Hakuna Matata, We're in Tanzania

Saturday, 15 January 2011

We loved Tanzania from the minute we landed there. Perhaps it was our notion of the place or perhaps it was just  the better infrastructure compared to neighbouring Uganda. We hired a Land Cruiser with driver/guide for our 4 days in mainland Tanzania and while it was a tad expensive, it meant we did not have to rely on public or any other mode of transport. The journey from Kilimanjaro airport to our hotel in Karatu (close to Ngorongoro crater and Lake Manyara) took nearly 4 hours including a 30 min stop in Arusha. We stayed at the Bougainvillea Safari Lodge which was a lovely place and we had a little cottage to ourselves. The hotel was full board which meant limited meal choice but it was all very nice nevertheless.

The next morning we started early and it only took us about 15 mins to get to the Ngorongoro gate from where we started our descent into the crater area. This also marked the beginning of our wildlife spotting safari. The first creatures we met were loads of baboons and then some elephants. We stopped by at a couple of viewpoints to admire the amazing views of the crater and lake. The safari itself lasted about 5-6 hours, I can't be sure as we lost track of time. We saw loads of wildebeest, flamingos, lions, wild buffalo, a rhino, ostrich, zebras etc. It was magnificent to see all this animals out in the wild doing their business oblivious to the safari vehicles around them. We loved it. It was good for the soul. Towards mid-day, the lions got all hot and bothered and came to find shelter under our vehicles. We were within a couple feet of some of them and it was fantastic. The hotel had packed a picnic lunch for us and guide and we stopped by the hippo pool for a break. There were lots of kites in the sky so we decided not to venture out of the vehicle. Serengeti National Park is only a couple of hours away from Ngorongoro but we chose not to do it.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped by a Masai village. The Masai elders and the local government had reached an arrangement where tourists paid a fixed fee ($50 per vehicle) to visit the village and see how the locals lived and buy jewellery. We were treated to a welcome dance and my husband and I joined in for a bit although I had no idea what was going on. The chief's son ( mind you, the chief has 15 wives and so presumably many sons) showed us around the village, the cattle shed and we were invited inside one of the huts. The last bit did not enthuse me as I could see flies and insects swarming around. It took a couple of mins for our eyes to adjust to the darkness inside. We were asked to sit down inside the hut, which was smaller than a 3 man tent and already had two people sleeping in it. I felt a bit claustrophobic but fortunately we managed to get out soon enough. We were also taken to the kindergarten school they ran for the Masai kids and the children recited the English and Swahili alphabet for us. Some of them were barely 3 and we were impressed.

There were many jewellery stands and I've wanted a Masai necklace for a very long time. The bloke (chief's son) however refused to tell me price of anything and instead asked me to choose what I like. I settled down to one necklace in the end and he said it was $50. I was gobsmacked as I knew you could get the same thing in the shops for less than half that. He lowered it to $30 eventually but I didn't buy as I was disappointed by the attitude. I enjoy healthy haggling but considering we'd paid $50 to spend less than half an hour entry, I was hoping for a fairer price. What annoyed me more was that there did not seem to be a fair accounting system. This chief's son took the money directly and did not seem to give it to anyone, write down an account or anything of that nature. I wondered if it really went for the betterment of the village. or on drink I'd already heard many stories about Masai men doing bugger all  and drinking while the women worked hard.

The next day we spent a few hours on a safari round Lake Manyara. After Ngorongoro, it was a bit disappointing but nevertheless we did see several giraffe, elephants, hippos and birds. Later than evening we headed back to Arusha, stooping a couple of times to admire some giraffe near the road. We stayed at the Arusha Hotel in the centre of own and as I was keen on buying some kanga. Our guide pointed out to a few shops that were within walking distance of the hotel. While my husband was keen on having a look around I was uncomfortable. We decided to go out a bit later after freshening up. When we came down to the lobby, it was filled with smoke as the area outside had been tear gassed. There was political unrest and weather found out through the Internet that a few people had been killed in the firing. I'm so pleased we did not venture out earlier as we would have surely been caught in the midst of it all. After being holed up in our room for a bit we ventured down to the restaurant and nervously downed some ugali and chapatti, both local dishes. We were pleased to be leaving the next day.

We flew Precision Air to Dar and the flight was pleasant. We had a few hours between landing in Dar and flying out to Zanzibar and I was kanga quest again and our driver dropped us off near the town centre where there were some wholesale textile shops. These chaps did not sell in the small quantities that I was after and so pointed us to another Mama's shop through some back lanes. I was overjoyed at the sight of this tiny shop that had kangas and kitenges stocked top to bottom and outside. There was also a great choice and I bought a few pieces for $3 each. The tourists shops sold the same things for $25 and so I was well chuffed.

The plane that flew us to Zanzibar was tiny and I've never felt so vulnerable as when I was on the plane, right behind the cockpit, flying over the Indian Ocean. It only last 20 mins but I was bloody nervous. Zanizbar was not exactly like I'd imagined it to be. The airport is undoubtedly the worst I've ever flown from or to. We stayed at Amaan Bungalows on Nungwi beach which is about an hour from the airport but the journey was worth it. Nungwi beach is on the north coast of Zanzibar and is absolutely beautiful. We were hoping to go for an evening walk by the beach as its extremely hot during the day but unfortunately it was high tide. We did however spend a morning by the beach and it was fabulous. I also found it rather strange to see Masai blokes with ipods and shades hanging out by the beach. Besides being beach bums we also spent time in Stone Town admiring the architecture and the famous Zanzibar doors. We also paid a brief visit to Freddie Mercury's birthplace which is now a shop or so I'm told.

We were recommended a trip to do the dolphins in Kizimkazi but after hearing a fellow traveller version of the trip we were put off. Apparently motor keep chasing around these wild dolphins and so they only go further away. Duh! We spent a few hours on Prison Island which is 20 min boat ride from stone town on primitive motor boats. Our journey there was when the tide was coming in and the sea was very choppy and was a nightmare. The chap manning our tiny boat kept saying hakuna matata ('no problem') which we found was overused and rather annoying when heard 200 times a day. Prison Island is also home to Giant Tortoises which were originally from Seychelles. It was an interesting experience and apparently you can also go snorkeling round the waters here. They didn't seem clean enough to me and our guide had already told her stories about prisoners/ill people doing poos in the sea so I wasn't keen

Our flight back to Dar was OK but the wait at a mosquito plagues and overcrowded Zanzibar airport was horrific. I'd always imagined I'd prefer Zanzibar to Dar but no somehow I think Dar can be quite civilized. It also has a lot of history and we were treated with utmost warmth. We spent a night at the New Africa hotel where the staff were courteous, the pool was lovely and we were treated to a complimentary Indian Meal. Breakfast included vada sambar and that sealed the deal. We had a fabulous time in Tanzania but were now ready to come home.

Have you been to Tanzani? If yes, what were your best bits? Ann x


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