Having packed the car to the gunnels (quite apt considering some of our modes of transport to come) we set off on the 300+ miles to Penzance, our stopover for the night. Considering our friends j…
During term time, Isamilo International School operates a Saturday school. It is run by volunteers from the sixth form and staff who give up their mornings to generally help, supervise and be on hand. The children who turn up are ones who may not attend school (most secondary aged children don’t due to expense, having to go out and earn a living, or a multitude of other reasons). Given that it was our final Saturday I wanted to try and get some nice pictures of a very laudable project. It ended up being an upsetting occasion as it simply highlighted the inequalities in a beautiful country that had been our home for ten months. A country of those that have and those that have not, and in this instance, those that can and those that can’t………………….get in. Each week it is a different group of children so one week it may be primary children and the following it will be different aged children. Whatever age children it is they start queuing about an hour before the gates ‘open.’
When the gates do open they are ticked off one by one. The children come in with mismatched shoes, no shoes, broken shoes, ill-fitting clothes, worn out clothes but all with the aim of bettering themselves. Sadly there are always some that are unable to come in due to the sheer number of them. I have only labelled a couple of pictures as I’d like people to simply think about what the pictures might show: hope, despair, division, equality, inequality,
Up at 7am and the crater was again shrouded in cloud. I had looked at the map and worked out we had 270km of driving through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the Serengeti on rough roads. And then another 160km on normal roads. It was going to be a hard day. A fairly leisurely breakfast and then it was 22km to the main ‘road’ – all of it in virtually zero visibility on a twisting road which clung to the outer crater wall – not a pleasant journey and one which took lots of concentration. Once onto the main ‘road’ the weather got slightly better in that visibility was slightly better and we could see the outer side of the rim.
A solitary giraffe was alongside the road and eventually the road began to descend and the cloud started to clear. Passed the masai villages as we descended and finally we were on the flat and travelling at about 50kph. The road had been smoothed so we were able to make good progress. Drove through the gate to the Serengeti and then out of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area where we were delayed by about an hour. An NCA permit lasts 24 hours and we had gone past by about an hour. So they wanted another $120 dollars or some such ridiculous amount. We had no money and explained that we had done our best to get to this point in time but the poor visibility had slowed us down. They were having none of it. In the end we paid about $15 and we were on our way. Animals aplenty: hyenas, giraffes, vultures, jackals, lions, elephants and more and even though we had said we were not really going to stop to take photos we felt duty bound – after all it was going to be our last time in the Serengeti.
We made fantastic time and in the Western Corridor we got to see our last sight of a herd of elephants, impalas, baboons, zebras, wildebeests and topis. We left the park and made the last 160km tarmac section in time to be back to the compound in daylight. It had been 4 days, 1070km, countless animals, mainly rough tracks apart from 320km and good company for the first day. It was a brilliant way to spend our final road trip.
Left the nunnery early as we wanted to make the most of our ‘double the cost of the last place stayed.’ We were now going to be paying $300 for the next night – well it was going to be for full board. Plus the $200 fee for entering the crater itself. It was only about 10 minutes back to the NCA and after that about 45 minutes of a steep drive up through lush forest blanketed in cloud – it was also only 12 degrees centigrade. Arrived at Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge at about 9am – truly stunning views. We had a view over the whole of the crater.
We were now at 7800ft above see level and to the east of the crater a huge bank of cloud was spilling over the crater wall. After an hour of sitting around having a drink and generally relaxing we decided to take the drive down to the crater floor. It was only a 20 minute drive down a steep dirt road – no change there then! At the Lodge we were in the cloud and could see very little but as we took the road that descended the crater wall the cloud slowly thinned and the view became clearer. And what a view – a steep sided hill in a large sweep with a large ‘plain’ in the middle.
At this stage we could see no animals and as the side of the crater flattened out all we could see was a huge meadow of pretty yellow flowers. In he distance we could see a huge pillow of cloud spilling over the crater wall. As we drove on the animals slowly came into view – we had decided not to have a guide for the crater but to do our own thing – drive around and discover the crater ourselves, so that’s what we did. He first animals we saw were cape buffalo. Next into view were impala and it soon became apparent that the crater floor is simply ‘a natural zoo.’ There were animals everywhere and every type of animal – during the course of the day we saw rhinos, elephants, buffaloes, wildebeest, hippos, flamingos, impala, hyenas, vultures, kori bustards, various other birds of prey, golden jackals, zebras, a lion and possibly others that I can’t remember. And they were all happily existing side by side – well I suppose it was happily until one of the lions got hungry !!
It was apparently low season but we stopped by a lake to look at some hippos and counted 27 safari vehicles. The main lake, Lake Magadi was covered with flamingos – but sadly we couldn’t get too close to them as the lake shore had shrank due to lack of rain and was not that close to the track.
We spent about 5 hours driving around the crater floor. It must be one of the most incredible places on the planet. Again, as we drove back to the lodge we had to go through the beautiful yellow-flowered meadow and took a last view as we entered the cloud. Back at the lodge we had a drink and then later we had dinner whilst being entertained by some of the staff singing in the dining area – they had fantastic voices and it was a great way to end the day.
Early night as we had to be up early to make sure we weren’t going to get back to Mwanza in the dark.
After eating breakfast with an audience of banded mongooses and giraffes it was time to bid farewell to the Jansens, Kate, Hilary and Brian who were heading back to Mwanza as they only had the weekend off.
We were heading south towards the Ngorongoro Crater – a drive through virtually the entire length of the Serengeti and then through most of the Ngorongoro Conservation area – all on rough dirt roads. The first part was through acacia trees and then they thinned out and to the right of us we could see several safari trucks. It wasn’t on our route but we took the next right as we decided to see what they were all looking at. When we got there there was a safari truck with six lionesses around it’s wheels plus another two up the nearby tree.
We stayed a while whilst they sat in the shade, took some photos and then headed back to our main route. It was going to be a long hot day on very dusty, bumpy roads. The further south we headed the rougher the road got and we were travelling at about 40 kph. It did give us the chance to stop for the animals though – more lions, giraffes, zebras, wildebeest, impala and herds of elephants (some on the road).
However, one of the best sights was a stand-off between a hyena and some vultures – who seemed to be taking it in turns in stripping a carcass of it’s flesh. We got to Naabi Hill – the boundary between the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area (NCA) by lunch – good going given the roads and the amount of times we stopped to look at animals.
By 2.30 we had made it to the Oldupai Gorge – one of the ‘must do’s’ we had written down when we knew we were coming to Tanzania. The Oldupai Gorge is one of the most important paleoanthropological sites in the world.
History lesson – in 1931, Louis Leakey found Oldupai fossils in Berlin and thought Oldupai Gorge held information on human origins, and thus began excavating there. Louis and Mary Leakey are the archaeologists responsible for most of the excavations and discoveries of the hominid fossils in Oldupai Gorge. Their finds convinced most paleoanthropologists that humans originally evolved in Africa. In 1959, Mary found remains of the robust australopithecine Zinjanthropus boisei . The specimen’s age of 1.75 million years radically altered the accepted ideas about the time scale of human evolution. Leakey’s son Jonathan found the first specimen of Homo habilis, a jaw fragment, at Olduvai in 1960.
So there we were. A huge site with a natural feature named ‘The Castle’ infront of us. We listened to the talk by the guide and then asked if he would take us to see the sites where the fossils had been found. We drove down into the gorge and saw where the hominid fossil was found in 1959. It was possibly the most unassuming place we had visited simply marked by a small concrete post. Excavations are still going on 56 years after the initial find. We then visited 2 more sites close by where other hominid remains had been found.
After the tour it was back in the car for the rest of the journey to our overnight stop. After the Oldupai it was a steady drive through flat plains but slowly the landscape changed and it was a steady climb. We came to a sudden bend and there to the left was the most incredible view – the crater floor with Lake Magadi way down in the distance.
From here it was slow drive around very twisty roads until we eventually reached the exit from the NCA. From there it was only a few kilometres to our overnight stay – a nunnery!! It was very peaceful and the portions of food were ridiculous – enough for 8 people !! The room was clean and simple and double what we had paid to camp – the doubling of room prices would continue.
So it’s our final Tanzanian road trip and we’ve chosen the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater for our visit – on our doorstep by Tanzanian standards. By our standards it’s a late start, 8am. We meet our travelling companions: Amy, Christian, Olaf, Viggo, Hilary, Kate and Brian at the local super market, U-turn – an apt name as it happened. So we all set off together but within 5km Kate and her 2 passengers had to turn round as they had forgotten their gas canister for cooking. We agreed we would meet up at the park entrance – 160km down the road. As usual on our road trips it’s customary to be stopped by the police. This time, with Christian being the front car, he was stopped first and we pulled in behind. Christian was shown a speed gun with a blank screen and was told he was going 63kmh. Being the mild-mannered polite chap that he is he asked them ‘what school did they go to and couldn’t they read.’ Sadly another policeman decided to check us over too – he found a brake light that wasn’t working despite having checked them the evening before and proceeded to give us TZs30,000 fine – about £10. Christian for all his rudeness got let off. Way to go Christian !!
Back on the road we were at the gates to the Serengeti by 11am and Kate wasn’t far behind.
Paid our entrance fee and headed into the park. First stop was going to be lunch. At this point I should add that despite the park having crocodiles, lions, cheetahs, leopards, elephants and many other wild animals there are places where you can have a picnic. So we headed over the Grumeti River – scene of the annual migration and found a spot where we were allowed to get out the car and eat food – no fences, no guards, just a couple of tables and a toilet – about 20 feet from the river which had hippos and crocodiles in. West Midland Safari Park – perhaps this is something you could look into in the future?
A lovely lunch and it was further into the park as a convey of three cars – the aim was for all of us to camp together at a campsite called Dik Dik. Our journey was punctuated by regular stops to take photos of animals along the way. It soon became clear that to get to the campsite before dark and get the tents up we would have to ‘put our foot’ down – not easy given that the ‘road’ was as rough as you could imagine – anyway Christian led the way at a pace that was just around the ‘safe’ mark. There were many dips in the road and at one, as we went down and then up, part of our car took off – the wing mirror into the kerbside grasses. Made camp by six and hastily put the tents up. There was already a chap there who had been there a few days – he warned us that on the kopje about 50om away was a family of lions and that the male had visited the camp a few days earlier !!
Factor in hyenas and any other animal you could think of it was going to be an interesting night. Dinner was followed by an early night. Christina and family decided to put their tent in the dining area – made of brick and metal fencing – the rest decided to take our chances with the lions and hyenas. Pearl and Gil decided that they would sleep in the car and Liz and I in the tent. We could hear the lions roaring and hyenas whooping. It was an interesting night – half way through the night we could hear Gil – he wanted to sleep with us so we had to leave the tent in the pitch dark and get him out the car – not the safest of thins to do. Anyway, we all survived – especially the Holm’s who had spent the night in a cage – with lions on the outside !!
Yesterday we had a tree chopped down in the compound as the local electricity company said it was blowing against their power cables. So along came two men and a big saw. It was a lovely hard wood tree. Today, the proper work began.
This is what happens to felled trees here. Firstly a big pit is dug, about 5 feet deep. The tree is then cut into smaller sections. Two of the smaller sections are put across the hole onto which the larger piece of trunk is lain.
Hope that makes sense – if not see the photo. The large piece of trunk is then measured into square sections using a piece of string soaked in charcoal dust in water with a plumb attached. The two men then set to work to cut the trunk using a saw that must be about 8 feet long. One man is in the hole and the other above. Once they have cut into the trunk by about a foot they knock an old pedal crank into the gap to help split it. The two men saw through the entire length of the trunk until they reach the end – all of this done in about 85 degrees of heat. They have been doing it all day and the net result so far is a nice pile of six 10 foot long pieces of wood – all uniform in size and all done by hand. The skill involved is amazing – I sat and watched them for about half an hour whilst they measured, sawed and generally showed an how ingenious the Tanzanians can be.