Tanzania with Family and Friends

August 10, 2008 - Zanzibar, Tanzania

The Long Trip North

Another fancy visa in our passports, and another country full of opportunity - Tanzania. From the Malawi border post at Kyela, we proceeded to Mbeya, a small town in the south. I went on the search for accommodation while the others waited at the bus station and found a place with the funny name of the Ten Commandments. As I left to get the others, the guy there, who did not speak a word of English, pointed to a sign in Swahili. I told him I did not understand the sign, and went to grab the others. But upon our return, we found out that a man could not share a room with a woman without a valid marriage certificate. I tried to tell him that Jo and I were married, but that didn't cut it. So in the end I shared a room with Dan while Johanna stayed with Inara.

The next three days consisted of some of the hardest, heaviest travelling of the trip. We jammed into overcrowded buses over dusty, bumpy dirt roads from Mbeya to Sumbawanga to Mpanda to Kigoma, covering 300-400km each day in 6-7 hours. Every day left us tired and covered in a thin film of dirt. We were definitely off the beaten track, only spotting about four other white people in four days. So in the end, it took a 26 hours of rough travelling on 5 buses, 2 taxis, 1 pick-up and 1 4x4 to make it the 1400km from Malawi to Kigoma. What a relief it was to finally get there!


Monkeying Around

In Kigoma, we met up with Alison, Johanna's friend from work in Sydney. We celebrated her arrival by polishing off a couple of bottle's of champagne (which she thankfully brought) before heading out to check out the Kigoma nightlife. Surprisingly, we found a bar that filled up quickly, and spent the night dancing and chatting with the locals of this welcoming town.

The following day, we made our way to Gombe Stream National Park, the spot where Jane Goodall has made her ground-breaking studies of the local chimpanzee population since 1960. Joined by a friendly Danish couple, our band of 7 tourists, 200 locals, as many large bags, and several chickens crammed into a 50ft wooden water taxi for the slow ride up Lake Tanganyika. People were crammed into every nook and cranny, but the crowd in their kangas and outfits created a beautiful menagerie of colour, as the small engine slowly powered us north.

After 3 hours, we made it to Gombe stream, but had to find a way to get ourselves and our bags past the hordes and on to shore. But before I could act, Johanna had decided to have a "Baywatch moment" and jumped into the clear lake fully clothed, much to the amusement of the locals. They all helped with the bags as Jo carried them to shore. That's my girl! We couldn't resist to follow her lead and all jumped in for a swim before having a few beers on the beach as we watched the sun set over the Democratic Republic of Congo just across the lake.

The next morning, we set off through dense jungle in search of chimpanzees. We walked for 2-3 hours through the lush green foliage, looking and listening for signs of the chimps. Then, without warning, three chimps stepped out of the bushes and started walking along the track. We quickly followed, ten metres behind, in awe of these magnificent primates. The little group was made up of Tanga, the mother, and her two boys, Tabora and Thomson. They stopped for a while at the base of a tree, fishing for insects, and stretching their long arms, allowing us to admire them. They then climbed the trees and spent some time swinging through them, picking fruit and looking down on us curiously. We just lay back and enjoyed the show. After a while, Tanga and Tabora came down and waited for the cute, little Thomson to descend. He eventually came sliding down a large vine somewhat out of control, like a fireman coming down a pole. It was hilarious to watch. We continued to follow them before they climbed another tree and disappeared into the foliage.

After lunch at a waterfall, we continued our search for more chimps, and were just about to give up before hearing a rustle in the bushes. It was Ferdinand, the alpha male of the group, sitting alone and solemn in the darkness of the bush. We sat about 5 metres away from Ferdinand as he drifted off for his afternoon nap. As we sat there, we noticed another chimp, Sita, quietly lounging in another tree above us. Her bum was sticking out, a sign she was in heat, but she did not seem to mind our presence.

Ferdinand eventually woke up, sat up, yawned, and looked around us with human-like expressions. After several minutes, he got up, and walked towards us as our guide shouted at us to move out of the way. We inched our way into the bushes, and let him pass just one metre away from us. It was like he was saying "This is my turf, so get out of the way." But his movement was not aggressive. Our guide told us that this 3 foot high ape could very well break our bones, and I believed that he could. But after passing us, he sat down peacefully and allowed us to continue to admire him. Being both a hairy beast and an alpha male, I felt like we had a lot in common. Eventually he climbed up a tree and out of sight, and it was time to give Ferdinand and Sita some privacy.

Chimpanzees are meant to be the closests relation to human beings, sharing 98% of our DNA. I would challenge anyone to look into their eyes and not believe in the theory of evolution. Apart from their looks, their expressions and behaviours are so much like our own. The way they interact with others, use tools, eat and show emotion reflect a simpler version of our own humanity.

After another evening on the beach, we caught a boat back to Kigoma. This time, it came late, was and was even more crowded than before. The motor broke down half way, and we drifted into the rocks before one of the crew jumped off to somehow push us away. We drifted for two hours before they got the motor going again, turning it all into a cramped five hour trip. This is Africa. Our last day in Kigoma was spent on a gorgeous clear beach on Lake Tanganyika. A great way to wind down after our time with the chimps.


Cross Country

From Kigoma, we jumped on the dustry Central Line train heading east towards the capital, Dodoma. Jo, Inara, Alison, Dan and I shared a cosy cabin, and despite its reputation, we actually left on time. The cabin was a six-sleeper with a working sink, and just enough space for ourselves and our bags. The train rolled away, stopping at several villages, each trying to sell their unique wares. One village sold just bananas - with scores of people all competiting to sell bananas. Another sold sugar cane, another salt and another honey. There was not much room for differentiation. But each village was an intriguing sight in itself as adults and kids worked frantically to sell what they could. Some of the smaller kids would run out simply to wave at the train, their weekly entertainment. To these villagers, the train was their only connection to the outside world.

The train would go quite fast, but stop often, making it somewhat difficult to get a good stretch of sleep. At night, I lay there thinking the old hunk of junk would go off the rails as it bounced around. But in saying that, we were all very happy to be catching a train rather than another crowded minibus. After 30 hours on the train, we eventually arrived at Dodoma. We tried to get a room at a nearby hotel, but it was full. The manager there was on his way home, so offered us some help. Little did we know what we were in for. The manager nicely drove us around to 8 or so hotels and guesthouses. Everything was full because parliament was in session. So, late at night, we eventually gave up, and had to wait out the hours in a cafe near the bus station. It was a cold and uncomfortable night, but we managed to hold out for our 6am bus for the 12 hour trip to Arusha. In the past 10 days, we had spent 70 hours on local buses and trains. It was such a relief to finally arrive.


Safari with Mum and Dad

The 18th of July had to be our most emotionally draining day in Africa, both good and bad. After saying goodbye to Inara, Alison and Dan, we went out to the airport to wait for my parents to arrive. Then suddenly, disaster struck - our camera had disappeared. When I went to look for it in my bag, it was gone. I still don't know how it happenned, but think I may have briefly left it on a table or counter at the airport. And what awful timing! That morning I dad tried to back up the photos, but it was the first time it did not work. So as a result, we had lost 5 weeks or irreplacable photos. Crap!

While we frantically looked for the camera, my parents arrived. It was great to see them after 5 months, and we were very much looking forward to our next 3 weeks together. My emotions were twisted between the anger in losing the camera and the joy of seeing my folks. We went back to the Arusha Coffee Lodge, a beautiful resort set amongst largew coffee plantations. Our rooms were huge and stunning, and we had our first hot shower since reaching Tanzania. Guess things were not all so bad.

The next couple of days were spent meeting our friendly tour operators, Easy Travel, and catching up with my folks in Arusha. It was great to spend time with them again, and we chatted, joked and laughed like it had only been a week. We reported the camera loss to the police, and got a replacement for the trip. I guess we should have considered ourselves lucky - we had spent 5 months travelling through Africa with no major incidents, and at least we could get the photos from our travel companions. I told myself that the photos may be gone, but the amazing memories remain.

I an extended Land Cruiser, our friendly and knowledgeable guide, Emmilian, drove us from Arusha to Tarangire National Park. Dad and Mum's first day on safari in Africa proved to be a great one. We spotted giraffes, wildebeest, zebras, warthogs, ostrich, baboons and dik diks. But they were most impressed with the lions and elephants. We drove right up to a large pride of lionesses and their cubs, and watched as a group of elephants crossed the road right in front of our vehicle. The experience blew mum and dad away, and we couldn't have asked for a better start to our safari. At night, we stayed at Tarangire Sarafi Lodge, and enjoyed watching the elephants and giraffes graze in the valley below us.

From there, we continued on to Gibbs Farm, just outside the Ngorongoro crater. There, Mum and Dad stayed in an amazing stone cottage. With two large decorated beds, a half room silk mosquito net, large marble bathroom, stylish leather and wooden furniture, a fire place and a verandah that looks over a gorgeous garden, it was one of the nicest rooms I have never had the privilege to stay in. Dad said he could even have stayed there for a week, and I could see why. The whole area was surrounded by beautiful floral and vegetable gardens with views over coffee plantations, the restaurant served delicious home grown meals, and the staff extremely friendly. We spent a couple of days there relaxing, exploring their amazing fruit and veg garden and learning Swahili. The four of us even treated ourselves to a masai massage.

From Gibbs Farm, we went on to Ngorongoro crater. The 20km wide crater is one of the largest calderas in the world, created from a collapsed volcano. From the cloud covered crater rim, we descended down a steep road into the crater, and the magnificant view opened before us. With the steep, green crater walls in the background, and large white lakes in the distance, we watched as huge herds of wildebeest and zerbras grazed across the brown crater floor. A remarkable sight. Throughout the day, we spotted a black rhino and cheetah from a distance, visited the hippo pool and impressed ourselves with the massive flocks of pink flamingoes along the lake. We also spent some time with two lion brothers who fought each other playfully, and spotted 4 hyenas muching away on a wildebeest carcass. Ngorongoro is said to have one of the highest concentrations of wildlife in the world - unfortunately it also has one of the highest concentrations of 4x4s in the world as well. But despite the traffic, it was an amazing day.

After a night at the Ngorongoro Serena Lodge, which had brilliant view across the crater, we went on to Olduvai (Oldupai) Gorge. Known as the cradle of humankind, archaeologists had discovered a 1.8 million-year-old apelike skull as well as 3.7 million-year-old footprints in this spot. These discoveries led to much debate on human evolution, and inspired more discussion in our group of five. We explored the museum, admired the view, and contemplated what life could have looked like here millions of years ago.

Next on to the Serengeti. The Serengeti is huge, measuring almost 15,000 square km, and predominanly made up of vast treeless plains. On our first day there, we got a good taste for the size of it, driving 9 hours from the south east to the western corridor, spotting a range of wildlife along the way. We arrived at Kirawira Camp, where the so-called tents were huge and decorated in what they called "colonial opulence". Each tent had a huge four-posted bed, antique furniture and an ensuite bathroom. Opulence was an understatement. It also felt somewhat strange in the dining tent to be eating king prawns, seared kingfish and fine red wine in the middle of the Serengeti, but we didn't complain. The following morning, we watched and waited while a cheetah lay in the grass as impalas approach. When they got close enough, the cheetah exploded into action to chase its prey. But unfortunately for us, it went without brunch. We also spotted hippos, crocs, baboons and lionnesses that day, as well as an amazingly colour-changing chameleon back at Kirarwira. From Kirawira, we proceeded north, and stopped at a strange sight - a deal impala hanging from a tree. After a difficult search, we found the culprit, a large leopard, hiding in the dark branches of another nearby free. The large cat emerged to nimbly climb down the tree before disappearing into the long grass. We later spent some quality time with a group of 40-50 elephants drinking at a dried out river bed. They would use their trunks to dig their own well, and suck out the water buried below. We were also amazed to watch two large elephants incredibly descend down a near vertical river bank.

That night we arrived at the Migration Camp in the north and checked into our large, plush tents fitted out with huge beds, leather lounges and fantastic wood-panelled ensuite bathrooms. "Camping" at its best. But we were brought suddenly back to reality as we headed back to the tents at night, and were almost charged by a roaming buffalo. Luckily the guard threw a well aimed rock at the buffalos head to make him turn away as we hurried past.

In the north, we had breakfast a couple of metres away from four lions, and watched some vultures ferociously pick away at a wildebeest carcass. We were also lucky enough to catch what remained of the Great Migration. By this stage, the majority of the one million wildebeest had migrated across the Mara River to the Masai Mara in Kenya. But Emmilian had estimated that a quarter still remained in the Serengeti, and we were seeing them everywhere. Thousands upon thousands of wildebeest and zebras continued to graze in the lush green lands of the north, while many formed huge trains as they migrated. It felt great that we could at least catch the tail end of the migration.

On our final day in the Serengeti, our guide told us that whenever he needs to get people to the airport, he either gets a flat tyre or spots heaps of game. I guess we should have been happy it was the latter. The Serengeti gave us a royal send off with three cheetahs, a pride of lions, a pack of hyenas and 12 giraffes. Just before the airport we spotted more lions prowling after a group of zebras, and a roving group of elephants. An impressive end to an impressive safari. From the dusty Seronera airstrip, we said goodbye to Emmilian and jumped into a 12-seater plane over the Ngorongoro crater towards Zanzibar.


Zanzibar Island

Over gorgeous turquoise blue attols, we touched down at Zanzibar Airport (our first internal flight of the trip) and made our way to Ocean Paradise Resort on the east coast. The resort was situated on a gorgeous white sand beach that stretched out into the bright azure waters. The huge tide here would bring the waters in near the resort and send them out to the distance to reveal a wide, flat stretch of sand.

Now was the time for some serious relaxation. The five days at Ocean Paradise Resort could be characterised by one word - laziness. But this was just what the doctor ordered. We spent most of the time simply relaxing and enjoying each others company. And when we were not relaxing, we were eating. The resort put on a huge buffet for breakfast and dinner, and we overdid it every time. I think all the weight that I had lost in the first 5 months of the trip all came back on in the last 3 weeks with my parents. But it was all delicious, so I could not complain.

After five days, we went on a spice tour on the way to Stone Town. But as we got started, the heavens opened and it started to bucket down. The spice field quickly turned into a river, and we left quickly. In Stone Town we checked into the Zanzibar Palace Hotel. Up the steep (and too long) staircase) we checked into our rooms ornately decorated in true Stone Town style. Later, we wandered through the narrow alleyways and chaotic markets that Stone Town is known for.

The final few days with my parents were spent exploring the sights and sounds in and around Stone Town. We went on a tour of the town, visiting the palaces, markets, fort and old slave markets, and learning about its dotted history of sultans and slaves. We were particularly moved, and disgusting, by the attrocities surrounding the sale of 600,000 slaves sold through Zanzibar in the 19th century. Another day, we took a small boat out to prison island to spend some time with the gigantic, inhabiting tortoises and relax on the white sand beach. Our final day was spent shopping in the local markets for gifts for family back home.

On the 6th August, we dropped off my parents at the chaotic Zanzibar Airport for their flight back to Australia. It was sad to see them go. It had been a fantastic 3 weeks with them in Tanzania - 3 of the most memorable weeks of the trip. Admittedly, it was great to have some luxury and be taken care of for 3 weeks after roughing it for 5 months. But the most amazing thing was being able to share these experiences and this continent with Mum and Dad. Thanks for an incredible time. We miss you already.

We are still in Zanzibar now, and plan to stay here at least another month to do some volunteer work. It will be nice to stay in one place for a while!


We have added more photos in the Malawi album (thanks to Inara and Alison), and have added photos in the Tanzania album for this leg of the trip. Enjoy!



Freshly roasted
A Masai Mamma
Johanna looking glamorous
Sun-tanning on the Serengeti


rouky debelak:
August 23, 2008
hey doods, have a safe diving . miss you a lot. have fun.
Mirco & Margaret Debelak:
September 9, 2008
We just want to convey to you on your birthday the obvious and that is have a good time with your new friends the Elephants , the Lions, the Hippos, the Cheetahs and in particular with your lovely lady Joanna.
Take good care
Margaret & Mirco
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