To Zambia

 Posted by Elizabeth at 2:18 pm
Aug 192011
 

As we were no longer going to Uganda and Rwanda we needed to get to Zambia and continue on from where we would have been. That meant we had 3 long days of driving and 2 border crossings ahead of us. We left Tiwi Beach and headed for the Kenya/Tanzania border, crossing quickly and without any hassles.

Back in Tanzania the road instantly turned to dirt, the first part of which was OK, getting a bit worse as you got closer to Tanga, taking about 90 minutes from the border to Tanga. From Tanga on it was good tar. We managed to make it to Mikumi and stopped over once again at Tan Swiss knowing we could eat in their restaurant.

From Mikumi we headed for Mbeya. Once again we encountered the Tanzanian police. We were pulled over by a very arrogant officer who advised us we were doing 52km/h in a 50 zone. There was no way – we had just come to a complete stop behind a turning truck and our car will not get to 52 in 150 metres! We told him that the speed on his radar was not from our car (and as if their guns are calibrated well enough to pick you up 2 km over the limit). He then tried to tell Wayne it was an offence to drive in bare feet – yeah right. Wayne just kept telling him he was not paying a fine. Wayne had to get out to go and talk to him and after about 5 minutes the guy told him that if it was not the speed of our car to leave, so of course we did! We spent the night about 20km south of Mbeya at the ICC Mission for about $6. They will let you park on the grass and give you a room key for the shower and toilet.

From Mbeya we headed for the Zambian border. Once again the police were out in force. This time we were doing 67 in a 50 zone. Wayne kept asking where the 50km sign was as there was none. There was one arrogant officer again who just kept telling him he had to pay a fine and another reasonable guy who Wayne spoke to. Eventually Wayne was told that every village is a 50km zone whether there is a sign or not – makes it pretty hard when there are houses almost the entire length of the road to the border. Do we do 50km/h the whole way just in case? As it turned out we didn’t have 20,000 Tsh for the fine anyway as we spent the last of our money on diesel. Once we explained this we were given the option of paying without a receipt, surprise surprise. In the end we gave them 10,000 Tsh as we wanted to get going as we had a long day ahead of us. It is so frustrating though when you see so many unroadworthy vehicles being driven at ridiculous speeds. No one wears a seatbelt, half their lights don’t work, nobody obeys road markings or signs, yet it is more important to raise money by sitting with a radar than it is to make the roads safe. Oh well, this is Africa!

Next was the most confusing border crossing we have encountered yet. Leaving Tanzania was fine, but getting into Zambia was ridiculous. It went something like this:

  • Complete Tanzania departure form and get exit stamp in passport
  • Go to Tanzania customs office, find the guy in his office as there is no one at the counter and get him to complete our carnet.
  • Leave Tanzania and drive to Zambian side.
  • Go to immigration, complete entry form and pay $US50 each for a visa. All straightforward.
  • Now the fun part with the car begins.
  • Go to the exit gate and have the carnet completed but not stamped ((imagine completing it AND stamping it at the same place!)
  • Walk back to the building beside immigration and find the office where the guy will ask you to hand him the stamp (as he is so busy) so he can stamp the carnet. Tear off the slip yourself and hand it back to him.
  • Go to another office beside immigration (all of which are unmarked) and fight your way to the front of the 30 odd truck drivers that are also waiting in there, to be told he is busy counting up yesterday’s money and to come back when he is finished.
  • Go back when he has finished, hand over carnet and be told you need to pay 200,000 Kw for carbon tax and it has to be paid in Zambia Kwatcha which we have none of. 
  • Find a moneychanger and argue about the exchange rate as they try to rip you off (the few other times we have changed money at a border the rate has been more than fair and we have not had to bargain with them). Finally get them to agree to a fair rate and change money.
  • Return with the kwatcha and pay the carbon tax. You will be provided a receipt and your carnet returned.
  • Try and find the office (a shipping container past immigration) in order to pay road tax $US30 (which had to be paid in $US). Once again fight your way to the front of the queue, which is worse than the other queue. You must know which border you are leaving Zambia from as it is recorded on the receipt. Get your receipt.
  • After about 2 hours of running around you finally drive to the exit gate where they will check your receipts and carnet.
  • Finally you are in Zambia!

The first part of the road south is a mixture of good tar where you can do 100km/h but with huge potholes and road edges crumbling away thrown in just to make it interesting. There are heaps of trucks, once again travelling at speed, so it is a road requiring concentration, lots of braking and swerving around holes. Needless to say we saw several truck accidents along the way.

Kapishya Hot SpringsBy mid afternoon we reached Kapishya Hot Springs where we are staying for 2 nights. It is a lovely campsite beside the river as well as having a crystal clear 40C hot spring that has no sulphur in it. We even washed our hair in it this morning. They have excellent, really hot showers, flush loos and heaps of free firewood.

Having made it to Zambia we are now back into our more leisurely mode of travel thank goodness!

Musoma and on to Kenya

 Posted by Elizabeth at 6:58 pm
Jul 142011
 

We left the Serengeti via the western corridor. We thought the road from the south was bad, but this was ridiculous. Several hours of bone jarring corrugations and rocks and very little wildlife to be seen made it a long journey. Pushing on to Musoma, we stayed at the Tembo Beach Hotel where we decided to eat in the restaurant as it was so cheap and we had eaten there before. We both ordered chicken curry, which turned out to be a leg and thigh of the smallest chicken in the world which was tough and the meat was black – not particularly appetising. At least the rice and chips were ok.

As we opened our car after dinner the most revolting stench emanated from it. On investigation it turned out that the horrendous roads we have endured over the last few days had managed to burst a long life milk container so we had milk through the carpet – ewwwwwwwww! I washed it out as much as I could and hoped it would get better. Nope. I have washed it as much as I can and it is significantly better, but I doubt we will ever get rid of the smell completely.

In the morning we ventured into town to try and get some fuel and food. Everyone kept telling us to go to the vege market in Market St. We drove around 4 times until I finally managed to glimpse the market behind the other buildings. Once again everyone welcomed me as I walked around and they did not try and charge inflated prices, definitely better than the supermarket. Whilst I was in the market a man came up to Wayne in the car claiming to be an immigration officer. Wayne insisted he show some ID, which he did. He then asked to see his passport, but Wayne told him they were locked away and showed him a photocopy. That seemed to satisfy him and they chatted. A bit weird but no harm done.

The border crossing was again pretty quick and straightforward on both sides. For Kenya we needed visas at $50 each and $40 for the car. The money changing touts pestered us as usual, telling us the next ATM was 160km away. Turns out the ATM was more like 160 metres away and we managed to get cash out and once again avoided them.

Serengeti National Park

 Posted by Elizabeth at 6:45 pm
Jul 142011
 

Serengeti National ParkWe left the Crater about 2pm and endured the horrendous road to the Serengeti gate and then to Seronera. Given the crater cost us $400 and the Serengeti $200 a day and there are thousands of visitors, you would think they could use part of the money to maintain the roads. The safari vehicles speed along the roads without a care for their safety, we though did not feel comfortable travelling at such a speed with little control of our vehicle, so it took us some time to get to the gate.

Just when we thought we had had a fantastic day in the crater and really it couldn’t get much better, we came across a large pride of lions devouring a recently killed buffalo. There were at least 10 adults and 10 cubs feasting on the kill. The noise they made as they ate was incredible and watching the dynamics as they ate was fascinating. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay as long as we would have liked as we needed to make it to camp before dark. Then, not far from camp we came across 2 cheetahs! A pretty awesome start to our Serengeti visit.

Serengeti National ParkSerengeti National ParkSerengeti National ParkSerengeti National ParkSerengeti National ParkSerengeti National Park

Originally we planned to spend 2 nights in the Serengeti, but it was so fantastic we decided to spend 4 nights. There were soooo many animals, especially around the Seronera area, it was amazing! Our animal sightings included the following, as well as heaps of birds:

60 lions 7 leopards 6 cheetahs elephants giraffes
zebras buffalos wildebeests Thomson’s gazelles topis
Coke’s hartebeests hippos Grant’s gazelles ostriches servals
warthogs vervet monkeys dwarf mongooses rock hyraxes impalas
Defassa waterbucks olive baboons dik-diks hyenas klipspringer
crocodiles black-backed jackals marabou storks Ruppell Griffon’s vultures African fish eagle
Goliath heron Lappet-faced vultures      

 

Cheetah, Serengeti National ParkOne afternoon we came across a cheetah not far from the road so we decided to sit and watch her for a while. She came within a few metres of our car at one point which was awesome. She was quite nervous, constantly looking around her as she attempted to get a drink, especially when a hyena walked past. Then she started stalking a gazelle and before we knew it she was in full flight and attempting a kill! Unfortunately she was unsuccessful, but to see a kill attempt was amazing. We saw her try again later that afternoon. Whilst we were watching the cheetah, Wayne noticed something in the background which turned out to be a hyena who successfully took down a gazelle. How amazing to be watching 2 kill attempts at the same time!

We sat for a while at a waterhole and watched as several herds of elephant took it in turn to drink and play in the mud. The little babies were so cute as they played around, getting stuck at times in the mud. The different groups of elephants seemed to greet each other as they took it in turns at the waterhole and as usual, the elephants were great to watch.

Serengeti National ParkSerengeti National ParkSerengeti National Park

A leopard mother and her 2 cubs have been in the same area for the last month or so and we managed to see them a number of times. One afternoon the cubs had come down from their usual resting place high in the tree branches for a bit of play time. Whilst we were watching them a hyena came around, no doubt in search of some of the kill that the mother had dragged up into the tree. Nervously we watched as the hyena got very close to one of the cubs, hoping that it would not attack it, which thankfully it didn’t.  We also saw a number of other leopards during our visit, most of them resting high in the tree branches or sitting on a rock.

Leopard, Serengeti National ParkLeopard, Serengeti National ParkLeopard, Serengeti National Park

On one of our drives we saw what we think was a very small part of the migration. There were thousands of wildebeest crossing a small river. They were jam packed together, making a column about 50 metres wide that went on for ages, so far that we could not see the start of them. We both hoped that this was a good sign for the Masai Mara and that we would see the migration in full swing when we got there.

Serengeti National ParkSerengeti National ParkTawny Eagle. Serengeti National ParkBuffalo, Serengeti National Park

On our second day I started to get a sty in my eye which was getting sore, so I asked at the visitor centre if there were any medical services at any of the lodges that could give me some antibiotic drops for my eye, expecting to have to pay a tidy sum for the privilege. To my surprise he organised for one of the staff to take me to the staff dispensary where a lovely lady happily gave me the drops I needed, explaining that the service was free! I gave them a small amount to thank them, amazed at how helpful everyone was.

Serengeti National ParkOnce again we were definitely the odd ones out. During our 4 days we saw one other 4wd with a roof tent and couple of other hire cars. I think at one point we were the talk of the safari guides as once we stopped to ask a group what they had seen and the tourists in the back starting talking to us. Somehow they knew we were on a 6 month trip yet neither of us recall speaking to them previously. (We were chatting to number of the guides at the gate as we all waited in line to get our permits, so several of them knew a little about our trip). The photo is part of the car park at a picnic site at lunch time. Can you spot the odd one out?

We saw so many different animals and had such wonderful experiences whilst we were there, it was absolutely fantastic. Along with the crater, the Serengeti, especially at this time of year, is an absolute must if you are coming to Africa.

Serengeti National ParkDefassa Waterbuck, Serengeti National ParkLeopard, Serengeti National ParkHippos, Serengeti National ParkHippos, Serengeti National ParkKlipspringer, erengeti National ParkWhite-backed  and Ruppell's Griffon vultures, Serengeti National ParkSerengeti National ParkMarabou, Stork, Serengeti National ParkGrant's Gazelle, Serengeti National ParkLeopard, Serengeti National ParkTopi, Serengeti National Park

Ngorongoro Crater

 Posted by Elizabeth at 8:04 pm
Jul 102011
 

Ngorongoro CraterThe road from Lake Manyara to the Crater gate is not the most pleasant of roads to drive, but we made it to the gate and after handing over $400 for the privilege of camping the night and taking our car into the crater the next day we headed towards camp. Once we arrived at Simba A camp we were told we could not park our car on the grass, yet there were several other cars already parked on the grass. We pointed this out and were told they were going to pay a fine at the gate (yeah right). Eventually we agreed on a reasonably level piece of ground where we could park the car (which was on the grass – go figure???). At the camp we were asked if we needed a guide, to which we told them no. They then told us we would not be allowed in the crater without one (sure) so we just told them we had no space and we know others have taken their cars into the crater without a guide so we would be ok. Sure enough at the crater gate they asked if we had a guide, we told them we had no room and they just said fine and let us through as we expected.

The night was freezing cold as we expected it would be, so we were in bed fairly early. Unfortunately I managed to get food poisoning and spent 90 minutes in the middle of the night in the loo vomiting and having diarrhoea. Not the best place to get sick. The next morning I wasn’t too bad thank goodness, and we headed down into the crater at sunrise.

Gray Crowned Crane, Ngorongoro CraterCoke's Hartebeest, Ngorongoro CraterServal, Ngorongoro CraterWildebeest, Ngorongoro CraterNgorongoro CraterKori Bustrard, Ngorongoro Crater

We both had high expectations of the crater given our previous visit, however we were a little worried that this time we were in peak tourist season and the number of vehicles might spoil the experience. Our concerns were unfounded, and whilst there were more cars, there were not too many and they did not detract from our experience. The crater was fantastic! We saw so many animals including:

19 lions spotted hyena elephants black rhino warthogs
serval Coke’s hartebeests black-backed jackal golden jackal baboons
Thomson’s gazelles Grant’s gazelles wildebeests ostriches zebras
flamingos buffalos Defassa waterbuck hippos cheetah
vervet monkeys kori bustards grey crowned crane    

 

Spotted Hyena, Ngorongoro CraterHippos, Ngorongoro CraterBuffalo, Ngorongoro Crater

The highlight would have to be watching a group of 7 lions eating a kill. They feasted on the wildebeest whilst hyenas watched from a distance and a jackal sat within metres of them just waiting for an opportunity to snatch part of the kill away. (You can see how close the jackal was in the bottom middle picture). Finally the dominant female decided it was time to move so they slowly started to move away, although a couple of the lions lingered a bit longer. It was at this time that the jackal made its move and dashed in right to where the lions were still eating and stole part of the kill and then went back for more. A pretty brave jackal if you ask me!

Lions, Ngorongoro CraterLions, Ngorongoro CraterLions, Ngorongoro CraterLions, Ngorongoro CraterLions, Ngorongoro CraterNgorongoro Crater

Spotted Hyena, Ngorongoro CraterWe also saw hyenas eating their kill. In fact there were heaps of hyenas throughout the crater. There were heaps of animals in general and a wide variety, all of which were fairly easy to spot as the grass was reasonably short.

We were the odd ones out being self drive and the only overlanders we saw amongst the heaps of safari vehicles. The safari guides were pretty friendly and happily told us where they had seen things such as lions, cheetahs and rhino which definitely helps, especially as they all have radios to communicate with each other and we don’t.

The crater is definitely an experience not to miss. Yes it is extremely expensive but it is a totally different experience to other national parks and is worth the time, money and effort to visit.

Lake Manyara National Park

 Posted by Elizabeth at 6:39 pm
Jul 082011
 

After spending the morning in Tarangire National Park we headed for Lake Manyara, about an hour away. Lake Manyara National Park is on the tourist route to Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti and the town immediately before it is full of tourist shops. We stopped in the town to buy some veges and you could tell we were on the tourist route as they tried their hardest to charge us super inflated prices. Originally the guy wanted 8000Tsh for a kilo of potatoes – not likely when they should be 1000-1500Tsh. After much discussion, telling him there was no way we would pay that, him trying to tell us he has to add freight etc etc we finally agreed on 5000Tsh ($3.30) for a kilo each of  potatoes, tomatoes and onions which was really still a bit too much and we didn’t get a full kilo of everything, but we needed some veges.

Baboon, Lake Manyara National ParkWe arrived at Lake Manyara National Park just before 4pm, as did every other tour group in the vicinity! It seems that the tour groups only spend a couple of hours here in the afternoon. It was like peak hour traffic, at times we could not move forward as there were so many cars stopped. This is probably the first game park for a lot of people as they travel from Arusha, so they understandably stop at everything but we don’t really need to stop and take photos of a giraffe off in the distance, so it was a bit frustrating. Once they started to head back to the gate before closing it was much more pleasant.

We spent the night in the park, but unfortunately didn’t hear or see anything. The amenities though are the cleanest and nicest in any national park so far (excluding Kruger and Etosha) even if they were still only cold water showers.

Buffalo, Lake Manyara National ParkThe lake itself does not have much water in it at the moment and you can rarely see any water at all, and then only when you can get a view above the lake. The road travels along the edge of the lake when it is full, but given there was little water it was more like a grass plain. The animals are not very plentiful except for the plains near the main entrance and hippo pool, which is also where all the tour groups spend their time. We did see though zebra, wildebeest, elephant, giraffe, warthog, hippo, olive baboons, vervet monkeys, blue monkeys, impala and buffalo.

Lake Manyara National ParkWildebeest, Lake Manyara National ParkThomsons Gazelle, Ngorongoro Crater

In hindsight, the park was really not worth the money and we would have been better off spending another day in Tarangire. Maybe when the lake is full and apparently it is covered in flamingos it might be better.

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