Tanzania :: Serengeti, Ngorongoro and Arusha

Mwanza-Serengeti

We had decided to skip Uganda as the¬†clutch master cylinder was worn out and leaking a bit. And with all the mountains and no spare parts in these countries, we didn’t want to push our luck. Shame because we really wanted to see Uganda –¬†maybe next time?! The plan B now was to drive back to Mwanza, sleep again at the lake Victoria and have the car fixed there before going to Serengeti. This plan worked out very well (they even had the spare part flown in at night) and the next day just before 16h we arrived at the Serengeti Gate. We were going to stay on a campsite in Seronera in the middle of the park so we had to drive fast on those badly corrugated roads. Even with this speed we saw a lot of antelopes, buffalo’s, giraffes and birds. This is Africa as shown on pictures and in The Lion King: endless plains where lots of animals can be seen as there is hardly bushes or trees. Unfortunately we didn’t see any lions.

The next day we continued our trip and made some loops in the park before leaving the gate near Ngorongoro.

Movie-like sunup over Serengeti plains.
Movie-like sunup over Serengeti plains.
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Serengeti hills surrounded by morning mist.
Herd of elephants trekking over the Serengeti in the morning.
Herd of elephants trekking over the Serengeti in the morning.

 

It's not all so black and white.
It’s not all so black and white.

 

Serengeti-Ngorongoro

As you leave Serengeti you enter Ngorongoro national park. The parcs ask high entrance fees including a crater fee, so we swiped our card and try not to think about it anymore :). The road upto Ngoro is a bad one and halfway the trip we heard a strange sound while making a steep curve. We looked at each other and stopped immediately. Jasper went under the car to find out that a pin next to the steering wheel had broken off and was badly damaged. Luckily a friendly guide by the name of Honest, helped us and called the local mechanic from Ngoro village. He had the spare part and was willing to drive down for USD 130,- and we managed to talk it down to USD100,-. Still far too much but they know what we pay for all these parcs and we didn’t want to use a pin if there is another/ better option available. Minor detail: they had forgotten the bold so they couldn’t fix it. So they made a temporary construction and guided us to the crater rim. We arrived in the dark and were welcomed by a big group of…. buffalo’s! The engineer (named “babu”: old man) suggested to take off his¬†lock nut¬†since he also drove a Defender and fix his again at the workshop 2 km down the road. This sounded like a plan and went smoothly! We had dinner in the kitchen and were still surrounded by buffalo’s so we went to bed immediately.

In the middle of the night we heard this girl screaming: “guard, help, help!”. But the guard had left when everybody was in bed. Apparently the girl wasn’t feeling well and she walked – still surrounded by buffalo’s- to the toilet as no one answered her request for help. After a while¬†one of the guides¬†helped her to get back to her tent. Fortunately, the next morning the buffalo’s were gone!

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Changing the front wheel on the road from Serengeti to the Ngorongoro crater.
Into the crater

Early morning we arrived at the crater gate and the whole crater and surrounding mountains were covered with mist.

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While driving towards the entrance we saw the crater rim still covered in clouds.

While driving down into the crater the mist vanished and this gave the most stunning views ever! It looks surrealistic: a big area with grass and water surrounded by mountains and everywhere you see animals!

Just over the rim, looking down into the crater.
Just over the rim, looking down into the crater.
Slowly the sun wins from the clouds and spreads its light into the crater.
As we descent the sun slowly wins from the clouds and spreads its light into the crater.
Gazelles in the morning light.
Gazelles in the morning light.
Common elands with the crater rim in the background.
Common elands with the crater rim in the background.
As we were driving over the crater surface the animals got into action.
As we were driving over the crater surface the animals got into action.

 

Zebras crossing on of the small pools in the crater.
Zebras crossing one of the many small pools in the crater.

Maybe this would be our lucky day to spot some lions and a rhino? Again a lot of buffalo’s and at the end of the morning we spotted both the rare black rhino and¬†two young male¬†lions who just had a wildebeest¬†for breakfast!

As you are only allowed to stay in the crater for 6 hours we left around lunchtime to drive to Arusha.

Overview of the crater from the rim.
Overview of the crater from halfway up the ascent road.
Yes, we were at the crater!
Yes, we were at the crater!

 

Arusha

It is only a 2 hour trip from Ngoro to Arusha and the trip went smoothly apart from another police stop; overspeeding, again…. Since we’ve entered Tanzania, we were stopped at least 30 times and fined 8 times, all for overspeeding where they stop you at the most ridiculous places without any clear speed signs, or just outside a village.

We arrived early at the campsite. We had done some shopping so we could prepare ourselves a meal with fresh veggies¬†and meat, joehoe! It was also good to have a warm shower again and get rid of the dust. The next day we had to go to the garage (again) as the second-hand spare¬†part from the Ngoro mechanic was worn out. At the garage they advised to replace all four ball joints of the steering, which made sense as the car wasn’t balanced well.¬†Four imported parts is again a lot of money. This car is turning into a goldmine but with those roads, the car suffers a lot. ¬†We were happy to be in a town again to do some good shopping, have a coffee, have the laundry done (everything came back one size smaller….) and have dinner at a good restaurant (thx for the recommendation Rene and Bianca, it was delicious!). We had also been looking forward to eat bitterballen and Jasper knew¬†of a Dutchman named¬†Ad who has a lodge in Arusha where they serve them. After a hell of a ride we found the lodge. Jasper had been here before with Rene and Bianca, but he didn’t recognise any of it. Apparently Ad had moved and sold the place to ¬†the Dutch Annelies but she¬†has¬†replaced the bitterballen by samosa’s :(.

Rwanda :: our hour with the gorillas

Zanzibar

Now that we were ‘in the area’ we obviously¬†had to visit Zanzibar. And that proved to be wonderful – even in the rain season. So we left the car with Jonathan (thx Judith!) as it needed some maintenance and off we went! We were recommended to stay in the north (again thx Judith) as there is less tide there so we choose a new small lodge named Warare Beach. This place was a true little heaven! We also visited Stonetown with a guide and although the city is old and a bit worn out, you can still see the beauty and the richness it once had. Unfortunately the place isn’t well looked after and some places are about to collapse.

Breakfast view from Warere Beach lodge on Zanzibar.
Relaxing at Warere Beach lodge on Zanzibar.
Dar to Kigali

After this (self-proclaimed) well-earned break for ourselves on Zanzibar while our car received some well-deserved maintenance on shore we left Dar Es Salaam to go west to Rwanda. The first day soon became a tough ride on deeply rutted Tarmac full of slow-going trucks and heavy rains. But we managed to reach our goal, the little inspiring political capital of Dodoma. Difficult to see how this could be the political capital?

The next morning, as we were well underway and the conditions of both the road and the weather had improved dramatically, we received a reply from the Rwanda Immigration Office that we had to change our application and re-apply. Aaargh, that could take another three days (or more, as the few days to get our East Africa visa (a prerequisite for entering Rwanda) issued, we opted to take a detour and stay a few nights in Mwanza. A great choice, as we could camp right on the beach of Lake Victoria!

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Capturing sunset over Lake Victoria.
Mountain gorillas

In Kigali we went to the RDB, the organisation that issues the permits for the gorilla trekkings, and informed whether they had any left in the coming days. That turned out not to be a problem at all. In fact, due to it being low season we could go the next morning! So off we went, straight to the Volcanoes National Park where we camped on the parking of thee Kinigi guest lodge right next to the park entrance and headquarters.

We woke up early, the morning still being dark and quickly did our things¬†(shower, breakfast and fold the tent) to report at 7am the park head quarters. There we found it was really quiet, and the two of us would be the only ones to visit the Hirwa (‘Lucky’) group with guide Edward. This group of mountain gorillas was formed when the young male Munyinya broke away from the well-known Susa group (studied by the late Diane Fossey)¬†and managed to snatch a few young females from other group to form his own. The group now consists of nineteen members, of which two sets of twins born from the leading silverback.

We knew we had to bring our own 4WD transport to drive to the start of the actual trek, but did not realise we would have to bring the guide as well! So we left some of our aluminum cases and for the first time actually used the rear seats we’ve made on top of the water tanks. After a bumpy ride of about half an hour we parked the car and continued by foot. First through the fields of the local people, until a low wall with thick forest behind it announced the ‘real’ forest. By then it was still mostly dry.

At the wall where we met with one of the trackers who would lead us to the gorillas. We now walked on a muddy track through the bamboo forest and then it started to rain. We made a quick stop to get into our rain clothes and moved along. The bush got thicker and thicker and the trackers sometimes had to cut a way through with his machete. After about an hours walk we met with the other trackers. This meant we were very close to the gorillas now!

These trackers had followed the group the previous day until they made their nest and recorded that location (nowadays using GPS of course). They are familiar with the group and would stay with us during our visit while keeping us to the one-hour time limit that is strictly enforced to ensure the gorillas maintain their natural behaviour.

So around 9:30 we left our bags, got out the cameras (keeping them under our ponchos as it was still raining) and followed the trackers to the group. And suddenly, just around the corner, there they were! Like lone statues sitting in their nests, scattered over the low bushes.

Even just this was already a very special encounter. Similar to¬†humans gorillas don’t like rain and they¬†were curled up, alone or against each other, to protect themselves. They sat still and we could walk right past them and get a good overview of the group.¬†But luckily the rain then stopped. And the gorillas¬†got into a bit of action.

The mothers started to groom their little ones.

Removing ticks from your face is not always pleasant.
Getting ticks removed from your face is not always pleasant.

And the youngsters started to play.

Young gorilla playing on the nest of the silverback - the young ones like to be around him.
Young gorilla playing on the nest of the silverback – the young ones like to be around him.

The young mature male (‘blackback’) was the first to move from his nest and after some rumbling sounds -after all, he is the next man in charge- moved to some higher bushes and started to feed.¬†While slowly some of the others were following his example one of the younger males made a playful move in our direction and¬†gave both of us a kick with his rear¬†legs.¬†Although generally the gorillas seemed to pay very little attention to our presence and we -being only with the two of us- were allowed to come up to less than two meter, we were warned that the younger gorillas sometimes like to play with the humans and touch -or kick- them.

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A young gorilla walking closely past us. In general they paid little attention us, except for another young gorilla that playfully kicked us when passing by.

 

And then Munyinya decided it was time to show off he was still the one and only silverback in the group.

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Munyinya charging,¬†¬†giving us a good ‘rumble’.

 

And just when the gorillas had all left their nests and prepared to move further through the forest while eating our time was up.

The whole group feeding, underway to another night spot.
The whole group feeding, underway to another night spot.

But there was one mother -carrying the youngest of all baby gorillas in the group- who stayed behind, laid down on her back and let her child play on her chest: showing her baby off to us. And she gave us a wonderful goodbye.

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The youngest baby in the group saying goodbye to us..

 

Tanzania :: rare sighting of African Tiger!

Today we drove the last stretch towards Dar Es Salaam. On our way we made a small tour through Mikumi National Park and found ourselves lucky: we caught a glimpse of an African tiger! Though we still haven’t seen the endangered Black rhino, this animal is seen even less.

African tiger walking past
African tiger walking past

A great moment for us, and a good time for us to have a little ‘holiday’ on Zanzibar the coming days ūüôā