Tanzania and Mount Kilimajaro

Crossing the Malawi/Tanzanian border at Songwe was relatively painless, but once again we had trouble with acceptance of our European AXA 3rd party insurance cover. After some argument (and Marianne spitting her dummy) we were forced to take out East Africa Comesa yellow card cover for USD$120 – which should at least cover us for the remainder of East African countries? The European brokers advised us the AXA policy “might not be accepted in some countries, but is valid in all.” How about “not accepted in any so far”!?

Border crossing always takes it out of one and after about 50kms into Tanzania and 3pm, we were ready to look for a place to stop. Bongo Camp at Tukuyu run by the local community turned out a good option. Showers are cold, but they boiled up a big bucket of hot water for us! Tukuyu is some 1600m altitude, Tanzania’s wettest town and the surrounding hills are covered with tea plantations. The area is reportedly Tanzania’s most beautiful – and certainly the drive through winding hills is nice. Next morning we were into 4WDriving again – t through ploughed fields and tracks for 5 kms around a massive truck crash on the tar road holding traffic up for hours!

Luckily we had someone to follow in a beat up old Isuzu through the paddocks. Later experience would show us that these mighty truck and bus crashes are a common occurrence on Tanzanian roads. Drivers are basically suicidal and the buses travel fast. Apparently more people die each year on the roads than from malaria – which is no small thing! Although roads are all bitumen (and a change from the thousands of kilometres of gravel and worse roads we have traveled in Namibia, Botswana & Zimbabwe), we found that driving the road to Dar es Salaam and later north to Arusha as being probably the most taxing so far?

Despite traveling faster, every minute you are on the lookout for some crazy driver about to do something stupid in your path, trucks traveling very slowly are common and plenty of overtaking required together with speed limits constantly down to 50km/h in every village – with cops with radar guns everywhere! 250kms per day and you’ve had enough. We seldom exceed 90km/h and survival is the key!

The large town of Mbeya as the next stop after the Malawi border is nothing to write home about but at least the ATMs worked! First thing we found in Tanzania is no supermarkets- even in a big place like Mbeya. Marianne was devastated! We ended up buying fruit and vegetables at a market as well as meat, which looked as though it had been out with the flies all day? We may yet become a vegetarian? The highlight at the market was we asked for 6 passion fruit and didn’t watch what went into the bag. Seemed a bit heavy – when we got home there was 60 passion fruit! Now we eat them all day!

There are few camping spots on the road to Dar es Salaam. 100kms from Mbeya we found a community run campsite called Mfumbe GPS which is fairly basic (no water, no nothing but a hut by a river) but a nice spot. We had to take the local chairman (Batameo) from the village the 5 kms down to the camp with Marianne sitting on the glove box between the seats! He was our “askari” (guard) for the night. We ended up feeding him also.

An oasis on the road to Dar is Kisolanza (The Old Farm House). GPS  This is a “must stop” place being managed by a young white couple Belinda & Jason who have only last week taken over after spending a year on the Isle of Man in the UK. Kisolanza has fresh farm produce vegetables and meat for sale as well as excellent meals for only $10 at its cozy restaurant. Without doubt, the best value place we struck in Tanzania. Camping only $15. We spent two days there and went on a long 10 km walk to some tobacco kilns and packing sheds and villages in the nearby hills.

Dar es Salaam, a city of 4million inhabitants with apparently 70% still without electricity or running water, is one long traffic jam to drive into.  Good fun! Arriving late in the afternoon, we spent the first night at a place on the north shore called Silver Sands Hotel mentioned in the guidebooks as a popular campsite. This 50-year-old hotel, now run by the University of Tanzania, might have been OK years ago, but it is thoroughly NOT recommended today? The beach setting is not too bad, but the showers are cold (and only one works), the security is scary – we were told we should not walk more than a few hundred metres along the beach because of muggings etc and the whole place is run down and falling apart. We didn’t feel comfortable about leaving Tin Can there for a few days whilst we went to Zanzibar either. One night was enough!

Next day we crossed the ferry to south Dar and a place called Kipepeo Camp – which is 1000% better! Lovely site and friendly people and popular with other overlanders (who are always a good information source). We happily left Tin Can there for 4 days and caught the ferry for the 2-hour trip to Zanzibar. Crazily, although Zanzibar is still part of Tanzania, you still have to go through Immigration at the Port and have your passport stamped. (Yet another stamp in our rapidly filling passports). At least it doesn’t cost anything – as the rest of Zanzibar is expensive and adept at getting money out of “Wazungus”.

Stone Town Zanzibar is like a spaghetti bowl of twisted alleyways and ancient residences and reminiscent of the medinas of Morocco. The history of slaving and warfare between the Sultan and the British in the 19th century is quite fascinating also. We took a ($5) tour with a Morgan Freeman lookalike of the old slave dungeons and the Anglican cathedral, which was built by the British (who forced the end of slavery) on the site of the old slave market and whipping post. (Apparently, the Arabs used to whip fresh slaves with a barbed stingray tail whip to see how tough they were? The ones who didn’t cry out fetched a higher price. We stayed at the Clove Hotel ($65) www.zanzibarhotel.nl and found it pretty good. The Clove is run by a couple of Dutch ladies and has a good rooftop terrace and a hearty breakfast.

After a day in Stone Town, we headed to Kendwa Beach on the north coast of Zanzibar island for a couple of days at Sunset Bungalows www.sunsetkendwa.com lazing on the magnificent beaches and the 27*C sea temperature. Stan did some scuba diving with a local operation (Scuba Do) who were quite professional. Plenty of coral reef and schooling fish, but the diving not quite as good as Papua New Guinea. Too many local fishermen to hammer the reefs. In previous years, dynamite fishing was apparently prevalent. Sunset Bungalows ($65) is good value, right on the beach and the room was good. All in all, Zanzibar was a pleasant sojourn.

After Zanzibar and return to Dar and Kipepeo Camp, we were quite relieved to find Tin Can still there as good as gold! We also met a Dutch couple Annalies & Wim  http://www.igecko.webklik.nl who had arrived at Kipepeo after traveling southward through Africa since October 2011 from the Netherlands in a big Iveco 4X4. They were a wealth of knowledge and information to us as they have done almost exactly the same route as we plan through East Africa and Ethiopia, Sudan & Egypt. It seems that there is now a ferry going from Port Said in Egypt to Turkey and also that the route through Libya and Tunisia to Italy is opening up again – so that perhaps gives us a few more options than going through Israel? They scared us a bit though with the talk of the cost of the Serengeti NP and national parks in Kenya ahead of us ($50pp + $150 for the vehicle+ $30 pp camping fee per day = $310!) They also went to see the mountain gorillas in Rwanda at $500pp! Maybe we will pass?

We hit the road again next day heading northward from Dar towards Kilimanjaro and Arusha, spending the first-night camping in the rear of Segera Hotel GPS   which was but average but the second two nights at Kibo Hotel GPS  in Marangu at the foot of Mt Kilimanjaro. The Kibo is a rambling old hotel built at the turn of the last century by the Germans as a summer holiday retreat and in recent times is a base in the climbing season (July – Jan) for mountaineering groups going up Kilimanjaro. The hotel is now looked after by an old guy called Isaac who keeps the gardens absolutely magnificently and was most concerned about our comfort and welfare. We liked it!

More about Mount Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa at 5892m and rising over 5 km from the surrounding plains to snow-capped peak. It is an ice capped dormant volcano sitting almost on the Equator! The local Chagga people have a wonderful story about the origin of the mountain: The two peaks Kibo and Mwenzi were sisters. Kibo was the wiser of the two. She was very careful to store food when times were hard. However, her sister Mawenzi had no such care for the future and fell into the habit of asking Kibo for help whenever times were bad. Eventually, Kibo became very angry with her sister’s begging and hit her on the head with a spoon, leading to Mawenzi’s rough, ragged and broken appearance!

Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro

Scaling Mt Kilimanjaro takes 5 to 8 days, but it is not for us! (Maybe 20 years ago?!) After all, the mountain apparently claims about a dozen lives a year – mostly from altitude sickness.

The Camino de Santiago was hard enough! They say that with global warming by 2020 to 2040 there will be no more ice or glaciers on Kili for the first time since prior the last ice age 11,000 years ago. We better be thankful for the view we have now, when you can see it. Disappointingly for us we saw nothing much of Mt Kilimanjaro despite being on its slopes as for all the days we were there, there were heavy cloud and mist all over the mountain.

Lake Manyara, Ngorogoro Crater and on to Serengeti National Park

Maybe the weather doesn’t help the mood, but the days traveling through Arusha and to Lake Manyara, Ngorogoro Crater and on to Serengeti NP have not been quite as good as the travel brochures make out or the expectation from reading other accounts in our view. The city of Arusha is a horrible place. Takes one 11/2 hours through traffic more gridlocked than Dar to find one of the only two supermarkets (Shoprite) to stock up supplies. Masai Camp where we camped was OK- until, being Saturday night, the heavy metal musik started up and went on to 4.00am.

Then, although we knew costs of parks etc before we started, Tanzanian National Parks (TANAPA) seem twice as good as even Botswana in charging foreigners exorbitant fees and giving one little in return. Lake Manyara was a beautiful, forested park where we saw plenty of giraffe and elephant and the odd flamingo – and we loved the camp at Esambara public campsite  with giraffes wandering through (as we were luckily the only campers). Of course, no real facilities exist at the campsite and only a cold shower, but a nice spot all the same. Still park entry fees of $250 and camping $60 cost us USD$310 for the day’s privilege (as we later found out they overcharged us $150 instead of $40 for vehicle entry fee arguing Tin Can be over 3,000kg. (everywhere else she is regarded as a normal car @ $40). Grumbling that South African SANPARKS gives one a Wildcard park entry card for a whole year for $260 or all SA parks, of course, meant nothing. The Lake Manyara NP was also a constant stream of “safari” vehicles from the various tour companies despite this being the “low” season. Also buses filled with locals regularly cruise right through the park at speed. Apparently, the nearby town of Mto Wa Mbu’s population has expanded from 3,000 to 15,000 in the last 10 years and is threatening Lake Manyara’s ecosystem.

Next disappointment was Ngorogoro Crater 70kms on where despite checking in Arusha that we could pay entrance fees by MasterCard or Visa at the gate, the surly bitch behind the glass counter told us “they were changing to a new TanCard system”, credit cards could not be used nor, as foreigners, could we pay in Tanzanian Shillings. USD$200 cash only OK thank you, another $200 if you want to go down the crater. Fortunately, we had the cash, but decided not to go down the crater. There was another somewhat pissed off Wazungu behind us who despite arriving in a safari tour vehicle, couldn’t pay and was told to head back to Arusha (250km). You would think his tour guide should have known? No map of Ngorogoro or anything for your $200 (or even available to purchase). Just as well we had one given to us by someone else. Nor any real advice on where to go or what to expect, just plenty of “hangers on” lounging around the entrance gate and the odd tout trying to flog some trinket or curio.

When we headed up to the crater rim (2,500m), once again the clouds enveloped us and you couldn’t see 20m let alone into the crater or a single animal. Temperature about 15*C and a cold wind blowing. Not the hot dry and dusty with herds of game that we expected of Ngorogoro at all. Not that it’s anyone fault, but more like Alpine conditions! We didn’t pay $200 to go down into the crater as others had told us its unnecessary if you’ve already seen plenty of game, and we camped in the big Simba A public campsite which has nothing to offer except rather grotty ablutions and local Masai to come and hassle you to buy curios. (At least the showers had hot water)! We can’t talk about down in the Ngorogoro crater (which we believe from others is a wealth of wildlife) , but another surprise was to find that despite the rim area is the so-called “Ngorogoro Conservation Area”, it includes vast herds of Masai cattle vying with the zebra and antelope for grazing and  sports some village “shanty towns” supporting quite a large population. The spreading tide of humanity advancing like locusts upon the earth!

Watch out wildlife! – and thank the likes of Unesco for forcing African governments in the 1980’s to do something about the horrific poaching going on at that time (its bad enough now) and at least trying to preserve some unique wildlife habitats. Thank the humble Tsetse Fly most of all- because both humans and cattle are susceptible to the deadly “African sleeping sickness” carried by the Tsetese fly, but native wildlife is not– which kept humans and their cattle and goats out of heavily Tsetse fly infested areas. These areas later became the national parks as there was no agricultural use for them. (By the way Tsetse fly bites feel like a red hot poker going in and hurt like hell – we have experienced dozens. Puts the Aussie march fly to shame)!

Well, having got all the s**t off the liver as one has to do occasionally in Africa, we have to say that the Serengeti NP with it’s vast array of wildlife was exceptional. The congregating herds of Wildebeest and Zebra beginning to start their annual migration was awe inspiring! One could sit in one spot for an hour or so and see over 100,000 Wildebeest cross in front of one’s eyes.

This was a sight such as one only sees once on one’s life. Comparable to the likes of Victoria Falls as an exceptional sight which we will never forget in our lives. Outweighed by far the fact that the roads are life-threatening and the campsites (we stayed in the Seronera area at Ngiri GPS S02825”133’ E34*51”485’ ) have nothing other than a pit toilet and cold shower for your $60. Still, when we compare some of the brilliant national parks with quite good facilities we have been in other countries, the excellent job SANPARKS does at a reasonable cost in South Africa and the cheerful desire to at least try in poor countries like Zimbabwe, if the Tanzanian government wants to charge foreign guests upwards of $250 per day to stay in their national parks, they need to provide a bit more in the shape of facilities and friendly, literate staff with a more “user friendly” system? The whole system is not really geared towards the independent traveller or camper at all, it is all focused on the high paying “fly in fly out” tourist (who is paying upwards of USD$450 to $1250 per day to stay at the many fancy lodges). They need to try and do something to limit the excessive number of safari vehicles plying the roads, many with only one or two tourists in them? They say that the high fees generating tens of millions of $ per year go entirely towards park and wildlife maintenance, but somehow I doubt that? I think there would be a lot of “slippage” along the way?

Certainly the big profits the all private safari tour companies and the high end lodges must be making goes into shareholders pockets and not to supporting Mrs Leo’s family of cubs. TANAPA needs to go to South Africa and take some tips off SANPARKS on how to treat foreign tourists and run a system that actually works.

We travelled westwards through Serengeti NP seeing much game towards the town of Mwanza on Lake Victoria where we stocked up with supplies and stayed at The Mwanza Yacht Club GPS S02*31”743’ E 32*53”673’ – a quite pleasant spot overlooking the lake. Tin Can needs a rest from the rough roads. Vibrations have killed yet another electronic thing again – our second  12/240v inverter has died a smoking death. Now charging computers etc becomes a hassle until maybe Nairobi where we can get it repaired or buy another one?

The next day we caught the ferry which crosses Lake Victoria from Mwanza to meet the road which heads towards Rwanda. A 3 hour exercise which together with the very corrugated stretches of the road (fortunately most of the 250kms to Resumo Rwanda is tar) which finally caused the rear brake protectors to fall off Tin Can after metal fatigue from vibration, caused us to be late in the day again with no campsite in sight and still far from the border.
We ended up stopping at a village to ask if we could camp. The headman (once we found him) was very obliging and for $5 let us camp in the grounds of the village school. Ended up the Headmaster eventually found us and had to show us all round his school – and half the kids had to watch us camp, help chop firewood and lounge in our chairs. The school has very little in the wy of resources to cope with 700 kids with only 7 teachers. The were all very kind – and we said when we get back to Australia we will see if we can send them something to help via my local Rotary Club? We had quite a good quiet night at the school.

Next country Rwanda…… We hit the Resumo border quite early the next morning and thankfully as we already had our Rwanda visa application numbers handy (you have to apply online at least 5 days before you arrive) passed through without hassle in an hour.

If you want to go on your own adventure through Africa, you might want to have a look at 4×4 hire to find the best vehicle for your adventure.

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