smoldering campfire at 11 PM.
The tsetse fly is active in the Serengeti. Its sting can cause sleeping sickness (African trypanosomiasis). The flies are atracted by dark blues, so we are discouraged from wearing this color. But the roof of the truck is painted blue...
One the first leg from the western entrance the park seems dry and barren. It looks as if the grass was burnt down: the soil is completely black. After a while the landscape gets greener and we see our first game: wildebeests, hartebeests, zebras, giraffes.
A hyena is napping in a water puddle on a sandpath. When we get closer, it gets up and limps off - it's injured.
A little farther we see elephants. They are walking back and forth as if they don't know where to go. Tom, the driver, finds out why: at a small distance are two lions. A little later we also see two cubs in a tree.
After watching us for a while, they carefully leave the tree, one by one, and walk away.
After a night filled with animal noises - lions, zebras, hyenas and monkeys - I have to get up at 5 AM. I will go on a hot-air balloon safari over the Serengeti.
When we arrive at the launching spot, two balloons are waiting for us. First they are filled with air with large fans. The basket lies on its side and is divided in sections. Three people lie down in each section, on their backs with their feet towards the bottom of the basket.
When the heater is turned on, the basket stands up slowly, in fits and starts. After a minute, we finally are in the air. We have a great view of the Serengeti from this height.
The wildebeests are returning from the Maasai Mara, they form a long ribbon, together with zebras. We also see a few hyenas and a jackal. Some giraffes are finding out their path is obstructed by lions.
After 45 minutes we begin our descent. Much too soon, we feel, but they are not allowed to cross the mountains. And the strong wind takes us back to our landing spot much too fast. A pity. We have a luxury breakfast (with champagne!) in the middle of the Serengeti. As far as I'm concerned this is a completely unnecessary luxury.
After our truck has picked us up we take another game drive and we see three lions stalking a zebra herd. After an hour the zebras arrive at a watering place and one of the lions decides to attack. The second one doesn't join, however, and the third is too far away. As soon as the lion sees it's a lost cause, it aborts its attack.
Most animals never leave the crater
While we are leaving the Serengeti, we see two cheetahs stalking a group of impalas. They have seen the cheetahs, but they don't move. But the second one of the cheetahs attacks, one impala screams and all of them run away. The cheetahs abort their attack.
The road to Ngorongoro is the worst I've ever seen. It's bumpy because there are potholes and rocks everywhere. Also, the dust flies up like crazy. Not just because of us, there is also oncoming traffic and cars that overtake us. We're all eating dust. Closing the truck's shutters will only make things worse. Our driver tells me he hates this part of the trip, because he is afraid something will break.
On the way we visit Olduvai Gorge. This place is sometimes called the cradle of humanity, because remains of almost all our ancestors were found here (f.i. homo erectus, homo habilis and australiopithecus). What is special about this place, is that everything was preserved in neat layers.
The last leg to Karatu is paved. That saves us both dust and time. We spend the night in a lodge in Karatu.
Because our truck can't go there, we use three jeeps to descend into the Ngorongoro crater.
From above there's no life to be seen, but after descending 600 meters, it turns out there are wildebeests, zebras, ostriches, rhinoes, several species of antelope, buffaloes and hyenas. Most of these animals never leave the crater.
For some reason we get closer to the animals here. Sometimes we can almost touch them. Only the predators keep their distance.
Still it's fun to watch ostriches court each other and an elephant cross the road nearby to eat leaves from the brush on the other side.
We have to stay in the car for lunch. Apparently there's a species of hawk here (black kite) that will nose-dive to steal your food from your hands. Unfortunately they sometimes also take a finger with them.
In a nearby pond some hippoes are napping.
it's been dry for a couple of days, which makes our stay even more pleasant.
At night there's a performance by African dancers and acrobats near the lodge. The music and dance are quite nice; the acrobatics are mainly demonstrations of litheness, saltoes forward and backward; leaning backward and then standing on hands and feet, with the hands actually on the feet.
The largest part of our group missed the performance. They went to an African dance club, where popular African music was played, every now and then alternated with a Western song.
Mto Wa Mbu
If there's something to discuss, it's done over a banana beer
The next morning we take a walk in the village of Mto Wa Bu. The Dutch aid organisation SNV has a cultural development project here.
The goal is to let the local population profit from tourism and to give information to the tourists about life in African villages. We are served a meal prepared by the villagers, with all ingredients bought locally.
Before the meal we get a tour of the village with a visit to the medicine man. He uses plants and herbs that grow locally - fresh or dried - to cure illness.
There is a large banana plantation near the village, where they grow yellow and red bananas. Bananas are categorized in three groups, according to their uses: the ones that are eaten raw, as fruit; bananas that are cooked and a variety that is used to make beer. Banana beer has an important social role: if you have to discuss something with someone, you do that over a banana beer. It is also used to pay people for services and even as a part of the dowry.
Some of us accept the offer to taste banana beer. It is unfiltered and is served in a large bowl that is handed from one to the other.
There are baobab trees in this region; they can become huge. They are recognizable by their looks: as if they were planted upside down, with their roots above ground.
The women's Masai village we visit in the afternoon was built especially for tourists. The women stay there for six months and then return to their own village. Their way of life is much like that of the Samburu in Kenya.
Masai men are also allowed to have more than one wife. If a women can't have children, the man can send her back to her parents.
A discussion follows: men can also be infertile. Soon the cat's out of the bag. Masai men share their wives with each other.
When the husband is away, another man can visit the hut of one of his wives, plant his spear in front and thus acquire the right to have sex with her. If this union leads to pregnancy, the husband gets the child.
On one side mountains, on the other a vast valley
On our long drive to the town of Lushoto in the Usambara Mountains, we pass Mt. Kilimanjaro. We're in luck: it's a clear day and its snowy peak is visible.
The surroundings get mountainous. The road leads mostly through the valley, until we have to climb to Lushoto. As we get higher, it gets colder in the truck.
The population here is predominantly Muslim. On the way we saw buses filled with pilgrims on their way to Dar-es-Salaam.
During the trip, a sweater all of a sudden is blown off the truck. We see how a biker, who happened to be there, takes it and rides away. When we turn and follow him, he returns it without any problem. As a reward, he gets a T-shirt.
A four-hour walk is scheduled in the surroundings of Lushoto, during which we will visit a panoramic view point.
I take the offer to be driven there in a van. The view is exceptionally great. On one side mountains over which clouds float, on the other side a vast valley.
We walk to a cheese farm for lunch. This farm has Frysian cows, some of them crossed with indigenous ones. Indigenous cows only produce half a liter of milk daily. The imported Dutch cows 20 liters. This means that there is now so much milk, people don't know what to do with it. An experiment in making yoghurt failed. Enter a "kaaskop" (= cheesehead; nickname for Dutch person) who suggested to make cheese.
Nearby is a school for the blind and visually impaired. They are not as well equiped as the average school for the blind in western countries. The kids look desolate.
Looking for dolphins
Meanwhile the rain has caught up with us. It's only a short shower, but enough to get wet.
As we get closer to Dar-es-Salaam the rains increase in force. They're still only showers, but they sometimes bring large amounts of water. In between it's dry but humid and oppressive because of the evaporating water.
Dar-es-Salaam clearly is a big city. We drive to the harbor, where we board a hydrofoil which will take us to Zanzibar in two hours.
After being woken up at five by the mosque and at seven by the traffic noise, I get up. This morning a spice tour is scheduled. After a visit to the Marhabi Palace we drive to the area where spices are grown.
Our guide picks leaves and points out fruit, and we have to guess what they are. We see cloves, turmeric, cardemom, ginger, durian, jackfruit, pineapple and much more.
A kid diligently climbs a coconut palm to pick some coconuts. With a few moves of his knife, he partly peels it and removes the upper part. Fresh coconuts contain delicious, refreshing coconut juice. The fruit pulp is still soft.
There are different opinions about Stone Town (where we are staying). Some are lyrical about its narrow alleys, others find it filthy with lots of litter and broken sidewalks and streets.
In the afternoon I take the Dolphin Tour. The drive to Kizimkazi in the south of Zanzibar takes an hour. Each one of us gets a snorkel and a pair of flippers. We walk over a partly dry sandbank to the boats.
Only the first part is a sandbank, then we have to walk on rocks that hurt my feet. I put on my sandals, which isn't easy when you're standing knee-deep in water.
A little farther there are sea urchins. I remember I have to avoid those. It's hard to estimate how deep it is, so I almost fall a few times.
Once we're in the boats, we start looking for dolphines. In that sense it's like a game drive, the only difference is that we are in ten boats. As soon as we have found them and are in their vicinity, we go into the water to swim with the dolphins.
We're supposed to look down into the water to see them swim underneath us. But I am not prepared and also too busy filming and taking pictures.
As soon as the dolphins have moved away from us (they really don't stay) everyone gets back in the boats and we start looking again.
The second time I am better prepared. I have put on my flippers and snorkel and am ready to go. At the command, I jump in the water.
Unfortunately I have never snorkeled before and I breath through my nose instead of through the snorkel. The flippers also feel weird on my feet. With all this, I completely forget to look down and swim - searching for dolphins - back to the boat which meanwhile has moved a few meters.
I decide to stay in the boat from now on, so I'll at least see dolphins emerge from the surface every now and then. After a while we return and have to walk back the same way we came. This time I notice a coral reef near the coast. We also see a beautiful red starfish and then we're on land again.
Later in the afternoon we visit Jozani Chwata Bay. We take a walk in the rainforest and get a close look at a red colobus monkey. They allow you to get as close as only one meter.
I spend my last half day on the beach just outside Stone Town. Enjoying a beer, we wait until it's time to take the ferry back to Dar-es-Salaam. And from there we'll fly back home.