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Entries about backpacking

Souqs, Sand and Star Wars

sunny 20 °C

Having been unable to afford the preposterously overpriced tix home for a proper Xmas in the sun, and despairing at the thought of a grey, bleak Xmas day in London, I decided to spend Xmas holidays in Tunisia!

Before I left for this beautiful country, I got a lot of "Where?!?!" and "Why on earth(s)?!!!" from practically everyone I spoke to.... So firstly - where is it? Tunisia is that that sliver of a country that's wedged between Algeria (to the west) and Libya (east) and bordering the Med. It's purported to be North Africa at its easiest, and is becoming increasingly popular with the sun-seeking package tourist. Why? Well...to be perfectly honest...because it's there, I hadn't been there before and it promised a wee bit more sun and adventure than England did! Several films, including The English Patient and Star Wars (all of them I think) were filmed here, Ulysses got stoned here on lotus-flowers, and Hannibal Barca, claimed to be the "finest" military leader in history, was born here. Oh and Tunisia is also home to the delectable briq! One more bit of trivia -the word Africa, has its origins here (according to my guidebook) - apparently the Romans who conquered and occupied much of Northern Tunisia named the area after a local Berber tribe, the "Afri". As the spread of the Roman empire, the whole of present day Africa became known as Africa, and subsequently the whole continent.

After a day of R&R in Tunis, I taxied out to Tunis Carthage Int Airport to meet Denise (mum), who had flown a painful 44 hours from Sydney to get there (10 hour layovers in Heathrow are not very nice!)...only to learn that her backpack had not arrived! TunisAir promptly got on the case (or rather backpack - bad joke!) and tracked it down to Heathrow, and after a much deserved good night's sleep, we set off to explore Tunis.

Due to its geographical proximity to Europe, Tunis is an interesting Euro/Arabic hybrid: its French boulevarded ville nouvelle with its beautiful buildings and chic cafes, is juxtaposed with its labyrinthine 7th century medina; shops blaring out Western boy band lovesongs followed by the more traditional malouf (trad Tunisian music); its young women in oversized sunglasses, skinny jeans and knee-high boots walking alongside their mothers and grandmothers veiled in winter white hejabs; the comprehensive metro zipping around town on the one hand, and the odd side-saddling donkey-rider on the other. We wandered through the colourful souqs (markets) with their "tres jolie" clothes, shoes, jewellery, woodwork etc., admired the minarets and courtyards of the medina's mosques and medersas (theological seminaries) and dined on smashing food - sampling Tunisian couscous (simpler, less spicy and more legume based than that in Morocco) and our first ever briqs! Briqs are essentially deep-fried envelopes of pastry stuffed with runny eggs, coriander and sometimes cheese, potato, onion, parsley, or meat. Very addictive and heavenly!

We spent a rather non-festive Xmas day roaming about the interesting ruins of the once great city of Carthage with its temple ruins, Roman amphitheatre, cisterns, Roman theatre, Antonine baths and Sanctuary of Tophet (perhaps a sacrificial burial site). Carthage was once an important trading port, and an one point controlled much of the North African coast, as well as parts of Sicily and Malta. From here we caught the train to Sidi Bou Said, a dramatically beautiful cliff-top village of white-washed buildings, blue-shuttered windows and fuschia bougainvilleas bursting from the walls.

After a long train-journey down South in which we were constantly harassed by 15-year-old boys in their best chav-wear (poxy white tracksuits and goldie-looking chains etc.) we arrived in Tozeur, an oasis town close to the Algerian border. Here we wandered about the Ouled el-Hadef (the 14th Century old quarter) with its intricate patterned brickwork, explored the palmeraie (essentially a palm forest), fended off caleche (horse and carriages) drivers, and visited the beautiful Dar Charait palace, which has an interesting museum of Tunisian art and costume, as well as a bizarre haunted house, and Ali Baba's treasure cave - you actually had to say "Open Sesame" to enter! Tres tacky.

Next we caught a louage (share taxi) across the Chott El-Jerid, a massive salt lake to Douz, a town at the gateway to the Tunisian Sahara. We'd timed it well, as we had arrived on the last day of the Festival of the Sahara...so we taxied out to the festivities....and spend the afternoon watching marching bands, dance, camel races/fights whilst having our ears pounded by the cacophonous drummer gang seated behind us - after 3 hours of pounding and disharmonious singing we parted the festivities, though it was a couple more hours before I stopped hearing those jolly drums!

We joined up with some fellow Antipodeans in Douz to 4WD into the Sahara....when we set out from Douz, it was, unbelievably, raining and really quite cold...as we began traversing the erg (sand sea), it got colder and wetter still......even the camels had gone into hibernation! We continued across the orange-hued ocean to Ksar Ghillane, an ancient Roman fort that lies near to a hot-spring fed oasis and palmeraie, where we camped for the night, before bumping our way North East to the Ksour. The Ksour is a spectacular stoney landscape with hill-top fortresses separated by sweeping valleys...we stopped to explore: Guermessa, a beautiful but abandoned berber village with breathtaking views across the valleys; Ksar Haddada, a cavernous village which featured in Star Wars; Ksar Hallouf, with its cavernous ghorfas - long vaulted rooms that once stored grains but are sometimes used as houses; and the troglodyte homes of Matmata - these are essentially underground pit homes which stay warm in the winter and cool in the Summer.

3 louages and a boat brought us to Jerba, an island famed as the "Land of the Lotus-Eaters", where Ulysses stopped on his odyssey and is said to have become intoxicated after devouring copious lotus flowers. Jerba was one of the first Arab settlements in Tunisia and has housed many of the Mediterranean's most notorious pirates over the years. We stayed at a funduq in Houmt Souq, the island's main town. A funduq was set up originally as a lodging house for travelling merchants, where the downstairs area had stalls for the camels and sheep, whilst the upper levels were used to house the merchants. Houmt Souq itself, is a charming town of white-washed buildings, courtyards and labyrinthine streets. The souqs are full of clayware, handicrafts, jewellery, clothing, sheesha (water pipes) and carpets, and the vendors are tireless in their efforts to sell their wares to the hapless traveller. On Jerba we walked up to the Borj Ghazi Mustapha (fort) with its charming views over the Med, wandered about the souqs, and hired dodgy gearless bicycles to cycle out to see the flock of flamingoes that wade off the Zone Touristique, in the island's north. We also rode a little into the island's interior in search of the oasis of Cedghiane, with its pomegranate, citrus and olive groves, and its menzels, traditional domed stone houses. We spent NYE in Houmt Souq, though as in Marrakech last year, it was a complete non-event (everyone was at home feasting on their Bon Annee gateaux).

Like Ulysses, we had trouble leaving Jerba, though less to do with our being intoxicated, and more to do with our difficulties in getting a louage ride north. As most of the louages arriving at the taxi park in Houmt Souq were only marked in Arabic, it was difficult for us to figure out which taxi to make a run for, and as there was fierce competition for rides that morning, noone was particularly helpful...we missed two louages because we weren't feisty enough, so by the time louage 3 came around, we, like the locals, fought for our seats and were thankfully successful!

After the quick hop to Gabes, and a train north, we arrived at Sousse, our base for the next few days. Sousse is close to El-Jem, which is home to the 3rd largest Colosseum in the world, and once had a capacity for 30 000 people. El-Jem's colosseum is actually a couple hundred years older than the one in Rome, and similarly was used for gladiatorial battles. The next day we bussed out to Kairouan, Islam's fourth most holy city (after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem). Kairouan is a beautiful city with its blue, green and white toned medina and its exquisitely ornate mosques. Being Tunisia's most sacred city, it was more conservative that elsewhere we'd been - the women were typically dressed in their winter white hejab which they held together by biting the headscarf in their mouths. It was also here where we saw a seemingly endless flow of sheep being shepherded through town by their master or by truck....little did they know what was in store for them. As part of the Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice (which commemorates Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son), every Muslim family is expected to slaughter a lamb. Eid al-Adha co-incides with the Hajj, the pilgrimmage to Mecca, the place where Abraham laid the Kaaba (sacred stone). Because of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son, he is believed by Muslims to be the first true believer in Allah, and therefore is the most important Islamic figure.

From Kairouan we journeyed back to Sousse and then on to Tunis for a last wander about the medina, and a visit to the Bardo museum, a museum which houses a collection of mosaics that once decorated Roman Africa's posh villas. Then we had one last meal of couscous, briqs and lablabi, a tradtional soup, before jetting back to London in the wee hours of the morning - Lufthansa have a dodgy 0355hrs flight out of Tunis!!


Posted by Backpasher 05:51 Archived in Tunisia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Roaming about Rwanda

sunny 31 °C

After initially postponing my Rwandan escapade in favour of the white waters of the Nile, I finally boarded the bus for the long, winding journey to Kigali - again booked into seat 13.

So after a cracking start in the morning (the taxi driver was early, which is rather odd in East Africa), I jumped aboard the "Executive" coach. Now, normally I'd think of an executive coach being full of stiff suits lapping up the air-conditioned comfort of the reclining chair filled luxury coach whilst listening to acid jazz. But this was Uganda, so the only luxury was the bottled water provided to the passengers and the in-flight (for we were very nearly flying for much of the journey) entertainment - an eclectic blend of East African mega-hits, Kung Fu movies and quality Nigerian soapies, blaring loudly as if proof of the soundsystem's virility.

Still it was a rather pleasant journey; ridiculously speedy (even with the speed governor monitoring the speedometer), but pleasant. My seatmate was a precocious 6 yr old with Michelin-man folds. He gawked at the pictures of gorillas in my book, and took great delight in peeling patches of sunburnt skin from my legs, before deciding to use my shoulder as a pillow and drifting off into cloud-cuckoo land.

So I bid Uganda farewell (sniffles) as the bus wound and rose up into the verdant green terrace-lined hills of the Rwandan countryside, with the misty volcanic Virungas lingering in the distance. Rwanda is one of Africa's most densely populated nations (something like 300/square km), and 90% of its economy relies on (largely subsistence) agriculture, so it is unsurprising that every measly little piece of land seems to be cultivated (mostly tea), and the rivers are chocolate brown from siltation. The snaking road into Rwanda was spectacularly beautiful nonetheless.

Suddenly, there were scores of children running alongside of the bus, with stretched-out arms waving furiously at us. Apparently, these kids run after the bus, in the hope that well-intended passengers will throw them food/water/money etc. from the windows...but of course, many accidents occur as children frantically run close to passing vehicles...so as our vehicle pulled to a grinding halt on a hair-pin curve, I feared that one such child had been killed. Suddenly, the road was teeming with people who had scrambled up from the nearby village....a young man had been killed as he tandemed down the hill on his friend's bicycle...hit by a passing vehicle...he couldn't have been more than 19...

The rest of the journey to Kigali, Rwanda's capital, was fairly solemn and thankfully uneventful.

Upon arrival in Kigali, I headed straight for the Rwandan Tourist Office to try my luck at getting a permit to track the mountain gorillas in Parc Nacional des Vulcans, on the border with the Democratic (?!) Republic of Congo. Thankfully, they still had 2 permits remaining for 2 days later, so I coughed up the small fee of $US375 (!!!!!!!) to nab my permit to track them. Now for that money, you get to track to (hopefully) see the gorillas, and upon coming into contact with them, you only get to spend an hour with them! Seems crazy no? But it is one of those "once in a lifetime
experiences"....and you can't really put a price on that (still it is
OUTRAGEOUS, especially considering the local community only see like 25% of that).

So after a quick wander about Kigali (not the most interesting of capitals, I have to say), I boarded a share taxi out to Ruhengiri, the launch town for trips to visit the gorillas. I'd been warned by some fellow backpackers in Kampala, that to actually get up to the national park was going to cost me a nasty whack of $50-60 for the taxi ride (no public transport, so the taxi drivers charge through the roof), so I roamed about Ruhengiri in search of other mzungus who may want to share the cost...but alas, there were none to be found. It seemed I was the only lone traveller without a
ride :(

And so it was, I was up at the crack of dawn to board my ludicrously overpriced taxi up to National Park HQ. Since it was so proposterously expensive, I figured I'd be the first one there to nab my place in tracking the Susa group, the largest family group trackable. So after getting there, showing my permit, bagging my place to see the Susa group, and being briefed about gorilla tracking etiquette ("If you need to sneeze, please turn away" etc.) I got back in the taxi, drove BACK to the town of Ruhengiri (!!k*?p!x!!), and then upwards to the village closest to the Susa group. After a quick wander through the village, we began the 2 hour ascent into the forest - firstly through potato fields, then into a thick bamboo forest, and finally a dense forest carpeted with thistles, stinging nettles and tortuous vines.

Suddenly we were hit by a pungent smell.... a manky melange of body odour and faecal material .....and then the glimpse of a huge brown hairy mass ambling through the nearby scrub. And then after heading 20metres or so downhill, we came into a large clearing, to see the whole family! 40 gorillas together -some lazily reclining on the nettle carpeted floor of the forest, others gnawing on straws of bush celery, others pondering the new age of digital technology, and the younger ones enjoying a bit of rough-and-tumble whilst their elders looked on. Occasionally the gorillas looked over at us, but mostly they seemed rather nonchalant about our presence - I guess it's boring when you see humans every day!! At one point, when we got a little close to one of the newborns, the head silverback (patriach) charged at us - a little scary, considering how ginormous the mountain gorillas are, but most of the time we spent captivated and amused by their antics - fighting, dancing around the vines (like a maypole), and a lot of showing off!

After gorilla tracking, and being chased by screaming children in the village, I headed back to Kigali, and took a boda boda (moto taxi) out to the genocide museum...this museum acts as both a memorial to those who were killed (1/10 of the total population) during the genocide, and an educational centre for people wanting to try and understand a little of what happened... not that it is ever possible for one to fathom why seemingly ordinary people of all ages/gender/background end up slaughtering people they have happily co-existed with for hundreds/thousands of years with machetes....

To give a bit of the history (and I must apologize as this is much truncated)... Rwanda was a Belgian colony...the Belgians favoured the Tutsi minority (firstly, as a minority they were perceived as being easier to control; secondly, they were considered to be more European due to their paler skin and thinner noses) and the country was largely run by a Tutsi government...when independence came about in 1962, a Hutu majority came into power...lots of ensuing probs between Hutus and Tutsis occurred (by the way, Hutus and Tutsis look essentially the same and speak the same language - and in most cases, they are completely indistinguishable)...mass slaughterings of Hutus occurred in the neighbouring Tutsi governed nation of Burundi....massive influxes of refugees from Burundi followed...the Tutsi led Rwandan Patriotic Force (the RPF) invaded from Uganda (led by the current Rwandan President Kagame and fellow refugees who had fled in a previous pogrom)...anti Tutsi sentiment became rife and the government run Radio Television Libre began espousing ethnic cleansing of the Tutsis...the RPF made inroads in Rwanda and eventually the Hutu led government agreed to a multi-party constitution....this pissed a lot of people off...more senseless violence...UN peacekeepers came into the country...both the presidents of Rwanda (Hutu) and Burundi (Tutsi) were killed in the same plane crash on the way back from talks in Tanzania, presumably shot down by Hutu rebels, and then everything just went haywire...the UN fled from Rwanda as things heated up...1/10 of the population were killed...2 million refugees fled into neighbouring countries. Whilst many of the genocidaire (leaders of the genocide) have been tried and imprisoned, many more remain in hiding abroad, whilst others remain in Rwanda...walking down the street, driving taxis, working in shops/hotels/schools.... just like everyday ordinary people.....which is exactly what they were......

After my short time in Rwanda, I bussed back to Kampala for the weekend, and was all set to go back to Kenya, when I met some Canadians at the bar at Backpackers. Mike, Matt and Cathy had gotten a jeep specially kitted out in South Africa, and were half way through their Cape to Cairo journey...turned out they were to be driving west the next day to Kibale National Park... and so I joined them to spend a soggy night in the beautiful rainforest of Kibale National Park (apparently with the greatest primate concentration in East Africa?), before stopping off for a few days on the splendid crater lakes of Western Uganda. Here I paddled a dugout canoe about Lake Nyabikere, chatted with the friendly staff at CVK Resort (I was the only guest there!!!!), listened to the noisy frogs (Nyabikere = lake of frogs), watched the antics of the vervet monkeys by the lakeside, and hiked between Nyabikere and Nkuruba through villages filled with goats, tea plantations, and children asking for pens!

From here it was a post bus (yes, a bus delivering the post about the country) back to Kampala, one last weekend in Kampala, a long journey back to Nairobi (for the tyre started to fall off and what should have been an 11 hour journey on the posh Scandinavian bus service, turned into a shaky 16 hour nightmare!), a day shopping in downtown Nairobi with some (whining) Pommies, an overnight train to Mombasa, and a few days on beautiful, beautiful Tiwi beach (topping up thetan!).... before flying back to the UK...

Which is where I am now...in London...saving up for my next holiday!

Bel xox

Posted by Backpasher 16:05 Archived in Rwanda Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Moving On

sunny 30 °C

Following a tearful reunion with my backpack, I booked seat #13 on the "Executive" bus to Kigali and prepared to finally leave Kampala...but of course, as I awaited my taxi downtown, I changed my mind and wound up tackling Grade 5 rapids at the source of the mighty Nile.

Of course when one tries something for the first time, it's only sensible to take it easy...do it in moderation, work your way up to it so as to not be too utterly gobsmacked by it... though that's just for the faint-hearted isn't it?....so I just jumped aboard the raft and hoped that when the vessel inevitably slam-dunked itself into the carnage, that I would eventually find myself atop the foam, and not being torpedoed to the bottom of the river, or sucked in a hydro-willywilly whirl. And thankfully my life jacket retained its buoyancy and my swimming lessons as a baby fared me well...though it certainly was more white-knuckle than your average jacuzzi.

Extremely enjoyable and really not that scary!

After a rivetting day on the rapids, we retired to the relative
serenity of the Adrift bar/restaurant... or so we thought, for it was there that we were to meet "The Overlanders". Ah yes, the mostly antipodean mob of hooligans, who arrived on their bullet-proof beige truck, and cavorted about in the netherclothes in the shower-block, before rocking up to the bar
for their daily ritual. Now, some people settle for their daily doppio with a croissant. Others are satisfied by ogling the silicone-enhanced Jordan-lookalikes in some lads' magazine. I'm quite happy with a bottle of Krest (bitter lemon) and a pizza! ah but the overlanders...they liked to SPANK each other.


As in with a whip!

Made of leather.

It was rather like watching a David Attenborough documentary.

Without David.

The head hoon plucked a whip from the back of his trousers and called up the first in a line of many inebriated neanderthals. One by one, the lads parted with their trousers to be spanked with the leather whip....


I fear I shall forever be traumatized by the pasty-buttock slapping experience..

So after a brief stop in Kampala, I headed up to Murchison Falls, in Northern Uganda. Here we had a walk through the virtual papillonerie of the Budongo Rainforest, went for a game drive around Murchison Falls national park with views over to the friendly Democratic Republic of Congo, and took the launch trip up to the falls...a 2 hour journey up the Nile river past
bloats of hippos (yep, that's the collective hippo noun), floats of crocodiles, black and white colobus monkeys, herds of elephants and a token shoebill stork (a seldom seen national bird), somewhat akin to a prehistoric pelican. Before quite arriving at the falls, their thunderous sound screamed out at us. When we rounded the corner to finally view them, it was obvious why we weren't allowed to white water raft their. Death
rapids. Truly. Amazing though.

Apparently this 6 metre gorge spectacularly spewing out water is the fiercest natural surge of water in the world. A great place for a swim! Incredibly beautiful to see.

We disembarked the vessel to wind our way up the steaming,
silicone-glimmering trail to the top of the falls, where, we could stand above them, and be refreshingly soaked from their spray...

Early the next morning we wandered from our campsite into the Budongo Forest to track the chimpanzees, and came upon a family of 15 or so of our relatives hanging about the treees, staring down at us, and occasionally getting a little antsy by our presence, screaming, and running away (rather like a child who hasn't before seen a mzungu!).

So again, I returned to Kampala, and again booked my bus ticket to Kigali to visit the mountain gorillas of Rwanda...

Posted by Backpasher 16:58 Archived in Uganda Tagged backpacking Comments (0)


sunny 31 °C

After 2 weeks of roughing it between Kili and being on safari, some R&R was well due, so after a long bus ride to Dar, I caught the ferry across to Zanzibar, the Spice isle.

Having never been to the West coast of Australia (disgraceful, I know), this was my first trip to the Indian Ocean, and not a bad introduction to say the least. Upon disembarkation from the ferry, I arrived in Stone Town, the capital of Zanzibar, and its cultural heart - a little piece of Arabia off the East African coast.

For the past few thousand years, Zanzibar has been an important stop on the trade routes of the Arabs, Portuguese, and Indians, and was part of Oman until the 1960s. The Omani influence is obvious with the town's minarets rising above the whitewashed
medina, women dressed head to toe in their traditional "bui bui", ornately Arab carved doors at every turn through the winding medina, and the early morning call to prayer every day. Peak tourist season was equally apparent with throngs of mzungus (white people) meandering about the centre in their kaftans and funky jewellery, being haplessley preyed upon by the local
"papasi" (Swahili for "ticks"), the horribly obnoxious touts that just don't go away!

After visiting the House of Wonders (the former palace of a Zanzibari Sultan), the Palace museum and the old fort, I took a spice tour of the nearby villages to learn a little about the sorts of spices cultivated in Zanzibar and their ongoing importance to the island's economy. It was also a good opportunity to taste a load of different spicy food, local fruits (manky papaya, coconut, jackfruits, pineapple, passionfruit) and watch crazy Mr Coconut climb up a palm tree whilst singing and dancing a tres tacky song (Jambo...Jambo bwana.....habari....mzuri...yadda yadda yadda).

Unable to bear the papasi any longer, I took a matatu down to Jambiani to chill on the beach for a few days. Aside from the kid who so boldly demanded "Give me your shoes", it was blissfully peaceful, with little to do but lie on the shaded (of course mum) deck-chairs, read books, walk along the white sandy beach, and swim in the impossibly turquoise ocean. A
little bored of the whole relaxing thing, I took a dhow (local boat) out a little way and did some snorkelling, and also visited the nearby Jozani forest, to see the red colobus monkeys - very cool and endemic to Zanzibar.

From here it was back to Stone Town and all my papasi buddies (I learnt that if you call someone "papasi sana", i.e. big tick, they get very annoyed!). I went to a big posh hotel to listen to Taarab music (the local Zanzibar style) on the sea front, and also did some scuba diving, before finishing up my time in Zanzibar at the Forodhani gardens night market.

And then to Uganda......and tomorrow Rwanda, hopefully to see some mountain gorillas!



Posted by Backpasher 17:40 Archived in Tanzania Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Twende - Let´s Go

sunny 25 °C

After having the day to rest my legs in Arusha, I set off on safari with Michiel and Roos (from Holland like everyone else travelling East Africa!), our driver Youssef, and Charles the cook.

Upon arrival at Twiga (Swahili for "giraffe") campsite, we set up our tents, and had some lunch before setting off on a game drive to Lake Manyara National Park. At the right time of the year, the alkaline Manyara Lake is purportedly aflutter with millions of flamingoes, though in the dry season (now!), the Lake largely disappears, as do the flamingoes......I guess when
there is no yummy algae in the lake, they migrate to find pond scum elsewhere....yum-my! Still, the parched saline basin provided a nice backdrop to the surrounding scrub and woodlands and the park was a good place to start our safari....we saw (skanky) baboons, giraffes, dikdiks (miniature antelopes) zebras, elephants, lions, and hippos - but no tree -climbing lions (which are sometimes spotted around Manyara).

The next day we set off for the long drive out to the Serengeti National Park, first skirting our way around the rim of the chilly, mist-laden Ngorongoro crater, before hitting the "rock-and-roll" roads into the Serengeti. We crossed the endless savannah plains for what seemed an eternity, before arriving out our rustic bush camp, next to a rocky hill, and entirely exposed to the surrounding wilderness. When we asked about the possibilities of animals coming into the campsite, our guide reassured us by saying that sometimes the lions will drop in overnight, and frequently hyenas drank from the water supply! Ah....the prospect of being Simba's (= "lion") midnight snack never fails to put ones sleepy mind at ease.

After a late afternoon game drive, where we spotted many Twigas, Tembos (elephants) and impalas (deer), as well as a lion resting atop a rocky hill (just like the one in our campsite!), we returned to our campsite for the night....didn't hear any simbas or hyenas, thankfully.

We started at the crack of dawn the next day for a long drive about the Serengeti, and spent the first hour or so cruising about in the jeep without much success....until we spotted some cheetahs in the distance and stumbled upon 2 leopards lounging on the lower branches of tress! Every Tom, Dick and Harry was stopped at a particular tree which supposedly had some "leopard kill" in it, though no matter how long we looked for it, it
eluded us. We did however manage to see a lion sitting smugly beside his catch - a fat (of course) hippo who must have been caught by the lion whilst on its daily jog through the park. Upon returning later in the day, the same hippo was being gruesomely devoured by 50 or so vultures, with revolting hyenas tucking in too. Hyenas, I must say, are the scummiest
animals I've ever seen...I guess because I'm NOT a dog person, it's only natural their scavenging, bottom-sniffing ways don't at all appeal.

In the afternoon we went for a drive to a hippo pool, where we saw what must have been around 40 hippos bathing in a squalid pool of water, and belching happily as they did so. I never really thought of hippos as being particularly grotesque before then, however the stench was inexpilicably repulsive and the muck in which they were bathing, more like a sewage works. We survived the night again in the wilds, though a dinner time visit by a nasty hyena, its evil orange eyes glaring wickedly at us, did little to calm the nerves.

Another early morning start the next day for a long drive in the Serengeti brought us to a large herd of elephants, seemingly on a migration to cause more "elephant damage" to the trees around the park - i.e. uproot them by charging them or scratching their backs. However we caught sight of the nasty Serengeti Balloon Safari folk (royally kitted in their spiffy new khakis with lots of pockets and armed with $5000 binoculars) who had shunned
us the previous day when we needed help with the "spare tyre pressure" (i.e. needed to use the loo), and figured the elephants were instead running away from the scary balloons and the khaki army inside of them. It seemed that whenever the balloon "engine" was fired up, the poor ellies became frightened and helplessly tried to charge the threatening UFOs whilst gathering around the young ones to protect them. We also spotted a running hippo (hilarious and suprisingly fast!), some hyenas taking a bath, a group of lions on the prowl, many
girraffes, zillions of zebras, a few topis (a type of deer), loads of buffaloes, and countless impalas/gazelles. Then we made a quick stop at the Serengeti Visitors Information Centre, for a quick conservation lesson, and saw dozens of hyrax (similar to large guinea pigs) pottering about the rocks.

After an impressive lunch of quiche (! cooked on hot coals) and
salad, we began rock-and-rolling across the savannah towards
Ngorongoro....we left the Serengeti without seeing a single wildebeest (not that I can remember anyway!) - they are all in the extreme north of the Serengeti at the moment, or else across the border in Kenya's Masai Mara...so hopefully I'll get there before they up and migrate back to Tanzania!! We set up camp on the edge of the crater rim, with the crater and its profusion of wildlife awaiting us below.

The Ngorongoro crater is essentially the remnants of a collapsed volcano in a chain of volcanoes and calderas which lie along the Great Rift Valley (which extends along a geological fault line all the way from Syria to Mozambique!). The nearby Olduvai Gorge is where the oldest-known human-like footprints were found by Mary Leakey in the 50s. Consequently, many believe that this area of Tanzania is the "cradle of man".

Again we started the day with an early drive into the chills of the vast, mist-laden crater, being met by some touting Maasai when we stopped to pop the roof ("Jambo. Photo?" Photos with Maasai go for no less than US$1 these days!), stopping at the zebra crossing (100s of them heading for their morning drink), and catching sight of herds of great wildebeest pounding their way through the grasslands. We also saw some mad wildebeest
(rolling about crazily like rabid dogs), fighting wildebeest and wildebeest taking a bath in a small stream.

After a lunch beside a hippo pool, where large birds took delight in swooping down to scavenge food off the tourists, we set off again for a few hours, finally catching sight of our first black rhino in the distance. The black rhino is extremely endangered and only 15 or so exist in Ngorongoro, so it was very cool that we finally saw one. We finished the day by driving up the "heavy metal" road to the crater rim, where we stopped for a drink at one of the lodges overlooking the crater. And whadda ya know, peering through the binoculars there, we saw two more rhino....mother and baby! So 3/15 isn't bad at all :) Back at the freeeeeezing cold camp that night, we tucked into our dinner before retiring to our luxurious tents...only to be awoken in the middle of the night by a snuffling warthog.....it was trying to dig its way under Michiel and Roos' tent!! Cheeky monkey!

Our last day of Safari was spent watching a large family of lions gawk at a pack of terrified zebras, before deciding they'd rather go sit in the ditch, seeing some more running hippos, getting virtually attacked by a vervet monkey (who boldly jumped on the front and then the back of our jeep), and seeing the usual packs of zebras and wildebeest pounding the
yellow grass of the crater floor.

After a day of befriending all the touts in Arusha (not!), I bussed for 10 hours to Dar Es Salaam (the economic capital, Dodoma is the political capital), before making my way to Zanzibar....the spice island....and my first ever visit to the Indian Ocean! (I know, it's disgraceful!)

Gotta go


Posted by Backpasher 15:27 Archived in Tanzania Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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