With time and days passing us by so fast, we drive back in into Tanzania with our sights set on 3 National Parks which make up the last stops on the East African leg of Global Inc Safari. Park number one on the list is Ruaha NP in the south, the other 2 are in the North and help form our 800 km circuit before we cross the northern border into Kenya and back to Nairobi. Our maps indicate that straight up the middle will get us there in minimum time, however, the thin red line denoting ‘bad roads’ encourage us to take the roundabout way, so we stick to the tar roads and head east instead to Dar es Salaam and the coast. This route will help complete our circumnavigation of Tanzania, and we can safely say we have driven the entire country.
The days during these few weeks were long, 8hr minimum driving days in order to slog through the many km’s required to reach the east coast and then up to northern Tanzania. It feels like a fly by tour and nothing like the leisurely meandering in previous countries. The slow atmosphere of local life that we were used to seeing was now replaced with the all too familiar blur of speed. The scenery still changed constantly, landscapes changed from red to brown and golden glows to grey silhouettes.
The endless towns and villages along the way are all too familiar now. We see the young village boys tender to their wandering herds, women carry every manner of goods on their heads to who knows where and daughters, in their endless cycle, collect water and firewood. Men, old and young, congregate out of the sun under shelters talking ‘secret men’s business’ and cars, trucks and buses speed past in both directions in a blaze of dust, blaring horns and fumes. The roads seemed to forever be under construction, we often drive for hours weaving from one crap dirt service road to another crap service road all the while paralleling the yet to be driven on brand new tar road 10m away.
After the drive down the remote and tribal western Tanzania and Malawi, we feel we have reached civilisation once again. Our surroundings are full of life, the streets are buzzing with locals getting on with everyday life. Observing what happens on any given day in Eastern Africa is like watching a documentary through your very own eyes.
It has been 2 months since we have been on a coast. The GPS is set to Pangani, Tanzania on the northern coast. We are excited to be heading for the beach for a few days off and to slip out of driving mode and into bikini and boardies.
We pass through Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s unofficial capital, and stop for a decent lunch and a resupply of the pantry. Dar is a bustling harbour side port city. We feel a little overwhelmed having been out of the hustle for so long. We meander the streets, exploring the textile markets, the waterfront and of the many colonial buildings along the way. After a few hours we have had enough of the heat and the craziness and start our 10km drive to the campsite. Two and a half hours later we arrive. Sydney peak hour traffic has nothing on this place, the traffic is just insane. The positive of being back on a ‘hallowed’ tar road is completely squashed by heavy road works and a huge vehicle count. We knew there was a reason we stayed out in the bush.
We spend a few days relaxing under the palm trees at Pangani Campsite. The camp is rest full, relaxing and we indulge in delicious meals and cold beer. Our time out is well needed and we start to reflect on the past 3 months. With only a week to go, it all feels surreal as we begin our wind up and head on out last Safaris.
We track west starting at Tanga, inland along the tourist trail towards The Serengeti. We are fortunate enough to spot Mt Kilimanjaro on a clear day as we pass by its Southern glaciers and she is absolutely magnificent to take in. At the town of Moshi we are spoilt with the breathtaking views that are hard to miss in this mountain town, the peak just pops and the ice caps and glaciers glow in the blue morning sky. We gaze in awe and reminisce about or Mt Kenya climbing days. Proud achievement fills out conversation, yet the lure to climb another is far from our minds and Mountaineering still remains, at this stage, Anna’s new favourite hate.
We approach our final days in Tanzania and join the tourist convoy that makes up the Northern Circuit. The Ngorongoro Crater is first on the hit list and the Serengeti NP immediately after; we exit the park very near the Kenyan boarder and plan to cross 50 km further up the road. This seems like an easy day ahead, a short dirt road journey then we are home and hosed, into Kenya and straight up to Nairobi, in time to wind up the trip and prepare to hand Grover back. We start to track through very remote and very rough tracks/ roads paralleling the boarder and enjoying the last hours of Grover with his exceptional bush bashing pedigree. We reach our turn off and quiz a few locals “No pass, no pass” is the general consensus amongst the gathering crowd. Unsure if this is a tourist trap for road tolls/ bribes we find the local Polisi station and ask about the border crossing up the road. Our hearts sink as we are told that due to the Somali/ Kenyan war/ conflict the tiny border crossing has been indefinitely shut down. Bugger, our only option is a further 220kms of hard and rough bush tracks/ road through to Lake Natron and then to the tar highway and then 80km more back to Arusha. Namanga, our border crossing, is a further 110km North of Arusha.
It’s a big blow to moral but we set off south, in the opposite direction to Kenya, but regardless of the extra distance we’re resigned to the feeling of going with the flow.
This drive turned out to be one of the most unreal adventure rides of the trip. Lake Natron is one of the most isolated and unvisited areas of Tanzania. There are not really any formal roads, sometimes not even a real track, often we follow foot or hoof prints in the sand and dust or follow a dry creek bed crawling over rock looking for a way to drive out or the right way to go. We do this for hours without seeing a village, person or vehicle. The scenery is stunning, huge mountain ranges and escarpments surrounding the amazing alkaline lake which is Lake Natron. The lake is dry, dusty and stark. We feel like we are in prehistoric Africa. This drive is proving to be worth the slog.
We regain the ‘road’ proper which is mapped as a public road and not in a national park, so as such so we don’t expect to pay at any stage. However the few locals that do live here think otherwise. In the entire 220km we have bashed through we are stopped 3 times by “local Council Officials” claiming to be gate keepers, complete with boom gates, huts and signage. The first stop we are informed its $50 USD for the two of us and Grover to pass. We feel the uneasy feeling that we are being played here and enter into negotiations with the 2 non English speaking local gate keepers. We simply don’t have any cash on us having just been fleeced of it all in the Serengeti and with our plans to pass the border had not managed to draw any more out. So we are literally cashless at this point and on a mission to the border, we quickly debate the $50 USD and emphatically state that we have no cash and do they take credit card? A quick look for power lines confirms there is no electricity at this outpost so we press home with ‘we need an ATM so we can pay you’. After 20 min of the ‘you pay us – we have no cash’ routine it’s time for a woman’s touch, with a soft & gentle voice (cleavage out too) Anna begins to tell a tale of woe, ending in “Is there any chance we may please pass” eyes a bettering and bingo, he’s had enough of our sob story, his lunch is getting cold and the gate is up. We are on our way again!
Feeling chuffed to be through and no more money has been stripped from us we continue down this amazing road. Russ freely admits defeat in negotiation skills when it comes to unofficial locals seeking bribes. Sure enough before reaching our destination we are hit up by 2 more opportunistic villages all demanding $50USD to pass by their towns. Anna is in full swing and proceeds to talk gently with the men, this time we have our story ready. We have no money and need to get to an ATM, if you give us your numbers we can arrange payment once we get to the main town. They seem chuffed to swap numbers with us and their hopes are high that they will get money out of us just like that. Even here in Africa men can’t resist the persuasions of a woman. We are let through and on our way. Having saved $150 USD on bribes we power on through to the border and back onto the tar roads!
We wonder how many tourist fall victim to these illegal tolls, coughing up their money that goes straight to some fat cat in the village. After 3months here we have learnt some real street smarts when it comes to dealing with situations here. If we had hit theses stops in the first month of the trip, I think we would have naively payed up, as do so many others. But the more time you spend here the wiser you become to the rights and wrongs when it comes to Africans vs Mazoongoos!
Finally we make it back up to the Kenyan boarder and feel the physical relief as the tension of the last 330 odd km’s leaves us, we are on the home stretch. We roll into the customs inspection area looking pretty battered and bruised our last days in the bush and are waved through the gate with a farewell and a welcome back!
The drive from the border to Nairobi is smooth sailing; we navigate back to Upperhill campsite where it all began. It is time to break down our home on wheels, empty our lives from the back of Grover and prepare to leave Africa and head to the Americas.
Of course this doesn’t go smoothly, as much as we want it to, we are still in Africa. As our last days of are cleaning and packing pass Russ seems to be struggling, fatigue, exhaustion general un-wellness crept over him and before we know it his condition deteriorates and he’s in trouble with a capital ‘T’. We head straight to the Nairobi National Hospital A&E where the doctors take one look and after and start using the words ‘Mazoongoo and Malaria’, that is that, he is admitted to ICU and serious treatment is commenced. So it seems Russ had a tussle with malaria ridden mozzie that decided to leave his calling card. With one extremely sick boyfriend in hospital we officially have a bad ending to our time here. Being separated as visiting times were imposed on Anna, we pull together and ride out this nasty week. Feeling stronger and on the mend we are now sitting tight in a cabin, all packed and ready to fly tomorrow to the USA! We can finally get excited about this next leg of Global Inc Safari!
Check out the final Tanzanian pic’s: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.440501492652295.90395.319040084798437&type=1
One final Africa blog is in the works, as we wrap up out time in Eastern Africa and look back on the last 3 months. Stay Tuned…