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Week 18: Tanzania: From Lake Victoria to the East Coast

Hallo Indian Ocean 😊 After yet another week filled with almost too many amazing experiences and memories, we’ve reached the eastern coast of Tanzania. When we passed Arusha a couple of days ago, we finally made the difficult call that we are going to slowly start turning home bound, and not go further north. This decision was due to a myriad of reasons, including us missing home, crazy rains ruling out the Lake Turkana route north, conflicting reports about the state of driving through Ethiopia (we prefer not to be thrown with rocks / goats / etc whilst driving in a country not covered by our insurance), and potential opportunities awaiting us back home…We’ll leave Ethiopia and Sudan for a future Leg2 of our journey, and Egypt as a future Leg3…So for now, let’s continue to drink in the fresh ocean breeze and look at the what happened during the last 7 days (and I apologise in advance for the length of this blog)! Our travel stats so far: • Total days travelled through Africa: 121 • Total distance travelled from Cape Town through Africa: 17,377km o Our thirsty Aardvark has consumed just over 3,000l of petrol so far, for a still very healthy 5.7km/l consumption rate. • Total borders crossed: 10 And then the Aardvark stats for Week 18: • Best drink: A bottle of Lieben Pinot Noir that we brought with from South Africa (the 2nd last one in our secret stash)…slowly drinking it ice-cold in front of a roaring fire, in our campsite overlooking Lake Manyara…celebrating life and the beauty of Africa! • Best food: Pan-seared fillet steaks fresh from the farm, served with a potato and zucchini rosti, and a mushroom, red wine and yogurt jus – can you tell that Irene is back in her cooking element 😊 And we filled Aardvark with incredible farm fresh ingredients both at the Simba Farm (foot of Mt. Kili) as well as the Irente Farm (nestled in the Usambara mountains) – meat, fruit, veggies, cheese, marmalade, yogurt…all locally sourced and home-made…njamnjamnjam! • Best view: A tough call again, especially camping on the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro vs watching sunset over the Serengeti / Lake Manyara / Mt. Meru / Usambara mountains vs running into the Indian Ocean for the 1st time vs early morning lazy lion watching…but the winner is the view over the Ngorogoro Crater – what an incredibly special place! We started day 115 with breakfast overlooking Lake Victoria, with the “waves” lapping at our feet at the Nyatwali Beach Camp. We were well aware of the rules of the 24hour Serengeti permits, and didn’t want to enter the park before 10am – this would ensure that we had no rush to either exit the Serengeti the next day, nor exit the Ngorogoro Conservation Area (NCA) the day thereafter. So after paying the hefty park fees (Aardvark’s registration papers unfortunately placed his TAR weight at 2,066kg, which meant we had to pay the higher $150 p/d foreign vehicle fee rather than the lower $40 for slightly lighter vehicles…crazy what the extra 66kg apparently do to the state of the roads, or is this rather a case of the money making focus of the entrance fees which certainly doesn’t go towards upkeep of the roads?!), we started our 3h30 drive from the western entrance gate at Ndabaka towards Seronera, kind of in the middle of the park. I had these lofty ideas of herds of animals as far as the eye can see, and was in for a fairly rude awakening…even though we saw a couple of big herds of wildebeest, zebras, and some elephants and giraffes, the massive herds were (not yet) around. So we decided to rather focus on the scenery itself – and that subtle change made all the difference! All of the sudden we were mesmerized by the rolling fields with grass reaching above Aardvark’s bonnet…with a sneaky thunderstorm playing out over the savannas…with openness and vastness as far as the eye could see (as an indication, the Serengeti covers an area of 14,750km2). Due to the rains, the grass was so high and vegetation so thick, that we for example watched an elephant family (with over 50 elephants) wandering past Aardvark across the road, only to completely disappear out of sight 3minutes later…if you weren’t lucky enough to spot the myriad of animals close to / on the road, it was almost an impossible task to see them! After a quick stop to check out our campsite (we camped at Pimbi, one of the public campsites), we went on a slow drive along the river circuit to try and spot the resident leopards…but to no avail! However, on our way back we saw a mama lioness close to the road, patiently watching a couple of antelope (maybe for dinner)…a beautiful sight, but taking into account that this was less than a kilometer away from our unfenced camping spot, also a little nerve-wracking! That night we made a big fire next to Aardvark whilst watching the sunset over the plains – and luckily the only animal that came to visit (that we are aware of anyway) was the spotted hyena that strolled without a care in the world past Irene, and then through the rest of the camp…kind of just to say that this was his campsite, and making us all aware of it 😊 The next morning we were up at the crack of dawn, and with coffee in our Stanley cups we were ready for some serious game driving! And eventually the early morning drive paid off, when we came upon a pride of 5 lionesses all lounging away in the early morning sun…it was obvious that their tummies were so full, they couldn’t keep their eyes open anymore…luckily they afforded us a couple of beautiful photograph opportunities in between the yawning and the falling-over-fast-asleep moments! After our successful “lion-finding” moments, we exited the Serengeti and simultaneously entered the Ngorogoro crater area…and immediately after we were treated to the massive migrating “super-herds” of wildebeest, zebras and grant’s gazelle’s (looking pretty much like a cross between a springbok and a rooibok). The migrating herds are constantly on the move in an almost clock-wise fashion, and were slowly making their way down to the south eastern corner of the NCA close to lake Ndutu, where the wildebeest typically gave birth during February, before the great migration towards the north starts again. So we were essentially catching all the pregnant ladies on their way to the maternity ward 😊 And the masses of animals that I was expecting earlier on, all made their appearances…wildebeest as far as the eye could see, fat zebras frolicking around with loads of babies everywhere, and the odd hyena unsuccessfully trying it’s stalking luck! It was such an amazing privilege to be in the midst of the herds, slowly driving through and following them their route to the lake…and to realize that this annual, constant migration has been happening for thousands and thousands (or is that millions?) of years… Afterwards we took on the notorious road towards the Ngorogoro crater – and yes, it is every bit as bad as per the reports! Initially we thought that the negative comments about the road (being shock absorber eaters, killing tyres, ruining windscreens, etc) were a bit overly dramatic…but unfortunately all the critics were correct – the road was the most horrific one that we had to navigate throughout our 17,3000km journey so far, which is an absolute disgrace considering the park fees! We passed at least 5 4x4’s at various states of repairs (ranging from broken leaf springs to ruptured fuel lines), and were ourselves the unfortunate recipients of a stone cracking Aardvark’s windscreen (coming from a speeding local guide passing us) and a slow puncture…and we felt lucky that those were the only “injuries” that Aardvark sustained!! Some of the local guides are driving across the highly corrugated roads like absolute maniacs, and we had to pull over a couple of times to avoid a crash…suffice to say that when we eventually ended up on the Ngorogoro crater rim, we were more than ready for the ice-cold beer 😊 But again, Africa has a way of countering every difficult moment with a truly spectacular one, and the crater view was no exception…looking down into the crater, watching the clouds packing tighter and tighter together, to the point of the just watching the veil of rain slowly coming across the crater floor towards us…it is difficult to describe the beauty in words… That evening we camped in the Simba A public campsite, and managed to find a spot away from the crowd on the edge of the campsite, overlooking the crater, feeling justifiable on top of the world…and to top it off, a bit later, with a glass of red wine in hand, sitting next to our fire watching the stars, our neighbors called us over in a whisper: “Look – buffaloes!”. And a whole herd of (apparently resident?) buffaloes were calmly grazing away on the short green grass behind us…nothing like a bit of cheap fertilizer for the local groundsman 😊 Only in Africa! After a lazy breakfast overlooking the crater, we slowly made our way out of the national park…only to be surprised by a big lion casually strolling across the road on our way to the exit gate!! Again, if we didn’t see him crossing the road, we would’ve not been aware of his existence in the thick bushes surrounding us at all! After a couple of last photos at the viewpoint, we just made it within our 24hour limit through the gate, and were so elated by the sights of the past couple of days that we didn’t spot the traffic police in time ☹ The Tanzanian traffic police (dressed immaculately in white?!) are everywhere with their handheld speedcameras, and after showing us the proof that Aardvark was doing 57km in a 50km zone (yes they were sitting right underneath the sign showing the end of the slow zone, but that obviously didn’t make a difference to anyone), we had to pay the obligatory TSH30,000 (about R180) fine, and were off again on our short drive to Migobani Campsite, situated on a ridge just outside of the Lake Manyara NP with incredible views to the horison. This was one of our absolute favourite campsites on the entire trip – an infinity pool overlooking Lake Manyara, soft green grass to camp on, spotless ablution blocks and washing up areas, and a great bar with fast wifi…all the small things in the world! That evening we had some Kenyan sticky lamb-ribs on the fire, and whilst sipping on our Pinot Noir, we couldn’t help but feel just so incredibly blessed! Day 118 saw us heading to Arusha to try and fix Aardvark’s windscreen, but unfortunately there aren’t too many open places on a late Saturday morning! So we resigned ourselves to rather fix the windscreen at a proper place in Dar Es Salaam, and just live with the crack for the interim period. As mentioned already, at Arusha we also had to make the difficult decision of either heading back north to Kenya, or to continue east to the coast and slowly start to make our way back south. We luckily had a couple of days to talk the decision through already, and at the end, after restocking at Shoppers supermarket, we headed out towards Mt Kilimanjaro. Mountains are my happy place (followed closely by the oceans), and being able to camp at Simba Farm, literally at the foot of Mt Kili with Mt Meru in the distance, made my heart sing with joy! I’ve summited Kili way back in 2004, and just being at its feet brough back so many happy mountaineering memories, not just of Kili but also of Mt Kenya, the Rewenzoris, Himalayas, Als, etc… It was a massive shift from the plains of the Serengeti to the rainy foothills, but again with its own magic that we’ve encountered on our hikes towards small waterfalls, sunset lookout points on the farm, and just general peace all around… After the Kili foothills, we ventured further east to the Usambara mountains – an often overlooked area where one can get lost in the middle of the beauty! After a small windy road via Lushoto, we ended up at the Irente Farm Lodge & Campsite…again an absolute stunner! It’s an old coffee farm that has been transformed into a Biodiversity Reserve housing a School for the Blind, a Children’s Home, Rainbow School and Church on its vast property. They also sell incredible fresh produce (we stocked up on things like home-made yogurt, cheese and jams), and we had a lovely cheese platter after our hike through the forest to one of the numerous waterfalls in the area. The rain clouds gathering in the skies convinced us to only stay for one night, and in the afternoon of the 121st day we eventually set off to the east coast…dipping our toes into the warm water of the Indian Ocean for the first time on this trip! I’m writing this week’s blog from the Peponi Beach Resort & Campsite, sitting next to Aardvark, almost on the beach in the slightest ocean breeze. The air has a salty taste to it, our beer is ice-cold, and the world just feels right 😊 Oh and if you want to figure out where all these places are, follow our journey on Polarsteps at: https://www.polarsteps.com/TheAardvarkJourney/2532270-cape-to-cairo-2019-2020 Till next week! j

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