13 – 22 February 2013
We were greeted by heavy rain at the border between Uganda and Tanzania. Luckily everything went smoothly, we managed to avoid the consistent offers of “help” that you find at all border crossings and we were through within an hour and a half. Having studied our route on Tracks-4-Africa it was obvious that we weren’t going to make it all the way to Mwanza in one day. Looking in the guidebook our only option appeared to be a town called Bukoba, which is located on the west coast of Lake Victoria. From here there’s an overnight ferry that sails to Mwanza, but from what we could find out online it appeared not to take vehicles. However, we were still vaguely hopeful that this might have changed and we’d be able to save ourselves a day of driving and get onboard that night.
On arrival we found the campsite, which also doubles up as the local tour operator’s office, and they called the ferry operator to check on the car situation for us. Apparently they used to have a crane that could have lifted Charlie onto the ferry, but it was broken so, as expected, we’d be staying the night and then driving to Mwanza the next day. Much as this was a disappointment, we couldn’t really imagine leaving Charlie to the mercy of a crane: and after the Aswan/Wadi Halfa ferry, perhaps driving was a better option anyway!
The manager offered us one of their bandas to stay in for half price and, as we were eager to set off early, we took him up on it. We also thought it would be an experience to stay in a hut, although Karen had to keep reminding herself of this after seeing all the spiders crawling around in the thatched roof! It was a nice spot on the lakeside though and we amused ourselves in the afternoon watching the huge storks and kingfishers hunting for fish.
After a long drive the next day we arrived in Mwanza on the southern shore of Lake Victoria and camped at the yacht club. It was another nice spot by the lake although, despite looking very inviting, we were told there was bilharzia in the water so swimming was off-limits unfortunately. We took advantage of the smart hotel next door in the evening and had a nice meal in a vague tipping of our hats to Valentine’s Day. Although we did laugh to ourselves as, once we’d finished our meal, we were both on our phone/laptop checking emails, the news etc. Who said romance was dead eh?!
After popping into town the following morning, we weren’t really feeling that Mwanza had a whole lot to offer us, so we decided we’d head to the Serengeti a day earlier than anticipated. We’d decided that we were only going to spend 24 hours in the Serengeti and then 24 hours in Ngorongoro because of the high daily fees. In hindsight we probably should have sucked it up and spent an extra day in the Serengeti, however we figured that we still have plenty of parks coming up in Southern Africa, so we will put the money “saved” to good use there.
We camped for the night at the Serengeti Stop Over, just outside the Ndabaka gate of the Western Corridor, then entered the park at lunchtime the following day. The drive to our public campsite was already going to take several hours, so we decided that, other than a few detours, we’d just see what we could see along the way. We weren’t disappointed. Almost as soon as we entered the park we couldn’t believe how many animals we were seeing. Littered across the plains were antelope, zebra, wildebeest … and we weren’t even close to where the migration was yet. On one detour we came across some grazing elephants, one of them taking down a small tree with its trunk, on another we found a large hippo pool. It was only as we reversing from this that we looked to the other side of the river crossing and saw several huge crocs bathing in the sun: we couldn’t believe we nearly missed them. We also saw several giraffes and buffalo as well as warthogs, baboons and colourful birds. The one species we weren’t so happy about seeing though were Tsetse flies. There were hundreds of them. In the end we had to wind up the windows and put Charlie’s aircon to the test (it didn’t pass). We then spent a somewhat comedic half-hour or so trying to dodge, swat, squash and generally annihilate those that remained in the car before we got bitten. For all we knew a leopard in a clown outfit could have stalked past in this time we were so distracted!
We set up camp that night at one of the public campsites in the Seronera region and enjoyed sitting under the stars by the fire, pinching ourselves that we were actually in the Serengeti. During the night this was brought home to us even more as we were woken by the noise of hyenas very close by. It certainly made having to get up for a pee a somewhat nerve-wracking experience!
We got up early to make the most of the morning game drive, only to find we had a flat tyre. When Marcello took the wheel off to inspect what had caused it, we weren’t expecting to find a large bolt embedded in it! He patched up the hole and reinflated the tyre and we kept our fingers crossed that it would hold: especially considering how corrugated the roads in the park are. We can’t really complain though: to have travelled for nearly eight months before getting a flat it pretty good going.
When we were finally on our way, our game drive took us towards the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) as we had to be out of the Serengeti by lunchtime. The game viewing was a little slower and the later-than-planned start put us on the back foot somewhat considering the time restraints. However just before we really had to make a push for the gate, we spotted a load of cars in the distance. This could only mean one thing: cats. We high-tailed it over there and found a mature male and female lion lazing by a waterhole. After watching them for as long as we could we started on our way. Just as we did they got up and gave the crowd a bit of mating action followed by a few roars (we don’t think the female was overly impressed with his performance!): it was quite something to witness and the sound of the roars really added to the feeling of being in a wildlife programme.
As we got closer to the boundary between the Serengeti and the NCA we noticed the increasing number of first zebra and then wildebeest: we’d reached the migration. As far as our eyes could see were animals. When we crossed over into the NCA it became even more apparent. We drove for miles and miles with wildebeest, zebra and their young in their thousands on either side of us and stretching out to the horizon. We don’t think that even in your wildest imagination you’d be able to quite grasp how many of them there are. Awe-inspiring doesn’t even come close to describing it.
As we started climbing in altitude towards the crater rim the numbers tailed off but we were then rewarded with sightings of a large herd of giraffe. Before setting up camp, we headed to the park HQ to arrange our obligatory guide for the crater (although we later found out that this hadn’t been enforced on everyone). At the camp, where we had a nice, if slightly obscured view of the crater below, we enjoyed another delicious meal under the stars, campfire blazing away. This time, although we heard hyenas and lions again in the night, they were a much safer distance away.
We were up early again and relieved to see the tyre was holding up. Having collected Simbatu, our Maasai guide, we made our steep descent into the crater. There was a slight feeling of descending into a fishbowl or snowglobe full of animals, only on a much larger scale: the size of it is incredible. Starting our drive around the crater, we saw many more zebra and wildebeest, although here they’re slightly behind the breeding schedule of the migration as the calves/foals were predominantly younger than those we’d seen the previous day.
After a short drive through the herds we noticed two cars parked up eagerly looking at something through their binoculars, so we stopped to have a look. In the far distance we could just make out the shapes of a pride of lions. At first we thought they were walking away, but we soon realised they were walking towards us so we switched off the engine and waited. As they got closer we saw that there were two mature males (apparently brothers), two females and four cubs. The wildebeest even quite some way from the lions got very skittish and soon where before there were plenty around us there were none.
Our patients paid off as the lions sauntered closer and closer to us, the lionesses leading the way. We really couldn’t believe our luck when one of the lionesses walked right in front and then around us and one of the cubs right past Karen’s window. To see them walking so close – eyeing us up – was really special.
We then continued our journey around the crater: through the forest, where we saw elephants, but alas no leopards; around the flamingo-filled lake; through the plains and up and out the other side. We did manage to see two rhino, but they were so far away we’re not counting it as a proper sighting. We also saw another pride of lions snoozing in the sun, some unusual birds and plenty of the now familiar antelope, warthogs, buffalo, wildebeest, zebra, hyenas, eland, ostrich plus a few silver-backed jackals which we hadn’t seen before. Although it was busy, we didn’t feel like it was the zoo that people had warned us about as the vehicles were spread out. Although apparently in high season they can get up to 800 cars in a day, so we’re glad we avoided that time! The way it did seem a bit like a zoo was positive in that, if you only had a day and wanted to guarantee to see a wide variety of game, this is the place to come as they’re plentiful.
After the morning in the crater it was time to make our ascent and bid the NCA goodbye. It had all seemed a bit rushed considering the size of the parks, the distances between the various gates and the terrible roads but it was a fantastic experience and we’re glad we went. Outside the gates the baboons were also glad we’d been to visit as they snuck up on Karen who was preparing lunch and made off with our sandwiches! As Marcello puts it, Karen was mugged by baboons …
From the NCA we drove to Arusha where we stayed at the Masarani Snake Park. As the name suggests, it adjoins a snake park which is run by a South African couple (as well as a clinic and Masaai Museum). Luckily all the cobras, mambas and adders were safely behind thick glass, although the huge crocs just over the wall were a bit of a surprise when we first spotted them! Our time in (or actually just outside) Arusha was mainly spent catching up on jobs, with Marcello spending a day servicing and working on Charlie, who needed some TLC after reluctantly hammering him a bit on the park roads.
After a few days we were on our way towards the coast, more than ready for a bit of R&R by the Indian Ocean. On route we stopped for the night just outside Moshi and were rewarded with clear views of Kilimanjaro in the morning. Although our original plan was climb her, we’re glad we took the decision to leave it, possibly for a separate trip. Notwithstanding our lack of exercise to date, meaning we’d be pretty ill-prepared for the trek, we figured the $2,000 it would have cost could be put to better use (and goes a long way when you’re overlanding).
So rather than slogging up a very tall mountain, we’re enjoying a warm breeze, sun and the sand in our feet looking out over the ocean. But more on that chore in the next update …