Wheel alignment

Friday 29 September 2017

Under African Skies, pt9

Our airline connections called for a road trip back to Arusha and a night at a hotel, a flight to Dar es Salaam and a night there, then a flight to Doha and another to Auckland.  Somewhere in the region of 18,000 km all up which is about as long as it gets to anywhere!

Like all the road trips so far, there was plenty of activity to keep the interest up.  One stop to mark territory, grab refreshment and buy some gifts was at a small but classy shopping complex on the roadside.

Cool stuff in here

There was a mix of reasonably-priced goods, plus some spectacular high end items.  Jennie bought a few bits and pieces, including a nice bracelet with silver fittings and a piece of Tanzanite set in it, similar in colour to a sapphire.  My eyes were firmly set on some magnificent stylised wooden animal figurines over 2 metres high which were apparently carved by a local tribe renowned for their work.  Unsurprisingly, they were deservedly expensive and besides, how would I carry them?  Here they are:

Sensational workmanship

The room where these masterpieces were located was beautifully laid out with other superb examples of the carver's art:

All way out of my league!

Not only were there animal carvings, but African masks, spears and so on.  However, it was the item in the next photograph which I would have cheerfully taken home and exhibited in our lounge.  Not at all what you'd expect to find in a place like this!

Isn't this just superb?
Contemporary African art

Back on the road again, it was time to shoot more photos of everyday life in Tanzania.

Downtown superette

Tuk-tuks are really popular as taxis in some places

These 3 wheeled bikes are popular general purpose carriers too

Local women selling green bananas

Maasai herdsman moving stock - a common sight

Coming into the city of Arusha, the women all wore brightly coloured clothing which really added something to the vibe of the place.  I noticed the woman below walking up the road and she walked with such grace and elegance that I just had to take a photo.

Grace and elegance

After a night of chilling and saying goodbye to our friends who were all in the process of working their way back to Australia by various routes, Jennie and I left for nearby Arusha airport.  Our driver was a delightful young man called Alex Kenga who had worked as a computer engineer in various parts of the world.  He had returned to Arusha with his wife to start a family and was in partnership with his brother running a tour company with the great name of Mama Savana!  Again, we were so impressed with the positive, "go get 'em" attitude of the young people we met and really enjoyed their company.  I guess that in an environment where social support is minimal, there's no room for snowflakes with a well-developed air of entitlement.

I must say that we had some severe reservations on the approach to Arusha "airport".  All we could see was a collection of tin sheds and thought that Aeroflot could well be regarded the world's best airline by comparison, especially after the drama with Kenya Air.  However, whilst the facilities were a bit limited, the ground crew were on their game and the aircraft belonging to Precision Air were perfectly modern.

The airport (a loose description) consisted of a main runway and a parallel taxiway.  This taxiway doubled as a loading area, a spot for giving aircraft a wash and lord knows what else.  Whilst waiting for our flight, we thoroughly enjoyed all the activity and watching taxiing aircraft weaving in and out of other stationary aircraft and people wandering about.  Perfectly safe I suppose but it's simply something you don't see in the west - all part of the fun of being somewhere else!

Aircraft and people everywhere

Our plane (green and orange tail) taxiing in

It would seem that in this part of Africa, planes are more like buses.  Our flight left Arusha, landed on the holiday island of Zanzibar first and was only on the ground for a few minutes - we didn't even have to get off the plane.  When it departed for Dar es Salaam, there were only a handful of us left on it.

Dar es Salaam is Tanzania's most populous city at around 4.5 million (over some 1600 sq km!) and temperatures were in the mid 30's C when we arrived and humid as heck. Africans are crazy about soccer and with a big game due to start downtown in a couple of hours, the traffic was absolutely nuts. Adding to the chaos were people wandering between the vehicles, trying to sell fresh fruit, newspapers, toys and anything in between - great people-watching!

Our hotel down on the harbour was seriously impressive.  Our room was the biggest we've ever stayed in and beautifully appointed - you could have held a conference in it!  It also had a large private deck outside with great views of the harbour.

Big, or what???

A big deck outside too!

Views from the deck aren't too shabby

We're tired and a bit disoriented after being constantly on the move so decide to stay in the hotel, eat well and get some decent shuteye in readiness for the long trip home tomorrow.  As mentioned earlier, we'll be covering a total of around 18,000 km...... starting with a 3 hour wait at Dar airport, 6 hours to Doha, a 4 hour wait, then 17 hours non-stop to Auckland finishing with a 2.5 hour drive home.  A real test of stamina and sanity for anyone.

The trip went smoothly although with the waiting around and time zone changes, sleep didn't come quite as easily as the outbound trip.  The lovely Qatar flight attendants knew that the trip was to celebrate our 45th wedding anniversary and about an hour out of Auckland, they all came out of the galley and presented us with a cake with Happy Anniversary written on the plate in raspberry coulis and took selfies.  What a lovely touch to end what was undoubtedly the best holiday in a series of truly great holidays we've had over the years.

Qatar, Kenya and Tanzania are truly magnificent destinations for their wildlife and breathtaking scenery but as always, the holiday was made complete by the wonderful people we met.  In what seems like increasingly troubled times throughout the world, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that most of the planet's population are great people, trying to get by and caring about their fellow man.

Goodbye Africa, asante sana na mungu akubariki

Thursday 28 September 2017

Under African Skies, pt 8

Driving from the Serengeti was a long, dusty haul through barren country.  However, it was the dry season and was probably transformed when the rains came.  The local Maasai herdsmen had to walk long distances for water and feed for their cattle was in short supply at this time of the year.

Dust, dust and more dust

Maasai stockade in the foreground
With tenting behind us, we headed for our accommodation not far from the park gates.  Talk about unsurpassed luxury!  Owned by a local Tanzanian with farming and tourism interests, it was absolutely magnificent with all mod cons.  It was a great opportunity to do some washing as we were travelling fairly light and clean clothes were at a premium!  As with everywhere else we'd stayed, the food and hospitality was outstanding.

Our "cabin"

Now that's what you call a bed!

View from the front door
The area covers over 8000 sq km and is a World Heritage protected area.  The crater itself is believed to be some 5 million years old.  Seen from the rim, the scale is stupefying.  Approximately 21 km in diameter with 600 metre deep crater walls, it's evidence of volcanic activity on a massive scale.  

The park entrance

From the viewing platform, the view down to the crater floor is breathtaking and we can't wait to get down to see it at close range

A 21km diameter extinct volcano caldera

Wildebeest on a permanent rotation inside the crater

It came as a real surprise to us that Wildebeest are related to antelopes, not cattle.  They're hare-brained, unpredictable things - quite amusing.

Typical lion pose - lazy buggers!

Coming to a junction of several tracks in the crater, there were a number of 4x4's parked up and the reason soon became apparent with a lion and lioness just chilling on the road.  They weren't at all bothered with the presence of the 4x4's and the lioness chose a nice shady spot in front of one of them.  When you see them this close, it's easy to understand why even large prey doesn't stand much of a chance.  Here's some photos of them.

Look honey - more humans in tin cans

Where's my missus gone?

Hey human, your front diff has got an oil leak!

Approaching the only lake in the crater, there were numerous hippos, accompanied by cattle egrets which would clean parasites from them.

Hippos and cattle egrets

Out of the lake and grazing

A Kori Bustard in the remains of a controlled burn-off

Grey Crowned Cranes

Zebra everywhere

As we worked our way round the crater, we became aware of a weird weather condition which was spellbinding to watch.  The rim of the crater is about 2400 metres (about 7900 ft altitude) and is often shrouded in cloud or mist.  Any prevailing wind blows it over the windward edge of the crater and downdrafts carry it towards the crater floor.  However, it never gets there and just continuously rolls - an amazing sight.

Boiling clouds over the crater rim

More of those cloud formations

Alas, the Crater game drive was the last of the formal activities on our safari and the following day, we would be returning to Arusha to begin the 18,000-odd km back to Auckland, NZ.  However, there were still opportunities for some good photos along the way!

Under African Skies, pt7

Meeting up with the others after our balloon flight went smoothly and we didn't have to wait long at the rendezvous point.  Whilst we were waiting, we noticed some creatures running about which looked a bit like scaled-down wombats.  They turned out to be the Rock Hyrax and didn't seem at all bothered by humans.  They are a food source for most predators so whether they congregate where predators tend to steer clear of, I wouldn't know.

Rock Hyrax having a feed of leaves

Out on the plains, there was the usual profusion of animals.  Although we'd seen the most of the same species multiple times, the varied geography and what they were up to always kept it really interesting.

 Three in one photo - gazelle, ostrich and warthogs

Hyenas and cub chilling in the shade

Thomson's Gazelles

Bird life, even on the plains was varied and interesting too - they don't have to be big creatures to be spectacular.

Hildebrand's Starling

White-headed Buffalo Weaver

Weaver bird nests

Mud, mud, glorious mud....  warthogs love it

Young Maasai giraffe showing indifference to our presence

A nice shady spot away from the sun

It's not that you're in the way or anything....

Despite the wonderful selection of wildlife we'd seen in Africa, we still hadn't knocked off what is known as "The Big 5".  Cape Buffalo - tick, Lion - tick, Rhinoceros - tick, Elephant - tick,  Leopard - nope.  To be honest, we didn't have high expectations in seeing a leopard as they're predominantly nocturnal and reclusive.  Our guide Rama said that sighting one is not that common.  Then turning onto a new dirt trail and passing under an Acacia tree, Rama and I look up at the same time and bingo - the million dollar shot!

Behold me in my magnificence.....

It's looking straight at us and I slowly aim the camera and hope for the best.  What a magnificent beast it is and for a good 30 seconds or more, I forget to take any more photos whilst we stare at each other and I forget to breathe!  I blaze off several more photos and every one is a winner.  What a privilege to see it.

Wow.... just wow!

Rising up at intervals in the plain are rocky outcrops called kopjes.  These are often home to a number of animals and were also once used as meeting places by the tribes which used to inhabit the area in the distant past.  We approach a large kopje and after a careful reconnoitre for anything with teeth and an appetite, go exploring. 

Jennie next to some tribal rock art

The view from on high

On the kopje, there was a curious granite rock about 2 metres long with pock marks all over it.  Rama said that in days gone by, it had been used as a bell to summon tribes and that the pock marks had been caused by constantly hitting it with small rocks.  Sure enough, it did resonate when we hit it and would have been heard over quite a distance.  This is it....

The  granite signalling rock

On one part of the Serengeti we passed through, there was nothing but dried grass for miles.  No trees, no animals, no nothing.  Then we saw two male lions plodding resolutely along.  They looked in great nick but it seemed like they had an awful long way to go for a feed.

Miles and miles of Sweet Fanny Adams apart from these two

Dining under canvas at the tented camp - pretty darned nice
Bev, Jennie and Silvana

The Serengeti covers a staggering 30,000 sq km, a size that is impossible to get your head round.  You could spend years exploring and not see it all.  Spending just a few days there seems grossly inadequate but at least we've had a taste of one of the world's most famous nature spots and come away with a renewed sense of wonder for our planet.

On the way out of the Serengeti, I took a couple of photos from a kopje at one of the park gates which attempt to show the vastness of the region stretching seemingly forever.  Impossible to portray without having been there of course but they should keep the memories sharp.

It goes on forever - the track is where we've just come from

At the park gates

Psychedelic lizard watching me take photos

Next, the Ngorongoro Crater!