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24 July 2009

Did you know – The Serengeti National Park covers more that 14,500 sq km and is an extension of the Masia Mara NP of Kenya.The famous wildebeest are normally found in the southern section of the Serengeti until the rivers dry up.  This is the time for them to migrate to the Masai.  The February calving season sees more than 8,000 wildebeest calves born every day with only around 40% of the surviving past 4 months. 

The Tanzanian wildlife parks know how to rip a person off, that’s for sure.  Everyone (that is all the tourists) we’ve come across feel exactly the same.  It cost us US $200 for 24 hours in the park.  It cost $50 per person to enter, $30 p.p to camp and then $40 for a foreign registered car.  This is only for the Serengeti. If you decide you want to go to the Ngorogoro crater, then it will cost you another $200…they can take that crater and put it where it hurts!!! 

Anyway, enough moaning for now – nobody’s forcing us to do this.  We got to the gate just before lunch and decided to have lunch outside before we go in.  This is where we also saw (for the first time) another four by from Australia. Two guys traveling through Africa with a Troopy.  They came all the way from Western Australia– it sounded like they were having a good time.

The Serengeti is a lot bigger that the Masia Mara.  We eventually went in just before 2pm, and we had our work cut out to get to the camp spot before the sun goes down.  You are not allowed to drive after 7pm.  We started slow, but it soon turned into a rally to get there in time.  The roads aren’t good in the park either – the speed limit is 50 km/h, but we had to drive faster that this.  We had to cover about 150km and we had to spot some wildlife. We were starting to feel very disappointed.  The only wildlife we saw was some zebras and a few wildebeest.  To make things worse, big parts of the park were burning too.  We’re not sure if this is fire management or not.  We eventually got to the public campsite about 5 min before 7pm.  We would’ve given Colin McRae a run for his money. The site was very busy and morale wasn’t too good to be honest.  Never mind we thought, we’ll try and make the most of it the following day.  You are allowed to drive from 6am (about half and hour before sunrise) and we were going to use every bit of the time we had. We got up at 5:30 and left the camp at exactly 6.  Things started ok, we saw a couple of hyenas looking for some leftovers.  After the initial excitement it was the same as the previous day.  We carried on and eventually found one of the bigger rivers.  Eventually, our luck started to turn a bit and we saw our first lions.  Not long after that, we saw 2 cheetahs relaxing in the morning sun next to the river.  They weren’t that close to us, but close enough for us to see – we also a good pair of binoculars.  To top it off later in the morning, we saw a female lion with her 3 cubs. They were very close to us and weren’t bothered at all.  We watched them for a while before we had to leave because of all the other cars (safari companies) around us.  The one idiot parked right in front of us,as if he owned the place.  Our disappointment slowly disappeared, but not completely.  The Serengeti was nice, but definitely not worth all that money (we were pleasantly surprised when we spoke to the guys from Western Australia and they said the best park for them was our very own Kruger National Park – goes to show, you don’t have to travel far to see lots of wildlife).  I don’t think I will ever come back here, unless they change their pricing policy.

We’ve heard from some other travelers that you can bypass the crater if you take a northern road. We decided to try this out.  To our horror, we discover half way that you have to pay something stupid like another US$50 to drive on this track. It is suppose to be for roads, wildlife etc.  Well, there is no road, and the only wildlife around are cattle and goats.  We decided to fight this one a bit and ended up paying about $20 – I was prepared to drive through their gates if I had to (geez, watch that temper…). This isn’t even a conservation fee, it’s a charge set by the local people.  We eventually made it out of there after 200km and 5 hours of driving.

One of the ‘not to be missed’ landmarks of Africa, and particular Tanzania, is of course Mount Kilimanjaro.  This was the next spot we were heading to.  There is a nice little town called Moshi right on the foot of the mountain where most people start the journey to the top.  We were only going to stay for one night, because there’s not really much to do if you don’t climb the mountain (and at US $1200 per person plus porter fees, we decided they could put it in the same place they’ve put the Ngorogoro crater earlier), but we had to change our plans and stay for 2 nights. The reason…we can’t see the mountain. Yes, that’s right, the biggest mountain in Africa was invincible.  It was covered in very dark, very low clouds.  This apparently happens very often too.  It was the same story the next day, and after speaking to the people at the campsite, we decided to move along.  We wanted to get back to the coast and weren’t prepared to hang around indefinitely.  We even drove right up to the gates of the Kilimanjaro National Park, and still we couldn’t see a damned thing.  We were very disappointed, but there you go.  You can’t have everything in life I suppose. 

We decided to rather spend a bit of time in another highland area first before going to the coast. This is a small town called Lushoto at about 1,500 meters above sea level.  It was nice to be in the highlands again, because it was a bit cooler.  The place was beautiful, with lots of small villages around and loads of kids (luckily not the same as the Ethiopian kids). There are nice walks and a spectacular viewpoint too.  We almost caused a bit of chaos on one of our walks.  We happen to walk through a primary school on the way to the viewpoint and everything turned into instant chaos when the children saw us.  The poor teacher in one of the classrooms tried to control what looked like about 10 year old kids, but to no avail.  They all stormed to the window and started shouting and screaming with excitement.  Safe to say we didn’t hang around too long – it’s probably not a good idea to disrupt the class too much,just in case the still use the cane.  I didn’t really fancy 6 of the best…like the old days.

It was time to say goodbye to Tanzania again – we were going to head north again a bit to Kenya and the coastal area around Mombasa.  We also want to be there in time to watch the first of the Tri-Nations rugby tournament. We play New Zealand two consecutive weeks and then play against Australia the week after that.  Lets hope the Springboks make us proud once again.

Until next time, when we’ll be on the lovely Indian Ocean coastline.

09 August 2009

Did you know – The ‘underworld’ of slave trading was rive throughout the recorded history of Africa. This was expanded by the rise  of Islam, which prevents the enslavement of Muslims.  Slave were originally taken from the coastal areas and shipped to Arabia, Persia and Indian Ocean islands.  During the 18th and19th century, the slave trade expanded to as far as Malawi and Congo.  Zanzibar became the slave trade hub of the region.  During the 19thcentury, trade in slaves peaked at between 10,000 – 50,000 per year.  It is estimated that more that 600,000 slaves were sold through Zanzibar.

It’s unbelievable what difference it makes if you are mentally prepared for a bad road.  The last 40km of the road to the Kenyan border was a bad road that we weren’t really expecting.  We knew it was a gravel road, but it looked like a main road according to the map.  It turned out to be a main road, but it was a bumpy one.  It took about 1½ hour to do it.  Unfortunately, we weren’t really prepared for it, which made it so much worse.

We’ve heard from a few people that there are nice campsites right on the beach, just south of Mombasa. We found a very nice one called Twiga Lodge on Tiwi Beach, about 30km south of Mombasa.  We decided to stay there for a few days and to find a spot to watch our first rugby game against New Zealand.  After all, it’s not a bad place to hang out at.  It turned out that we were too good for New Zealand on the day, and managed to win our opening game of the tournament. Definitely not a bad start for us.

We headed further north, about 100km or so past Mombasa to check out the northern beaches.  It was ok, but definitely not as nice as the south. There are a lot of resort type hotels, which caters mainly for European tourist on package tours.  This means that everything is even more overpriced too. We didn’t stay there too long, actually only one night to be exact.  We decided to head back south to Tiwi again,and hang around the area for our second encounter against new Zealand the following Saturday.

Lately we’ve really started to miss home and our family even more than normal.  I think it is a combination of getting closer, and starting to see more and more familiar things.  Things like shopping at Shoprite and seeing South African products.  We decided to camp at Twiga lodge again, and it turned out to be a good move.  Little did we know when we got there again that a bit of our homesickness will be soothed for a few days.  It was the following day that two 4-wheel drives pulled in, and it didn’t take us long to recognize the Cape Town number plates.  It turned out that they (Fanie and his wife Annelise and Dirk and his wife Marieke) are from Eversdal in CapeTown – the suburb next to the one Mandy grew up in.  To top it all of they are all Afrikaans.  We instantly got on very well (even though they are in their late forties and early fifties) and it didn’t take long for us to feel comfortable enough to call them our new friends.  They had a spare day or two and we managed to convince them to stay until the weekend so that they can watch the rugby with us.  We had a really nice time with them and it was just what the doctor ordered to cure us a bit with our homesickness.  Oh yes, we also managed to beat New Zealand again that Saturday – it was a really convincing win this time – they never really stood a chance…

It was time for our ‘new friends’ to leave, but we arranged to meet up at a campsite in Tanzania. We were both heading to the same place, but we were only leaving the afternoon.  It was time to tackle the bad road again, but we were prepared for it…or so we thought.  Not sure if you all remember when we had to have a spot of welding done on the front struts for the shock absorbers.  Well, that spot of welding wasn’t enough.  We were driving along (on a normal tarred road) when we heard this little crack sound.  Not thinking too much of it (we thought it may have been a rock or something we didn’t see), I decided to stop anyway and have a quick look.  The little crack sound turned out to be a massive crack. It was actually the whole strut that broke off completely.  Shit, shit, shit…and shit again we thought.  The car was still ok to drive (it’s got coils springs in the front too) but it was a bit wobbly, because the shock was not attached any more.  Time for big decisions, do we carry on, and tackle the bad road or turn back and try to have someone fix it first.  We decided to ‘push on’, because Dirk happened to mention the previous day or so that he can weld, and to be honest, I would rather trust him to weld it for me instead of someone else who can’t even speak English.  This turned out to be one of our best decisions yet.  The campsite we were going to (called Peponi, just south of Tanga) is run by an expat who has been living there for about 15 years or so.  Someone must’ve been watching over us, because he had a full workshop there, as well as a welding machine and also some 5mm steel we could use.    With all of that, and with Dirk who can do the welding, things started to look rosy again.  It took us the whole day to fix the thing – a combination of having to custom make some new supports and fit it all.  The original strut is now welded back in place as well as the 5mm steel support.  We decided to do the same on the other side too, just in case.  I’m hoping that it will be ok until we get back. To be honest, there’s not much else we could do, besides from using a specialist welder, using treated hardened steel and using specialist welding equipment, cooling everything down at the right rates etc.  Thanks Dirk for helping out and thanks to Fanie for the moral support too.  We still owe you guys a few beers for all your help.

We are now in Dar Es Salam after all our excitement.  We are camping right on the beach again in a beautiful spot.  Long white sandy beaches and the sea is about 50 meters away. We also managed to watch our 3rd home game in the Tri-Nations, this time against Australia. We kicked some Ozzie backside and made it 3 out of 3.  Lets hope the team can do the same on their away games.  It will definitely be a lot harder to do this away from home, but I’m quietly confident.

We will probably be in Tanzania for another week or so before we head to Malawi to check out the lake.  Rumour has it that it’s stunning.