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In the travel log of our trek through Africa, I have only briefly mentioned some of our traveling mates. Part of the reason is they didn’t sign away their lives to me and the rights to their stories the way I assume my family has. But to be honest, the people we traveled with were really the heart of our journey. You don’t spend 28 days with people in a truckbus going from campsite to campsite without either growing to love them or hate them. In this case, it was love.
When we first started out on our trek, I was really concerned with the introverted nature of our group. While we all sat around staring at the campfire, I would ask, “Does any one have any good stories?” At one point someone told me I put everyone on the spot when I asked that question. For some reason, I was almost hyper about getting us to blend. I didn’t need to be.
But by the end, our group had settled into a comfortable rhythm. We easily enjoyed each other’s company and embraced the eccentricities of the personalities within our little circle.
There were eleven of us together for the whole 28 days. Including Nellu and I there were:
Bob and Christina – father and daughter from Canada (although Christina is currently living in Saudi Arabia working as a nurse. We got some great stories from her about life there.)
Kristine and Line (pronounced Leena not line) – two Danish ladies doing a bit of traveling before finishing up their studies
Claire – a British woman living in Australia working as a geologist in Perth
Janine, Andre, Chloe – the Stucki family. Janine is from France. Andre is from Switzerland. But they’ve been living in Australia for the past 40 years and their kids, Chloe and her brother, grew up there.
Caroline – our German architect who quit her job in November and decided to go to Africa. (She has a job waiting for her when she returns.)
I like to think of us as a tribe.
I found myself feeling fiercely protective of our group. At one campsite as I walked to the bathrooms, I overheard Raymond and Mazza talking to another overland group about how low-key we were. Most of our friends preferred to go to bed early rather than spend late nights drinking at the bar. (Every campsite had a bar.) One woman said, “They’re boring.”
“We are not boring,” I shouted back from the darkness. Even though Nellu and I would often go to the bar for beer and conversation, I was happy that our group wasn’t made up of hard-core partiers. I liked them just the way they were.
And even when we were in the Serengeti, when members from another group encroached on our campfire, I had to fight back the urge to kick out the outsiders. It’s weird how quickly my psyche tried to categorize “us versus them” even though our group had been randomly assembled by fate just a few weeks before.
I am actually surprised by the lack of pictures that I have of people! But over our trip through Africa, I tried to take a new piece of video footage every day, which will give you a better look at the awesome people we traveled with. I’ve started working on putting a package together but I need to devote some serious time to doing it justice. Please look for it soon after our return to the States in June.
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On this last day all together in Nairobi, we hung together not wanting to say good-bye. But as the hours and days progressed we would lose a couple of people at a time until it was just Nellu and I and the Stucki family.
We were really excited when the Stucki family decided to stay at the same place we did in Nairobi. (The hotel that our Gap tour uses was too expensive for our traveling budget.) They would be staying there for three nights as well, which meant we would have family there the entire time. We went to the airport together.
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While I’ve been writing about our trek through Africa, we’ve been in Europe and had the pleasure of visiting Caroline in Berlin and Line in Copenhagen and got the chance to chat with Kristine on the phone. It was such a joy to spend time with these ladies. There was an ease about their company that usually comes with friends you have known for a much longer time.
I guess once a tribe, always a tribe.
Today we take the ferry from Zanzibar back to the mainland Tanzania where we rejoin Raymond and the truckbus for the final stretch of our trip – the Serengeti and the Ngorogoro Crater.
We drive to an unremarkable campsite and crash for the night.
It will be a short drive to Arusha today. The plan is for us to overnight at a camp where we’ll get picked up by smaller four-wheel drive safari jeeps for the ride into the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti wildlife preserves.
On our way to our campsite we stop at cultural center – one that sells tanzanite. Tanzanite is a precious stone that is most often purple with reddish highlights but can sometimes be blue or even green.
We get a tutorial on tanzanite from the dealer at the shop, who shows off some of the most expensive stones he has on hand. Nellu and I have no business buying jewelry on this trip. But don’t worry tanzanite, I’ll be back – maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and I’ll have you for the rest of my life.
It’s safari time. We’ve packed a few belongings into smaller bags because we’ll be traveling for two nights once again without Raymond and our truckbus. I don’t know if you remember our discussion earlier about the two nights of “participation camping” – whatever that means. Well that little secret is revealed. Participation camping means that handlers at the campsite inside the wildlife preserves will set up our tents and we won’t be responsible for helping with the cooking or the cleaning – a small luxury.
Three jeeps arrive to take us on our trip and our group splits up. Nellu and I join our Canadian friends Bob and Christina (North Americans sticking together!) as well as the South African/Australian couple Brett and Angie, who came on board our trek in Zanzibar. The vehicles look exactly like what you’d want your safari jeep to look like, complete with pop-up roof for viewing.
Our driver and guide introduced himself. “I’m Emmanuel.” he said. “Emmanuel, like Jesus Christ.” He probably shouldn’t have said the last part because for the remainder of our days with him, we neglected to call him Emmanuel and just went with “Jesus.” We had way too much fun with him, shouting out “Jesus Christ” or “Thank you, Jesus” whenever we thought it was appropriate.
From our camp we drove first to the Ngorongoro Crater, where we stopped to take pictures at the crater’s edge.
We’ll get an chance to go into the crater when we return. We also stop at a “traditional” Maasai village. It’s actually not their real village but one that they’ve set up so that safari tourists can see what traditional Maasai life is like.
Mazza tells us to keep and open mind during our visit. We’ve come to realize that this is what she says when she knows that people are going to try to shake us down for money or pressure us to buy something. Which is what happens. Nellu gets pretty close to buying a spear from one of the Maasai but backs off when the reality of taking a spear on multiple airplanes sets in. But the guy kept following Nellu around calling him “a good business man.”
After the tour, we continue to the gates of the Serengeti.
As we approach, the scenery begins to change. Much of the green vegetation goes away and the wide open plain begins to appear. These next few days will be the most remarkable of our trip.
Our group hadn’t seen a big cat in our whole trip through Africa but there on the first day we saw a lion in the shade of a tree on a distant rock.
These next two days were all about the animals so I am going to let Nellu’s pictures do the talking. You can see more of his pictures by clicking here. The highlights on Day 26 – a cheetah, prides of lions, and the great migration.
Oh and on our way back to camp that night, we get a fresh sprinkling of what they call African powder – dust from the road heaved into the air by passing jeeps. We try to close the windows for a moment while the jeeps and their dust clouds roar by but Nellu still comes back with an interesting effect. We think he looks like Moses.
Today we descend down into the Ngorongoro Crater. The name is one of those spectacular words derived from a sound. They say “ngong, ngong” is the way the cow bells of the Maasai herds sound, hence the name.
Here not only do we see another cheetah and a rare black rhino, but we get to see lions in the honeymoon period where they mate several times an hour for days while being guarded by another male lion.
Oh and a lion came over and sat in the shadow of our friends’ jeep. The video is by Claire Walton. Our jeep missed it but it was just too amazing not to show.
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We return to our campsite in Arusha. While we are gone, Raymond has been tasked with the grocery shopping for our last dinner together. He picks up meat for a traditional South African barbecue, a braai.
We arrive back to camp in the early afternoon and spend much of the remainder of the day hanging out in tables outside the bar. A portion of the proceeds from the bar at the Snake Camp go to supporting the Camp’s charitable efforts, so we feel doubly good drinking a little for us and a little for charity.
While we drink a local kid shows up, joins the group, coming in with Nellu, and begins laughing loudly at the jokes. Raymond is disturbed by his presence and asks him what he wants. It’s clear that he came in to bum a smoke or even ask for money. He leaves.
But the situation gets me thinking again about compassion. I spoke a few weeks ago about the tension I felt in Africa because of the clear contrast between the visitors who have so much and the locals who lead far simpler lives. Raymond must be exasperated by the constant harassment he has to deal with for the job. It makes me wonder about my level of compassion (or is it empathy?). Too often I feel myself getting ruffled by encounters like these when I should give people a little more room. I’ve watched other friends on this trek engage people who bombard them for a sale, talking and laughing with the vendors when I would have simply brushed them off. Even Nellu seems to have gotten to a better place since India. When did I become so closed off?
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That night during our braai, Mazza and Raymond make an impassioned speech, asking us to tell others about the danger faced by the rhino populations of Africa, which are being poached at an alarming rate because their horns are supposedly important to eastern medicine. 203 rhinos have been found poached so far this year. (Their horns are cut off and they are left to die.) The issue has recently gotten some publicity in National Geographic and other publications. You can read more here.
Just a little more to come…
One of the reoccurring discussions between some of the ladies on our trek is exactly when and where we’ll be staying in certain types of lodging. Our trip itinerary told us that we would have five nights in hotels, 21 days participation camping and 2 nights of full-service camping. We thought we’d have the full-service camping (whatever that means) in Livingstone. But nope – we lived in the same kind of tents we had for the week and half before. One thing that is for sure, in Zanzibar we’re told we’d have four nights in bungalows (or 4 hotels) and the word bungalows rolls off our tongues like ice cream sundaes dripping in chocolate sauce. “Bungalows with ensuite bathrooms,” we say. I think I am more excited about this than actually seeing Zanzibar.
We take the ferry from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar, an island off the coast of Tanzania. Two new people will join our group of 14 travelers and Mazza (Raymond stays behind in Dar Es Salaam with the truck) when we arrive.
Our accommodations aren’t exactly bungalows but when Nellu and I are given a double bed with clean sheets and a big ensuite bathroom, there’s no complaining from us.
There are many activities we can do on the island of Zanzibar but most of us decide just to spend our first day in Stone Town, the old part of Zanzibar City designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its reflection of Swahili culture – a unique mix of African, Arab, Indian and European traditions.
For dinner we head down to the Stone Town night market. Just a note to future travelers: beware the night market. We’ve attended many night markets in our past travels often finding fresh and delicious local fare at local prices. The Zanzibar market offers anything but. The only fresh meat is the tourists arriving for dinner to a park full of men ready to hustle in the foreigners and over charge them. In these cases, it’s always unclear who works for who and how much things really cost. And even when you think you know, it changes. We’ve been traveling so long, we should know better than to put ourselves in that kind of situation.
Nellu and I left in a huff after making an embarrassing scene and got a more reasonably priced dinner at the full service restaurant less than a block away from our hotel.
Today we’ll be leaving our hotel in Stone Town and heading up to a beach up north for two nights but first we go on a spice tour. With its diverse spice and fruit plantations, Zanzibar became a center for spice trade in the 1800s (and also unfortunately, East Africa’s main slave trading port.)
We take a few hours for a guided tour of the spice plantation and then drive to the beach.
Our accommodations here are much more like bungalows.
Our room has a big bed, with nice linens and a mosquito net hanging like a canopy. Mosquito nets are very important in this part of the world where malaria is active threat and therefore very important to me. You see, unlike everyone else in our group, Nellu and I are not taking anti-malaria pills. We met so many people who took them in South America and had a bad reaction to them – everything from weird hyper-negative dreams to hangover-like symptoms. Our extended travel also means that we’re visiting many parts of the world with different strains of malaria. Different strains of malaria can be resistant to different drugs, meaning that we would possibly have to invest in several different types of malaria pills, all which need to be taken for a prolonged period of time.
So instead of pills, we chose to focus on bite prevention. This means that from before dusk till after dawn, we keep ourselves covered with clothes and copious amounts of DEET.
That night we thought we saw a mosquito fly inside the mosquito net as we were getting in. We casually looked for it and couldn’t find it so we went to bed thinking it either got out or was just an apparition. I was certainly getting paranoid enough to think I saw things.
I woke up in the wee hours of the morning to two dreadful problems: 1) the power and therefore the fan had gone off and 2) that horrible sound of a mosquito doing a dive bomb past my ear. ArGH!
“Nellu, there’s a mosquito in our net,” I whispered loudly “Do you want some more DEET.”
“No,” I heard him say gruffly.
I pondered for a minute whether or not I should try to get out of bed in the pitch black darkness to find the mosquito repellent. I would certainly expose myself to more mosquitos if I left the comfort of our net. But if I didn’t, I would surely get bit by the one flying around inside the net. Oh where’s my headlamp when I need it.
I finally convinced myself to get out of bed to find the repellent. I found the shelf where we had left it without making too much noise and jumped back into bed in a similar fashion to the way I did when I still believed there were monsters living underneath it. After reapplying the cream to every piece of exposed flesh, I also convinced myself that it would be best to sleep underneath the sheet despite the heat. Oh, do I hate these little bugs.
I woke up the next morning with a sizable bite on my thigh. Of course, Nellu didn’t reapply any DEET but I got bitten. And the culprit, she had passed out on the mosquito net. She was so drunk off my blood that she didn’t even flinch Nellu came in to smash her – leaving a blood stain on the net.
Neither of us came down with any symptoms of malaria during our trip. But if I had to do it again, I would certainly take malaria pills for the camping-outside-for-a-month-in-Africa portion of our adventure.
We still joke from time to time, wondering if we’re malaria free. Apparently malaria can lie dormant for months (and in some cases, for years). Nellu told me we can get tested when we go home, but he’ll need him to explain that one to our doctor who surely thinks I am a hypochondriac (He’s still nice enough to patiently walk me through the more reasonable causes of my various illnesses).
The day took a turn for the better when most of the ladies on our trek kicked off a spa day with a basic beach yoga session (taught by yours truly) and followed up our morning sun tan session with at home spa treatments in Caroline, Line and Kristine’s air-conditioned bungalow.
We headed back into Stone Town for one last night.
Nellu and I hadn’t done much exploring on our first time through, spending most of the day finding food and catching up on some much needed internet time to set up our accommodations in Nairobi. So we did some real sight-seeing and browsing today. I’d like to call it browsing rather than shopping because Nellu and I really shouldn’t be buying. We have no room to carry anything else in our bags and no money to spend on things that we don’t absolutely need. There’s nothing like spending months on the road to drive a wedge between you and your inner consumer. So we browse.
There was one store close to our old hotel that had a good variety of items at reasonable set prices (aka no aggressive haggling). The ladies of Zanzibar have beautiful colored wraps that they use for both dress and head coverings. I decide to buy one to use in decorating the home we don’t have. I find a navy blue, white and yellow pattern. But while I am searching through the stacks of wraps, Nellu was doing a little browsing of his own – furniture browsing. (He tells me now that he was technically “mask browsing”).
He approaches me and says, “Hey, there’s this side table that I want you to see.” The side table in question is adorable. It’s in the shape of an elephant and not too big. But the idea of buying furniture on an island off the coast of Africa strikes me as crazy, especially when we still have four more months of travel to go. But its relatively cheap price gets me thinking that we actually could go for it. It really is cute and we’ve only bought one other item in Laos for our future lives.
We decide to assess shipping costs before making a decision. To ship from Zanzibar to the U.S will cost us about $90, which is too much especially since we could not guarantee it would ever get there.
But there is another way. When we set up our round-the-world airline ticket with oneworld, we found we couldn’t get from Nairobi to Dubai without first flying through London. When we heard our friend Eric would be visiting another friend in there in February, we extended our layover for a few days so we could see him. If we could get the table to London, Eric might be able to bring it back to the States for us.
We rush over to the internet cafe across the street:To Eric: Hello there – Nellu and I fell in love with this little elephant coffee table that’s only $55 in Zanzibar. It looks like we’d be able to get it to London on our baggage allowance. We’re flying British Airlines which allows 2 bags checked up to 23kg each. We’d get this table packaged for about 9kg-10kg. Any chance you might be able to take it home on your baggage allowance. We haven’t bought it yet :) We may also try to get it to London and see if it would be cheaper to ship it home from there. What do you think?
Despite the time difference, we got a prompt response from Eric:Sure, I’d be happy to help out. I’m only bringing one suitcase so will, I’m sure have extra allowance. Can’t wait to see you! Xx, E
Yay! It’s so nice to have friends so supportive of your impulsive purchases. We run back across the street and buy the table.
Before we return to our hotel, we settled on a name for the newest member of the home we don’t have – Mini Mazza. (Nellu and I have a thing for naming inanimate objects and plants.) We’re hoping that Mazza sees this as a our affectionate tribute to her and not, “Why did these people name and elephant table after me?”
More to come…