That’s the greeting I got when I re-entered South Africa yesterday morning. Full of excitement and ready for the ultimate ending. I have dreamt about this part of the trip. I have planned booked and paid for all of it. The next 8 weeks were to be the best of all. The piece-de-resitance, cherry on top of my sojourn. But because of a simple error I have been told I must return to my country of origin in 7 days. When I first arrived in Cape Town I was given a tourist visa stamp and not a transit visa for the 4 days I was in South Africa before crossing into Namibia. Those 90 days kept ticking despite my departure from the country. You can apply for an extension but one must be aware of the problem to apply the solution. I had no idea. Should the immigration officer asked more questions, should I have been more informed? You decide. All I know is that the trip of a lifetime has been marred with bitterness and beaurocratic bullshit. Yes, I said it. I am beyond gutted. Many tears have been shed. And getting yelled at by the current immigration officer was less then appreciated.
I have met amazing people along this journey. To all of you, I say, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have made it extra special. Even here at Misty Mountain in Louis Trichardt the owners, the chef, have been nothing but amazing. To Mariska and Luan of South Africa 4×4, thank you for all the work and help along the way and for all the help in the past 24 hours as I desperately drove back and forth from the border post to the immigration office etc. I can’t believe it is ending like this. But I have no choice. I will go back, regroup and figure out how to pay for a return to finish this trip. I cannot, will not let it end like this.
Marangu was as wonderful as the previously with the added bonus of a home cooked meal. Jackie had invited me to her home for a home cooked meal as she had cooked her sons favourite meals before heading off to Cambridge. After good food and company and I was ready to set out for Dar Es Salaam and Zanzibar. Well to be accurate Zanzibar is the collection of both islands (Unguja and Pemba).
Ok, I’ve thought long and hard about the road to Dar, and I still can’t stand Dar. Why? Well you’ll find out soon enough. I made great time until about 40 km outside Dar. That’s when my first ever, not first on this continent, but first ever speeding ticket occurred. And it was bogus to boot. Tanzania is known for its speeding ticket scams and I was the latest victim. There is no way on this planet I was going the speed their whatsapp photoshopped picture of Springbok with a speed reading showed. The truckers and buses are too crazy for me to ever go that speed. But I have no leg to stand on to argue the validity of their proof. I begrudgingly coughed up the fee. This was my introduction and it did not get any better. Just meters from the Toyota Service station my tire was stabbed. Great. Then the hotel I stayed that had great reviews on TripAdvisor was anything but. Moving on. Ferry ride was great and Unguja was amazing.
I stayed at Dolphin Safari Lodge in Kizimikaze. There are a bunch of things to do on the island. And Patric can help you arrange them all. Stone Town Tour, Spice tour, swim with the Dolphins or a spectacular trip into the mangroves in a dug out canoe and sleep in a bush camp after waiting for the Greater Bushbabies to come and snack on bananas. Or see the Red Colobus, that live only on Zanzibar, in Jozani Forest. Or you can do what I did and impersonate the flora and be a beach bum. I sat in the tide going out, played in the water coming in. Stepped on urchins, not willingly mind you just a small price to pay for wondering the ocean floor during low tide. I sat on hammocks and chairs and just took it all in. Food was amazing and Patric is a great host. I had the pleasure of meeting Henri a professional photographer from Germany and his lovely wife as well as Christof and his wife. Also, Jon, Patrics’ son who was visiting for the first time. And the amazing staff including Anise and Ali. Family style dinners with this group were an absolute pleasure and conversation endless. A great way to relax and replenish the battery for the trip to come. I had intended to do all the things but doing nothing won me over. Wasn’t much of an argument, lol!
Recharged and ready to get Springbok back from the service center I took the ferry back over 3 days later. Far too short of a time in this amazing place. A re-do is in order :).
So, Dar Es Salaam or as I know refer to it Dar Es Slammed did just that. I’m not exactly sure what the service centre did but I’ve had nothing but problems since. Strike #2. Then, the service center is 2.2 km from my new hotel. No way I was staying in the last place. That 2.2 km was the longest I’ve had. First another police officer decided I had done something illegal. I didn’t, and he gives me a ridiculously high fee. Fine, I asked for a receipt and the price drops. That’s the ultimate sign this is bogus but I was running late so I coughed up the much smaller amount. Jerk! The traffic was horrid and it took close to an hour to make that short drive. The hotel was wonderful and with a happy surprise.
Although I thought Ngorongoro would be my last dynamic duo gathering they were in Dar early. Yay! One more go round. And just what I needed, good friends, lots of alcohol and retail therapy. All provided by Nikita and Vincent. Eternally grateful to them both. We hopped into the bujaje or however it’s spelt. The Dar version of a Tuk-tuk and off to the peninsula for good food. I left early in the morning and escaped Dar without additional tickets and made my way to Morogoro before going to The Selous. I had all intention to go into Morogoro NP but I was not feeling well and sat around for a day. The road to the Selous that I had planned to take doesn’t actually exist. So I had to backtrack to almost Dar and head south. The disappearing road is a recurring theme, lol!
The Selous Game Reserve was fantastic, it cost me a driver side mirror. The road went well until the last 62 km when the road gets so narrow and overcrowded with thick bush I didn’t see the branch or dead tree until it had taken my driver side mirror. When I arrived at the camp the other 3 self drive vehicles also lost their mirrors. I felt better, misery likes company. The local mechanic bolted the mirror back into place so it didn’t dangle and when I returned to Morogoro I found an insert and we were back in business or good enough to avoid more tickets.
I had arranged to have two game drives in the Selous. And no I was not planning on self driving for once. I wanted to enjoy being driven around. But a young French couple who had spent the past month in Tanzania and this would be their only safari opportunity needed me. Literally. Because I was to have a solo game drive, no one else was doing a drive as the other self drives were there to fish, I would have to pay a solo fee. Ecks! The French couple had arranged a full day boat trip and were in the same situation. Except their price doubles in cost. After much discussion with the manager Jimmy, we arranged for me to join them for the same price I would have had to pay regardless and they get to pay the lower price. Everyone happy. Boat trip means birds so you know I was extra happy.
The boat trip was wonderful. The river was deceptively shallow and we did get sand barged briefly. The birds, hippos and crocs were everywhere. No elephants, oddly. The cloudy windy weather may have had a role to play for the lack of elephants.
The game drive started out rough but it was just as wonderful as the boat trip. Our driver tried to get close to the Hippos for the Danish couple who had joined me for the game drive. This was their third day in Africa and first ever Safari Drive. Well we got marred in the mud and almost tipped in. After trying to dig us out and trying to use the winch which was submerged another car had to come and pull us out. The driver and I were in the water trying to get us out and the couple were on Crocodile and Hippo watch. Few cuts and scraps but we were on our way. Well, a pee break first, which of course was witnessed by a game drive vehicle driving by. It was the only secluded spot….or so I thought. Come on, really! Oh well.
We spent a fun time with playful Savannah Baboons. Even a game of ring-around-the-rosy before heading off.
We had started the morning with 6 lions scattered around the base of various trees for shade.
Then I spotted some vultures off in the distance circling. The Safari guide was busy driving and had not spotted them. The roof does make it a little harder to spot things. After pointing them out he agreed to follow them. Thank goodness. We found dozens of vultures all around the area. Then the smell of death, a dead Cape Buffalo in the brush with huge crocs that had just scurried as we came. They had feasted on its face. But where are the lions responsible for this? A few meters away we found them on another kill, a rather fresh one. A nice male, 2 females and 2 cubs of different ages. The girl was the younger of the too and way more daring than older brother/cousin. We stayed here being the only vehicle for at least an hour before heading back to camp slowly.
And that was it, another wonderful experience. Worried for the remaining side-mirror I paid, again ridiculous, transit fee to go through the park. But the rains started. The normally easy-going dirt road back to Morogoro turned into thick and deep mud. Nothing Springbok can’t handle but the other cars and buses became dangerous as they slipped and slid all over. I would’ve loved to help them out but stopping in that muddy mess would have ended the trip so we slowly plugged along. Dirty but we made it. Now to head for the border. Ruaha was the plan originally but with funds near depleted and Springbok starting to limp from his service in Dar I opted out. Quick stay at The Old Farmhouse with the best food I have had to date and then to the coffee-house before making it back to Zambia. Tanzania had done me in, financially and physically. Time to say I’m out!
I made my way out of the Serengeti through Ngorongoro Conservancy once more having paid the outrages transit fee. Stopped for a brief lunch at the overlook and headed for Panorama Camp that overlooks Lake Manyara. I spent the next day catching up on laundry and I managed, thanks to Paolo, arrange a day trip to the crater. And then the email that made my day. Vincent and Nikita were close to Arusha. After a brief convo they changed their plans and would drive to camp and join in on the day trip but continue on to the Serengeti. Yay! The best news in some time. And they were going to buy me some cheese too! Now that’s friendship, enabling your friends cheese addiction, lol.
I was so excited after the phone call I didn’t look were I was stepping and stepped right on a massive buffalo thorn that had no issues going through my sandals and deep into my foot. I tried to pull it out but only managed to get skin stuck in the sandal. Hopping into the dinning room, Paolo the assistant at the camp, approached me. He faked concern to distract me and in the process ripped the thorn out. I was grateful he did it as quickly as he did but wanted to deck him anyway. That sucker was deep and it hurt. But it was out. Another hobble to the car to clean the wound etc. That one took almost a month to heal.
Foot injury notwithstanding, the day was getting better. The Dynamic Duo were on their way. This would be our last get together as they head for Rwanda/DRC and I start to head south. But what fun we would have in Ngorongoro. Well, about that, you see I’ve may have angered some monkey or donkey or elephant or animal or something because my luck although it’s not bad it’s not necessarily good either. If it makes you say “are you kidding me” it’ll happen to me on this trip. And that held true. I felt bad and still feel bad for including my friends in my world of crazy.
We left the following morning for Ngorongoro Crater. A quick stop in town for the banking aspect and we should be on our way and at the crater by 11ish. It’s open until 1800 so that’s a decent amount of time. In realty we did not get to the crater until after 2 pm. Ya, seems like the safari car wanted nothing to do with the bad roads. The first flat tire, which then also had to be repaired. Then the second flat tire and odd smell from the safari car. You get the idea, the car wanted nothing to do with crater. And to complicate things, I had to be out of the whole park, not just the crater by 6 so that meant leaving even earlier. Sadly, we only had 3 hours in the crater. But those 3 hours were spectacular.
We quickly came upon an amazing seen. Dozens of hyena at the sight of a cape buffalo kill and two lions trying to keep them at bay as they gorged themselves. They were barely hanging on when from the distance the 3 other brothers came to their aid. The first to arrive was just far too hot to do much more then stay in the shade of the vehicles. A moronic incident occurred that I inadvertently photographed, this would play a role when I left the park. All in all the crater is amazing with a very high population of hyenas and herbivores. We all thoroughly enjoyed our brief time. Time came for me to apparently get into a different vehicle which was far worse for the ware then the one we drove in. Quick goodbye with the dynamic duo and I was on my way out with 30 min to make it out and they headed for the wonder that is the Serengeti. I have since learned the crazy continued and got much worse after I left and the car well it continued to protest for the entirety of the trip. Once again, sorry guys! My own issues happened when I arrived at the gate and the incident had reached the rangers. I was worried they would keep my pictures but instead they just wanted to see what I had on film of the incident in question as serious consequences were to go down. Not for me but for the moron involved. That sorted I was headed back to Panorama Safari Camp and a day trip self drive to Lake Manyara in the morning. Fingers crossed for tree climbing lions as Lake Manyara supposedly is the home for them.
Lake Manyara offered many amazing sightings but no tree lions. Just another reason to go back to the Serengeti. I drove the majority of the park trying desperately to see a carnivore in a tree. I didn’t find a carnivore let alone in a tree. Still a wonderful day had. Off to Tarangire in the morning.
The drive to Tarangire was quick and camp was frustrating without water although abundant ablution blocks. As soon as you enter, the birds, which in the wet season, are spectacular and very unique in Tarangire. Not quite there yet in the dry season but to be greeted by Lovebirds is a fantastic way to start.
The park was very dry even the river was quite low. But that didn’t hinder the sightings any.
The next day started off very well. I drove around a corner to find this lovely group of boys. And in the process met a group of lovely ladies from Holland. They were grateful for the sighting and kindly invited me for dinner as they were staying at the camp too, but with a chef. Ramen noodles were less than appealing for a second night and I happily agreed. We would keep running into each other through out the day.
Dinner was wonderful and I met a friend of Jackie’s son. Lovely conversation and an early start to make my way back to Marangu Hotel before heading to Dar Es Salaam.
Hello all, yes I know it is way overdo but here we go and it’s a long one. Serengeti and getting there. Crossing from Tsavo into Tanzania was fairly straight forward but long. The main issue was that the lady had 3 problems. The cellphone she was talking on, the other cellphone she was texting on and then me and my papers. The papers, done wrong of course, were the crux for us both. 2 hours later and I was on my way to Marangu Hotel.
Marangu Hotel, a beautiful place at the base of Kilimanjaro and owned by Jackie (Katie’s Mum) an avid birder. Friendly and wonderful staff and food. The garden is amazing and the bird life, I mean unreal. Pete, local bird extraordinaire and former active conservationist was an added delight. To spend a day in the garden watching all the birds and having Pete rattle of the names, bird after bird that fly by, and those on my computer screen was awesome. I managed to stump him on one, briefly. And then there was the African Hobby. The bird, a falcon, but also a great hobby. A rare bird to see let alone 3 and one being a juvenile. They happened to be nesting high-up on a tree that was visible from the garden. What an amazing day in the garden. And the added bonus a field trip. Before leaving I was able to join Jackie, her sweet daughter Ella and Pete at the TPC Sugar Plantation. They have multiple waterways and excellent bird life especially flamingos. We had watched the local bird life and were becoming a little restless without a flamingo sighting and were about to wonder to a different waterhole when Jackie stated look flamingos. I thought one or two but it was a big flock. And as soon as this one landed more flocks came. Time passed and pretty soon I had to make my way to Karatu before heading to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro. I look forward to my return visit.
And then there was the Serengeti. First you have to drive through Ngorongoro conservancy which was 60 USD (one way), but now the prices have gone up and add 18% tax to everything and you have a whole extra digit to that price. It’s all weight based, and the first estimate was for a truck truck and not my stealth Springbok. The worst part as a conservancy it must be cash.
Slight problem with this plan. The narrow, winding, climbing road through Ngorongoro (not the crater) is also used by transport trucks. Can you see the problem with this. Well two met at a rather narrow bend and managed to jack-knife into each other and block traffic both ways. I’m fuming at this point as I was quoted 254 USD one way to go through the conservancy, the wrong price but I didn’t know that yet, and now I’m stuck. For the love of all things. Well, at least I wasn’t one of the endless people stuck on the way out who had to exit by a given time, as the entrance to these parks is time based, or those that had flights to catch. In the infinite wisdom that is the local traffic police the trucks were not allowed to move until they showed up. That usually means a wait of 2-3 hours. We gathered round, hummed hawed and I made coffee with the gas cooker to laughing onlookers. Hey, the only thing to calm me down is a cup of coffee, why not, not like I’m going anywhere. And a miracle occurred. The police arrived in 30 minutes and we were on our way in 40. A quick stop at the overlook and off to the main office to pay the extortion money.
Hurray, the main gate guy doubled the weight of the car and now my price has over halved. Still a ridiculous amount of money but better than 254. Off we go to the Serengeti.
Now I was warned, repeatedly, about how bad the road from Ngorongoro to the Serengeti was. I thought after Opuwo, really how bad can it be. They weren’t kidding. It’s corrugated hell. It feels like hanging onto a jack hammer and it’s all the way through the Serengeti. My hands went numb at times. All the main roads, every last one. Bolts fell out. Things had to be tightened and new bolts added. I mean it was rough. And you look drunk driving as you go from side to side trying to find an easier path, there is not one to be had. The corrugations get bad enough the car gets tossed about and that’s going 20 KMH no highway speeds here. I earned my drivers points on that road and Springbok well he was shaken, stirred and tossed. Poor thing. He got a couple new bolts too. Thank goodness for the one and only petrol station and garage.
Finally the Serengeti gate, after maneuvering through Ngorongoro and endless Maasai kids ready to “perform” or hawk their wares to the tourists. And then the fees.
Ok there is now way around it. Serengeti is bloody expensive especially as a solo self-drive. Period! Dig deep into your pockets and in my case twice. Because the first large bill for the 4 nights didn’t include the car and of course the 18% tax , there is always another fee. But, and really I mean but it is WORTH. EVERY. PENNY. Every last one, break that porcelain pig open. No doubts, no regrets except not staying longer. Hands down the best place to go for what I’m about to show you. Would sell a kidney to go again, it’s that good!
I cross the gate, now doubly poor, Tanzania is not for the self-drive solo traveller, too bloody expensive. I digress. 10 minutes in and there we go our first sighting….cheetah.
If this is how it’s going to start we are in for a treat. The savannah of the Serengeti was abundant in animal life. The Wildebeest had just started to migrate into the far north, sadly I missed that from the Maasai side, next time. And the rest is all scattered in this amazing park the size of Belgium.
There are a number of public camps around the central portion of the park, Seronera. This is also where the tourist office is. No maps, of course that’d be convenient and what looks like high schoolers running the place so their info is not the most assuring or accurate. They rattled off a few camps but couldn’t tell me how to get there. They pulled out a map, circa 1800, covered in dead spiders. Um, I think I’ll wing it. Not to hard really there are markers. As I drive along I notice I’m, as far as I can see, the only self drive vehicle here. There are endless safari cars, even in the public camps. I’m the only solo act. This shall be interesting. I quickly check a handful of camps, all basic some a little less run down then the others and I call one home. And now off to see what we can find. As a rule I try not to follow safari vehicles. If I cross one on my path then sure I’ll see what’s up but I don’t chase after them. There’s no fun in that.
I like using the knowledge I’ve gathered from the WildEarth SafariLive crew over the years. If you don’t know check them out @ http://www.wildsafarilive.com or Wildearth.tv, twice a day everyday live game drives from the Sabi Sands. I’ve learned an immeasurable amount from these guys. And I’ve been able to put it into practice on this adventure to many rewarding sightings. See the behaviour of the other animals, birds, prey and deciphering where the predator is. Or plain dumb luck at times. All in all I love stumbling onto things. And that’s just what I did. I drove down the main road, or bounced I should say and turned off on a side road. Tsetse flags were up so maybe I may make it out of here unscathed. Safari cars zip by as I amble down the path slowly and then wait what’s that under the tree. And then within minutes we have a performance of sorts.
A few more herbivores and it was back to camp before sunset. What an awesome start. The night was filled with Hyena whoops, distant lion calls and the occasional belch of an Impala. Best night sounds ever.
Early start the next morning and back to see if our love birds are still around.
After the mating pair I continue to wonder in this amazing place. Swatting the damn tsetse flies as I go. And then the next find followed by the next and next. I stopped counting lions at 30. And I’m on my own, I do not have the luxury of game radios like the safari vehicles and I stopped counting after 30 separate lions, I mean it was too much and if I’m perfectly honest I just lost track of what number I left off at. The prides of 8+. And all melting in the heat. There was a little bit of a breeze so no lions in a tree.
And then I stumble into this find. Nice place to eat lunch I think.
And then I stumbled upon a row of at least 15 safari vehicles staring into a field. Ok, this I cannot pass, what are you staring at. The binos come out and…
And if that wasn’t amazing enough my day ended with an African Drama, the circle of life. A small herd of Cape Buffalo with a baby and two very hungry looking lioness with the sunset fast approaching. Let’s play it out.
What a day. I had a hard time cataloging it all in my head, there were just too many sightings. Tomorrow I head north, or that’s what the tour boys told me. Off to the tented camp.
How to get lost in the Serengeti.
Book a new tented camp in the middle of nowhere.
Get bad directions that lead you completely in the opposite direction.
Get coordinates texted to a kind safari guides phone.
Now try to get to said coordinates.
Congratulations you are now thoroughly lost in the Serengeti.
Yup, I could see the camp North of me, South of me, East of me and West of me but I’ll be damned if I couldn’t find the road that led me to camp. And there is no off-roading without a permit. Grrr! Nice sighting along the way though.
I finally found camp after driving around for 2 hours. Turns out the herd of safari vehicles around one of the kopje’s or rock outcrops were inadvertently hiding the road. Once one moved I finally saw it. Nothing wrong with driving around the Serengeti Plains, but base camp is always good to find. The next morning was to be my ultimate day starting with a Hot Air Balloon ride.
The Balloon ride almost didn’t happen, but that’s not relevant. It did and what a start. I had to drive myself to the launch site and then one of their people would drive my car to the breakfast place where I would be free to wonder about the place. The camp was so remote they could pick me up but not drop me off. The self drive back to camp was a great compromise. So a driver, who was to pick up another client at the other camp near by, would lead and I was to follow. He was early, like 30 minutes early, before 5 early. Good thing I heard him coming I was ready and going within minutes. The camp even had a boxed lunch for me. How kind. We drive for a few minutes and he leaves me at a junction to pick up the other clients. There I am, in the middle of the Serengeti at night. Engine off, lights off, the night dark all around filled with endless stars and oh that milky way. How magical. We drive for about 30+ minutes to the launch site. The balloon ride by far, apart from the Gorillas, is the best thing I have done. Yes its expensive but it was the greatest thing ever. If I had to recommend one thing to do, this is it. No questions, no doubts, no hesitation.
I was off with the Serengeti Balloon Safaris, the oldest and mobile company, they head north for the migration too. And I had the best captain, Cpt Frank, who happened to be Canadian which made my day and the rest of the group was mainly Canadian too. How awesome. We start from the sitting position and then they heat the cold filled balloon for a gentle rise. I have yet to experience anything so breath-taking. We flew for about an hour, high and low, above hippos, hyenas and even lions. Yes, lions with cubs on a kill. Cpt Frank maneuvered us so close overhead the pics are wonderful. The views from above, I can understand why he’s stayed at this job for over 7 years. I’d do the same! And the breakfast that followed was a treat, champagne and all. Frank thanks for an epic ride, I’ll have to come back in the wet season to see the green view.
This I will remember for a long time. As will the day that followed. This self drive was by far the best I’ve had in the 3+ months on the road. More Cheetah and Lions but then a few surprises too.
Let’s start with this Cheetah hunt, it is from a distance but hopefully you’ll get the idea. It was spotted on the way from the landing site to the breakfast spot.
This lovely beast was next as I made my way slowly back to camp and to check on the surprise.
The Kopje’s are scattered around the south-eastern aspect. I spent most of my day wandering around these massive rock outcrops just awed at their presence. This handsome fella happened to be a nice find.
Leopard sightings are always exceptional. But my little (hint) surprise is even better. Remember when all those safari vehicles hid the road to camp, turns out they were all waiting to spot (hint) something special. I ventured to the same Kopje as it was the way to camp and found a huge overland vehicle taking up the space. I parked and sat and sat and sat. Once everyone had left and there was quiet the surprise showed up.
And that ended my last night in the Serengeti. I went back the next morning in the hopes of seeing them again but no luck and I had to be out of the park by noon. What did I tell you, EPIC! I will come back, without a doubt. I was devastated, honestly, to leave but it was time. Now I was supposed to stay in Ngorongoro but that didn’t happen as the camp didn’t arrange anything as previously planned. That’s ok, serendipity had a hand to play but that’s for next time.