Under African Skies

Under African Skies

From the Serengeti to Zanzibar 5-24 June, 2012

This trip is not so much a holiday as an experience. There are so many aspects to it that to cover it in detail I would have to write a book. However, here is what I hope is the flavour of an unforgettable journey, the highlights and the lowlights.

If you don’t like early morning starts to your day, accommodation which can be very basic, living out of a suitcase, mosquitoes, and long tiring days then don’t even contemplate this trip.

If, on the other hand you have a sense of adventure and a pioneering spirit, if you don’t mind long road journeys on dry, dusty roads, if you want to see big animals so close you can almost touch them, if you want to experience true African village life and meet very friendly local people under big, big African skies, then you will love this. Oh, and the walking is great too.

 

It’s a hard life!

After our arrival at Kilimanjaro Airport and an overnight stop in a hotel at Moshi, the first part of our trip really began in the Usambara mountains, a lush green forested area five hours away by road.

Our two days of walks from here took us to the Irente View Point and the Kivuga Peak. Before we started our first walk we wandered around the unusual, colourful indoor market in Lushoto, the first of many markets we would see.

Both walks were superb as we soaked up the scenery of almost tropical vegetation, colourful birds and flowers, and monkeys high up in the trees. We passed through villages reminiscent of Stone Age settlements and were greeted with waves and smiles by the villagers as we walked along narrow paths in their maize fields.

The views from the points were spectacular; the African plain spread before and below us was vast.

 

Camera shy zebra

There was an orphanage near the hotel at Moshi which consisted of a small walled courtyard bordered on two sides with dormitories, one for boys, one for girls. A small slide and few toys rested in the courtyard alongside a clean water tank, of which the staff were justifiably proud, newly installed to make life just a bit easier.

There were twenty children, mostly orphaned by Malaria or HIV, and the place was set up and is run by a retired American doctor.

The children smiled and sang and waved to us as we left and the whole experience was very humbling. At the end of the trip we had a collection for the orphanage, a wonderful worthwhile cause to which we all wanted to contribute.

Our next two-night stop in Karatu meant driving through the Tarangire National Park en route. Here we had our first game drive. We saw elephants, impala, giraffes, warthogs, meerkats, monkeys, and many different birds.

On the move again for our one night stopover at a tented camp in the Serengeti. On the way we went to an archaeological site, the Oldupai Gorge, and took a short walk down the gorge to the place where fossils of footprints and a skull of the first humans were discovered by Mary Leakey in 1959. It was very hot in the gorge but it was an awesome feeling to stand in the very place where early man also stood.

An early game drive the next day reaped rewards as we spotted a leopard in a tree and lions basking on rocks, as well as thousands and thousands of zebra and wildebeest, all preparing for their long migration North to the Masai Mara.

Another day saw a full day’s walk with a guide and a ranger with a gun – we were still in wild animal country and had to be careful. Elephants crossed the road in front of us but we could not approach as they are very dangerous.

Eventually we arrived at an old German fort, now disused and falling into decay. From here we descended a field of long grass finding our own path as we went, then onto the road again, into more long grass to find ourselves almost back where we started, at a visitors centre on the main highway.

The Ngorongoro crater was on the agenda for the next day as we headed back to Karatu for two nights. On our way to the crater we saw a pride of lions, six in all, who had spotted prey in the distance, three wildebeest separated from the herd.

 

Don’t mess with me!

We watched as each lioness took up position to surround the animals; each one knew exactly what to do as if by telepathy. On this occasion the beasts got away but to see the hunting skills was amazing.

Our journey continued and once in the crater, where the temperature was just above freezing, we saw everything including black and white rhino, lions, zebra, and elephants.

Another walk went from Karatu to the elephant caves. This is a place where, for as long as anyone can remember, elephants stop on their migration route. The caves are rich in calcium and other minerals which elephants require in order to keep them healthy.

The caves, in reality, were huge holes in the rocks where we could see tusk marks where the animals have scraped away the rock to release the nutrients.

After lunch in a local bar, we walked to a Masai house where we had an explanation about the design and uses of old style Masai houses. We had a lesson in making local beer and were shown beautiful bridal skirts, richly embroidered by the ladies of the village, with iconic symbols.

After flying to Zanzibar, we were taken on a guided tour of the town. We went into the dungeon-like building where slaves were held until they were sold, and saw the place where they were tied up for prospective buyers to view, now part of the church built on that spot.

 

Ahh! A relaxing beach in Zanzibar

We saw wonderfully carved ancient doors for which Zanzibar is famous, and went through the enclosed meat and fish market, through narrow twisty streets and into the museum.

 

After a fascinating morning tour of a spice plantation the next day, where we saw nutmegs, turmeric, an iodine tree, ginger root, allspice, vanilla and many other medicinal and cooking spices, plus fruits of all kinds, we had lunch, sat on the floor in an open walled hut.

In the afternoon we arrived at our beach hotel, Kichanga Lodge.

Relaxing, swimming, sunbathing, everything you need for a couple of days rest. For the energetic there were walks along the beach or walks to local villages, all within easy reach. This really was paradise.

As with all good things, the holiday had to end sometime and we headed for the airport and cool, wet London.