Happy elephant, Ngorongoro Crater National Park, Tanzania — January 1999
Photo by Mark Kay
Happy elephant, Ngorongoro Crater National Park, Tanzania — January 1999
Photo by Mark Kay
Cape Buffalo, Ngorongoro Crater National Park, Tanzania — January 1999
Tanzania 1998 Journal
19 July, 1998 — Arusha
We leave Amboseli (Kenya) completely satisfied and head for the customs where we pay $50 US for a Tanzania entry stamp. Looks like this is going to be an expensive one. We pass immigration and customs, but are delayed because Greg misplaces all the student cards, and momentarily loses his ability to speak, or function for that matter. He calms down, we locate our documents, pass into Tanzania, and are on our way to a grueling 100 K drive to Arusha. We arrive tired and hungry and feast intently on pizza and Safari Lager at the Masai Camp. What a day.
20 July, 1998 — Arusha
July 20th goes down in my book as an interesting, yet frustrating introduction to the Tanzanian tourist agenda which basically get as much money as possible. As we walk around downtown Arusha, we are constantly approached by touts and hawkers. They are everywhere pushing expensive safaris ($100 US/day) to the Serengeti (5 day minimum) and ugly curios that should cost a fraction of what they are trying to get now. We are opting to not take Breakfast to the Serengeti because we hear the roads are terrible. We don’t want to risk a breakdown in the middle of the bush. All the other options are cost-ineffective, though, so it looks like we might not go to the Serengeti after all, but we will see. Among all the chaos and rip-offs, we manage to find a pleasant restaurant with local prices. We eat beans with rice and greens while contemplating our next moves. Can’t beat the price of 600/-.
The day’s events change when we meet some South Africans who subsequently invite Todd and I to potjie and beer and conversation. Are new friends are quite friendly and liberally opinionated people (as many South Africans are) and they explain a lot of their ideas on South African racism and politics. They encourage us to go to the Serengeti via a plan that would eliminate much of the cost. Later in the evening, we make the decision to go on safari to the Serengeti, Breakfast style. We believe she is up to the job. Our friends have given us confidence. And besides, could we really miss “Africa’s Best Game Park”?
I fall asleep excited about the coming days.
21 July, 1998 — The road to the Ngorongoro Crater
Today we wake up early, hit our newly found restaurant in town, and hit the road. I drive smooth tarmac and then corrugated and sometimes smooth dirt. On the way we get a flat tyre, and upon changing it, the jack gives way and Breakfast collapses to her naked hub like a sinner kneeling for mercy. Ouch. A little help and several minutes later everything is sorted and we are on our way. Our goal for the evening is the town outside the Ngorongoro Park entrance, a town know only as Safari Junction.
We end up staying at a rather bizarre and barren campsite on hill named inappropriately the Kudu Camp. (There is know wildlife to be seen.) For dinner, I use our newly acquired wok to prepare a stir-fry pasta Santa Cruz style. It is good. We drink a fine South African Cabernet Sauvignon supplied by Peter, one of the talkative South Africans we spoke to the night before. The we hear drums and head over to a Tanzanian drum jam soon turned market. Very interesting.
Tanzania Journal Entries
22 July, 1998 — Kudu Camp, Safari Junction
Today we wake up, casually, and drive to the Ngorongoro Gate entrance. The park ranger says we have to camp inside the park ($20 US/person - no amenities) and would not grant us multiple-entry to the park. There goes our money saving plan that was thought up with the help of our South Africans. Basically the bottom line is this: $25 Park Entrance (per person/per day) $20 camping (per person/per day) $30 vehicle permit and $20 for a guide. That equals $57 for each person for each 24 hour period. We would need at least five days to get to and from the park which totals $1140 just to go the Serengeti This price is absurd in that later on in our trip in Zimbabwe, it would cost only $84 total for a group of 12 people to stay in Hwange Nat’l Park for a week. Even without knowing this last fact, we think this to be ridiculous. The Tanzanians are trying to take us for everything we have. We bail, yelling curses at the park rangers. Egotistical bastards. Give an African any amount of power and he will use it to the fullest to exploit everything. Of course I don’t feel that way about everyone, but at this moment, I really can’t ignore my feelings. We go back to our dust bowl campsite and sulk for the afternoon.
We decide to try again tomorrow, this time… if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. We fall asleep happy that in the morning we will be leaving the Kudu Camp, and Safari Junction for that matter, once and for all.
23 July, 1998 — Ngorongoro Crater
Today we play be the rules. We pay $25 per person and $30 for Breakfast to enter the park. After a minor entanglement with an altogether unnecessary guard whom we convince that we don’t need a crater guide, we make a beautiful decent down the crater wall. The view, although hazy, is utmost rewarding. All my anger with the Tanzanian Bureaucracy dissipates as I see a herd of zebra and gazelle frolicking in the bush. I learn that zebra are instinctually wise animals always mixing in with the slower ungulates as added protection from the inevitable hunting of the cats.
We turn left, heading North, and begin are drive around Lake Magadi (a different lake than the Kenyan version.) We find nervous hippos out of the water (a first) and then proceed to a plateau overlooking the crater floor. We eat avocado, onion, tomato and lemon sandwiches with the view of at least one hundred buffalo.
After lunch, we continue around the crater in a clockwise direction and suddenly, to our dismay, come across hordes of commercial safari vehicles. What are they looking at. Lions! (Our first.) But the cats are quite hidden out of the way of the joyful stares of the tourists. Suddenly, to our viewing pleasure—and to the agony of the cats—a blue flatbed Land Cruiser loaded with Tanzanians drives offroad directly towards the resting felines encouraging them to flee. How rude! But we at least get a full view of a male and a female lion.
We then head into the small, but densely populated forest of the crater. The picturesque area is the quintessential African grasslands savanna that I have so earnestly sought after this whole trip. The grasslands are dwarfed by huge acacia towering over. The backdrop is the crater wall ascending gentle to a sunset sky above. Yes, I am happy.
We end the day with a steep, hairpin curved ascent up a one-lane road out of the crater. The views are absolutely breathtaking with a bit of haze on the sides. We end the night back at the damned Kudu camp, where Kate cooks up some mashed potatoes and Todd manages to pour half the container of salt into the steaming dish. (Rude!)
Tanzania 1998 Journal
24 July, 1998 — Back to Arusha
A nice morning drive back to Arusha. Nothing special, but there is this man selling Bob Marley’s Kaya and I fork over only 1000 Tsh for the cassette mechanism. Later that day we hit Arusha, drop Kate and Greg off at the Masai Camp. Todd and I head into town to search for tyre retread possibilities. On our way into town, we pick up an artsy girl named Lindsay. We drop Lindsay off in the downtown and find a retread place. Closed. We go back into town and pick up my dry cleaning which was filthied from the gorilla trek. We then return to the retread place which is now open.
A nervous looking Sikh appears to be running the multipurpose tyre/garage shop. After much friendly haggling we agree on a price of $200 US for four “new” retreads. After the job is complete, another Sikh raises the price to $230 US. We protest, but the new Sikh says that his partner would never have given a quote of $200 US. We argue, but there is no way to confirm any of this because “That man is on his way to Nairobi.” We begin arguing viciously. The Sikh, who is rather large, turns bright red and yells.
“No you, the police, nor Bill Cleen-tone can help you!”
I hunt down the most pathetic excuse for a police officer and return to the retread place. But Todd, in a moment of desperation, has already paid the man. I call the man a “lying-son-of-a-bitch-scumbag” and he nearly breaks my neck as we finagle out the door. What a hellish experience. I swear never, ever to do business again with the Sikhs of Africa. [This opinion will later change when I go to India and learn about and begin to really respect this special religion. Then again, I probably still would advice against doing business with the retread Sikhs in Arusha.]
Later that night we eat pizza and manage to convince Lindsay to come with us to Dar es Salam. I somehow, due to a wet tent, manage to schlamagle my way into Lindsay’s tent. Good night.
25 July, 1998 — Dar Es Salam or BUST
“Our new retread tyres sound great” is all I can think of after we pack up the car, eat beans, rice and cabbage at our favorite place, shop for veggies and head down the road. The sound is uplifting. Greg is shocked how I will even turn down the Grateful Dead (Manor Down 1982) to hear the constant buzzing of new rubber on Tanzanian tarmac
We hit Moshi—gateway to Mt. Kilimanjaro—and stop for directions. We then head south. I am driving. We are listening to Lindsay’s warped/burnt reggae tapes and her brisk hip-hop. I begin to wonder about Lindsay“Who is this girl anyhow?”
We drive on, past bodacious baobab trees. The greenery of northern Tanzania transcends into drier scrubland dotted with small acacia and rocky jebels. Occasionally, a mighty baobab emerges casting reign over the surrounding region. The entire group is intrigued by the magnificence of the giant trees. There off-white bark contrasts the seemingly endless sky. The road bends and curves—dips and rises becoming ever more beautiful with each kilometer as the sun sets over the veld. A few drops of rain fall on the windshield and I grow tired and emotional. I am ready to call it a day. My prayers are answered when a sign on the left passes saying “Travelers Lodge & Camp.” Below this says “Hot Showers and Rooms.” Below that it says “Cold Beer.” A continue driving on, think a bit, then slam on the brakes, flip a bitch, and head straight toward our oasis outpost. The road is bumpy and by far the worst terrain our new tyres have seen, yet they handle perfectly, and 2 k’s later we come to a cozy and quaint establishment where it will cost 200 Tsh / person for a room. What a deal. Lindsay and I decide to get a room. Everyone else opts for the tent option on the grass. I feel tired and can’t really deal with Greg’s jokes tonight so I crash out early. Good night.
26 July, 1998 — Silver Sands Hotel
We awaken, push start Breakfast and are speeding down the road. Not much to remember. I just sit somewhere in Breakfast as she puts down the road. Eventually we get to a junction town, Msolwa, and all these kids rush up to sell us overpriced (relatively speaking) stale cashews, eggs, and greasy potato samosas. I grab a cold Coke, listen to some raging Soukous blaring out of incompetent speakers. Always a thrill, never a dull moment. We make a left turn and head due East towards the Indian Ocean. We continue for an hour (or two) and make a left at the signal (only one) and manage to navigate ourselves to the Silver Sands Resort and Camp where all you can eat vegetarian is a mere 2225 Tsh.
I have a brief swim in the Indian Ocean and a realization passes over me like birds migrating south for the winter: I have reached another goal, first: Adis Ababa, and now: The Indian Ocean. For dinner, we manage a spaghetti and tomato sauce dinner (I don’t think we are supposed to cook in the campground) accompanied with and overpriced 1100 Tsh beer. I spend the night outside in a mosquito net enjoying the ocean breeze, but prone to the annoying shouts of other overlanders partying the night/dawn away.
What a day!
27 July, 1998 — Today we go to Zanzibar
I am awoken by at least one hundred little birds chirping above me in the branches that support the ties to my mosquito net. Unfortunately, there is shit falling everywhere. I am being bombarded. I get up and manage to clean up the mess, pack up, and chill on the beach. We lock the car and in an attempt to say good-bye to Breakfast, turn the key in her ignition. No sound. Breakfast is dead. Well, at least she will enjoy the rest. We have chosen the Silver Sands because they could guarantee the safety of Breakfast while we spent our time on Zanzibar. Good-bye for now Breakfast.
At noon, a shuttle comes by to whiz us all to the Zanzibar ferry terminal for 2000 Tsh / person. The idea of resting on a tropical island without the frustrations of daily Breakfast breakdown quite excites me. I can’t wait. I don’t think I will ever come back.
Hitching a ride on the Black Diamond from Zanzibar to Tanzania — August 1, 1998
Tanzania 1998 Journal
27 July, 1998 — Zanzibar (MON)
We arrive at midday and walk off the gang plank to the bustle of desperate hawks trying to lure us to their commission paid “hotels.” Interestingly, we actually do fall prey to one lucky fellow and hop in his van and drive down the road for ten minutes. Our senses finally do prevail after seeing our potential desolate accommodations, and we demand that we are taking right back downtown.
We enter the maze of Stone Town for the first time. Fate is our guide and leads us to the friendly Salam Hotel where months of practice allow us to negotiate around the rumored set prices of Stone Town. $6 per person per night is more expensive than usual, but we gladly pay. After all, we are in Zanzibar.
Upon hastily unpacking, we enter the maze once again and wander to our hearts delights. I think that Stone Town is one of the most remarkable places I have ever seen in my life. We wander for hours noting intricately carved doors, ample singing children and religious elders dressed in traditional Muslim palliament. Various aromas fill the air emanating from the ubiquitous restaurants and mosques. Small shops with open doors display a universe of souvenirs in all price ranges.
We notice that the sun is setting and somehow, someway we are led to the westerly waterfront where a slew of people are intermingling on the waters edge. Closer look reveals a night market complete with the best of Zanzibar. Foods include sugarcane juice, octopus, Zanzibar pizza (thin dough, an egg, tomato sauce, and various sea food.), and other cuisinal concoctions. We stuff ourselves in the African gourmet for mere dollars and enjoy the night. I notice that everyone is in a seemingly good mood.
28 July, 1998 — Zanzibar (TUE)
We change money today, which actually takes longer than expected. I ditch the group to follow Lindsay on some forsaken dry cleaning crusade. I lose patience quite fast and ditch her and somehow I rejoin the group in Stone Town’s maze of activity. Kate actively searches for a sarong and I fumble through the various stores’ goods not that interested in the various plastic chachkis. We again find ourselves at the night market with tasty food and a beautiful sunset.
29 July, 1998 — Zanzibar (WED)
Kate’s stupid idea of a spice tour becomes a reality. I mean the idea is good, but the weather isn’t. The result: “Spice Tour in the Rain.” And this is the the nutmeg tree whose seed is wrapped in the mace spice. I wish it would just stop raining. Drip, drip.
The weather eventually clears just in time for the night market. Yum.
30 July, 1998 — Zanzibar (THU)
Today we again wander the mazes of Stone Town. I get lost.
Tonight’s night market proves extraordinary in that we meet Jocelyn, the American-Filipino Peace Corps volunteer who just finished two years of service in Ethiopia. She is sporting a UCLA hat and is quite outgoing so I invite ourselves back to her room so I can have my first dose of CNN World News in months. Todd and Jocelyn speak a lot and I think there exists a bit of a spark. She reminds me dangerously of Todd’s ex-girlfriend. I am scared. I eventually grow tired and leave them to their gossip and head back. I am without a clue how to find my hotel, and the midnight mazes of Zanzibar soon engulf my slightly inebriated mind. I get severely lost in the dark and am luckily picked up by a local angel who guides me back to my hotel.
31 July, 1998 — Zanzibar (FRI)
We awake and decide it is time to explore the rest of the island. We convince a taxi van to drive us to an isolated beach paradise on the other side of the island. It is a beautiful white sand beach. It is a bit nippy however, so I just chill on the beach and relax. At night we go to a nice bar that overlooks the ocean and have a drink. We eventually find ourselves at the night market. We can’t stay away.
1 August, 1998 — Zanzibar (SAT)
Today Jocelyn introduces us to George—the Polish sailor and captain of the twin mast 52’ Black Diamond—and Bossman, his dog. We learn that George is leaving for mainland Tanzania at night and we may accompany him for a small fee. We accept, get sorted, check out of our hotel room, clear customs, make one last round through Stone Town to pick up supplies, and on a fateful sunset, sail out of Zanzibar. It is one of the more beautiful sunsets ever. I know I am really going to miss this island.
The weather is nice, but the boat still rocks. Greg, Todd and Jocelyn go below and pass out. I stay up for a while. The winds increase and water occasionally splash the deck of the boat soaking my inviting clothes. The stars are bright tonight having no competition with the moon which still hasn’t risen in the East. I grow tired and go below as well to smell of vomit. My poor friends sometimes can’t stomach the adventures.
2 August, 1998 — Little Island (SUN)
I awake and the boat is still. The night before was rough and enjoyable, yet now the boat barely moves. Where are we. I am the last to rise. As I peer out of the cabin I see everyone enjoying the sight of a lonely island some 100 feet away sheltering us from the rougher seas. Opposite the island lay Tanzania—mainland Africa glimmering in all her might.
We spend the entire day on this small island swimming, playing Frisbee, exploring the coral formations. It is quite nice. We eat a nice dinner and sleep on the boat again.
3 August, 1998 — Back to Africa
George attempts to lift the anchor, but when it is inches from the deck, the ocean-bleached rope snaps and the anchor falls to the ocean floor faster than shark chasing prey.
Todd comes to rescue and fits himself with ancient scuba gear. I dives 30 feet, ties a terrible knot on the anchor and resurfaces. We successfully raise the anchor and tease Todd about his knot, but in fact we are grateful that Todd saved the anchor ($500.00 USD investment.)
We sail back to a harbor near Dar es Salem and bid farewell to our new seafaring friends George, Bossman, and the Black Diamond.
I wonder if I will ever return to Zanzibar?
3 August, 1998 — Silver Sands Hotel
Upon disembarking from the Black Diamond we enjoy some nice Passion Fruit Juice in a store near the harbor. We then catch a taxi back to the Silver Sands Hotel.
Later in the day, I notice a big white spot on the bottom of my foot. I looks at though some animal has burrowed its way into the sole of my foot. I panic as the thought of exotic worms making their way to my heart enter my thoughts. “What should I do?” is all I can ask. Should I go to the local village doctor? Todd responds comely and assuredly.“Brian, going to village doctor is the last thing you should do. What if he decides to cut into you? His tools may be dirty. You’re going to have prod this thing out yourself.” I sit down and with Todd’s supervision, I stick a needle into the white spot. Puss spurts out everywhere. I puncture the skin more and then squeeze out the contents. Little white worm things are embedded in the puss. I squeeze again. It doesn’t really hurt and it looks really interesting. “Chiggers.” Todd says. “ Those are chiggers.” The operation is a success. I bandage my foot and forget about the darned chiggers. I feel relieved.
We enjoy another vegetarian (½ price) all-you-can-eat buffet.
4 August, 1998 — The Road South
Amazingly Breakfast starts and we leave Dar Es Salam and head in land again. It will be a while until we visit the ocean again.
Some hours down the road, in the middle of the day’s harsh heat, we cross a dilapidated bridge and Breakfast stalls in the middle of it. A boy runs up to try and sell us some hard-boilded eggs. We accept and upon paying him, he passes each of us a small paper satchels containing salt. Nice kid.
Todd pops the hood and rattles the battery cable. The negative cable has eroded and is very loose. I turn the ignition and Breakfast fires and we are on our way again. We come across a town and I buy some strawberries and raspberries from another pushy boy. I can’t believe that he is selling this type of fruit, here, in the middle of Africa. We haven’t seen this anywhere. We continue heading further south.
A sign on the road says “Entering MIKUMI NATIONAL PARK” The next line says “Speed Limit 70 km/hour.” So I slow down considerably from our average speed of 90k/h. The road bends and curves through dramatic Africa wildscape. We can see occasional animals. I turn another bend and there is a Tanzanian police officer in full uniform sporting g a gun blocking the road. His hand is held up in the universal “STOP” pose. I stop and let Breakfast idle. The officer claims that I have been speeding and shows me a radar gun—quite possibly the only radar gun on this damn entire continent. On the back of the radar gun is a display which shows in read block letter “72.” “You have been speeding.” The man says. I inform the officer that I was only going two (2) km per hour (1.2 miles/hr) over the limit. The officer says, “Yes, you were speeding and you must pay a fine now of 18,000 Tsh.” I try to argue nicely, but the officer is firm. I insist that since we are exiting Tanzania soon and have enough gas and food, we have no money. I say this while offering the officer an orange. The officer refuses my food offer and ignores my money bluff and demands money, but no sooner do two huge elephants cross the road some 200 meters ahead of us. The police man says, “Look. Elephants.” (As if it were a daily occurrence.) And we respond, “Can we please go see them?” And the officer says with a smile and a bit of a laugh “You may pass.” And he gets out of the middle of the road. The elephants have saved the day.
We exit the park and find the beautiful Kisolanza Farm Camp about 50 km’s down the road from the southern Tanzanian town of Iringa. We call it a day and camp in farms campground. Greg and I make jam from the berries we bought earlier. And the next morning, we are off to Malawi, and I am excited.
Here is Todd’s take on the above great story:
I was awakened by silence when the drone of the engine quit. I had been napping in the backseat while Brian was driving. I blinked groggily at a black Tanzanian Police officer who stood at Brian’s window, peering in the truck. Brian fidgeted nervously in the front seat. I turned and looked out the back window and spotted a second officer standing in the middle of the road, flagging down another car. Next to him on the shoulder was a third officer, sitting on a motorcycle, pointing a speed gun down the road.
“You were traveling at a high rate of speed,” the officer at the window observed in a stern voice. “You must pay fine.”
“But I was going under 90,” Brian protested.
“The speed limit here is 70, you were going 71. Much too fast,” the officer scolded, making a soft clucking noise.
“The change wasn’t posted,” Brian argued.
The officer shrugged. “You must be knowing the limit. It is your responsibility. Pay fine.”
“Please, Sir, I’m not from Tanzania. We are just traveling to Malawi today. Please let us pass,” Brian implored.
I suddenly realized everyone was looking at me; Brian, Greg, Jocelyn. I shrugged my shoulders in drowsy ignorance. What was I supposed to do?
“Pay fine,” the officer demanded redundantly, drawing attention back to himself.
“Do we pay the fine here or in Dar,” Brian wondered.
“I write ticket, you pay fine here,” the officer explained.
“We don’t have much money,” Brian explained. He leaned over and plucked an orange from the dashboard. “Orange?”
The officer shook his head.
“We pay fine with oranges?” I asked from the back seat.
The officer smirked, amused at our pathetic attempt at a bribe. “Elephants,” he observed.
Half a kilometer ahead six elephants slowly lumbered across the road.
“May we go see the elephants?” Brian asked
“I’ve never seen an elephant before,” Jocelyn piped up from the back.
“Go see elephants,” the officer said with a laugh. Brian handed him the orange and we drove off to see the elephants.
5 August, 1998 — Leaving Tanzania
We reach the border and are met by the usual border hawks trying to lure money and items away from those leaving and arriving. Greg is instigating the border hawkers while Jocelyn and I pour more gas into the tanks. I spill all over J. We spend the rest of our Tsh on water, cookies, and other packaged overpriced goods. We then head into Malawi. My moment of truth has arrived.
I am not sure how it all got started. It wasn’t a magical spark of lightning that began the cataclysm, nor was it the supreme words of a higher being sending us on our way. Somehow, though, the powers of the universe contrived enabling our journey through the Heart of Africa.
It began quite innocently as an alleged trip to Bulgaria and Romania. This idea was eventually vetoed and placed “on hold” for future girlfriends. Zap—a long awaited spark was kindled—The Middle East: Yemen, in particular. And the visas were applied for, the air tickets purchased; and on a fine March 4th day we were on our way aboard a gleaming Air France 747 en route to Cairo, Egypt, via a five day layover in France.
We never did make it to Yemen, nor the Middle East for that matter; we headed South, instead, into the Heart of Africa, and what follows is the story of events as they unfold.