Let the next stage of the adventure begin
13.05.2016 - 13.05.2016
After a fitful sleep we drag ourselves out of bed this morning for a 05:00 pick-up for the airport and a day full of security checks ahead.
The first check comes in the form of a road ‘block’ on the approach road to the airport where the cars are given a once-over while passengers get out and walk through an X-Ray and security screening.
Security Check # 2 sees our tickets and passports inspected in order to gain entry into the terminal building.
Check # 3 is a conveyor-belt X-ray for all the bags, including the checked-in luggage. Panic sets in when the tray containing my camera and phone is accidentally pushed off the belt by the stuff behind it, and lands upside down on the hard tiled floor. A broken camera on the second day of the trip is the sort of thing I have nightmares about! I take a quick picture of David to check it out, and thankfully it appears to be fully working. Phew.
Having checked in on line last night for today's flight, the bag drop is fairly painless. Check # 4 = passports.
In order to be allowed to join the queue for Immigration, we have our passports and boarding cards checked (#5).
At Immigration, the passports are scanned, fingerprints are taken and we are photographed. (Check # 6) We have now officially left Kenya.
Consulting the departures board to see which gate we are going from, we are dismayed and somewhat confused to find our flight has been cancelled. Why on earth did the check-in staff not say anything when we dropped our bags off some ten minutes ago?
We queue for the Kenya Airways Customer Service Desk, and find that the flight has not really been cancelled as such, it has just been combined with a flight to Zanzibar – which means that our flight leaves half an hour earlier than scheduled (and then travels on to Zanzibar).
Customer Services check our passports (#7), and re-issue the boarding cards. When we checked in on line last night we specifically chose left-hand side window seats behind the wing in order to be able to see Mount Kilimanjaro from the air as we come in to land in Tanzania. I ask for similar seats this time too, but am told that it is not possible as the plane is full. Bummer! Mind you, it is very dull and grey today, and quite misty, so I don’t suppose we would be able to see much anyway.
Between the main departures hall and the gate is security check # 8, with all hand luggage X-rayed and a full body scanner. All accessories must be removed, including watches, shoes, belts, glasses and such like.
Not until we reach the departure gate does Chris realise that he has left his watch behind at the scanner. He rushes back to retrieve it. “I left my watch behind” he tells the security officer, pointing to the watch, which is still exactly where he left it. “What does it look like?” the chap asks. “Well…” says Chris, rather bemused by now …”it has a blue and red strap… like that!” gesturing towards the watch. “Oh”, says the security guard, “is this yours?”
Chris arrives back just as we are called forward to go through security check # 9, showing our passports and boarding cards before getting on a bus bound for the plane.
The cabin crew perform check # 10 (boarding cards) as we enter the plane.
Much to our amusement – and joy – we find we have exactly the same seats as we chose last night when we checked in on line: window seat, left-hand side, just behind the wing.
There is a low cloud cover some hundred metres or so above the ground, but it is just a thin layer, which we fly above.
Mount Kilimanjaro’s twin peaks rise majestically above the cloud cover. At 4,877 metres, it is the highest mountain in Africa and very popular amongst climbers.
The next peak we spot is Mount Meru, a 4,562 metre high dormant volcano, which is believed by some to be the point where Noah’s Ark came to rest as the flood receded. There is no sign of the Ark today.
From the sunny skies above the clouds, we descend into the thick pea-soup layer where we can hardly see the tip of the wing. A very strange sensation indeed.
Soon we are through to the other side of the clouds and ready to land at Kilimanjaro International Airport in Tanzania.
Two more checks (passport and customs – numbers 11 and 12!) and we are finally in Tanzania! After all the warnings we received about immunisations, none of us are asked about our Yellow Fever certificate!
As I said before, our flight left half an hour earlier than scheduled, and it is a larger plane than the original - thus faster, which means we arrive some 45 minutes before ETA and there is no one there to greet us. We are not alone as we wait outside the terminal building for our driver.
A huge dung beetle causes some amusement amongst the waiting passengers, and Chris calls me over, as he knows that this is the item right at the top of my wish list. Pfft. This one is dung-less, that doesn’t count.
Malisa turns up just as the rain starts, wearing a ready smile that we will come to know and love over the next couple of weeks. Instantly likeable, he seamlessly fits into our ‘family group’ and immediately joins in with our sarcastic sense of humour.
First stop – the supermarket to stock up on some of life’s little necessities.
On the one-hour journey from the airport to Arusha, Lyn and Chris take in all the African street scenes that have become so familiar to me over the years. Having safari newbies with us means that I look at these scenes with new eyes as I share their excitement and wonder.
Carrying milk churns
Malisa explains that farmers with five cows or fewer don’t tend to send their cattle out to graze, they send their men out to fetch the fodder while the cows stay home.
Works are in place to make this road into a nice new dual carriageway. It’ll be great when it is finished, but for now the construction causes the usual traffic jams.
At the Blue Heron in Arusha we meet up with Tillya again. He took the bus from Nairobi to Arusha last night, a journey which used to take six to seven hours when we first started coming to Tanzania, but can be done in a speedy three hours now that the new road has finally been completed.
Blue Heron is run in conjunction with Malaika Children’s Home, a charity that helps local underprivileged children. One of the many things I like about Tillya and Calabash Adventures is that they are very socially and environmentally conscious in their choices of places to visit / stay / eat.
Chicken Shawarma and Mango Juice seem to be the popular choices for lunch.
Our lunch is accompanied by a pair of Yellow Bellied Sunbirds.
After (the very early) lunch we are back on the road, heading for the wilderness and our first safari lodge. A road trip in Africa is always exciting, with many things to see along the side of the road.
The whistling acacia tree is so called because these brown nodules (they are not fruit, but hollow swellings) have small holes in them (caused by ants) which creates a whistling sound when the wind blows.
The acacia tree and the ants have a symbiotic relationship, a kind of mutual respect. The tree provides the ants with food by secreting droplets of sweet fluid, and the ants in return protect the tree by attacking anything that tries to eat its leaves. The pheromones given off by the ants act as a warning to giraffes and other animals who then leave the tree alone.
It's not all lovey-dovey between the two parties though, as the ants also fiercely protect 'their' tree from enemy ant colonies by trimming the branches and flowers of the acacia, which stunts the growth of the tree, killing the tips so the tree cannot propagate itself.
This is Maasai land we are passing through, and you can tell the number of wives a man has by the number of huts. One hut = one wife. This guy has seven, although some can have up to 20 or more.
A plant in the agave family, sisal yields a stiff fibre used to make a variety of products such as rope, mats, bags, carpets and cloths. I have seen these plants along the side of the road before, but had no idea what they were. I just thought they were a pretty plant.
I certainly never expected to see camels grazing in the fields. I can’t remember ever seeing camels on previous visits to Tanzania.
While the rest of us admire the marvels of nature and man, David takes an afternoon nap.
The road along this stretch has improved beyond all recognition since we first came this way nine years ago. It is now very smooth and comfortable and cuts the travel time between parks considerably.
Every now and again we get a glimpse of Lake Manyara, the alkaline lake Ernest Hemmingway dubbed “the loveliest in Africa” and whose shores we will be staying by tonight.
Donkey Cart AKA Maasai Landrover
A local family struggle to get a heavily-laden donkey cart up a slope.
The more they push, the less willing the donkeys become. Is this where the “stubborn as a mule” expression comes from?
In the shade of a tree, a group of Maasai village elders hold their weekly meeting.
I am amused to see that some of them arrived on motorbikes - 21st century Maasai.
Birds of prey soar above or rest in the trees.
Pale Tawny Eagle
Pale Tawny Eagle
Dark Tawny Eagle
This tree is home to a number of weaver birds – notice how they make their nests on the western side of the tree due to the prevailing winds.
Lesser Masked Weaver
Lesser Masked Weaver
Soon we start to see our first wild animals.
Eland and Zebra
The wildebeest are chased by four young Maasai boys, wearing black and with their faces painted. Although they look menacing, the attire merely signifies that they have recently undergone the circumcision ceremony, which takes them from being young boys to becoming feared and respected morans (warriors). The white paint which adorns their faces (you can’t see it very clearly in these photos as they are a long way away) is used to repel any ‘evil eyes’ to help aid their recovery after the operation. Armed only with sticks / bows and arrows, the boys wander alone in the wilderness for three months to prove their manhood.
Even during the Green Season there is a lot of activity around the waterholes.
Great White Egret
At a small settlement we see catfish from Lake Manyara drying.
While the kid is pleased to see us, the mum is none-too-happy with us taking photos of her dinner, so we make a hasty retreat.
Impala Harem – one male will have several females. These gazelles are affectionately known as McDonalds after the M shaped markings on their rumps.
Grey Headed Kingfisher
To me there is something even more special about seeing these wild animals along the side of the road rather than in the actual national parks. I know there are no physical boundaries around the parks so that the animals can wander freely between them, but even so…
After three hours or so on the road, we reach the turn-off for Maramboi, our home for the next two nights.
Almost immediately after entering the large grounds of the lodge (it set in an exclusive conservancy area that covers 25,000 hectares and is run by the local Maasai community), we encounter a giraffe right next to the track.
Hibiscus tea - a new experience for me
Check in procedures are interrupted by a group of warthogs walking through the grounds.
We stayed here at Maramboi a couple of years ago, but at that time we arrived in the dark and left before it got light, so it is really nice to be able to see the lodge in daylight today.
It is quite a big place, and the main restaurant / bar area is on a raised wooden deck, with views of endless vistas of rolling golden grassland and palm lined desert across to the shores of Lake Manyara and the escarpment of the Rift Valley / Ngorongoro highlands beyond.
Since our last visit there have been a number of upgrades, such as all new decking/railings, refurbished rooms and a completely new swimming pool area.
We are shown to our rooms, and we spend some leisure time on the balcony with a drink. There are not many places where you can see giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, impala and a plethora of colourful birds from your private balcony.
View from our balcony
David with his Savanna
Female Beautiful Sunbird
Grete & David's Wedding Anniversary
This evening we have a private sundowner by the lake to celebrate our 39th wedding anniversary.
I set my camera on a tripod, affixing an intervalometer to it so that it will automatically take one photo every 30 seconds until I tell it to stop. That way I can enjoy the sunset, drinks, snacks and company too.
The sunset is not spectacular, but the ambience, surroundings and company make it very special indeed.
We have to be back up at the lodge before daylight fades completely, as it is not safe to wander around the grounds after dark.
As we start to make our way back, it feels wrong to leave the waitress on her own down by the lake, with only an empty bottle of wine to protect herself against wild animals with, so we hang around until the askari (Maasai security guard) can be seen making his way across the plains.
That, of course, leaves the five of us walking back in the dark with a couple of tripods for protection. All is well that ends well, and we all make it back to the restaurant without incident.
This evening the kitchen is serving a Mongolian BBQ where we choose our vegetables from a buffet and the chefs prepare them, along with our chosen meat, in a large wok. They add various sauces of our choice and finally pasta or rice. The result is absolutely delicious.
As we finish our meal, a commotion is heard behind us. All the kitchen workers come out singing, with the guy at the end banging a dustbin lid. As you do. They walk around the tables for what seem like an eternity, as if they are not quite sure whose birthday it is. Eventually the cake is placed in front of me!
So… there is apparently a story behind this cake. Knowing that it is our wedding anniversary today (39 years, how time flies), Lyn wanted to do something special. She saw on the Maramboi website that they do celebration cakes so she contacted them. They replied to say they were very happy to provide a cake but they needed our booking reference. This, of course, is something Lyn doesn't have as we booked the lodge as a package through Calabash Adventures. Lyn then contacted Calabash, and Tillya managed to get this organised for her. Thank you both, it was a lovely thought and helped make the day very special for us.
The perfect end to another perfect day. Thank you Calabash Adventures for organising this safari for us.