Tanzania

A lifelong ambition for us both has been to travel through some of the iconic resrves and conservation areas of Tanzania. And here we go! 

The first step of our trip takes us from Perth to Doha, travelling with Qatar Airways. The trip has been put together for us by Adventure World Travel  and we would like to  thank Sam Van Eldik for her attention to detail and for her “Travel Africa Hints and Tips".

The Bandari Project

Just before heading off to Tanzania, we saw some TV documentaries about schools there. We decided that we would take some school supplies (notebooks, pencils and some toys for the children. (This is part of Marilyn’s commitment to supporting communities from profits). The Bandari Project School https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-02-02/bandari-school-building/10773724 in Mto wa Mbu was just 10 minutes fromKilimamoja Lodge, so we arranged to visit on our way back to Arusha.

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The school is funded by Rotary Club in Port Fairy and by private donations. 

“Government” Primary schools in Tanzania teach in Swahili while secondary schools teach in English.This creates a barrier to some students, especially in poorer communities, from progressing to High School. The Bandari Project School (as do other charity funded schools) teaches in English. 

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If you would like to support the project, go to https://thebandariproject.com/

The sublime to the ridiculous!

The Sublime

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I promised I would tell more about Kilimamoja Lodge. 

Approaching the lodge up a rutted, bummpy dirt track we passed typical small, mud built houses. Local women were carrying buckets and bags of grain on their heads and an ox cart headed down to the village at the main road. rounding the last corner, we came up to a rock built wall with wooden gates. The guard opened the gates and we drove in to the lodge grounds.

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Passing manicured lawns, formal flower beds and statues, we finally pulled up in the entrance porch where we were greeted by the lodge staff and some Masai women “singing” a welcome.

The lodge is a massive, thatched building with looong thatch covered walkways between wings. After checking in, we were taken to the main building with restaurant to one end and the bar at the other. The entire building is furnished with antiques, beautiful leather upholstered chairs and sofas. Wildlife photos,   African weaving  and carvings decorate the wall. Chandeliers on 10m chains hung from the roof.

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We were led out to the verandah where we were to have lunch. In the garden was an infinity pool looking out over the escarpment into the Rift Valley. Jaw dropping!

Our room (small villa) was equally opulent. A queen bed looked out over our private verandah which in turn looked out over the Rift. A twin shower and basins, tactfully screened from the bedroom with a stone wall formed the bathroom. The third, (outdoor) shower was off to the side with a wall, just high enough for modesty but low enough to look out over the valley. Decoration mirrored the main house. 

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Dinner (silver service of course) was excellent with pre starter (Light creamy tomato soup was our choice), Starter (shrimp cocktail), Main (Grilled pepper steak - a toss up against Coconut chicken Zanzibar style) and Desert (chocolate mousse). As it was our last night, we all ate together. Giovanni treated the adults to a bottle of wine (Chianti of course) and Sija came over from the staff quarters to chat and wish us a great meal. 

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And it was.

The Ridiculous

After lunch back in Arusha the following day, we travelled out to the KIA Lodge near the airport.

Greeted at reception as always, we checked in and were shown to our room. A (make it yourself - the sheets left in folded piles on top) double bed in a small villa. The painted concrete floors were clean but looked “tired”. No tea/coffee facilities in the room and "borrow the hair drier from reception”. Insect screens on the windows to keep mozzies out,  but with  a gap under the door that a wart hog could probably get through! Still, we only wanted somewhere to rest while waiting for the 'plane home the next day. 

Dinner was a barbecue (beef or chicken I think - difficult to see in the dark) with salads or vegetables. We selected a quiet table for two and the waitress brought over a candle - tastefully stuck onto a saucer. 

To be fair, the members of the staff team were all great and, as always, wanted to do everything for us. The lodge has potential, but is in dire need of a complete refurbishment  (they were painting a little wooden bridge while we were there). 

After lounging near the swimming pool (which hadn’t got a circulation pump running and was home to a range of water boatmen and other “bugs”, we were driven the 2Km back to the airport ready for the 19hrs (Oh joy!!!) flight home.

And would we do it again? Oh yeah!

Lake Manyara

Another 8.00am start from Serengeti and we were on the longest trip of the safari -  from Serengeti to Lake Manyara Kilimamoja Lodge - 5 hours drive. 

Passing the usual impala, elephant, Grant’s & Thompson’s gazelles and zebra, we headed south-east to rejoin the B144 for the return “massage”. Before reaching the main road, Sija slowed and stopped. A vulture was standing atop a tree alongside the track.

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 A few shots, then off again. Rattling along the bumpy track at around 45Km in the usual cloud of dust, Sija suddenly stopped again and asked for the binoculars. He had spotted a cheetah (the only one on the entire trip) laying on a rock about 450m from the road. How he does it is  mystery! It took the rest of us some time to spot the cheetah as it lay on the rock even when Sija had told us where to look. After a few minutes, the cheetah jumped down behind the rock, then re-appeared a few seconds later staning on the top of a second rock.

After a few minutes, we had to leave again to continue the journey which ended at lunchtime at the Kilimamoja Lodge near the Lake Manyara National Park.

The Lodges so far had been excellent. Clean, smart with African themed decor and staff who could not do enough to help. (At Serengeti, I was not even allowed to carry a handful of teabags back to our room!). Kilimamoja is…….well, exceptional. But more about that later. Let’s go to the national park first.

Lake Manyara is one of the lakes in the East African Rift Valley - an active tectonic area where there is a divergent plate zone.(In simple terms, there is a crack in the earth’s crust which is getting wider. Eventually, Somalia on the east side of the plate boundary, will separate from the rest Africa. It’s due to become an island in about 10 million years.

The lake is mildly alkaline (though not as strongly alkaline as Lake Natron futrther north) and saline. This produces an environment which favours the growth of large numbers of shrimp like crustacea which feed not only catfish and tilapia, but also significant flocks of flamingos. (The fish species tend to be found near the streams of fresh water flowing down from Ngorongoro where the salinity is reduced).

On our way through the park, we passed a coulple of lionesses that were resting in a tree. Lions don’t normally climb trees, but the prides in Manyara have developed the habit. I wouldn’t claim that we 'saw’ them - just dusky shapes behind the leaves. 

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Driving down to the lake, we passed through the forest area, home to monkeys and more baboons, spotted a monitor lizard basking alongside a stream and then moved out into the reed beds that surround the lake. Bulrushes standing 4m high stand in the swampy water which is home to hippo and buffalo. Heron, hottentot teal, AFrican jacana, kingfisherand more…….the bird list was incredible!

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Serengeti 2

Yay! Another sleep in before a later (8.00am) start. Anorther full day game drive with picnic lunch.

Serengeti Sopa Lodge is one of the first of the lodges to be built but, while not quite as modern and crisply smart as the earlier lodges, the environment is very relaxing and, as always, the staff attentive and helpful. After a substantial breakfast we’re off again.

A short drive down from the lodge and we encounter the first herd of elephant. A little further and we cross a small river. As we approach the river, a swirl of water at the far bank and a log disappears. Crocodile! And so it goes throughout the day.

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The antelope and gazelles are all out feeding as we head back to check out the leopard kill. Sija thinks it may have returned to the tree after the baboons havd gone to their trees the previous night. No sign at the tree so we head on to where the lions were resting the previous day.  Arriving, we find the lions gone but other safari cars parked up. The leopard has been spotted high in an acacia about 700m away. Not able to get good shots, Sija returns again to the “kill tree” where we have a clear view back to where the leopard is resting. Still a long way off, but with Marilyn’s 600mm telephoto, we get some shots of him (her?) sleeping, legs dangling and tail lashing from time to time. Sija certainly knows how to find us good viewing positions!

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Serengeti

Another early start for the next leg to Serengeti took us from the Lodge on the eastern rim round to the west before dropping down onto the plains below. 

En route we stopped in at a Masai village where we were greeted by the traditional singing and dancing followed by a tour of the village school, a family home and a bit of shopping.

I chatted with one of the “elders” who told me he is 52, has 4 wives and 9 children. He seemed a little sad for me when I told him I only have 1 wife and 2 children!.


After the stopover, we hit the main road too the Serengeti and started what can only be descrribed as a bone jarring, bum numbing, heart stoping terror ride!! The proverbial “African Massage”. 

Every vehicle threw up cloud of white dust from the unsealed road and Sija, ever conscious of the speed limit of 80Km per hour, stuck to it remorselessly! Everytime we drew close to a slower moving truck, we would enter the thick, swirling cloud as we overtook. The pale glimmer of headlights the indication that it is time to get back to our own side of the road!!

As we entered the Park, we passed the turnoff too Olduvai Gorge where Richard Leakey discovered the fossil remains of one of our earlest human ancestors - a timely reminder that we are passing through the cradle of humanity.

Serengeti sunset

A detour from the main road takes us to a small bridge where a couple of other cars are parked. Relaxing under a tree a pair of lions. Word is that there is a leopard kill nearby, so after taking a few dozen shots of the lions, we go in search of leopard. (Well, lions are so yesterday!)

Five minutes later we are looking up at the remains of an impala high in an acacia, but no leopard. A troop of baboons are passing through, and SIja explains that they will have chased the leopard away.

A little more driving with no more excitement and we head on to our destination.

Sunset saw us arrive at the lodge.

Ngorongoro

If it’s Sunday, it must be Ngorongoro! 

We travelled from the Tarangire National Park to the Lodge at Ngorongoro on Saturday, arriving at the lip of the crater just on sunset. Just time for a few photos from the viewing platform, then the final 15Km along the crater rim  road in the dark. This final leg of the journey was along a dirt road which would make the roughest unsealed road in WA seem like a highway! (For the Miles clan, imagine the Wood Road at it’s worst  but about 10 times worse!)

A more relaxed 8.00am start the following morning followed by a 10 minute drive saw us in the crater itself. Ngorongoro is the largest intact volcanic caldera crater (on land) in the world and the crater floor and walls provide a wide range of habitat- lake, swamp, steppe grassland, cloud forest and acacia woodland. Like Tarangire, the animal life includes antelope and gazelle, lion, hyaena, leopard, cheetah, elephant, buffalo and more.

A highlight was finding a pride of 15 lions. Gasps of joy, excitement and awe interspersed with the click of shutters! Awesome!

Lunch was a picnic alongside a small lake which was home to about 20 hippo.

Tarangire


Tarangire National Park extends either side of the Tarangire River and has the highest concentration of elephant population in Africa. On the journey through from Arusha we passed many Masai “villages” and there were herds of goats and cattle being moved along (and across) the road by herdsmen dressed in the distinctive Masai “shoka” (cloak) with their herding stick across their shoulders. Some looked as old as the hills…others as young as 5!! 

From time to time, we passed waterholes with the women out doing the weekly wash. Shokas and other clothes are draped over bushes to dry ater being washed in the waterholes which is the shared with the cattle and goats.  Amazingly, without the aid of Omo, Fab or other detergents, the clothing is beautifully clean and the colours vibrant.

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We stopped for a brief “bathroom break” as Sija paid the entry fees for the park.

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The drive through the park to the lodge was amazing. Unfazed by the car, animals were grazing alongside the road and Sija pulled up whenever we came across anything. Water buck, Impala an, of course,  elephant were most prolific. A few warthog families and birds everywhere. Weavers, lapwings, eagles and vultures all on the list.

We arrived at the lodge around 6.45, just after dark, and were greeted by the lodge staff waiting to carry our luggage into the entrance lobby. Tarangire Sopa  Lodge is in a small river gorge and is barely visible from the road. The building is architecturally superb, based on the “rondavel” design of the local buildings. Built on several levels ito the hillside, every room has a view out into the bush.

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At all the lodges, it is standard prctice for “security” guards to escort you to and from your room after dark as protection against wild animals that can wander into the grounds. Our guard greetds us “Jambo, jambo. How was your day” (Jambo is “hello” in Swahili. The focal greeting is Hu jambo with the response 'Si jambo”. The simple “jambo" is reserved for tourists. Back to our guard. He looked about my age (though he was probably 20 years my junior) and looked as though he had a badly broken ankle as he llimped his way up the pathway to the restaurant. As far as guarding was concerned, we assumed the strategy was that we would be able to escape while he was a sacrifice! In spite of his disability, he laughed and chatted all the way. Makes me feel ashamed of my grumpiness when the arthritis plays up.


Arusha Coffee Lodge to Tarangire

OK. So there haven’t been many photos yet, but be patient! 

After a great night’s sleep in our villa at the Coffee Lodge, we had breakfast then a stroll around Shanga - a set of workshops with associated gift shop where people with disabilities are employed. Hand weaving, glass blowing, artwork, beadwork…….so much. They focus on recycling materials, so many of the glass beads are made from old wine bottles and fabric animals are made from “old” shirts. 

The Coffee Lodge became a hive of activity during the morning with safari vehicles coming and going. We met our tour “manager”, Jessica, who gave us a thorough briefing of where we will go, what to see, what to do…and not do! The wait for our kick off was rather long - we weren’t up to a walking tour of the plantation, but enjoyed a coffee (what else?) and muffin while watching a traditional band and dance group. 

Our driver/guide, Sija, arrived at 1.30, but the rest of our party had to get lunch before we could set off - scheduled for 2.30. Our travelling companions were a delightful family from New Zealand, (Owen, Janet , Connor and Jessie) and 

From here we travel west along the A104 to the Tarangire National Park gate - and that’s where the real adventure begins.


Doha to Arusha

We’d set the alarm and requested a wake up call at the hotel. We need not have worried. Both of us were awake at 4.00 so had heaps of time to shower, pack and get to the airport. 

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The flight took us east along the gulf then south to fly over Somalia and Kenya. Approaching Kilimanjaro Airport, the plane passed east of Mount Kilimanjaro then turned to pass the southern and western faces of the mountain. The summit was just visible above the cloud. 

Inside the airport it seemed that most travellers had not applied for visas before flying, so there were long queues at the visa desks. We had ours organised in Perth so were through immigration pretty quickly and out to where our druiver was waiting. Unfortunately, we were sharing our ride with one of those in the visa queue so had to wait for nearly an hour for him.

Our driver apologised and said we would have a slow journey through to Arusha Coffee Lodge - we had hit rush hour! 

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The drive was intriguing. Along the side of the road we passed hundreds of people all heading for home or herding animals. Houses were very basic - mud or cement block walls with corrugated iron roofs. Among the pedestrians were some men wearing scarlet or blue checked traditional costume. Incongruously, many were chatting on mobile phones. And amongst what seemed poor, even dirty, surrounds were scores of immaculately dressed school children. Their uniforms, smart, clean and seemingly newly pressed. Put some of the kids in Australian schools to shame!



Doha

A late night departure from Perth followed by 11 hours in the air sees us arrive into Hamad International airport in Qatar at 5.15am, local time. A short transfer to the Oryx Rotana hotel and sleep! We don’t sleep well on planes (Oh for an upgrade or a win on the Lottery!), so decided to break the trip by having a stopover in Doha before the flight down to Kilimanjaro International airport in Tanzania.

Doha is a modern city with a population of around 2 million - a large step up fom the 250 recorded at the founding of the settlement as an offshoot of Al Bidda in 1820. When Qatar became  an independent country in 1971, Doha became the capital city.


Doha 

The flight was well serviced and the food better than some carriers we have travelled with in recent years, but, as with all long haul flights, it was difficult to sit comfortably for 11 hours and we were glad to get off. Through customs then onto the shuttle bus to the hotel, passing around the perimeter of the airport. The Rotana is a little way out of the city, though we could see the commercial centre in the distance as we travelled. Getting out of the bus, we were hit by a wave of hot, dry air - 45 degrees! 

After Check-in and a quick refresh in the room, we headed to “Choices” for breakfast. Marilyn had eaten only a yoghurt on the flight ( I managed a little more!!!!) so the buffet took a bit of a hammering! 

A short stroll around the hotel (too hot to venture out to the pool)and back to the room to rest ready for another early start tomorrow. Early morning wake up at 5.00am (10.00am Perth time) then the 6 hour flight down to Arusha. 


  © Richard Miles 2019