We leave for Cape Town tomorrow to join a friend who runs an off road motor cycle tour company. Check his website at ridedownsouth.com. We are providing a support vehicle for this 20 day trip constructed for a couple of Canadian bikers. I hope you can join us as we attempt to share our next African adventure.
Our beloved 1993 3L (petrol) V6 Nissan Sani is a South African derivative of the D21 Nissan Hardbody/ Patrol which converted a double cab into a spacious 5 door station wagon. It has the following extras:
- 60L long range petrol tank providing a total fuel capacity of 150L
- Aluminium Roof Rack
- Custom rear bumper incorporating high lift jack points and spare wheel mount
- Front high lift jack points
- 2nd Spare Wheel
- Removable 4 drawer rack which includes a fridge/ freezer slide tray
- 100L water tank
The following pictures attempt to show how the vehicle was packed.
The solar panels were an addition picked up in Tanzania to supplement the 2nd battery charging systems which previously relied on the vehicle alternator. It was useful when the vehicle standing still a a few days. In practice 70W is not sufficient and the standard vehicle alternator should probably be upgraded. Of greater importance is the thickness of the wiring and the quality of any solder joints. When your 12 VDC is in short supply, you don’t want it wasted in these areas!
The Cobb is a small and very efficient kettle braai (barbeque) fueled by 8 or 10 pieces of charcoal. It is used as an oven for roasting and baking, (nothing better than a roast chicken and potatoes or scones and jam in the wild!). In the sundries box I carried a selection of tie wraps, adhesives, nuts, bolts, screws, pop-rivets, pipes, batteries, wheel bearing grease, hand cleaner, electrical goodies, brake fluid…..
The portable braai we used is manufactured bu Poitjieking.com. It is a round stainless steel braai with folding legs and is ideal for 2 people when there are no open fire facilities. We took an empty Wolfepack/ Ammo Box/ Box (what ever you want to call it) to carry charcoal bought along the way.
Although the ground sheet was the subject of some discussion before we left as it could have been a space waster, however it did prove useful in dusty, grassy and wet conditions. We used it in most camps. A good quality air compressor is an essential companion. Not only for tyre repairs but predominantly because a) your need to adjust tyre pressures to suit the terrain and b) because compressed air is not generally available (nor is it very often free!). A good quality tyre pressure gauge is also essential since gauges are either non-existent or hopelessly unreliable.
Under the ground sheet and compressor, we stored our portable shower, collapsible braai grid, collapsible dustbin and frying pan. The latter two were hardly used and we would not take the again. The braai grid was used when ever we had an open fire which was quite frequent.
The off-road recover kit is self explanatory and essential. We used some of the kit with he winch to help someone erect a solar panel installation however, if we did not have it, we would have needed it for recovery I am sure.
The fire extinguisher bracket is empty because the extinguisher fell out on the road from South to North Luangwa in Zambia (despite being secured which bungy chord in addition to the mounting bracket. The new extinguisher (compulsory in most African countries) we bought was stored under the wooden floor.
North of South Africa, the fittings for LP Gas cylinders differ from ours and thus refilling cylinders becomes a challenge. We took enough to last the 4 months. The steel trunk held a good selection of general purpose tools, hand drills, bottle jack, engine oil (we found multi grade oil to be a scarce commodity). Spares were limited to oil and fuel filter, light bulbs, fuses, belts, tyre repair kit (including tyre levers and two inner tubes). Bicycle inner tubes come in very handy when cut into long strips for strapping and binding – they can even be used to temporarily bind a leaking water or fuel pipe!
The 20L HTH Pool Chlorine bucket proved to be a most efficient washing machine for clothing – add dirty clothes, soap powder and water; strap to the roof rack and drive for 4 – 6 hours; empty, rinse and hang up to dry. It also doubled as a receptacle for washing daily dishes as there were very few formal facilities.
We never needed the extra fuel but there were times when we were glad it was there just in case!
Most of our day to day requirements were accommodated in the back of the vehicle – our clothing, chairs, bedding , PC, camera equipment etc. We mostly used the fridge as a freezer and rotated freezer blocks through the cooler box in the back.
In most cases, local water could be used for boiling and cooking. We took along an MSR filter and used it when our water tank was a bit low and bottle water was scarce. We were able to fill the tank a couple of times with safe water and on occasions topped it up with bottled water.
The second battery is coupled to and charged by the vehicle alternator via a solenoid which isolates the main and second batteries when the engine os not running. The inverter was adequate for charging the PC, camera batteries and a few other 220V chargables. Cigarette lighter to USB converters kept cell phones and other USB devices charged. Whenever we had access to external mains electricity we were able to use the external supply and not the inverter. The battery charger is configured and connected to charge the second battery whenever external mains is available.
We added the relevant flag as we entered each country. These stickers proved to be a fantastic conversation piece, often distracting officials who could otherwise be looking to cause trouble, but also facilitated many conversations with the local people. Many overlanders carry these or other custom made decals describing their trip.
On the face of it, we had very few issues (especially compared to many other overlanders we came across):
- Cracked fuel tank – This happened early in the trip in Zimbabwe. We had the tank removed 4 times in an attempt to repair it – all attempts were unsuccessful. We elected to simply continue with a dripping tank. This mishap was suspension related as we bottomed-out and knocked the bottom of the tank under conditions when it should not have happened.
- Cracked windscreen – repaired by a ‘windscreen repair man’ on the side of the road in Zambia using a small battery powered drill an d superglue. Not the prettiest, definitely not invisible, but it stopped the crack from progressing.
- I had an additional blade installed in the rear leaf spring packs to try to firm up the rear suspension. I am of the opinion that this was achieved despite the fact that the blades were salvaged from some unknown vehicle and ‘cut to size’!
- Broken shock mounting on front right wish-bone. This happened in Northern Zambia as a consequence of bad roads (and perhaps some inexperienced driving at that stage in in trip!). This was welded back in place at a lodge Kapishia Hot Springs.
- Broken exhaust bracket resulted in broken exhaust pipe. Repaired in a small town in northern Uganda.
- The fridge sliding tray locking bracket sheared. We used a wooden wedge in combination with a sleeping bag to keep the fridge in place when mobile.
- The spare wheel locking pin sheared. Just nuisance value.
- Front brakes – front left disc cracked – likely to be a consequence of heavy and frequent braking coupled with river crossings in Western Tanzania. I identified this in Southern Uganda when investigating why front wheel hub lockers were so tight when engaging 4X4. I had to strip, clean and re-grease these – probably also due to over-heating. Front wheel bearings should signs of play at this point.
- We developed a leaking water pipe in a very inaccessible spot. Fortunately it remained manageable until we reached Nairobi.
- In Nairobi at Jungle Junction the following work was done:
- Water pipe was replaced (required removal of radiator and timing chain cover!)
- Oil and filters change (air cleaner was blown out as replacement was not available)
- New front brake discs and pads – front and rear wheel bearings cleaned, checked and re-greased
- Rear right axle oil seal replaced
- Fan belt idler pulley replaced
- Cooling system flushed
- Brake fluid flushed and replaced
- Steering damper replaced (steering had become quite erratic)
- Shock Absorber bushes replaced
- Numerous steering and suspension bolts and nuts tightened
- Front left inner CV boot split. Fabricated plastic bag boot is still intact (and not leaking grease) on return.
- A number of ball joint sealing rubbers have split of broken – the ball joints will need to be replaced.
There is generally not much that the bush mechanics cannot do or overcome on the side of the road – we have seen engines and diffs stripped and repaired in the dust on the side of the road. They keep ordinary sedans running on these horrific roads so the mechanical problems encountered by genuine off road vehicles don’t often pose a challenge. However, such repairs should be considered temporary and should be re-done properly when ever it is possible.
Suspension, suspension, suspension…..The biggest threat to the vehicle on such a trip up north is suspension. What we have learnt is that most people behind the counters of 4X4 fitment centres who are advising you on such things as suspension have never experienced such a trip and the road conditions encountered. I was ‘advised’ concerning my Old Man Emu suspension fitted just before we left – my suspension was hopelessly under-rated. My shiny yellow OME front shocks are now black! My leaf spring packs on my empty vehicle are flat – even with an extra blade.
Regularly check the tightness of the wheel nuts.
Lower tyre pressure on long heavily corrugated roads – this makes for a smoother ride and provides some ‘cushioning’ for the shocks and suspension.
Don’t drive at high speed on heavily corrugated roads for more than 20 – 30 mins without stopping for a break. Both you and your shocks need it!
Stick to speed limits where ever possible; be as polite and patronising at police road blocks as possible; try to avoid night driving; don’t plan for more than 200 – 300 km’s a day; ask frequently about road conditions ahead.
Cell phone coverage is generally very good. Local sim cards are easy to obtain and airtime (connectivity) and data is widely obtainable. Take an extra cell phone, load it with a local sim, configure it as a mobile hot spot and link your wireless devices to it – Whatsapp and internet are then available whenever the signal is sufficient (which is often).
Visa and Mastercard Autobanks are widely available. Prices are often quoted in USD and converted to local currency at the going rate. We will try to give some indication of expenses in a followup blog for those interested, but be advised that north of our borders is expensive!
We needed very little in the way of spares but from our experience and listening to other peoples experience, I would recommend:
- Wheel bearings
- Fan and accessory belts
- Bulbs and fuses
- Suspension bushes – better still, replace them before leaving
- Start with new shocks or take spares
- Front disc pads (ours lasted 8000km on the Western Tanzanian and Ugandan roads)
- Break fluid
- Power Steering fluid
- Wheel bearing grease
- Q20/ WD40
- Cable ties, bungies, nylon rope and duct tape cover a multitude of sins
A separate journal – The Route So Far – was updated regularly but it seems that updates were not publicised. Here is the detailed 16000km route that we followed.
In 1974 Denise and her family came to Lake Malawi on a week holiday so after packing up at Cool Runnings we went in search of the old colonial hotel that was where they had stayed. We found it! It’s called Sunbird Livingstonia hotel and some things were the same whilst others were different which you would expect after 41 years.
We had coffee there and enjoyed chatting to the one waiter who remembered the history of the place. It has a lovely campsite and is on secluded beach so it was tempting to stay there. One of the features of Lake Malawi is how many people, mainly men use it for bathing, and lo and behold in front of the campsite were the usual suspects bathing, men without a stitch of clothing on so we moved on…..
We went to Cape Maclear and en route visited the Mua Mission which is just off the road. A really interesting place which tells the history of the Catholic Church in the area as well as documenting the local history.
There are two rooms dedicated to cultural information about the most prominent tribes of Malawi beautifully done by one of the Catholic priests. Really amazing artist and a surprisingly well done with a magnificent sculpture shop with unusual wooden art.
There were sections on the way to Cape Maclear that were part of the national park which showed how magnificent the bush must have been in this area. There are large tracts of land that are barren, where all the trees have been cut down and I mean ALL, for human use, so it was good to see some land still intact.
We camped at a place called Chembe Eagle’s Nest, lovely little place situated in a nook of the lake surrounded by villages.
There were the inevitable men and boys bathing on the lake either side of the lodge so we wondered where the women’s bathing area was!
It was a lovely place to chill and relax, enjoy swimming and the scenery. The camp site supported a large variety of lizard life from 1m+ monitors to little geckos.
We managed to watch the opening ceremony to the Rugby World Cup here. We also had a wonderful sunset cruise which also gave us a good view of the lake shore.
Then to make us feel quite at home…. load shedding! We were serenaded with the sound of generator power for most of one day……..
Leaving the lake we headed south to the Zomba plateau which is very beautiful and chilly. We stopped along the road for a take-away a la East Africa (this time just slap (soggy) chips).
Zomba had been the colonial capital of Malawi at some stage so the town is quite structured. The main road is under construction so we got a scenic detour as we moved towards the plateau. We stayed in a hotel at the top which was hosting a couple of Aid Organizations conferences. It was very civilized and even had tea and scones on the menu. We went for a walk and had to fend off numerous offers for tour guides.
We found a trout farm which is no longer operational although a ‘caretaker’ did offer to let us camp there. We did joke about putting in an offer for the place.
Leaving Malawi signified that we were nearing our journeys end. The border post into Mozambique at Dedza was painless and quick. We planned to overnight in Tete then straight through to Nyamapanda in Zimbabwe. The scenery once into Mozambique was magnificent and very beautiful. Tete city was surprisingly large and extensive. We found some accommodation on the Zambezi River which consisted of small en-suite log cabins and a very small restaurant at the water’s edge. Lo and behold it seemed that we had once again stumbled upon the communal bath/ wash area. This time large volumes of topless women were doing their washing in front of the lodge whilst the men bathed amongst frolicking children slightly down stream. Modesty is clearly not a plentiful commodity in this part of the world.
The next day saw us cross the border back into Zimbabwe. We traveled south west through Mutoko and Murewa, Alan’s old stomping ground when he was in the army and took a bit of time to reminisce.
We arrived at Denise’s brother Bill and his wife Jill’s home in Marondera mid-afternoon. Bill and Jill work at Peterhouse Boy’s and Girl’s school respectively and live on the girl’s school property. The school is situated on a large tract of land filled with Msasa trees and balancing rocks and incorporates a small conservation area called Gosho Park that is home to some Kudu, Impala, Giraffe and Eland as well as some striking scenery.
We enjoyed a sunset braai one evening in Gosho.
We also joined a sunset/ moonrise gathering with some other Peterhouse staff on the top of granite balancing rock outcrop – this on the evening of the blood moon eclipse which we later enjoyed from Bill and Jill’s garden from 03H45 the next morning.
Time had eventually caught up with us. Vehicle and Medical Travel insurance was valid until 30th September. Also, Mike and Kerry our son and daughter in-law were due to move into their first home on the 3rd October – a fairly noteworthy and momentous occasion – so we decided that it was time to head home. Having spent a wonderful time with Bill and Jill we headed for Tshipise hot springs near Musina. Unfortunately we had a torrid time with the numerous Zimbabwe Police road blocks on the Harare Beit Bridge road who seemed to be out to harass foreigners and in some cases were clearly looking to elicit a bribe (none paid although it cost a small fortune in receipted spot fines!). This spoiled an otherwise pretty hassle free experience of traffic officers throughout the entire journey of over 16000 km’s lasting seventeen and a half weeks.
The border crossing into Malawi was one of the most pleasant, uncomplicated and cheapest that we have experienced so far. In fact it probably characterizes our experience of the people of Malawi who, despite being in what is considered currently to be the poorest country in the world, seem to be the happiest and most friendly people we have come across. Predominantly English speaking (on the main routes anyway), they are happy to go out of their way to help or direct you – always introducing themselves and asking your name and how you are. There has been a marked difference in the traffic which has become largely bicycle and pedestrian (and lots of both). The roads are in far better shape (though not great by our standards) due to the lower numbers of heavy vehicles. Most of the goods vehicles from Dar that we had been fighting with in Tanzania went through Mbeya to cross into Zambia at Tunduma (which is apparently a nightmare border post).
When the road reached the shores of Lake Malawi, on our left (west) it was surprising to see the waves breaking on the shore. The lake side was also punctuated with villages, fishing boats and huge Kapenta drying racks.
On the east side were the northern reaches of the Nyika Highlands which also form the eastern boundary of this part of the Rift Valley.
We had picked up a pamphlet at the Luangwa Bridge Camp in Zambia that advertised ‘The Mushroom Farm’ in Malawi. Denise dug it out and that is where we headed. Denise had registered that it was ‘above the lake’ but this small fact had as usual escaped Al who was quite taken aback when the GPS directed us off the lake shore road onto yet another gravel track! Well, 9.5km of 1st gear bump and grind with 17 hairpin bends (they were labeled ‘Bend nn’) and numerous twists and turns in between, we arrived at ‘The Mushroom Farm’.
Perched on the side of the mountain some 700m above the lake, the place comprised of a few of Safari tents, an ’A’ Frame room and two dormitories. Complementing this array of accommodation options were two strategically appointed (from a view perspective) compost toilets (adding ash and dry leaves after each session eventually yields high quality compost!), a couple open air showers (with plenty of hot water from a donkey – wood burning boiler), an open air kitchen, bar and lounge and a few tables and chairs and hammocks.
The view, the atmosphere, the staff (especially Budget the barman/ receptionist/ manager….) and the whole laid back simplicity of the place made us stay 3 nights instead of 1! The name ‘Mushroom Farm’? Well apparently during the wet season the mountain side and thus the camp site is covered with edible mushrooms!
Denise took a walk to a nearby waterfall on the second day and on the last day we took a drive further up the road to the Livingstonia Mission Station and Hospital started by Dr Robert Laws back in the late 1800’s.
It has also been interesting to see how strong Christianity is in the north as opposed to the huge Muslim influence in the South – presumably from Mozambique. From our limited experience we would say that Tanzania is predominantly Muslim.
We have been surprised to discover how much Malawi was affected by the Slave Trade! Large volumes of human cargo were shipped across the lake and on to Bagamoyo and Zanzibar – the main ‘trading ports’ on the east coast.
The bump and grind took us back to the lake shore road and on to Kande Beach, some 50 km south of Nkhata Bay. On the way we passed through some large Rubber Plantations – we didn’t know that this was a major Malawian product.
Kande Beach lodge/ campsite is positioned on the beach with the sprawling Kande Village surrounding it. It was started by an Englishman some 26 years ago. He used to bring tours on a Bedford Overland truck down from London and often camped under a particular tree on this spot with permission from the Chief of the area. In time, between Dave and the Chief they decided to make a more permanent overland stop. Dave eventually stopped the driving, relocated here and established Kande Beach which continues to exist symbiotically with the village. Dave runs the place with his wife Lisa from New Zealand who is also an ex-African Overlander. Quite a lovely story and one that works to the benefit of all parties.
Whilst performing a vehicle inspection Al discovered that one of the CV boots had broken and all the grease had been thrown out. He re-packed joint with grease and wrapped a plastic bag around it (thanks for the tip John/ Bennie who had to do this previously). Hopefully this will get us home without too much damage to the CV.
Denise secretly arranged for Lisa to bake a chocolate cake for Alan for his birthday. What better way to follow bacon rolls for breakfast?
We have a number of Malawians who worship with us in our Church community. A couple of them come from this part of the world. After breakfast we set out to try and met Richard’s family at his home. With much Whatsapping we eventually met up with Richards’s good friend Nowell in the ‘town’ of Kachere. From there with Nowell squashed in the back, we followed a narrow path down towards sea and eventually Kazando, Richards’s village and his home. There we met his wife Lucy, his youngest son David and some extended family. Since Richard has been working in Joburg he has managed to build a clay brick 5 bedroom house and the family have now moved out of their old mud brick dwelling. It was a privilege to be invited into their home and see where and how they lived.
Having moved further south to Senga Bay, near the town of Salima it has been a bit of an eye opener and culture shock. This seems to be where all the people are! Driving in from Salima, the road was wall to wall pedestrians and bicycles. The ‘camp site’ (Cool Runnings) we are staying in is also in the middle of a bustling village on a very ‘active’ beach front.
There are fishing boats, fishers of fish, buyers of fish, people washing their clothes, people washing themselves and the usual merchants trying to sell their wares. So much for another couple of chill days on the beach! It seems that this time it ain’t gonna happen. We decided to move on the next day.
Ruaha National Park in southern Tanzania was our next destination. It’s one of the understated parks of Tanzania and probably East Africa – wild and untamed, just getting there took longer than we anticipated. Once there we camped at the public campsite on the great Ruaha River, which we had heard lions frequently visited! Coming in we saw many elephants, little imagining that some of them would visit us that night. We cooked supper and whilst we ate we could hear elephants breaking branches as they munched their way along the river bank and into the camp site. When we settled into the tent we realized that they were coming closer and watched in fascination as the one huge elephant walked onto the ground sheet in front of our tent. He was way taller than the tent! He was about 2 m away from us as we lay on our mattress as he helped himself to the tree above us whilst another munched the bushes on our side. We’d left the chairs out and thought the large elephant in front would trample them but he didn’t! The two then disappeared down the river bank as silently as they had arrived. Next morning they were still lingering around the camp, quite relaxed. We met the only other people in the campsite. Richard comes here regularly and told us to always drive through the campsite when arriving as a pride of lions were often in residence. The other night visitor was a genet who shyly hung around. What an introduction to Ruaha!
The game viewing was superb, herds of elephant, buffalo, impala, kudu, giraffe, eland, Dik Dik, mongooses/ geese and more lions than we have ever seen in one place. We came across a pride of 11 lions and enjoyed watching them chill. The terrain is beautiful, thousands of baobab trees, savannah woodland and forests close to the river and lots of birds too. We even got ourselves stuck crossing a dry river bed and watched a herd of elephant digging for water and subsequently crossing near us while we tried to dig ourselves out. It was interesting how the bulls of the herd placed themselves on our side and kept a wary eye on us. They also dropped back as the herd moved away to ensure we weren’t up to no good! Our second night was relatively quiet with the exception of our old sleeping companions – the hippo’s, who munched for some time on the bushes to the side of our tent. On our last night there we heard the lions roaring very close to us and discovered the next morning that they must have been in the riverbed right in front of our tent as Richard had a webcam set up so that he could see what happens in camp when no one’s around and he had seen them come through in the night! It was hard to leave this special wilderness.
However we needed to move on and arrived at our next destination just 50km south of Iringa – an old farmhouse called Kisolenza. It belongs to an old east African family and is a mix between Africa and England. Beautiful campsite in the bush and a beauty salon!!!! – with a person who was a trained hairdresser. So the next day I had a proper haircut and a pedicure by a lady called Leila with whom I spent a couple of hours chatting about life in Tanzania. Leila is a colorful character so we laughed a lot together. Al also had a haircut but I was his hairdresser. We relaxed there for two nights before heading to Mbeya. In chatting to Nicky the owner of Kisolenza about our trip she exclaimed that even the residents of Tanzania are afraid to visit Kigoma in western Tanzania, confirming our impression that it’s a wild and raw place! Eastern Tanzania has been much more civilized. In Mbeya we camped on the helipad of a coffee farm and lodge called Ulengulu. This was our last night in Tanzania before crossing over into Malawi.
We took the fast ferry to Zanzibar so the crossing took about 1 and 1/2 hours plus 30 mins customs and immigration etc.
The United Republic of Tanzania was formed in 1964 by the ‘merger’ of Tanganyika (mainland Tanzania) and Zanzibar following a revolution in which the Arab government was kicked out. Zanzibar however has its own flag and name – The Revolutionary Republic of Zanzibar requires all non-Tanzanians to undergo customs and immigration formalities and have their passports stamped. Moses and his wife Laura (of Masai Explorer’s Camp fame) had recommended a place to stay in Stone Town called Safari Lodge which we had subsequently booked.
We had been told that the touts (people there to get your business) were quite aggressive but if you know where you’re going it is easier to use them. Stone Town is like a rabbit warren with twists and turns so we took a taxi even although we knew Safari Lodge was close – it was about a 5 min walk when you know the way! It turned out to be a good place, owners were friendly and helpful and the room comfortable. We hadn’t had lunch so we set out in search of Mercury’s, a restaurant recommended by Safari Lodge.
We hadn’t made the connection with Freddy Mercury until we read the write up at the restaurant. He was born in Zanzibar and they are very proud of that fact. It’s situated right on the beach front with a view of the port and fishing boats. There we got a glimpse of life in Zanzibar as we saw tourists going out on boat trips following their guides through the working fishing boats. That was to be the pattern for the rest of our stay, working people right next door, in front of tourists relaxing in the sun!
We managed to get a road map of Stone Town and spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around. That’s how we discovered how close we were staying to the port! Along the beach front there’s a plaza called Forodhani gardens and every evening there’s a food market where you can eat supper. It’s festive and everyone goes there including the locals. Most of the food stalls sell the same food so there’s a lot of touting for business.
The food is laid out on large tables and once your selection is made the vendors cook them for you. We got a meal of kebabs (meat, chicken and prawns) along with a range of local flat breads and were encouraged to a have the sugar cane juice that they make locally.
The sugar cane together a bit of ginger and lemon is squeezed though a hand mill much like a pizza dough press.
We made the mistake of sitting in front of another vendors stall, and he convinced us to have a Zanzibar pizza. It was really just a pancake+filling +pancake again. As we’d already eaten we had a banana ‘pizza’. It was a lovely experience.
Next morning we did some sightseeing. We started at the Palace Museum which was very interesting, giving us an idea of the history of Zanzibar as we were clueless. From there we were going to do a self-guided tour. Continually having to fight off would be guides we met Juma who had been watching as yet again we were offered a tour we didn’t want! He was an accredited tour guide, very well spoken with a very gentle manner who won us over!
We spent 2 hours with him as he showed us around and kept showing us where we were with reference to a map. It really was worthwhile as we saw all the different types of doors (something that Zanzibar is famous for), Freddy Mercury’s supposed birthplace, the markets, the old slave market which is an Anglican church and of course the history. We ended with a trip to the top of a local hotel where we got a great view over Stone Town. It’s called Stone Town because most of the buildings are made of coral stone- which has stopped being used now.
The next morning we caught a shuttle to the north of the Island to Kendwa where we stayed for 5 days. We’d booked into a place called Palumbo Kendwa which wasn’t on the beach front but a short walk away.
We discovered that we had entered Italian territory! The Kendwa beach extends a couple of kms and beach front bars/restaurants from each hotel line it accordingly.
There’s a few hotels that cater only for Italians so all the locals speak Italian too, and so is most of the cuisine. When we arrived at low tide, the locals were gathering mussels and such like from the rocks, not at all what we had pictured. Then as the tide came in the clarity of the water was amazing, coupled with the white sands and we had the pictures that Zanzibar is famous for.
Thus we spent 5 days lazing on the beach, eating, reading, swimming and watching the Italians play. We were assisted by lovely staff from the hotel for whom nothing was too much trouble when we asked.
The local stall holders on the beach (many of whom were Masai) are very skillful at chatting with people, inviting you into their shops only to be distraught when you didn’t buy anything. However we had a few really interesting conversations with them and realized again that there is a recurring theme in Africa with her peoples, lack of education coupled with lack of critical thought keeps people in grinding poverty. One of the contrasts most striking in Zanzibar is how wealthy tourists enjoy a great holiday amongst the poverty of her people. Juma had told us that 89% of Zanzibar’s’ revenue comes from tourism so they are happy to have the tourists. The hotel ‘restaurant’ – a large thatched lappa – was on the beach.
Coupled with the fact that the hotel was a 15 min walk or bumpy 10 min off-road drive in a shuttle that was permanently on call for the hotel guests, people tended to spend most of the day at the beach. We generally stayed to sip a cocktail whilst watching the stunning sunset over the Zanzibar channel before heading back to the hotel for a shower – only to be back in the shuttle for dinner at 8.
On the last evening Al and I had a wonderful seafood platter dinner on the beach. We’d asked Giuseppe (Joseph to the non-Italians!) from the hotel to organize it. When we arrived we were escorted out onto the beach, where they had laid a beautiful table for us, and make a cupid sign in the sand and added tea candles which they placed in holes in the sand. Our waiter then proceeded to station himself 3 m away so that he could give us anything we wished for. We were touched at the delight that they expressed at doing this for us. It made for a memorable evening.
The next morning we caught the taxi/shuttle back to the port, took the ferry back to Dar (a little nervous as before we’d even left they were handing out vomit bags as they were expecting a rough crossing!), took a tuk-tuk to the other ferry and arrived by tuk-tuk back at Mikadi beach camp and our faithful old vehicle/ home parked just where we had left her. (It’s amazing how attached you become to the vehicle that we have to depend upon for our transport, safety, accommodation and food!). Only people who have done this kind of trip would fully understand. Zanzibar had been a wonderful break.
We had cleaned out the fridge before leaving for Zanzibar so before we left Dar the next day we had to go shopping. Lucio, the owner of Mikadi beach told us where to go, so we left there at 10 am, caught the ferry and got to the shopping mall by 12pm (some 10 or 12 kms away). We shopped. Left the shopping center at 1.10pm found petrol and eventually headed out from Dar at 1.50pm. It seems nothing happens very quickly there. From Dar we were heading south to a park called Ruaha just outside Iringa. We left much later than anticipated and found the first 150km out of Dar to be terrible a road – the heat, combined with heavy traffic and an under-rated road combined to create a surface equal to a gravel road that has been churned up by vehicles during the rains and subsequently dried out.
The ruts throw the vehicle around so much you feel sea-sick. Add to that the number of heavy vehicles on both sides of the road, the progress was very slow and tiring! We found a lovely campsite just outside Morogoro called Mountain View where we had a magnificent view of the Ulunguru mountain range.
The 400km to Ruaha National Park via Iringa took us all of the next day, only arriving at our campsite after 5pm.
We emerged from the Ngorongoro Crater, from all the dust roads and joined a beautiful tar road that took us to Arusha. It was wonderful to be on tar again! One of the things we’ve come to appreciate is good roads dirt or tar and we’ve come to the conclusion that in South Africa despite our groans indicating otherwise we mostly have really good roads! Our definition of what a good road is has also changed. We got all excited about this mountain we saw coming into Arusha and took many many photos thinking it was Mt Kilimanjaro only to check the map book several days later to discover it’s actually Mt Meru….
Our geography was sadly lacking. We only saw the bottom of Mt Kilimanjaro when passing through Moshi days later.
Arusha turned out to a bustling city, with the most western people we’d see whilst in Tanzania.
We found a campsite called Maasi Camp on the old Moshi Road which seems to be the only place to camp. It used to be a party venue too but that part was closed for renovations, however the noise from the road was incredible!
It was a campsite though and we have found very few of them in East Africa. So there we were chatting to a German fellow, Alex who had come in on his motor bike (travelling through Africa on a 150cc!), when a car came in and Al got up smiling and greeted the occupants! It was the Van Heerden family from Nairobi. It was wonderful to see them and swap stories again. It is amazing how great it is to see familiar faces from time to time along the road. Hugo had recognized the Sani also. We spent two nights there, and got a great tip from Dave, a Scottish fellow with the British Army based in Kenya, to go down the East Coast of Tanzania to Dar es Salaam as an alternative to the busy main road. Basically in Arusha we did the washing, sorted out money took more photos of “Kilimanjaro” and had lunch at the Spur!!!
Hugo, Dorette, Gustav and Sophie are a South African family who have lived abroad and have taken the year off to travel Africa. They have been on the road since February and for another perspective on travelling in Africa please check out their blog www.borderjumpers.net.
We left Arusha to head to a place called Peponi beach about 30 kms south of the coastal town Tanga which is just south of the Kenyan border. It was an unexpected pleasure, lovely spot with great view. We met more interesting fellow travelers here.
We stayed for 3 nights and on the second day did a dhow trip to a sand island. We snorkeled along a reef before getting there, and once on the island relaxed under a shade cloth that had been put up for us by the crew.
Everything on the dhow was made from wood including the runners and pulleys for the ropes. It was magical once the sail was unfurled to enjoy the silence and the speed of the boat. The sea was beautiful.
The place next door to Peponi had an intriguing sign, ‘bistro, groceries and clothing boutique’ so we visited out of curiosity. It’s been recently taken over by a couple from LA California who both have Kenyan roots. They make really good baguettes with fresh humus too! Bread is the one thing that we’ve found hard to find fresh so this was a treat. We also went off to the village down the beach to find airtime accompanied by the camp mangers dog – a Jack Russell who has loads of attitude. Eventually after much gesticulating and re-direction, we found the airtime. It is fascinating shopping in these places because you get sent with a wave of the hand in one direction, then in another in the opposite to eventually find what you’re looking for even although it’s a small village and you would expect everyone to know everything. We always wonder about that. It became very clear that dogs are not welcome in these environments and realized that we had not seen many recently.
We had supper with a German couple on our last evening and she put an interesting concept into words. She said that she spent a great deal of her time “wondering” about how things are done here. Things like small children barely able to walk are left to walk around by themselves even along busy roadsides. All the village shops sell exactly the same produce and price as the ten beside them. Most places you stop at have people offering exactly the same tours and souvenirs etc… It resounded with us as Al and I have often wondered the same thing and the result is your head hurts!!!! There was another family Dutch who came only using public transport which they admitted you need to be really robust to do. We have been amazed at people who have used public transport here because it makes the travelling so much tougher. You see “wondering” again!
Leaving Peponi we took the coastal road down to a place called Bagamoyo- 80 kms from Dar. The road takes you past huge plantations of Sisal plants which we had to google to see what they’re used for! Rope among others.
We found ourselves on a ferry again crossing the Pangani River a place that was written about by Richard Burton the African Explorer in the 1800s.
The road takes you through a coastal game reserve and we stopped for lunch at the campsite by the beach. Took a lovely stroll along it and decided not to overnight there but continue to Bagamoyo.
Bagamoyo was the hub of the slave trade here in the 1800, and has an Arabic flavor. Shops with wooden doors open directly onto the street.
We stayed at a place called Firefly which had just opened and is still in the process of being finished. The main building is a restored Arab house with the typical Arabic wooden doors, simple furnishings, mats on concrete floors with a courtyard pool. The campsite was just a patch of grass. A feature of places like this is that the gates are locked and usually manned by a guard, and at night you have a night watchman that patrols using torches. They are usually dressed as a Samburu/ Maasi warrior. I have to say that I haven’t enjoyed this aspect at all. We had breakfast at a local coffee place called Poa Poa (“Cool, Cool”), which was quite interesting before leaving for Dar. We overnighted in Dar at a place called Mikadi Beach which is across the river so we had to take another ferry! – this time a far more serious one, carrying passengers and 50 or 60 cars.
Although the crossing only took a few minutes, we queued or over an hour to get on.
Mikadi Beach is a backpacker type of place but very pleasant and the owners very helpful.
We were able to leave the Sani here whilst in Zanzibar. Getting to Zanzibar involved catching a Tuk Tuk (3 wheeled scooter), taking the ferry back across the river, a 15 minute walk to the Zanzibar ferry port and a 2 hour ferry crossing.
Having travelled up Lake Tanganyika in Western Tanzania previously we were prepared for Musoma to be raw and were pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t like that. Musoma is on the east of Lake Victoria.
People spoke some English and were very warm, welcoming and friendly. The place we stayed at Matvilla were delighted to have us stay with them and we elected not to camp (the ablutions were not even fit for pigs!) but stay in a room. Ben one of the managers on hearing we were from South Africa told us how much he like South Africans, which made us feel very welcome. We ended up paying the same price as camping with breakfast included.
We are learning that breakfast can be anything and standard eggs and bacon are not common. We had goats soup, pancakes, Spanish omelet, frankfurters, bread and bananas all on the same plate (except for the soup). The soup wasn’t bad. We had a bit of running around to do here so stayed for two nights before heading to the Serengeti. There had been mixed information about payment requirements to enter Ngorogoro from the west. Some guide books and a couple of blogs indicated that payment had to be made into a bank account and only the deposit slip was acceptable as proof of payment for entry. We spoke to ‘travel agent’ who, after making some phone calls confirmed that this was the case. We therefore had to pay a visit to a bank and make a deposit into the Ngorogoro Conservancy Area (NCA) account before leaving Musoma (from the west, Ngorogoro is entered from Serengeti). It turned out upon enquiry at the Naabi Hill entrance gate to the NCA that they accept credit card payments at the gate!
The cost of the parks in East Africa are exorbitant and park fees are often valid for 24 hours(to the minute!) so it becomes a matter of logistics working out when to go in to give you enough time to travel through the park without paying twice. Serengeti and Ngorongoro are linked so you go out the one and straight into the next, fortunately there are places to camp (also exorbitant). Having planned our route we waited until around 1 pm to go into Serengeti. Finally after years of dreaming we were here.
Since we had caught the migration in the Mara we were not sure what to expect in the Serengeti. We were not disappointed as there was still herds of animals there. The wildebeest are quite funny to see huddled in groups under trees in the shade.
We startled two spotted hyena on our way in, who sloped off watching until we had moved off as we had disturbed their eating.
Our campsite for the night was in the middle of the park at Dik Dik close to Seronera. It was just a patch in the middle of the bush with some ablutions with no camp fences.
We watched zebras and Grant’s gazelle graze in front of us that night, and four hyena sloped past early the next morning just as interested in us as we were in them. Also managed to get bitten by Tsetse flies!
Next morning we were up early, packed up to get a game drive in before going into the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. We were given a tip and found a well camouflaged leopard in a tree, we waited for about 20 minutes and much to our delight the leopard got restless and clambered out of the tree to settle in the shade beneath.
It’s the dry season in the Serengeti so the park is doing controlled burns and we had decided that on the way out we were unlikely to see anything. We were wrong. We took a back route out to avoid some of the horrific corrugations on the ‘main’ road and we came across 4 lions ambling long the road.
One young male and 3 females.
We followed them for about 20 mins and watched as they looked around for some prey and settled on some warthogs. It was interesting to see how they paired up and stalked the warthogs with a two pronged attack.
However it wasn’t their day as the warthogs got wind of them in time to run off. It is simply extraordinary to see the volume of animals here and we so grateful we got to come.
The entrance/exit to Serengeti and Ngorongoro is called Naabi Hill. It’s like being at a Land Cruiser bus station.
There’re hordes of people and game drive vehicles. We really stand out in the Nissan Sani! We checked out the one park, had lunch surrounded by thieving starlings and checked into Ngorongoro. The contrast in scenery was marked as before there were rolling plains of grassed filled savannah, with granite outcrops, here it felt like we were in a semi desert, arid place broken by the occasional red/blue robes of the Masai herdsman.
The road was the most badly corrugated we’d traveled on, so badly corrugated that at times the steering wheel was bouncing up and down a good 15cm. We stopped in the middle under a tree for a rest and to look around us. A herd of giraffe ambled past. It was a good place for chocolate!!!
Finally we arrived at the public campsite, Simba A, on the rim of the Ngorongoro crater where we discovered hot water in the showers much to our delight!
It was chilly here with a view of the crater below.
Next morning early we set off into the crater- another exorbitant fee but we really wanted to see it. This is the largest un flooded, unbroken volcano caldera in the world, being about 20km across, 600m deep and about 300 sq kms in area. We found the entrance road down into the crater and managed to avoid having to hire a guide. It was so much bigger than we anticipated and we spent a lovely few hours there. Herds of animals, lions, elephants, hyenas and different habitats. A truly beautiful place.
We found our way to the exit route by asking. This after Al had assured the guard at the gate that we knew where we were going!!! Leaving these really amazing places behind, we were so glad that we’d seen them and experienced them.
Our stay at J-J’s was short the second time round and the car was quite simple to fix once Chris and Alan had found the problem. When we got back the Van Heerdens were still there but the rest were new faces. Such is life at these places. The sun shone which proved that it exists in Nairobi and I had recovered completely from the tummy bug, so all in all it wasn’t a bad stop.
Having tried to go north we decided that it was time to go south to the Masai Mara so we set off on a beautiful clear Thursday, firstly to Narok which is the closest biggest town before the Mara. Leaving Nairobi you leave the escarpment behind and there is a dramatic drop to the plains that take you to the Mara, it stretches out for kilometers before you reach a few undulating hills. The closer we got to the Mara the more red clad people (the Masai) we saw, the most in one place were at what looked like a cattle auction.
The landscape is quite dry and barren yet the cattle and sheep still find sufficient grass on which to feed. We couldn’t work out if it was really bad soil erosion due to over grazing or just dry due to lack of rain! We arrived at our campsite Mara Explorers back-packers camp which is run by a Kenyan, Moses and his wife Laura. This is the first time we have come across a local owning a campsite!
Moses is well traveled having spent many many years on overland trucks, he saw a gap in the market for budget accommodation in the Mara and is doing really well. It is a pleasure to talk with him and we would recommend this little site to anyone looking for budget accommodation. Both he and Laura are also a font of information having traveled the area themselves.
We decided to take a game drive with the camp and shared the cost of a vehicle with a young Canadian couple, Ross and Alyce who have been travelling the world for about 3 years now.
Our guide was Joffrey and driver Erikson and the drive was for the whole day. What a marvelous day we had. We found the migration! Firstly to see the vast numbers of Zebra and wildebeest is incredible and as the day progressed the plains got thicker with them. There were thousands of zebra, and tens of thousands of wildebeest who are very noisy, at times when the engine was off you’re surrounded by these grunting creatures with the Zebra whinnying too. Al and I had to pinch ourselves that we were actually here. According to the guide book about 2 million ungulates take part in the migration annually.
We had great sightings of lion. Al spotted a group of four young lions dragging their wildebeest kill into the shade where we found them relaxing having eaten their full. Then another group of lion were at the side of a ravine also just chilling.
The male headed for some shade whilst the female just lay watching us.
The great excitement of the day were the cheetah, they had just eaten a wildebeest and their tummies were so full and round. They were just lying in the shade of a tree but clearly visible along with their catch which the vultures were digging into!
That was our first experience of the highway of the Mara, as shortly afterwards all these game driving vehicles came rushing in to see informed by bush telegraph about the kill.
To add to the excitement, we got stuck!
The driver attempted to cross a mud filled ditch in 2 wheel drive and we ended up bogged down to the axle. Unfortunately we failed in our attempts to dig ourselves out and were eventually (after 2 hours) pulled out by another game drive vehicle. Spirits were not dampened as we continued our excursion.
There were also sightings of elephants, eland, impala, Grant’s gazelle, Thompson’s gazelle, warthogs, black backed jackals, crocodile, hippos, Masai giraffe, buffalos and lots of bird life.
We learnt where the strangely named ‘Topi’ derived its designation. Apparently the males frequently position themselves on top of an ant hill, standing watch over the terrain, ready to sound the alarm in the event of predators being sighted.
Then a bonus as were leaving the park at the end of the day a leopard in a tree!!!! Followed by a lone male lion, lying against a majestic backdrop. What a day!
The next day we just enjoyed being in the African bush at the campsite and made plans for the trip into Tanzania. Originally we decided that we would cross the Mara into the Mara triangle and camp in the park to make the most of the park fees. What we hadn’t realized is that you can transit the park at no cost and since we had had such a marvelous day there before we decided just to transit. Before we left the Mara conservancy we came across some cheetah lying on the side of the road. We stopped to watch and were thrilled when we realized there were five of them just finishing eating a kill. They all got up and crossed the road about 15m in front of us. To see them moving was wonderful! Joffrey the guide had told us that there was a mum with her 4 cubs in this area so we assumed this was them.
Crossing the Mara River we saw loads of Maribu Storks feeding in the carcasses of wildebeest who hadn’t made it. The carcasses were caught amongst the rocks in the river around the Mara Bridge.
On the other side we into the landscape that the Masai Mara is so famous for, with giraffes silhouetted against the skyline. It was unusual to see Giraffe grazing!
Herds of buffalo, elephant, impala, gazelles and much to our delight more lion! I don’t think we have ever had so many cat sightings before.
We stopped outside the park for lunch grateful for more wonderful sightings.
We hunted around for a campsite and the next thing we knew we were at the border with Tanzania without having found anywhere to stay the night. So across we went at Isabania which was uneventful, and found ourselves back in Tanzania where we headed to Musoma on Lake Victoria to Matvilla Lodge recommended by the Van Heerdens.