Sunday, 24 May
Our flight left Heathrow last night, and we landed in Nairobi at 5:30am, after a nine-hour flight. Our transfer driver was waiting, to take us to the Kivi Milimani Hotel, the starting point for the overland tour.
We were warned that the hotel has an “original retro” 1970s feel, and that was certainly the truth – the place looks like it hasn’t been renovated since then. There was no hot water, the TV was broken and the door of the room was warped and didn’t fit in the frame properly. Still, they had a room ready for us on arrival, so we were able to get a few hours’ sleep. I never sleep well on planes – overnight flights are always a killer.
We spent the day relaxing in the hotel before the pre-departure briefing meeting early this evening, where we got to meet our fellow travellers. There are 20 of us on the trip. We have several Australians, a few fellow Brits, three Canadians and a Dane. The tour leader is a Yorkshireman named Jono. There are two other members of the crew – Emily, the co-driver; and Denford, the cook.
Monday, 25 May
We were up early to have breakfast at the hotel, and then begin our first day on the truck. The truck is called Oscar del Toro. He is a 25-year-old 4-wheel drive diesel truck with a personality of his own.
We were on the road all day, and we passed over the Kenya/Tanzania border without any hassle, though the procedure of getting visas was rather long-winded. Our passports were gathered up at the first border crossing, and we all got stamps to say we had left Kenya. A few yards later, the truck stopped again, and we all had to get out with our passports individually to stand in line for the visa to Tanzania, and money had to change hands at this point. There seems to be a lot of red tape in Africa.
However, with passports returned and all the paperwork in order, we all climbed back on the truck and headed into Tanzania.
Most of our fellow travellers are seasoned overlanders, having been on other trips prior to the Road to Zanzibar trip. We are rookies at the whole overlanding thing, and we are only just starting to understand the way things are done. Food is a group effort. Supplies are bought from the kitty everyone contributes to at the start of the trip, and a “cook group” rota is drawn up, so that every day two of us help Denford prepare meals. There are other chores to do, and everyone is allocated a task for the duration of the trip. My allocated chore is to sweep the truck. Chris is amongst a small group who are to help pull out the tables and other supplies every time we stop for meals.
We stopped at the side of the road today for lunch, which was sandwiches with ham, cheese and a variety of salad. It’s all very well organised and the bread was fresh and really very good. The road was deserted when we initially stopped, but suddenly a group of Maasai appeared from nowhere, and stood to watch us eat. The children seemed particularly curious. There was also an elder, who was given a chair by some of the other villagers and was clearly treated with respect. I wasn’t sure what to make of this initially. They didn’t do anything, they just stood and watched us eat. When we packed up, they all disappeared again.
Once lunch was packed away, we were on the road again, finally stopping for the night at Snake Park Camp Site in Arusha. The camp site was well equipped, with hot showers and proper toilets. Most of the ones we’ve encountered so far have been the “squat” variety, or if you’re on the road, behind a bush.
We set up our tents, and had dinner at the camp site, a meal prepared by Denford and his assistants. The food is good and the cleanliness regime effective and vigilant. The truck contains a large tank of purified water, and all food is washed using this. Two bowls of water are prepared for hand washing with water from the truck – one for washing with soap and another bowl, containing diluted Dettol and water, for rinsing.
After eating, we also have to wash up our plates and crockery, using three more bowls. The first bowl contains washing up liquid and purified water, the second contains water and Dettol, and the third bowl is plain purified water to rinse off the disinfectant. After washing, the crockery needs drying, but we don’t use dish clothes which are prone to harbouring bacteria. We stand there and “flap” until the crockery is dry.
I have found travelling all day to be exhausting. The roads are dusty and poorly maintained. I will no doubt acclimatise, but at present it is all a bit of a culture shock.
Tuesday 26 May
We had an unscheduled extended stop at Snake Park today. The fridge on the truck broke down, and Jono had to arrange to get it fixed. I gather than such unexpected “challenges” are to be embraced rather than be seen as inconveniences.
So we spent the morning on a tour round the neighbouring Maasai village while the truck stayed at the camp site until the problem was fixed. We learned a lot about the Maasai lifestyle and history, and it was all very interesting. The Maasais are polygamous, with men having more than one wife, but a man has to provide a dowry of cattle to a woman’s family before he can take her as a wife. Hence, the more wives a man has the richer he is, as cattle are a form of currency in the Maasai culture.
Before we parted company with the Maasai, they demonstrated some of their traditional dances to us. By the time we finished the tour of the Maasai village, the truck was fixed and we were able to hit the road again.
Our next stop was a tour of the village of Mto We Mbu. The village has been able to build a school and establish a clean water supply for every household thanks to volunteers and charity donations. We watched some of the local men making decorative carvings out of ebony, a skill that is passed down from generation to generation.
We stayed tonight at a camp site in Karatu. This camp site has a bar, which is where we all spent the evening. The bar has a personality all of its own, as it is adorned with items of clothing that have been left by travellers who have passed through over the years.
Wednesday, 27 May
A very early start this morning, as we separated into smaller groups and piled into jeeps to begin our Serengeti safari. There are four of us in our jeep, and our driver’s name is Lucas.
We made our way in to the Ngorongo Crater, on roads that are truly appalling. Proper off-road vehicles are definitely needed, but had I known how things were going to be, I would have packed a sports bra!
Descending into the Crater a lot of cloud cover obscured our view, but as we got further down to sea level, the spectacular scenery became evident. We saw a great deal of wild life. We saw a group of lions fairly early on – a lioness and three young males, skulking in the grass watching a group of wildebeests. We also saw plenty of zebras and warthogs, a couple of hyenas staking out prey, some Thompson’s gazelles, and a group of hippos cooling off in the lake. We even saw a very large white rhino. He was rather a long distance from us, and it was difficult to get a good shot. Perhaps this was good from our perspective – it’s probably not a good idea to get too close to an angry rhino. We also saw several bull elephants, though at a distance. We were told all the bulls are in the Crater, but the females and the young elephants live in the Serengeti.
We left the Crater mid-afternoon and headed for the Serengeti, where we are staying in a bush camp for the next two nights. The facilities are basic, though there is a toilet block. It’s very dark in the camp – everyone is using head torches to see what they are doing. The stars are brilliant in the sky, though. At home in London, you never really get a good view of the stars due to the light pollution.
I am also noticing the length of the days. We are close to the equator here, so it gets dark consistently at 6:30pm, and light again at 6:30am. This seemed a bit strange at first – it’s summer time in Britain, and it’s not getting dark there till about 9pm.
We have been given a briefing on safety during the night in a Serengeti bush camp. No food in the tents – apparently it attracts the elephants. And if we need to use the toilet block in the night, we should first peer out of the tent to check for eyes. If we can see red eyes, that means a predator is prowling around. Somehow I think I will be staying in my tent until morning – I don’t want to risk becoming lion supper for the sake of a pee break.
Thursday, 28 May
The others were reporting hearing lions growling near the camp during the night. Just as well I had my earplugs in, or else I might have been too scared to get any sleep at all.
Another early start for us as we got into our jeeps for another game drive today. We were treated to a lot more wild life. The annual wildebeest migration to the Serengeti is currently on, and there are two million wildebeests here. It’s a very impressive sight – all around us, wildebeests as far as the eye can see. We are very lucky to catch it – they are all beginning to head back to the Maasai Mara, and if we had come out to Africa a week later, we might have missed them all.
Consequently the food supply for the predators is plentiful at the moment. We have seen a lot of lions today, but most of them have been lying in trees looking very full and satisfied. We also saw a leopard, also sitting in a tree.
The only one of the ‘big five’ we haven’t seen is a cheetah. One of the other jeeps of our group did, apparently, but I think we’re going to be unlucky on that score. We did see a serval cat, however, and they normally only come out at night.
Most of the big cats have been at some distance. The zebras and giraffes get a lot closer to the jeep. But the zebras and giraffes are a lot less likely to view us as dinner, so I’m not worried.
We stayed at the bush camp for a second night tonight. It has been quite cosy, with everyone spending the evening sitting around the camp fire. We have had music, too, as Chris brought his guitar.
Friday, 29 May
It rained very hard last night. Fortunately it stopped by the time we emerged from the tent, but we had to pack up a wet tent.
We had another game drive before we all left the Serengeti, this time the jeep having to negotiate the enormous puddles that had appeared because of the rain. In spite of the rain, the landscape is still incredibly dusty. I had not truly appreciated just how dry and dusty Tanzania is. Two days in the bush camp, and everything I have with me is caked in a fine layer of red dust.
We observed a group of vultures picking the remains off a carcass on our game drive today – probably a lion kill from early this morning.
One of the jeeps developed a technical problem as we drove in convoy out of the Serengeti, and as all the drivers pitched in to help fix it, we were unexpectedly detained. Fortunately they managed to get it going again, and we were on our way.
We were taken back to Karatu, where we met up with the truck once again, and then we were travelling for the rest of the day to Snake Park camp site again, where we stayed Monday night.
I can recommend the use of “travel bands” which are simple elasticated wristbands with pressure points that press between the tendons of your wrist. They are meant to combat travel sickness. I sometimes have trouble with long journeys but I have been wearing these for most of our travelling time on this trip and have had no trouble at all.
Saturday, 30 May
We got a bit of a lie-in this morning for once. The facilities at Snake Park camp site are pretty good, and compared to the bush camp positively luxurious. I had a hot shower this morning and changed into a complete set of clean clothes. A simple thing, but indescribably wonderful after two days in the bush!
We spent some time in the town of Arusha this morning, where we could shop for essentials (I was after shampoo and conditioner), snacks, change currency or check emails at the internet cafe. Back on the bus, we were off to Moshi, where we visited the Amani Children’s Home, which provides shelter and education for Tanzania’s street children. Unfortunately we didn’t get to meet many of the children – they were on a day trip. But we were shown around the orphanage and got a good appreciation of how the home has improved their lives.
On our drive today I noted that in all of the towns we passed through, there was an immense line outside every bank. It seems that most people in Tanzania don’t have bank accounts. I think Friday is pay day, so the queues outside the banks on Saturdays are likely people waiting to cash their pay cheques.
Tonight’s camp site is in the village of Mshiri. Getting there involved a hazardous trek on the truck up a dirt road, and then we had to leave the truck and walk the last leg of the journey on foot, as the road was not accessible by vehicle. The camp site is very picturesque, though. It’s a “split level” site going down the hillside, and there is a lovely waterfall at the bottom of the hill.
We are being fed at Mshiri by the villagers, who are all wonderfully friendly and welcoming. The local food is very carbohydrate-heavy, with lots of rice and potatoes. Many varieties of bananas grow and they are served with every meal, usually as a savoury dish. There’s often some kind of beef stew as well. The food is tasty and very filling, and usually followed up with some delicious exotic local fruit.
The camp was guarded by a Maasai warrior. I inadvertently encountered him when I left the dinner table trying to find the toilet block. It was getting dark and I was going the wrong way, but did not realise this at first. I was stumbling along in the darkness (being a city dweller my night vision is terrible) and I just heard a disembodied voice saying “jambo” (local greeting, meaning “hello”). It was our guard, who had melted so thoroughly into the darkness I didn’t see him at all. He gave me quite a fright. Fortunately for me he was quite friendly – in spite of the scary looking spears the Maasai carry – and he pointed me in the right direction for the toilet block.
Sunday, 31 May
After a breakfast of pancakes with sugar and orange slices, and bread with mango jam, we visited the waterfall and had a tour round the village of Mshiri. Our tour guide was a 63-year-old Englishman named Bob who is during volunteer work for a year. As we were taken around the village, a local girl joined the group and began talking to us. She was very interested in what life was like where we came from. We learned that she was 18 and about to finish school. She told us she has ambitions to go to university and become a lawyer. She wanted a career, and not necessarily a family. The fact that she had this option available to her impressed upon me how effective the work to enable an education project in Mshiri had been. So many women we have seen in Tanzania don’t have the option of education – they are housewives and mothers and have no other options available to them.
As well as education for all its children, Mshiri offers vocational training to teenagers, in skills such as carpentry and jewellery making, so that they will reach adulthood with skills that will allow them to find a good job. They are currently working on building a ‘dorm’, so that young people from further afield can come to the village to get an education and stay on campus, as at present this is only available to local youngsters.
The craft shop in the village sold jewellery made by young women in the village. The profits from the goods sold go back into the education project for the village, as well as paying a salary to the women who make them. This cause has touched me. I made a point of buying some items of jewellery for myself and as gifts for friends, as a way of supporting it.
After we left Mshiri, we were back on the truck for a four-hour drive to Lushoto. Tonight’s camp site is in the grounds of the Lawns Hotel, one of the oldest hotels in the area and it still retains a colonial feel.
The option of upgrading to a hotel room rather than a tent was available, and we took it. Maybe I’m wimping out, but I was ready to sleep in a bed. The room had a fantastic colonial feel, all wooden furniture with that fantastic smell that old wood gets. Though the room has an ensuite bathroom we had to have cold showers – the water heater appears to not be working.
There is also a laundry service available at the hotel. After nearly two weeks on the road, everyone was ready to take advantage of this.
Monday, 1 June
We started today with a five-hour hike through the village of Lushoto. It was exhausting, but fascinating. The village is at the base of the Kilimanjaro, and as we ascended higher, we went up into the clouds, which provided a blessed relief to the unforgiving heat of the Tanzanian sun. Sadly this also meant some of the fantastic views we should have seen were obscured.
The local children, like all the African children we have seen, came running up to us, to say “jambo” or to get “high fives”, or just to run alongside us for a while. I think they see tourists as a curiosity, but they are all extremely friendly and happy to see us.
After the hike, we had the rest of the day to relax at the hotel. The hot water issue has been fixed, so we were able to take a hot shower – bliss. It came out of the hot tap, not the cold, but at least we had some.
The suspension spring on Oscar the truck broke yesterday – we all heard the bang, actually. Therefore the crew spent most of the afternoon under the truck trying to fix the problem. But Oscar came through in the end, and we will be able to hit the road as scheduled in the morning.
Tuesday, 2 June
Another early start this morning, as we drove to Dar es Salaam. This is an extremely busy city, and the people there appear much more affluent than those in the villages we have seen.
Tonight we are camping in the grounds of a hotel near the beach. It’s our last night camping, as the accommodation is in hotels from here on in. The camp site is very good. There’s a great bar, decent showers, and an OK toilet block. So tonight’s group meal and ‘flapping’ washing up ritual was undertaken with a slight sense of regret, as it is the last time we are undertaking it.
Wednesday, 3 June
We took the foot ferry to Zanzibar today, so we left Oscar the truck in Dar es Salaam. Chris and I had to say goodbye to Oscar – and Denford the cook – today. We leave the group in Zanzibar, so we are not finishing the tour with the others. It was strange saying goodbye. Oscar has been home for the last two weeks. In a way, I will miss him.
The ferry crossing took about two hours. The travel bands I am wearing continue to work, and I had no seasickness on the ferry. At the other end we were met by our guide, Daniel, who took us to our hotel in Stone Town, the Safari Lodge. After we had settled into our rooms, Daniel gave us a brief tour of Stone Town, and then we were free to explore on our own. I found Stone Town a bit intimidating – as a tourist you get hassled by lots of people, trying to get you to buy things. Some of them can be rather pushy; you have to be very persistent with your “no thank you”s if you don’t want to buy anything.
The group met up again in the evening and headed to Africa House, a raher famous (and posh) old colonial hotel. we had a few drinks in the bar there, and headed out to the grounds where several vendors had set up food stalls there. We tried out Zanzibar pizzas. These are more like pancakes than Western pizzas. A pancake-style base is filled with various ingredients (we had vegetables and beef in ours), an egg is added, then a top layer is added, the bottom layer folded over, and the whole thing is fried in a griddle. The result is very tasty. You can also get sweet fillings as well as savoury ones. We tried a chocolate and banana pizza for dessert.
Thursday, 4 June
Breakfast was provided by the hotel this morning. It wasn’t as nice as the breakfasts we’ve been getting on the truck, actually.
We went off in a minibus with Daniel today for a tour of Stone Town. First we visited the old Slave Market, which now has a church on it. The room where the slaves were kept when they first arrived in Stone Town has been recreated so that people can get some understanding of the suffering they undertook. In a tiny, claustrophobic room up to 70 slaves were held, without food or water, for up to three days. The purpose was to determine price. Those that were still healthy at the end of their ordeal were sold for a higher price. Those that were weak or ill at the end were auctioned for a lower price. I never cease to be amazed by how badly people have treated their fellow human beings over the centuries.
After the slave market we visited a local fish and meat market, which was somewhat nerve-wracking – hugely crowded, and a combination of smells, not all of them pleasant. After seeing slabs of meat hanging up in the hot weather for hours on end, infested with flies, before being sold and cooked for consumption, I was somewhat put off eating any more meat in this country.
Later on we went for a tour around a spice farm. Zanzibar is, of course, famous for its spices, and the number that are grown in one place is quite impressive. The smells on the spice farm were divine. I am particularly fond of cinnamon, which comes from the bark of the relevant tree, and the smell was so lovely I was very tempted to chew on the bark.
We were also shown the fruit of the cocoa tree, from which cocoa beans are harvested. I’ve decided I should no longer feel guilty about being so fond of chocolate. Cocoa beans count as a fruit; they are grown on a tree.
At the end of the tour, we got to sample some of many exotic fruits that are so plentiful on Zanzibar. There was one particular fruit I liked, which people referred to as a ‘custard apple’ – the white flesh was very sticky and gooey, but extremely sweet. Fruit is part of the staple diet for locals, as so much of it grows. Bananas in particular seem to make up every meal – they are cooked in every possible way, including with savoury dishes.
The tour ended with lunch in a private home that belonged to a friend of Daniel’s. We had to take of our shoes at the door, as is the custom here, and sit on the stone floor to eat our food. The food was very good – rice flavoured with many spices, a flavourful vegetarian sauce to pour on the rice, and a green vegetable I have seen before for meals here (and of which I have to admit I am not fond). And there was plenty of exotic fruit for dessert.
The house was home to a large family, and I assume they got a stipend of some sort for feeding the tourists. Like all private homes in Tanzania, it had no running water. The indoor privy was a hole in the floor. Washing one’s hands before and after dinner was a matter of lining up patiently on the veranda, to have water poured over one’s hand and be handed soap. Hygiene is still important, even though without running water, and I have a new appreciation for the shower and flushing toilet in my house, which makes it so much easier to keep clean.
After lunch we were driven to tonight’s accommodation, the Amaan bungalows. They are quite nice, with all the rooms designed in a semi-detached bungalow style. They have air conditioning, proper toilets, decent showers with hot water.
We had dinner in the restaurant on the beach. It was mostly seafood and all very nice – very fresh. This is our last meal with the group, as we part company with them tomorrow.
Friday, 5 June
We were up early again this morning for a dhow trip. Chris went off scuba diving with a couple of the group – I joined the group that was going snorkelling.
A dhow, I discovered, is a traditional African wooden boat. It was rather smaller and – well, rustic – than I was anticipating. In the past, holiday snorkelling trips have been on modern boats, that usually feature toilets and cabins. This was just a wooden shell with a canvas roof pulled over a wooden frame offering a bit of shelter from the unforgiving African sun. The only modern convenience the dhow had was an engine on the back.
I sometimes get seasick on boats, and this one was bobbing about rather a lot. The travel bands, however, continue to impress me, and it was a very pleasant trip. I really enjoyed the snorkelling. We did two snorkelling sessions. The first one had more fish, the second more interesting coral. In between the two we stopped for lunch on a beautiful white sand beach. Lunch was baked fish (I hoped it wasn’t a fish we had been saying hello to earlier in the day!).
On returning to the hotel, I discovered Chris was already back from his dive. We had enough time to shower and pack our stuff, and a drink at the bar with our travelling companions before it was time to say goodbye. It was rather sad saying goodbye – after two weeks roughing it on a truck, you form a bond with your travelling companions.
But it was time to go, so we got into our transport and headed off for the Ocean Paradise Resort Hotel, where we have arranged to spend our last five nights in Zanzibar. This is a five-star resort hotel, and the level of luxury is just indescribable compared to life on the truck. The rooms are designed to look like traditional African huts – round with thatched rooves. They have air conditioning, TV and telephones. The en suite bathroom is long and thin, running around the side of the bedroom. The shower works every time, you don’t have to turn the boiler on first to get hot water, the toilet flushes every time, the toilet paper is plentiful and soft – and there’s even a bidet.
The bed was decorated with rose petals, spelling out “Welcome to Zanzibar” and adorned with a towel sculpted into the shape of a swan. We soon discovered that a different towel sculpture was awaiting us every time the bed was made up.
We arrived about 7:30pm, so had time for dinner. Dinner is a marvellous buffet arrangement of four courses – starter; soup; main course; dessert. Every night is a different theme.
The restaurant is by the pool, which is apparently the biggest in Zanzibar. In the middle of the pool is a little island, where a live band play an ecletic collection of popular hits during dinner.
Although I have found our two weeks of camping through Tanzania an educational and valuable experience, I have to admit to having an essentially hedonistic nature and am enjoying this new level of luxury. I appreciate it all the more after seeing how ordinary people in Africa live. I look at our fellow hotel guests – mostly Brits, Americans and Germans, it seems – and wonder if they have any idea just how privileged they are at this hotel.
Saturday, 6 June
Last night I had the best night’s sleep I’ve had since we got to Africa, in the wonderfully comfortable bed. It was nice to get a lie-in as well, as for once there was no particular reason to get up.
Again, we were spoiled for choice at breakfast. The problem with buffet style meals is that you end up eating far too much. The hotel offers cooked breakfast items, pastries, bread, cereals and fruit, as well as a chef preparing pancakes, waffles and eggs for those who want them.
A meeting had been set up for us this morning with the holiday rep. he spent a lot of time explaining all the various tours that are offered from the hotel. However, we feel that in our two weeks here we’ve seen and done everything already. We are now looking forward to just a few days of relaxing before we have to go home.
Hence, we spent today lying around by the pool reading. It was a joy to be able to do so, after doing so much dashing around.
Sunday, 7 June
Chris wanted to get one more scuba diving trip in, so he left early this morning to go off and do that. I had another lie-in. Luxury.
So I was on my own for breakfast. A traditional African band came in to play during breakfast – clarinet, guitar and maracas, playing traditional Swahili songs.
It was quite overcast today, but still very muggy. I spent another day by the pool reading, occasionally going for a swim. There is a bar by the pool offering food, so I didn’t even have to go anywhere to get lunch. It was brought to me. I could really get used to this sort of life.
Chris was back from his dive mid-afternoon. Before dinner we decided to have a couple of drinks at one of the many bars in the hotel. We got chatting to the bartender, who we discovered was a 22-year-old Dar Es Salaam native. He had ambitions to be an accountant, and was working at the bar to save money for his studies.
He told us that since Zanzibar became part of Tanzania – about 40 years ago – the native Zanzibarians have been resentful of the mainlanders, who they perceive as outsiders coming to take jobs away from the locals. This I found an interesting concept from the point of view that no matter where you are in the world, it seems there will always be locals grumbling about outsiders coming in to steal their jobs. It seems that when it comes down to it, human nature is the same the world over.
Dinner at the hotel tonight seemed to have an Italian theme. I went for the lentil soup and the spaghetti. And the chocolate cake for dessert. Which isn’t Italian, but there is always an impressive dessert island, and I have a fondness for anything chocolate.
Monday, 8 June
Some of the people we were on the truck with were due back at work today. I also think of my colleagues far away in the office who are at work today, and although our holiday is nearing its end, I still have another week off work.
We had a lot of rainfall today. The weather changes very quickly here. It’s still warm, though, and it doesn’t take long for things to dry even when it does rain. It wasn’t raining for long and the sun came out, and so we got some more pool time in.
Dinner tonight was typical Swahili food, though we have been enjoying this earlier on our trip, on all the occasions we ate in villages and at people’s homes.
Tuesday, 9 June
Today is our last day here. We leave for the airport early tomorrow morning – 3:15am, to be precise. We have a transport coming for us and we will be travelling all day, but we should be home around 4pm tomorrow. I then have Thursday and Friday off work to recover from the trip.
So we enjoy our last day of reading by the pool and making the most of the wonderful spread the hotel buffet offers. The resort hotel has been offering a very different experience from the truck excursion, but the contrast has been nice.
I am going back to England with a new appreciation for all the luxuries we enjoy that we take for granted – free health care and education; women’s rights; social security, to name just a few.
Though I haven’t enjoyed all of the camping moments (I am just not a camping sort of person), I have to admit that the overland camping experience was the best way to experience the Serengeti, and the sights, sounds and smells of Africa have been a truly memorable experience that I will always carry with me. It has been a very different trip to that we usually experience, and I will remember it forever.