Jambo! (Meaning “hello” in Swahili language, which is spoken in East Africa)
Here comes the latest volume of “Michal and Camelia’s Adventures in Africa”. Get comfortable, read and enjoy.
Before I get into the story, let me make a quick introduction for you. Michal was sick for a few days in October 2003 and once he woke up and said that he needs to go to Uganda as a volunteer. A week later his fever disappeared, but not this idea. As a result, he resigned from his job and in mid-January 2004 took the plane to Uganda. He spent some 2 months at Edirisa foundation on the development of a computer game (www.edirisa.org). By 7th March he finished his project in Uganda and came to Nairobi, Kenya, to meet me at the airport. And here begins our fabulous African adventure, based on a true story. Any resemblance to real persons is not at all accidental.
After extended pre-departure preparations, which included multiple vaccinations, shopping and internet research, I went on 7th March to Prague Airport with a ticket to Nairobi (via Zurich). I arrived there some 90 minutes in advance, which gave me enough time to lose my boarding pass in front of a bar in the transit area and then find it again. Of course, the tiny boarding pass had slipped through my fingers and some strange guys where already debating which one of them to put their beer glass on it, when I eventually approached them and gracefully took it back. I was already getting worried about the interesting beginning of my trip…Anyway, the flight to Zurich was just fine. As some of you might already know, meals are no longer included in the ticket price, but I didn’t bother, as I brought my own sandwich & water along J
In Zurich I waited about one hours then I got a large Boeing plane for 300 people, heading to Kenya. My seat was at the window, so I could admire first of all the amazing snowcapped Alps, then the Mediterranean Sea, Sahara Desert and in the evening the lights of Nairobi, where we landed some 9 hours later.
Michal was waiting for me at the airport and he even bought me flowers, so that I could recognize him behind the 6-week wild beard that invaded his face. To my surprise, it was not very hot in Nairobi, maybe some 20 Celsius degrees. In fact, during all our stay there were temperatures below 25 degrees, with the exception of the last days spent on the Indian Ocean coast, but I’ll come back to that later.
As soon as we arrived to our hostel in Nairobi we arranged a 3 days safari beginning with the next day. Therefore on 8th March in the morning we set for Masai Mara national park, situated in South East Kenya. We traveled in a mini-bus with another 4 Dutch tourists. Our driver, Simon, was a Kenyan who spoke very good English and was a champion in slalom. I’m not talking about ski-slalom, but about road-slalom through holes. During the first 2 hours of our bus ride, the road was more or less ok, but after that the asphalt was slowly growing extinct, and the car ended up on a bumpy path. Lucky us it had rained and it wasn’t dusty! On the way to Masai Mara park we stopped for lunch at a restaurant and that’s where I tasted African food for the first time. We had some beef with boiled potatoes, rice and something that looked like spinach. Desert – bananas, what else would you expect?
On our way to the park we also noticed artisan shops, where the locals were selling African souvenirs. The smartest shop owners had built next to their shop a big and nice toilet, which was visible from far-away, so that tourist cars stop there. This is what we’ve also done and after leaving the toilet, the salesmen surrounded us trying to sell us spires, bracelets, statues, drums, blankets, baskets, etc. Many of them were curious to know where we were from. As not many of them know about Romania, it helped when I mentioned Europe. There was a guy though who not only that he had heard about Romania, but he knew all our football players and the clubs where they play!!
Anyway, towards 3pm we arrived at the park gate, where we were invaded by Masai women, willing to sell their bracelets and necklaces. They were all small and bald, wearing some red blankets and tones of colorful hand-made jewelry. Michal had nothing better to do than ask them allow him to take a picture. He took it, but after that they were insistently asking for money. In the end, they agreed that Michal would buy some bracelets from them. They wanted to sell 12 pieces for 5 $, Michal managed to bring the price to 2$, but after paying them, they said that 2 $ is too little and wanted to recover some of the merchandise. Therefore, even though Michal was twice as tall as them, he started running around the car and the 2 women were chasing him, until he eventually got into the car, which was guarded by Simon, the driver. For us this was a very funny moment, especially that Michal started shouting at us in the car for help ;)
Now let me tell you a bit about Masai Mara Park. Its name comes from the tribe which lives there. It is a savannah which lies on a very large surface. The park continues to the south in Tanzania. Animals migrate freely, there are no fences, and camping sites are arranged in special designated areas. In the park is a network of dusty roads. Tourists can enter the park only with a jeep or safari mini-bus and are not allowed to get off (except for the camping sites). By 6:30 pm all cars are to leave the park area and go to campsites. On our first day in Masai Mara we saw many zebras, giraffes, gazelles, black storks and bulls. Then we saw 2 cheetahs, a young male elephant and a pack of lions getting ready for the evening hunt. They were hiding in the tall grass and “studying” some gazelles. Probably they were expecting to get dark to attack. But as we were very curious, we asked the driver to drive the car closer to the lion, so that we can see him. So, we got so see him from some 3-5 meters. He was a big lion, who seemed annoyed that we disturbed him, but who posed like a supermodel for us. After we took some pictures, he left slowly without asking for any money, like the Masai women. That lion, like many other animals in African parks, was already used to tourists.
As it was already getting dark we started driving towards the camp. But with a bit of luck our car got a flat tire. So, the driver had to chance the wheel. Another driver from the same safari company helped him and they were taking turns to watch potential predators. They didn’t allow us to get off the car, but said that we could help by looking around to see if there are any shining eyes in the tall grass. In the end, everything turned out fine, but it was already dark and we were still far away from the camp site. I was getting worried that we might get lost, but the driver know the park very well even in the dark. As we got quite late to the camp, we also had the chance to see a leopard, a predator which many tourists don’t see as he only goes out hunting at night. He was a beautiful cat, who crosses the “road” some 10 meters in front of our car. I enjoyed the view, but found it dangerous that he was so close to our camp. ..But I had nothing to worry about. The campsite was surrounded by a thick hedge and it was guarded by some Masai warriors. We ended our first day in the park with a good dinner and a cup of tea, then went to bed, I mean to mattress in the tent.
We spent the following day also in the park. We saw plenty of wildlife, but the main highlights were: several elephant families with cubs, a solitaire black rhino, playing monkeys, a lion and lioness in honeymoon, hippos and crocodiles in river Mara. The driver always gave us information about the animals we were looking at, about their lifestyle (solitaire or in packs), what they eat and when. For instance, he said that an elephant drinks some 200 liters water per day; cheetahs always eat their prey in the tree, so that hyenas won’t bother them. The leopard hunts only at night, cheetah during the day, while lions hunt whenever they get hungry. In the evening, on the way to the campsite, we went to visit the Masai tribe. Even though this tribe represents a minority in Kenya, they became a symbol of this country. There are multiple reasons for that: it’s one of the few tribes which still keeps its customs and traditional clothing, they are renowned hunters and many of them have also succeeded to become ministers. The village that we visited had some 50 families; its little huts were made of mud and sticks. The village was organized in two concentric circles: the central circle represented the collective cow stable. The larger circle represented the houses surrounding the stable. The village was surrounded by a big fence made of bushes. This layout of the village allows the Masai to protect their cattle from being attacked by wild animals, as they cannot make it to the stable without passing through the inhabited area first. And as wild animals are afraid of people, it seems that the system works. This tribe (like many others in East Africa) practices polygamy, even though some of them have converted to Christianity. It is common among them that men have two or more wives. Each wife has her own house and piece of land. Women work very hard. Not only that they are responsible for looking after the household and kids, but they also cultivate the land, sell the crop and build houses!!! It’s true that their houses are rather huts made of mud and are quite small, but it still requires a lot of work. As for the men, they take care of the cattle and have plenty of free time for political debates. In Masai tribe, it’s normal for women to get married at the age of 15-16 and have 4-8 children. Men get married around the age of 20 and must buy their wives from the parents. Despite this primitive lifestyle, all Masai value education. They send all their kids to primary school (which is free). But then only some of the kids continue their studies, as secondary school and university must be paid for. It’s usually the boys who continue their education. Another strange thing about the Masai is the fact that they pierce their ears and grow holes as large as 10 cm! They make these holes to small kids and enlarge them gradually with wood sticks! When they are adults, they wear colorful earrings. Kids who don’t cry when they have their ears pierced get a cow as a reward from their parents. During our visit in Masai tribe we’ve also seen a dance of the warriors and some lion hunt trophies. In the evening we returned to the campsite where dinner was again waiting for us.
On our third day in Masai park we woke up very early to see the morning wildlife. It was raining though, so many animals were hiding. But the highlight of this day was an exhibitionist baboon that masturbated and reached orgasm on the side of the road, in front of two tourist cars. Those who don’t believe this should carefully study the relevant picture in the photo album. Before noon we returned to the camp, packed our stuff and drive back to Nairobi, where we arrived in the evening.
On Thursday, 11th March we set for Aretha, Tanzania. We traveled with a matatus (a shared taxi) to the border, crossed the border on foot, and then got on a dala-dala (Tanzanian name of matatus) all the way to Arusha. There we checked in a hostel and went for a delicious dinner in an Indian restaurant. I forgot to tell you that there are many Indians in East Africa, as they were invited by colonist Brits. And as Indians are better businessmen than Africans, they now own most of the shops, restaurants and other private businesses. Arusha is quite an important town in northern Tanzania. There are many travel agencies organizing safaris to national parks and climbs on Kilimanjaro. Kilimanjaro is also a national reserve and tourist who want to climb it must budget about 100 - 150 $/ day, minimum 5 days. We couldn’t afford the highest mountain in Africa, so we headed to Ngorongoro conservation area, which is well known for its crater. This crater is the results of a volcanic implosion; it has a diameter of some 20 Km and has very abrupt walls. For some reason the crater is the favorite spot to hang out for a multitude of animals. In order to visit the crater, we needed a jeep. The tourist agencies in Arusha seemed expensive, so we decided to go to Karatu, a small town near Ngorongoro and try to hire a car there. In the end we found a car cheaper than Arusha offers. It we were 4 tourists, it would have been an excellent deal. Anyway, as we arrived in Karatu around lunch time, we thought of taking a half-day trip to Lake Eyasi, some 45 km away. According to Lonely Planet, this lake was supposed to be amazing and Bushmen should live nearby. The road to Eyasi was bumpy and difficult, but the landscape very nice. Here the vegetation was less abundant than in savannah. Those villages were less touristy, so kinds were always running behind our car and greeting us. Lake Eyasi was very big, but due to the dry season, the water evaporated and the area was swampy. I even asked the driver if it wasn’t too dangerous to drive in that mud, but he said: “I’ll park the car in a minute.” And he did. He “parked” it in a huge swamp where the back wheels of the jeep drowned completely in the mud. When we got off the car, we noticed that the ground was so soft, that even we were at risk to get drowned! In this situation, the driver had to ask the village men to help him, while we went to take a look at the lake, admire the sunset and give bananas and pens to kids, who were constantly following us. It took some 2 hours to “unpark” the car, so we didn’t have time to visit the Bushmen any longer. We saw some of their “houses” from the car, though. We arrived quite late to Karatu, and then had dinner in a 100% African cafeteria. Next day we were to go to the crater with the same jeep & driver.
We left to Ngorongoro at about 6 am. We first drove up the mountain. There was a nice view of the crater from the top. Then we drove down the abrupt walls and I must say that I was afraid that we would just fall into the abyss… But again, I was worrying for nothing. What impressed us most about Ngorongoro was the concentration of wildlife. There were plenty of gazelles, bulls, zebras, like people downtown Prague. We also saw a lake with gulls, beautiful flamingo birds and lazy hippos. We saw from only 4 meters away a big elephant. But what we enjoyed most was a lion family. It was around noon and the run was burning, so the lions were looking for shade. One of the cubs found a nice spot: under a tourist car. The second cub and the lioness followed him, so the driver of that jeep had big difficulties getting the car started again. Before the lions had time to move under our car, we drove away to the picnic area, for lunch. There was a lake with hippos and many birds in that area. The driver told us to eat in the car, as birds steal food. After we ate most of our lunch, Michal went out of the car with a muffin and one of the birds really managed to steal it from his hand, without him even expecting it! Then a big fight for the muffin started among those birds, until they eventually dropped it in the lake J. In the evening we’ve also seen some funny monkeys and more elephants. Around 7 pm we were back in Karatu, planning to leave next day to Lushoto.
On Sunday morning at 6 am we got on the bus to Lushoto. This town is situated in Usambara mountains, in the north-east of Tanzania. The way to Mombo took us some 6 hours; there we took a dala-dala to Lushoto. On the way we had the chance to buy corn from the locals who were selling all sorts of stuff in the bus station. They sell there fruits, muffins, potato chips, watches, sandals, t-shits, etc. One guy was even trying to sell a 10 kg piece of beef meet and I was wondering who is so dumb to buy raw meet in the bus station. But he found a client, of course, and he wrapped the meet in a newspaper and put it under his seat! That’s his business, I thought to myself. But what if he actually had a restaurant and was to sell that meet to tourists like us?
Anyway, around 2pm we arrived in Lushoto, an exotic town with lovely weather, situated in mountains with lush forests. There was no wonder that the German colonialists chose this spot as their summer resort. Due to the German presence in Lushoto, this small town has two nice churches, one Lutheran and one Catholic, some lovely mansions and a decent road infrastructure. Due to the fact that Lushoto is not very touristy, accommodation here is quite cheap and kids are very curious to see mzungus (this is how they call the white people). After having visited several tourist agencies, we arranged a guided hike for the following day to the rainforest. Our guide was Leo, a Tanzanian who spoke very good English (for a change). He told us the rainforest is not like the tropical ones, but it has abundant vegetation and there live the nice Colombus monkeys. About the snakes he told us only the next day, in the forest, when it was already too late to change our mind. During our one-day trip we climbed one of the tallest hills where Germans built an observation point. The view from the top was amazing! Then we continued to the rainforest. It was as if we were in a green cave, we could hardly see the sky above us through the leaves of the tall trees. At some point we felt the smell of cooked rice, which indicated the presence of a green poisoning snake somewhere close. This was very good news from our guide, but he said that if we don’t step on him, it is ok. Later we got into a place where we could see some Colombus monkeys playing in the tree. But they were shy, so we couldn’t approach them more. After leaving the rainforest we returned to Lushoto. Around 3 pm we arrived to our guesthouse, which was close to the stadium. We couldn’t rest there, because one hour later some priest started preaching on the stadium, he was using a very powerful sound system and was constantly singing and shouting “alleluia”. When he finished around 6pm, we were quite happy, but didn’t know that he was planning to repeat it the following days as well…
The next day we took a hike to Irente Viewpoint. This time we went without any guide, only with a hand-drawn map from Leo. On the way to Irente, I think all the kids of Lushoto came to greet us. At some point, we were surrounded by a pack of kids, who took us by hand and just continued walking with us. Some boys also brought their leaf-made ball and when we started playing a bit football with them, they enjoyed it so much! When we eventually reached the top of the hill, we gave them each a pen and then told them “bye bye”. We continued our way to Irente, but of course that we took the wrong path, we got lost and then had to ask several times how to get there. But we made it there eventually. After resting there for a few minutes, we went to Irente farm for lunch. This was a nice farm owned by some Swedish people. They make there good cheese and offer healthy lunch to interested tourists. This lunch was appreciated, as we had only fried food for the last few days. After that we returned to Lushoto, where the same priest began preaching exactly when we were hoping to get a good rest after a long hike. I forgot to mention that on the way back we stopped by the market and bought some mangos and avocados. In a couple of hours after eating them I got so sick that I threw up all night and we had to postpone our plan for the next day. Therefore, I stayed in bed all Wednesday and on Thursday morning we continued our trip to Dar es Salaam, on the Indian Ocean coast. There we had problems finding some non-spicy non-fried food, so in the end I had a sandwich. The following day in the morning we went to the port with the intention to get on the famous Zanzibar Island. Zanzibar is well-known for its exotic beaches, nice Old town and interesting history. It used to be a sultanate which blossomed due to the trade with slaves and spices. It used to be an independent island, but British colonialists managed to annex it to Tanzania. However, even today the island has some autonomy. Here are mainly Muslims, unlike the mainland, where are more Christians. The prices are 4-5 times higher than on mainland and tourists have always to pay through the nose. One way boat ticket is 10$ for the locals and 40 for tourists. As we didn’t wasn’t to pay this much, we decided to take the cargo boat, which was slower but cheaper. The trip was supposed to take 3 hours instead of one. In the end it took us 7 hours!! But at least we had 1st class tickets and had air-conditioning (it was terribly hot outside). We arrived in Zanzibar very late and had difficulties with finding a reasonable place to stay. But in the end we checked in at a hostel, then we went out to get some dinner. All restaurants were closed, so people directed us to the open-air market. There they were selling all sorts of fish, but all of it fried in some huge pots with oil, which was already black. When I saw how they cook that fish, in the end I only had some salad. I didn’t want to think if the tomatoes were washes at least…We ate on a bench, surrounded by numerous stray cats, hoping to get some of the leftovers. After dinner we returned to the hotel where I eventually had a hot shower!!
The following day we took a shared taxi to the renowned beaches on the western side of the island. We arrived there to a private & expensive beach, with nice bungalows and plenty of palm trees. It looked really nice. But this state of admiration didn’t last long, as we soon discovered that because of the tide, the ocean was some 400 meters away, the beach was full dirt and sharp corals and shells. It took Michal some 30 minutes to get to the water, then he discovered that the water was very shallow and he would have to walk another kilometer on the sharp corals to get into the water above his knees. In the end, he gave up, nervous and completely sun burnt. Therefore, we decided to return that same night to Dar es Salaam and go on one of the less famous northern beaches. Around lunch time we returned to the Stone Town on the eastern side if eth island, had lunch in a decent restaurant, visited the fortress and the museum. In the evening we went back to the port, bought 1st class tickets and boarded on a 3 rd class boat. It was absurd! Once a week they send the small cargo boat to Dar and it has only one big 3 rd class compartment. But as foreigners we had to buy first class tickets. Does any of you see the logic? We didn’t. So our trip to Dar es Salaam took all night and we traveled in a crowded boat, full of bags and hens and people sleeping on the floor. We arrived to Dar es Salaam around 5 pm, went to a coffee shop for breakfast, then we took a dala-dala heading north. Some 25 km away from the city was a private beach recommended in the Lonely Planet. We made it there around 9am. Unlike the Zanzibar beach, this one had fewer palm trees, but the water was beautiful, the weather lovely and we were happy. We spent the entire morning on the beach, together with another 10 tourists who later on turned out to be the crew of my plane to Zurich! In the afternoon we returned to Dar, I packed my stuff and Michal took me to the airport. He was to return to Nairobi by train and then get on a plane back to Prague five days later. The flight to Zurich was just fine, the stewards allowed me to get comfortable over 4 seats. So I slept all night, then changed the plane in Zurich. By 3 pm I was back in Prague, healthy and alive with many beautiful memories and a couple of films with photos from the amazing Africa!
So, here ends my story. Congratulations to those of you who managed to read it to this line. Let me know if you have any questions/ comments.