Grant and Susan in Kenya and Tanzania
June 29, 1997 - Nairobi, Kenya
Nairobi has been very pleasant after Cairo (everything is relative), although we haven't seen any of the really slummy areas of town. The weather is cool and very pleasant and the central part of town seems to be in pretty good shape, with a lot more green areas than we expected to find. People have been friendly, though since the bike is parked at the hotel (well guarded), we haven't gotten the curiosity that we will get once we're on it again.
The bike arrives at Nairobi Airport
Unpacking it at Nairobi airport in the cargo area attracted a crowd of about 20 guys, so while Grant worked I told them about our travels and that seemed to be the right approach. No problem getting rid of the packing crate, it disappeared quickly as the locals helped us pull it apart. When we left they all waved good-bye and wished us good luck.
Willing helpers uncrate the bike for us at Nairobi Airport
We stayed in Nairobi longer than expected, partly due to a ferocious attack of food poisoning which knocked us both out for several days. The most likely culprit was a Wimpy's hamburger chain here in central Nairobi where we had lunch while doing some errands and shopping. All other meals have been at the hotel, which is excellent, and we have had no further problems. Anyway, we're hoping to leave by Tuesday, when we will have our vehicle permit plus liability insurance for the bike which will cover us until we get to South Africa.
We talked to the Canadian Embassy in Nairobi, and based on their advice and our own research we've decided to head directly to Tanzania rather than spend time in Kenya. We got the advisories for all of southern Africa, and combined with the US State Department Advisories it gives us a pretty good idea of what to avoid.
Quoting from the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs advisory on Kenya (our CAPS for emphasis):
"Bandits have been active ... along land routes ... to MAASAI MARI FROM NAIROBI. Buses and tourist vans have been attacked...Travel by car should be avoided not only on minor roads but ALSO ON THE MAJOR HIGHWAYS, in particular the roads from NAIROBI/MOMBASA and NAIROBI/MARI, which are in extremely poor condition. Both of these roads are popular tourist routes, however serious accidents and incidents of ARMED VEHICLES HIJACKING continue to be a major problem. Travel to game parks should be organized with reputable tour companies. AVOID SOLO TRAVEL AND CAMPING. "
Although the Embassy says things have improved since the above was written in Feb/97, the caution about the roads between Nairobi and Mombassa and between Nairobi and the Maasai Mara was a bit daunting. And of course the northern half of the country is awash with Somalis toting guns and looking for easy money, so that was never in the plans.
Since we're not looking for that much adventure, our next stop will be Arusha, Tanzania, which is just a few hundred kilometers from Nairobi . From there, we'll arrange a safari into the Serengeti.
On July 3, we departed Nairobi for Arusha, Tanzania. Border crossing into Tanzania was completely uneventful, one of the fastest we have had this trip, and not even any fees charged! Maybe the Egyptians could come down here for lessons. Northern Tanzania is very lush this time of year, and lovely to drive through.
Arusha is the second largest city in Tanzania, and the safari capital of the country, situated between the most popular game parks, with Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater to the west and Mt. Kilimanjaro to the east. Lots of touts on the streets trying to sell you cheap safaris here. After doing some research and checking with a few outfits, we ended up taking a safari with a company which has a very good reputation, Hoopoe Tours. (a Hoopoe is a small bird) We went to Serengeti, Ngorongoro and Lake Manyara, 6 days and 5 nights. The total cost was $1,200 for both of us. We saved about $600 by going with another couple, an American couple in their early 60s.
So, last Saturday morning we departed from Arusha at 9:00 a.m. with the Americans, Pat and Phyllis. Blassie was our driver/guide and Richard our cook. Headed out in a 4WD on a good paved road, we were thinking this is pretty cushy. After an hour (80 km), the paved road ends and for the next 6 days the roads are hellacious, among the worst dirt roads we've ever been on. They did not appear to have had any maintenance whatsoever on them - grading, etc. There were many areas where the road had been partially washed away by water running down it, leaving 1 - 2 foot gullies down the road.
After a stop for cooking supplies, we arrived 2 ½ hours later at Kirurumu Tented Lodge for lunch and checked into our tented cabin, which was lovely. The cabins have a wood floor and wood thatched ceiling, with a very large canvas tent in between. They come with toilet and shower, and even electricity. The location was peaceful and quiet, with nice views. This was where we would stay the first and last nights of the safari.
Giraffe crossing road in Lake Manyara N.P., Tanzania
In the afternoon we went on our first "game drive" in Lake Manyara National Park - saw hippos in a pool, giraffes, dik-diks (a super cute little antelope about 18" high), baboons, velvet and blue monkeys, guinea fowl and Egyptian geese, and glimpsed two elephants and baby. Far off we saw impala, wildebeest, buffalo and flamingoes. It was great. Lake Manyara National Park is quite small as parks go, which means you don't have to drive too far to see animals.
Hippo yawns in pool at Lake Manyara N.P., Tanzania
Sunday morning after breakfast we departed for Serengeti National Park. This was the worst day for driving. Although the distance is not great, the roads are so bad between the parks that it takes a long time to cover any distance. At the end of each stint you feel totally beaten up. We were alternating each day with Phyllis and Pat for front (behind the driver) and very back seats of the vehicle, as the back seats were much worse for bouncing around, plus you couldn't see as much. Unfortunately, this was our day for the back seats. Between their and our stuff and the camping gear, it was pretty crowded too.
We got to our campsite in the middle of the park around 2:00 p.m., and after setting up tents (Richard and Blassie did most of the work, assisted by Grant), we went on an afternoon game drive around 5:00 p.m. until sunset. When we returned, we all had hot showers (they had brought along a shower tent), and then we ate the delicious supper that Richard had cooked while we were on the game drive. This is pretty luxurious camping with someone else to do all the work including cooking! Not many animals around the camp except for a family of baboons around the site who are very brave and will try to steal any food not guarded. They even came into the area under the awning when we were there, but not looking, and stole a jar of butter. Blassie chased him, but by the time he caught up to the baboon, the jar was opened and the baboon was into it already.
On Monday morning Grant, Pat and Phyllis went out at 6:30 a.m. without any breakfast to get an early game drive, and didn't return until almost noon. I, believe it or not, had come down with a bad cold the day before, so slept in. I went out with them after lunch, though, and even though I was not feeling great, I was glad I went.
We were told that the major migration of wildebeest (also known as gnus) and zebras was already north of us towards Kenya's Maasai Mara park, but there were still lots of both around. But, the highlight of the day was definitely the lions. We drove right up to groups of lions lounging around and snoozing and they did not take the slightest notice of us. We found a female lion nursing about 5-6 cubs of differing ages, and we were within 10 feet of them!
Lion cub licking foot - Serengeti N.P., Tanzania
This was probably the highlight of the trip for me, and needless to say I went through a lot of film! We also saw a pair of lions (male and female), and watched two females stalk a herd of zebras (unsuccessfully). The lions all seem pretty sleek and well fed at this time, as the rainy season is just ended so there's still lots of prey for them. I was just as happy not to see them catch and kill anything, I'll admit.
By evening, my cold was much worse. Tuesday morning, we were up at 6:30, had breakfast, then broke camp and left for Ngorongoro Crater, where we were scheduled to camp again. When we got there, it was very cold and damp, and I wussed out and checked into the lodge for the night. I also skipped the afternoon game drive into the crater, and the following day as well, just resting in the lodge. The view is fabulous, but there aren't that many animals in the crater, as most of them have already headed north on their migration. Also, I think there are a lot fewer animals than before due to the pressures of grazing and tourism.
Male lion, Serengeti N.P., Tanzania
Ngorongoro, unlike Serengeti, is classified a game reserve, rather than a national park. This means the Masai can use it for grazing cattle, and I think there's just too much competition from the cows and goats. They don't use the crater (which is a small part of the reserve) for grazing though. Too many tourists coming to see the animals in the crater.
We did learn something interesting about tsetse flies, which are more prevalent in Tanzania than in Kenya or other parts of East Africa. Although I am not an insect lover, these flies actually have a useful ecological niche. They affect both man (sleeping sickness) and cattle, and where they are prevalent it is impossible for humans to live and raise cattle. However, they do not affect wild animals. So, the government has designated tsetse infested areas as wildlife preserves! And in these wildlife preserves, there is also minimal tourist influx (for obvious reasons). So, the tsetse flies are actually helping to conserve dwindling populations of wildlife in Tanzania.
Anyway, we avoided Tarangire National Park on the way back, which is reputed to have significant numbers of these little pests. Instead, Wednesday afternoon we drove back to Kirurumu Lodge, where I enjoyed a good rest overnight and sleep in the next morning, before driving back to Arusha mid-afternoon Thursday.
So, that was our first SAFARI, and we enjoyed it thoroughly, even with my cold. But, considering how much the Tanzanian government is charging in park fees, and how much the lodges and tour operators are charging ($186 US per night for half board (dinner and breakfast) in Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge), someone should be investing money in paving the roads into the parks. When we came through the first time, it was quite dry and the choking clouds of dust stirred up by the vehicles cover the vegetation along the road, and certainly are not very healthy for the people and their animals who live in the villages and along the roads. And the tour operators would probably save heaps in wear and tear on their vehicles and tires if the roads were paved.
The run to Dar es Salaam from Arusha was interesting. We stayed a night at the Mountain View Resort -it did have a view of a mountain - but that was about it. A great name but not much of a place. A ten minute ride in on bad dirt road, it was very scruffy, none too clean, and the restaurant had a dirt floor, but the owner was very friendly and interesting to talk to. He had the latest copy of Newsweek with the story about the Mars landing, and wanted to know what we thought about it all. It seemed rather bizarre talking about space flight to Mars and its implications for mankind's future in this extremely backward, remote setting in the mountain jungle of Tanzania!
The road most of the way was very good, until we got about 80 km from Dar, then was very bad, (at least we thought so at the time - more on that later) lots of potholes and missing bits of pavement. The last couple of km. was terrible, more dirt than pavement, and very bad traffic, but as soon as we entered Dar, the road was fine again! Apparently stretches of the road were paid for by foreign aid agencies - at different times and different budgets.
In Dar finally, we stayed at the Palm Beach Motel, run by a Greek family. At US$40.00/night incl. breakfast it was positively cheap compared to the Sheraton at US$170.00 to tourists ($230 if you're on business!). There were two other choices of similar price and less quality, (to the Sheraton) and lots of low end dumps. Susan still had a cold, so we planned on staying a few days, and checking out trips into the Selous Game Reserve.
Unfortunately, we were advised by several agents that driving into the Selous is not possible with the motorcycle. We checked out Coastal Travels rates for flying safaris into Selous. Also checked with AMEX - Rickshaw Travels for their best rates - ouch! $596 each for flights from Dar + 2 nights + 3 days incl. 1 boat safari, 1 game drive, 1 walking safari - at Mbuyu Safari Camp. Guess we're not going to the Selous.
The room telephones couldn't direct dial so we couldn't dial in to CompuServe, but I noticed that they had a computer in one of the offices. I asked the owner's son (Dimitri) if he had a fax we could use to dial up long distance to get mail, thinking he would at least understand what we were trying to do, and that we wouldn't break the fax machine or the telephone line! Surprise - he had an Internet connection on the computer for e-mail! We were all excited thinking we would be able to at least send mail, maybe even log on. Then we found out that long-distance calls were in the US$10.00 / minute range, so forget dialing long distance to anywhere for mail. OK, we'll at least send mail via the Internet so everyone will know we're still alive.
Anyway, the bad news was that the computer crashed terminally just as we were sitting down to send some mail - I swear I didn't do it! I ended up spending a day or so in the next five days showing him how to rebuild it from formatting the hard drive on up to installing all his apps, including Office 97. Computer support is pretty pathetic in this area, nobody really knows what they are doing, and the guys running the Internet service haven't a clue. It's a miracle it runs at all - actually it doesn't always. The phone system is also terrible - operator required in most areas for long distance (read outside of Dar.)
Dimitri came down with a bout of malaria the day after the system crashed, and spent the next couple of days in bed. Apparently everybody in Dar gets malaria every once in a while. We ended up going out to dinner with him a couple of times, (at his expense) and in the end he canceled our bill for the hotel as payment for my computer consulting services! So, now I can say I've consulted in Africa!
Souvenirs for sale at Olduvai Gorge park shop, Tanzania
July 26, 1997 - Mbeya, Tanzania
Our next stop was Mikumi National Park, where we stayed for a couple of days at the wildlife lodge. It was built in 1970 and run by the government ever since with no apparent maintenance whatsoever, so was pretty run down, but still charging US$139 full board. There was no electricity during the day, and no hot water either. In fact, from 9 am - 6 pm there wasn't any water, period, as they were in the midst of some repair work. They did offer to get us a bucket so we could flush the toilet! It was in the process of being sold to private owners, but there were a lot of problems with the sale, with the government wanting control of everything but no financial responsibility, and apparently changing their mind about the conditions of sale after an agreement was already made and signed and so on.
Based on some of our conversations with Dimitri about running the hotel in Dar, and hearing all about this from some locals we met at the lodge, we wouldn't recommend investing in Tanzania to anybody! Dimitri for example pays a total of 28 different taxes at the hotel. Keeping track of it all is a nightmare. His father built the hotel years ago in the 50's, then the government "nationalized" it when the country got independence, meaning he didn't own it anymore and they didn't pay any compensation, but the government would allow him to pay rent to them and still run the hotel himself. Very generous of them! (Tanzania in those days was getting their advice from Russia on how to run an economy). Of course, they don't maintain the building at all, and every once in a while - like when the government needs money - they jack up the rent, sometimes by 500%.
Now that they're not socialist anymore, everyone is trying to get rich quick, so the government is even more corrupt than ever. Another problem is staff theft - they bring in their own eggs, chicken and vegetables and serve them to the guests, (in order to beat the inventory control they had to introduce, right down to counting each tomato and egg) don't write up bills for the meal, and pocket the proceeds.
Anyway, Mikumi had one virtue - we could ride the bike right to the front door of the lodge, and the back porch looked out over a waterhole. We could see giraffes and elephants from our window, and there was a troop of baboons living around the lodge. They would climb up on the roof and play around, looking in the windows, and generally having a good time scrounging for food. An elephant came up the hill to within 10 meters of the lodge at one point, and we noticed it had a green plastic bag stuck on a tusk! We wondered how that happened till we went a little closer and looked over the edge of the hill, to see the lodge garbage dump. One way to attract the animals I guess.
Wicker baskets for sale beside the road in Tanzania
Naturally we wanted to go on a game drive into the park, but there was no transportation available from the lodge, and we weren't allowed to drive the bike into the park itself.. Upon inquiry, we were told to go to the park entrance and there would be no problem. Ha! No they don't have any vehicles there for that, they are in Arusha. Don't ask why. Maybe try the man at the Agip (petrol company) depot in town, 20 km away. Off we go to town on what was feeling like a wild goose chase. We found the station, and the right guy, but his truck was off somewhere else for a few days, but he knew someone who had a nice NEW pickup truck who would be happy to take us. Okay, we'll bite. How much? US$80.00 for 6 hours. Hmmmm. We dickered on the time, finally settling on 8 hours, but he wasn't budging on the price. Well we're here now, okay. Five - ten minutes and he'll be here he says.
Half an hour later we're all set to give it up, this is just too hard, but we remind ourselves we're on African time now, relax. He finally arrives fifteen minutes later, in his new 5 year old 100,000 km pickup truck with absolutely bald tires, one right to the cord. Oh well he has a spare, lets go. We did get to see some animals, including a small crocodile, although not very many, and we were quite disappointed after all the trouble. Unlike Serengeti, the animals in Mikumi, even the zebras and antelopes, seem to be quite skittish at the sound of vehicles, so we didn't see anything much up close. But later when leaving the park on the highway we did see elephants not far from the road, right near an Elephant Crossing sign, so that was quite neat.
From Mikumi we continued west to Iringa. We stopped for lunch at Lulu's in Iringa, who directed us to the Baptist Conference Center for accommodation. Approx. $18. for a room with toilet/shower; Lovely grounds, hot shower and the best toilet paper in Africa so far! Maybe we're on to something here.