Saturday 4 May – After a night of dealing with my itchy bites I was up early to have my last luxurious bath in the hot springs. Many nights after this I would look back longingly at this time as hot showers were not in abundance further into the trip.
We then set off along the 32Km of dirt road back to the main road. I say “main road” with tongue in cheek as, the further north we went, the worse the roads became. It was then that we realised that this trip could not be taken on by anyone who did not own a very sturdy 4×4. That afternoon we arrived at Kalungu for our last night’s stay in Zambia at the King’s Highway Rest Camp.
This was run by a group of Christians who had devoted their lives to educating the natives of the region to assist them in becoming self-sufficient and improving them intellectually. The greeting we received from these very kind people was warm and sincere but I must say the warnings they put out concerning snakes, scorpions and cerebral malaria-carrying mosquitoes encouraged us to put up our tents very quickly and douse ourselves and our tents with all manner of anti-bug sprays and creams. Sadly, I seem to be a very tasty morsel, unlike my husband who seemed to get away with very little bites.
Sunday 5 May – Very early start today – up at 5am and packed away in 15 minutes. Couldn’t wait to get away from the mosquitoes!! After light breakfast we were on the road by 6am on our way to the border post into Tanzania via the most horrendous roads full of potholes.
Took 4 hours to get through the border post – passport control, carnet for the car, car insurance. Fortunately Alex’s “runner” was on hand to assist us through all these stages and often arrange for us to get ahead of the very long queues of people waiting to be seen. He then exchanged money for us into Tanzanian shillings and we were then on our way to Kisolanza, 51Km south west of Iringa.
The scenery seemed to change as soon as we got over the Tanzania border and the landscape was far more hilly and scenic. At 5pm we arrived at The Old Farm House, on the Dar es Salaam Mbeya Road. It was there that Alex advised us that it wouldn’t cost very much to upgrade for the night to a chalet which we heartily agreed to after our bug-infested camping of the night before – it was paradise!!
Old Farm is a working farm with cattle, sheep, vegetables, tobacco and flowers. Everything is organic and beautifully prepared in their restaurant. Alex cooked us ribs that night and we were able to sit in a lovely thatched boma for our meal.
Although our ablution block toilets were long drops, they were scrupulously clean and the showers, although again fed by a “donkey boiler” were hot. The property was owned by a super lady called Nicky who was brought up in Kenya and inherited the farm from her family. She is extremely involved in the farm and is also on the local council. Old Farm was definitely one of the highlights of our trip.
Monday 6 May – A late departure which allowed us to enjoy for a bit longer the luxury of sleeping in a bed!! The Great North Road which we were travelling on, although very scenic and so different to Zambia, is in a dreadful condition brought about by the amount of trucks that travel along it. There are plans to upgrade it and already certain houses along the route have been earmarked for demolition due to road widening. These houses are marked with a big red cross and the ones that are safe are marked with a big green cross. Reminded me of when the plague hit London many centuries ago and all the houses that had people in them with the plague were marked with a big black cross.
We were now climbing to an altitude of 1900m above sea level and had our first sighting of baobab trees. Alex told us that they are actually not trees but herbs.
We also saw sisal fields along the way.
He stopped at a village so we could taste the local rice and bananas cooked in their skins. The rice was nice but the bananas were very dry – not to my taste at all.
Alex also stopped at a little chemist shop to buy extra supplies of medicine in case anyone contracted malaria although I think everyone was well stocked up with malaria pills of their own.
That evening we stayed at the Jozi Campsite 20kms from the Mikumi National Park, unfortunately it was dreadful. It did have a decent boma and bar and TV but the ablutions were almost non-existent and the noise from the traffic on the nearby road kept us awake at night. Coupled with a local lad who left the bar late and triggered off his car alarm which went on for half an hour, the experience was not one I would repeat. We did meet an interesting British guy from Doncaster in the bar who was working on installing electricity to the villages, financed by the USA. Interestingly enough, USA was also funding the road building but it was actually China who won the contract to do the work on the road from Zambia to Dar es Salaam. The cherry on the top was the rain we also experienced and as every camper knows, it is your worst nightmare, especially when you have to pack away your wet tent the next morning.
Tuesday 7 May – After a very wet start, the road took us through a game park area of the trip, seeing buck, zebra and giraffe. The road was still very bad but we were getting used to it now.
We bought some bags of cashew nuts at a petrol station on the way which were lovely and a fraction of the price we pay at home. You have to be careful who you buy from as the ones that are on display by the side of the road could have been in the sun for days and are definitely not suitable for eating after that.
As we were in a small party, Alex asked us if we would like to skip the next camp site and push on to Coffee Tree Camp Site in Marangu at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro which would be a 12 hour drive. We all agreed to do this as it was definitely worth the effort and would mean that we could stay there for 2 nights. We arrived in the dark and had to put our tents up with the aid of our car’s headlights and our own head torches but we succeeded. This campsite was run by a very jovial chap called Thomas who promised to “speak to the gods” and get the cloud to lift around Kilimanjaro the next day as they hadn’t seen the mountain for several days.
Wednesday 8 May – We were woken very early by the loud clanging of a school bell. This was rung to get the children out of bed at 5am, not to tell them that school was starting! Needless to say, the entire camp was not amused!!
Sadly Kilimanjaro was still shrouded in clouds so we took a trip to the Reception area of Kilimanjaro and listened to a very interesting talk on the mountain given by one of the guides, on the 9 routes up the mountain.
There are three peaks with Kibo being the highest – 5 895m. It is covered by snow throughout the year. To many climbers, conquering this peak is an adventure of their lifetime. Uhuru, the highest point on Kibo peak is the highest point in the world that can be reached without any technical or life-supporting facilities. The second peak, Mawenzi, 5 149m, is rugged. Climbing this peak is currently banned due to its rock instability. Shira, 3 962m, is the oldest peak that collapsed some 500 000 years ago. Before collapsing, Shira was the highest of the three peaks.
We met an American teacher living in Holland who was about to make the 7 day trek up the mountain via the Coca Cola route with 2 guides – rather her than me! Fancy not being able to change your clothes for 7 days.
We then toured the lower slopes of the mountain by car which was very scenic with beautiful waterfalls and little villages nestling against the mountain.
That night we had some tasty pork chops and settled down for an early sleep as we knew we would be woken again at 5am by the school bell!
Thursday 9 May – The aggravation of being woken at 5am was soon forgotten when Thomas announced that Kilimanjaro had shrugged off its clouded mantle and we needed to get going up the road to see it in all its splendour. It was probably the fastest decamp that we had done so far on the tour and then off to see the mountain – it was magnificent!!
After taking far too many pics we set off on our journey to Arusha passing houses made of red volcanic ash and coffee fields.
Alex told us that the coffee has a different taste depending on whether it is grown in the shade of full sun. Arusha is a large town with a very big Shoprite which is where we could do our shopping before we entered the Serengeti. I must admit it was not like the Shoprites we have at home and only had very basic stuff. They had even run out of sugar.
This is where our fly-in lady joined us to travel in Alex’s car so now our tour was complete. After filling up with petrol we set off, travelling past the magnificent Lake Manyara with its huge population of flamingos and pelicans.
We also got our first sightings of the famous Masai warriors herding their cattle. What majestic people they are.
That night we arrived at Kudu Camp Site at Karatu. The cottages looked lovely but once again we were relegated to the camp site which was quite basic but as my mum used to say, you get used to anything if you do it for long enough! One of the showers didn’t even have a door on it and the shower I used I had to share with several large scary praying mantises.
Next up – Ngorongora Crater, Serengeti, dismal ablutions and first sightings of Wildebeest