85 – Saying Hi to Mount Kilimajaro

Fri 19th Feb, Kibodya Hotel, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

And so the story goes, at 2am on this Fri morning, a sleepy traveler boarded the bus bound for Dar Es Salaam. He read that the journey takes 12 to 14 hours, therefore reaching Dar at 4pm or so, perfect in that there is enough of daylight left to hunt for suitable lodging and get oriented with the city. (2am)

The road from Nairobi to the border was bumpy, but since it was dark, the traveler could not make out the terrain outside. Instead, he did his best to make himself comfortable and get some much needed sleep. This was next to impossible since he was jolted awake each time the bus passed over a particularly high hump. So it was with much good fortune, he thought, when the bus stopped suddenly. He could finally get his desired rest. (4am)

It was light when he woke up. The bus was stationary, and there was a commotion outside. The traveler peered from bhind his window curtain and saw to his surprise, numerous trucks and buses on the road in front of and behind his bus. All were not moving. He was to later discover that the road was blocked. Continuous rains over the past few days meant that the sandy road was now mud, and a huge container lorry had sunked in and blocked the entire path. Other smaller lorries had tried to navigate around and similarly got themselves into trouble. No one was going anywhere. (7am)

The traveler thought to himself “Let them sort it out” and proceeded to read his book back on the bus. He had spent enough of his traveling life on long distance buses and nothing fazed him anymore. Eventually a giant JCB tractor came along and pulled the lorry out of the way. Getting the tractor to the scene was an effort in itself. Cars and buses and lorries had to make way for the tractor. It was like playing those block puzzles where you had to shift the blocks around limited space to form a picture. (9am)

The bus chugged along the bumpy road (why such a well-trodden route was not tarmacked the traveler could not understand) to the border.  The immigrations officers started to ask the traveler questions about his constant ping-ponging between countries, but let him through all the same. (10am).
It was bad road all the way after that, but the scenery was spectacular. Like the traveler mentioned elsewhere before, Tanzania has the best clouds. And along the way, the bus route took the traveler to Arusha, skirting the regal Mount Meru in the process. And beyond that, to the town of Moshi, where the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, loomed in the background, its summit hidden completely by clouds. The traveler was contented to see this spectacular mountain up close (a lack of time and budget prevented him from attempting to summit the peak). (3pm)

The bus company, Kampala Coach, included a meal with it’s ticket price. The traveler stopped for dinner at 6pm, by which time he was utterly famished. He suspected that the dinner was actually lunch, but we only arrived in the evening. It was more travelling by night, and the traveler kept himself occupied with his copy of Newsweek. (7pm)

On reaching Dar Es Salaam, the passengers were dropped off at Ubungo bus terminal, an inconvenient 8km from the city centre. It was 12am. Not wanting to travel anywhere on foot by dark after previous unsavoury experience, the traveler engaged the assistance of a Kampala Coach mechanic to hail a cab. The price was exorbitant, he bargained it down from 150000 to 10000 TSH, and instructed the driver to Kibodya Hotel. (12am)

Accomodation is always more expensive here in Tanzania, he thought to himself as he forked over the 24000 TSH for the nicer rooms, since the basic rooms were full. He had a tv and airconditioning, both unnecessary since his laptop and the fully blasted ceiling fan are able substitutes. He would change to the cheaper 16500 TSH rooms when they are available tomorrow. (2am)

Photos below are from previous day

84 – The Masai, and More Safaris

Thu 18th Feb, New Kenya Lodge, Nairobi, Kenya

We went out in search of more game in the morning, promptly spotting a couple of cheetahs (mother and kid) frolicking on the long grass. It was a toss us between the leopard and the cheetahs but i think the cheetahs win, that was the highlight for me.

On the whole, it was a very good safari experience, having been grouped with a pleasant bunch of people, as well as a great guide and cook.

On the way back, we stopped at the Masai village (1000 KSH if you opt to go). Here’s where you get a villager to show you around the village, and the Masai way of life. It’s very much catered to the tourist, but you do get to see them in their colourful red garb, dances by the men and then women (where you can join in) and see them demonstrate how they make a fire. You get to visit a Masai home, and of course go to the trinkets and handicraft back area where you can buy souvenirs. Other stuff include being introduced to various plants like the sandpaper leaf which as per its name is rough and used for smoothening surfaces, a mosquito replling leaf, and a leaf tha gives the red pigment used in Masai clothing.

Back in Nairobi, got my Kampala Coach tickets to Dar Es Salaam (leaving around 2am, the bus comes from Uganda and continues to Dar, 2900 KSH, includes one meal). I stayed half the night at New Kenyan (asked and got half price 300 KSH for half night).

83 – Game Drive

Wed 17th Feb, Masai Mara NP, Kenya

Today we spent the entire day out in the park. Suffice to say, i caught all of the big five (Leopard, Buffalo, Lion, Elephant, Rhino). The highlight would have to be a leopard going through a carcass atop a tree. This entry is best described in pictures.

The park was large, but everywhere you turned, there were other safari vehicles. However, there was plenty of wildlife to go around, so it wasn’t crowded.

Here’s a rundown of all the animals seen: Thomson Gazelle, Common Zebra, Masai Giraffe, Ostrich,
Impala, Topi, Elephant, Wilderbeest, Yellow-billed Stork, Hartlebeast, Buffalo, Crown Crane (uganda’s national bird), Waterbuck, Leopard and carcass on tree, Black Rhino (endangered), Hamerkop & its nest, Warthog, Vervet Monkey, Vultures, Hippopotamus, Crocodile, Cheetahs on carcass, Mongoose, Gnu, Dik Dik.

82 – On A Safari We Will Go

Tue 16th Feb, Masai Mara NP, Kenya
The pickup was at 830am, and i realised that i’m going with Kairi tours instead, since New Kenya does not have any safari groups setting off today. There were seven people in total, a Finn together with two kids, a couple of Brit girls, a Japanese girl, and myself. All come from various tour companies. There must be some arrangement in place where anyone anytime can go on safari by getting various companies to group them together. Finally, the other two people in the van were the driver cum guide, and the cook.

The itinenary is as such. Day 1: Drive from Nairobi to Masai Mara NP, spend late evening on a game drive. Day 2: Game drive all day, we travel to the Mara river where the annual wilderbeest migration takes place. Day 3: Game drive in the morning, connect back to Nairobi.

This itinerary forms the basis of most safari tours. For the companies to keep costs low, they enter on Day 1 afternoon and leave on Day 3 afternoon. As park fees are valid over a 24 hour period, entering in the afternoon means they pay for 2 days of park fees. Also, accomodation is located just outside the park, near Mara village, in a stretch with many lodges. This way, tour companies avoid expensive park accomodation fees, yet tourists are still able to stay in comfortable lodging instead of having to pitch tents in the park camping areas.

On the way, we pass by a similar open-top minivan like ours, stuck in the mud on the road to the NP. It had been raining earlier and the road was in pretty bad shape. Reached the Lodge at about 5pm. I expected a budget safari where we need to pitch tents, but this was a nice pleasant surprise. There were permanent safari tents, with adjoining western toilets and hot water (they say, i didn’t have any during the three days i was there).

Ok, the afternoon game drive. Masai Mara is pretty huge, there wasnt’ much time so we went in to have a taste of the park. Wildlife was abundant everywhere, even in the drizzle. There were Thomson gazelles, impalas, plus we caught a couple of male lions and some african elephants. John our guide was excellent in that he constantly manouvered the van to get us the best camera angles.

Dinner was excellent, the cook George brought all the foodstuff from Nairobi, bought a sack of coal for cooking along the way, and made everything from scratch. I’ll be well fed over the next three days i’m sure, i was having double portions since there was so much leftover food (food for 7, of which 2 were small girls and i was the only guy!)