tortuous roads to Nairobi and finally boarded the Acacia truck that would be our home for the next 6 weeks. As we began to get used to truck life, we headed towards Tanzania where our safari experience was to continue in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro. Tanzania immediately felt distinctly different. The scenery became more spectacular and varied, and although the rural settlements were still visibly poor, it didn’t seem to be on quite the same scale as Kenya.
To cross borders in Africa, we had to get out of the truck and go into immigration offices to have our passports ‘stamped out’. Then we walked across a weird no-man’s-land into the entry country and be ‘stamped in’ (and sometimes pay a visa fee). This process usually involved lengthy waiting around in queues, unexplained delays and being hassled by dodgy-looking locals claiming to be currency exchange dealers. The Malawian border made the others look civilised though. A local man accosted one of the guys in our group, explained he was seeking a wife, offered his fleet of tractors in exchange for one of us girls and started choosing his ‘favourite’!
We were all looking forward to round two of game viewing, and were excited to leave the truck in Arusha and set off again in small groups to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro. The former is a region that encompasses many national parks and game reserves, and the latter is a Conservation Area which features a 100 sq mile crater formed millions of years ago when a volcano collapsed. I found the Ngorongoro Crater a magical place, with its amazing diversity of terrains including forests, canyons, grassland plains, lakes and marshes.
But it was our arrival into the Serengeti that became one of my most memorable moments in Africa. We drove deep into the plains at sunset and came across a misty lake with the low
sun reflecting in the water. On closer inspection, we realised that it was full of hippos
wallowing in the water and lazing on the banks. It was an almost mystical scene as we took in the vastness of the area, the beauty of the sunset and the eerie silence punctuated by hippos splooshing as they submerged.
Overall, this trip was a different and more raw experience than the Mara. The regions are less touristy, although the reserves themselves are more regulated. Drivers had to stick to the wide tracks, meaning that wildlife was often a great distance away. Powerful zoom lenses and binoculars were certainly the order of the day. Wildlife seemed more abundant in the Mara, however we did see more lions in the Serengeti and overall I preferred the wild, expansive and more natural feel to the Tanzanian reserves.
Our camps in the Mara had not been fenced but they had been guarded by rangers, whereas here we were at the mercy of East Africa’s wildlife – and it was making its presence felt! When we first arrived at our campsite, we found some unexpected visitors in the shape of two large elephants.
They had evidently got hold of some foam mattresses (not belonging to our group thankfully) and were tossing them over their backs. It was an intimidating sight and we left on our evening game drive hoping they would disappear before we got back. During the night it was best not to think too carefully about what might be happening outside! When we awoke, we found a herd of zebra making their way through site and all stood still patiently until they were gone.
The trip was also more ‘natural’ from a sanitation point of view. We had been warned that there would only be longdrop toilets and no showers for 3 days (unless you wanted to pour a bucket of cold water over yourself) but hadn’t grasped quite how filthy and cold we would get. In fact, my feet and clothes haven’t been quite the same since. At night, all food and (bizarrely) toothpaste had to be locked away in the vans because they attract animals like bushpigs (which we did hear snuffling about during the night). Panic and giggles broke out in my tent as Gayle and I found a rogue packet of peanuts when we were getting ready for bed! I had to make a quick run to the vans to dispose of the potential bait. Overall though, roughing it in the Serengeti was an incredible experience – and also helped the group bond in our mutual struggle for sleep, sanitation and sanity!