Tanzania July 2007 - Travel Log
17 July 2007 - Africa Bound
After a taxi-ride to Heathrow Airport's Terminal 4, I sat outside in the smoking zone excitedly anticipating the arrival of my three friends, Frank, Kathie (who organised this holiday for us) and Pat. Every time a "purple parking" van appeared round the corner I'd sit up, only to be disappointed that it wasn't them but, looking at the watch on my cell phone, it occurred to me that I was early for a change. Anyway, a few smokes later and there they were!
After another smoke, we headed into the terminal to be greeted by the usual organised chaos of the check-in queues. We were travelling BA World Traveller Plus so you'd really think they'd have it sorted so that the likes of us wouldn't have to deal with that sort of queue! Oh well, at least one gets lots of exercise due to the approximately 80 miles of walking down roped corridors aligned parallel to the check-in desk that itself is in reality only about 30 feet in a straight line from the terminal entrance! Honestly!
Eventually, all checked in, we made a bee-line for the bar and proceeded to alternate between drinking and shopping sprees until the boarding time at around 20:00 for the British Airways flight to Nairobi departing at around 20:35 that evening. The flight went without incident and we had good seats thanks to Frank and Kathie for doing the on-line check-in the evening before. Frank is about six feet five, so leg-room is always an issue for him but at least less-so in World Traveller Plus. However, the seat design was just silly! My telly didn't work properly and even when they fixed it had awful flicker. The controller/telephone/game handset thingy in those planes is stupidly located alongside the arm rest of each seat, so every time you move your bum, the telly turns on! Irritating when you are awake, but imagine trying to sleep with this happening: the blue glow of the telly interrupting the darkness of the cabin and waking you up!
Anyway, after a disturbed sleep through a combination of excitement and handset/telly irritation, we arrived at Nairobi "Jomo Kenyatta" airport and boy was I in for a shock! The last time I had been in that airport was as a six-year old child in about 1975 when it had been little more than a shack with scary rotating ceiling fans inside that looked like they'd fly off at any moment and decapitate you! Now, 32 years later at age nearly 38, I was faced with an international style airport - planes, buildings, hangars and funny little airport vehicles littered around a sea of concrete and tarmac looking like some childs Fisher Price set when viewed from the air coming in to land.18 July 2007 - Arrival in Nairobi and the Intercontinental Hotel
We disembarked (I love that word) at around 08:00 and sardined our way onto the bus to take us to the terminal. We needed a visa - and the visa desk is where my fun began. Having Asperger's Syndrome (a type of autism), I find people interaction difficult and find eye-contact difficult especially when nervous. Of course, "normal" people - especially officials - tend to be "suspicious" of me as a result. So I tend to get hauled over whenever I go anywhere near airport officials! These days it is not so much of a problem as I am so used to it happening, I can even crack jokes, but I used to get complete brain-freeze and not be able to answer in my panic. Regardless, even though I am better at acting now, I am still always scared when I go to passport control. So, having steeled myself for the usual interrogation I approached the visa desk.
The immigrations guy looked at my passport...looked up at me...looked down again - and started to giggle! Well, I have met many different attitudes at the border controls in many countries but never this! My eyebrows did their usual nervous nearly-hitting-the-ceiling thing and Frank came over to see if I was alright. The visa guy seemed rather reticent, but we got out of him that the amusement was caused by my first name, Didi, which means something rude that he wouldn't tell me in Swahili! Perhaps due to the probably unprecedented amusement at the visa desk, the visa guy's boss turned up to watch and our visa guy went all serious. But Frank said some sentence with "didi" in it in a voice loud enough for visa boss-man to hear - and then even that guy started to laugh! So in the end after handing over my $50USD, which is what the visa costs, we were all laughing and I got through without further incident!
Our luggage was waiting for us on the carousel, so grabbing that we whizzed outside for a much-anticipated smoke. There we were met by our driver-bo-be, Ken, along with the two others who were to be on our trip: Pam and Tony. Then, van loaded, we headed to the Nairobi Intercontinental hotel where we'd be staying for our first night in Africa. The drive through Nairobi to the Intercontinental was fascinating - bits of old Nairobi meshed within new stuff - I certainly don't remember it being that commercial and built-up when I was there as a child. Immediately Frank and I were birdwatching, and catching our enthusiasm, Ken pointed out various species along the way: Maribou Stalk bowing the branches of trees lining the avenues, Ibis and all sorts of little unidentified flying objects!
We arrived at the very international-looking Intercontinental Hotel where we were greeted in that wonderful African way with wet towels and orange-juice - but no rooms. Unfortunately we'd turned up at around 09:00 hrs and the rooms wouldn't be ready until between 11:00 and 12:00, so we had no choice but to sit and wait. Even though I had had breakfast on the plane, I was starving - travel and stress tends to make me rather stomach-focused! So, much to the other's disbelief, I ordered a plate of Greek Meze and a beer to wash it down with! All this, whilst the others - and me indirectly - got to know Pam and Tony.
Having Asperger's Syndrome and the associated inability to properly "read" people, I have suffered a lot in the past through my lack of people judgement - some people can be very nasty or play mind games and especially when they unconsciously sense someone who is socially dim like me. An Aspie is a great transferee for other's unconsious wound-upness and makes the idea target for being bullied at school or at work. So life has made me view people as "guilty until proven innocent" as a defence mechanism. So I tend to sit quiet and listen and let others do the talking while I conduct a kind of threat assessment. Anyway, over the next few days you will see that I was to find that Pam and Tony are the really nice sort of people, and I hope very much to see them again one day.
Eventually we had our rooms allocated - after Kathie - who is very good at this kind of thing - chased them up! Our room was lovely and I immediately crashed out to be woken a little later by Frank saying he was going down for lunch. All I wanted to do was sleep, so sleep I did - and for the entire afternoon!
Frank and I went down at around 18:00 or so for drinks before supper. The bar was a lovely Africa/Colonial style bar which reminded me very much of places I had been in Africa when I was a child. Dim and interesting lighting, lots of wood and acacia statues and old tools hanging off the walls. The modern touches were the eponymous telly screens, but they were somehow positioned as to not be intrusive.
I also noted that various suited business men of all races were chatting at the bar happily together - lovely to see. When I was in Kenya as a child, there was still quite a bit of racism about which used to make me cry because the friends I made there were mostly African children who, along with their parents, were really kind to me and I couldn't understand the horrid attitude of some of the ignorant white people I encountered. Thank god all of that has gone away now. In fact, this time in Africa and Tanzania, I was delighted not to encounter any traces of racism at all, so I really hope that it has truly gone.
The others joined us a little later and then we headed off for a buffet meal in the restaurant. We had made the choice to dine in the hotel because we had been told that Nairobi is a bad place to wander about at night. Some things sadly don't change then. That was the same as when I was a child. I wondered how much worse it would be than London - where I often feel uneasy at night...19 July 2007 - The Kenya/Tanzania Border Crossing at Namanga and on to Manyara Serena Lodge
All packed and raring to go, the next morning we started our journey to Manyara in Tanzania via Namanga - see the map on the right. As we drove through the outskirts of Nairobi, I noticed how much more sprawling was the Kenyan capital compared to when I was a child. Back then, Nairobi was much smaller. One soon bumped onto the dirt-track Mombasa road alongside which were Masaii villages, or even just mud huts. Now, alongside the rather three-dimensional but at least tarmac road surface of what I assume is the same road, were a mixture of grim grey concrete bedraggled housing blocks lit up merely by the brightly coloured clothes of their inhabitants strung out of the windows to dry and plazas intertwined with the periodic appearance of large indistrial sites. So, unlike years past, it seemed to take ages to leave the urban jungle of Nairobi, partly due to its extent but also to the modern proliferation of motor vehicles and associated traffic chaos.
Once out of Nairobi, and having turned off the Mombasa road onto that which was bound for the border crossing at Namanga, only then did we start to see the Africa I remember: vast expanses of red soil topped with yellow grass and decorated by green clumps of whistling thorn, yellow-fever acacia, mud huts and Masaii villages dotted with tartan-clad Masaii tribespeople, all framed by distant hills and mountains. As to the Masaii, they wear various patterns and colours of tartan and this reminded me of when, as a child, I asked my Scottish father, "Oh look Dad, did they come from Scotland?". If he had then known better, a suitable reply would have been "No they didn't - it was we that came from Africa."
Namanga. The final frontier. To explore strange new worlds and to seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where many men have gone before. Woops - sorry for the Star Trek reference, but the shabby border town between Kenya and Tanzania kind of gets you like that! We arrived the Kenyan side of the border after some hours. We were to change vehicles to one bound for Tanzania but we also had to have our passports stamped for exit from Kenya and our Tanzanian visa checked (we had obtained the very official-looking Tanzanian visa a few weeks ago in the UK). The passport bit is the easy bit. The difficult bit is making it to the visa huts past the hoards of sellers that thrust wares in your face and try to force jewellery onto your arms. My Asperger's Syndrome meant I nearly freaked at this, but Frank held my hand and dragged me to the Kenya visa hut through the melieu with at least two bangles having been successfully planted, on the fly, on my wrist. Various official forms to fill out later, and we were able to get back in the vehicle once I had swiftly returned the bangles.
It wasn't over yet though. A very angry-looking Masaii lady, laden with copper and beaded jewellery, began leaning in to the van and shouting, what seemed to be fairly random Swahili, at me. When I realised she was pointing at my wrist, I looked down to my existing collection of copper bangles and then back at her questioningly. The lady continued to shout and point at a particular bangle that, as far as I was concerned, was mine! The guide intervened and tried to send her off. Just as he had nearly succeeded, I noticed that one of the bangles was identical to another bangle I was wearing - so in fact the duplicate was in fact hers! I contritely handed this over and she ran off in much irritation to badger other tourists!
We then drove about a hundred yards up the road through the official border gate marking our entrance into Tanzania. Then we had to stop and go to the Tanzanian visa hut! All this officialdom seemed hilarious given the chaotic and shabby nature of Namanga! This time I had mentally prepared myself to be hassled by vendors, but when I got out of the van there weren't any - just the odd guy asking for money. So more form filling later - thanks to Frank who seemed the only one of us that had a pen - and we were officially legitimate to be in Tanzania. Back in the van and off we drove to our final destination that day, Manyara.20 July 2007 - The Walk from Hell and Frank's Birthday
Well, the first morning in Manyara started early - we were off for a guided walking tour of the area around the Manyara Serena Lodge. This was the day of Frank's 50th birthday, so I was keen that he got to enjoy it and thought this would just be the thing for him. The Lodge is situated high up on a cliff overlooking Lake Manyara and the Great Rift Valley. The walk started out nice and gently - a few minutues into it and we came across a troop of Baboons enjoying the dappled shade of an area further up the track. The blokes were asked to stay back - apparently Baboons are scared of men, but not so scared of women. So us women had the chance to get closer to the Baboons. I was somewhat tentative to say the least - they do have rather large teeth! Just as this thought entered my mind, a large male did a mock charge towards us enciting our guide to head down the track towards us waving a stick - said Baboon scarpered grumpily away! We spent a while enjoying the troop's activities and managed to get all sorts of photos as you will see from the gallery. Here's my favourite on the right...
We wandered on. I was getting a trifle grumpy because I always find that these walks seem to involved walking fast and not getting much time to actually stop and look at stuff, let alone photograph it! So at one point I was hanging back to the extent that the others had got quite far ahead and I got rather spooky when I saw another troop of Baboons eyeing me from the bushes. I heard Frank ahead stop everyone saying "where's Didi" and then round the corner I appeared to be told to keep up by my friend who was worried about me. A little further on, I got a little left behind again staring at some Pied Crows who were taking a rest atop a telegraph pole. Frank turned around again and said "be careful, there's some pot-holes here" just as my foot went into one and I crashed to the ground! I was unhurt, though a little bruised, and we all roared with laughter at the timing of my fall. The main thing was that my rather large and valuable camera and lens were unhurt!
After a while, we ended up at the edge of a cliff and the guide said that this was where the real walk began. "You actually mean we are going down THERE?" we said, aghast! Well, against all my better judgement, down we went. Frank seemed keen to have a go, so I thought, "oh well, if he wants to then I'll go". I could have walked back to the Lodge, but I wasn't going to be seen to chicken out when no-one else was! Well, it was a nightmare and I should never have done it - although in some ways I am pleased I did. Descending the side of that cliff was like nothing I have ever done before. I hate heights and this was steeeeep and, once I had got over the disbelief that I was actually beginning to climb down a cliff, I was scared to death. Frank was helping me down, and Pam and Tony really came into their own and gave me lots of help too. They are an amazing couple in their sixties and much, much fitter than me! Pam is a yoga teacher and I was astounded at how graceful she managed to remain looking whilst making her way down the cliff compared to my ungainly descent, somewhat heffalump-like, behind them!
It probably took us an hour to get to the bottom - a very long hour indeed. We insisted on a break, so sitting, red with African soil and sweating, we had a cigarette and pondered what the rest of the walk - that had turned into a trek - would be like. Moving on, we walked through forest-style terrain - huge trees with lianas hanging down - I could imagine Tarzan swinging through to us doing his "ah, ah, ah, ah, ah" bit at any minute! The next thing we encoutered was a river crossing - and I don't mean a bridge. This was rock-hopping. Imagine trying to do that with a large camera and lens (which much earlier I had really regretted bringing on the trek)! The guide came to the rescue and took this from me. Now I don't let my camera be carried by just anyone, so it shows how desperate I was - simply unable to go forward with all that weight around my neck! I really hoped that would be the only river to cross - but oh, no - some eight other crossings did we have to negotiate, each with a different set of agility requirements. Some were walking the tree trunk, others were stones, others were boulders (these were the easiest, obviously), and the last one was an entire tree having fallen across the river. This one was nearly the last straw for me as I got my foot stuck in the fork of the branches when I tried to step off it and couldn't get my foot out - the guide had to help me. Unfortunately this meant I had twisted my ankle and it really hurt, but I tried to hide it from everyone else who had their own problems to contend with.
The next phase was when I lost it completely. We had to climb up a steep bank with a sharp drop down on the right to the ever disappearing river below. The trouble is, this steep bank was made of slippery gravel/sand, and each step I took I slipped. When I got to the top, I started getting a panic attack. I haven't had one of those for years, which shows just how stressed I had got. My breathing quickened and I started to cry. I hate showing such emotion in public, and the more I tried to suppress it, the worse it got. I have to say that everyone was superb - Pam and Tony particularly. We got down the other side of the slope - i had detached completely from my body at this point and was just silently crying in pain and fear - and Kathie took charge and said to the guide we had to stop so we could have a smoke which she knew would ground me again.
Just when I thought I could go no further, such was the pain in my ankle, the aching from my earlier fall and the migraine I was going down with, and we saw the road. I hid my face from Francis, who was there to pick us up, but he could tell I'd got into a state. So back to Manyara we went and I went and hid in our room. Later we went to Hell's Gate (?) for a safari drive. Saw Usambiro Barbet.
Currently being written21 July 2007 - Onto the Serengeti Sopa
Currently being written22 July 2007 - Serengeti Safari and the Lodge from Hell
Currently being written23 July 2007 - Onto Ngorongoro Sopa via Oldupai Gorge
Currently being written24 July 2007 - Ngorongoro Crater Safari
Currently being written25 July 2007 - Back to Nairobi and Homeward Bound
Currently being written
Here is some information about the places we visited: