Friday, December 18, 2009


Time for another border crossing and since Fiona and Blessed had been delayed before at this crossing, we planned to set off by 6am and have a breaky stop during the drive. A couple of other trucks had arrived at camp after dark and they managed to wake us up before 5am. It seems they had the same idea of leaving early, but they decided to do the full breakfast first. Our only delay was a flat battery which Blessed sorted in record time. Even with the headstart we gave the other trucks we caught up with them quite quickly and made it to the border first. As we were the only truck there the crossing went pretty smoothly and it wasn't long before we had our first glimpse of the lake.
Lake Malawi is massive with a series of beaches. We spent 4 nights in total along different parts of it. Our first stop was at Chitimba Beach near the town of Livingstonia. The lake looked like an ocean as it has sand and waves (due to wind)!
Packing up Limpopo ready to drive to Mzuzu
Early morning on Chitimba Beach
There was a wooden crafts market just outside the gates to camp and we decided to it was time to hone our bargaining skills. These guys are very persistant and despite nearly every stall selling almost identical items, each salesman will insist that their goods are superior. Surprisingly the price wasn't as cheap as we expected. We were also a bit dubious of the quality, as the hardwood and ebony carving was probably a bit of brown and black bootpolish. It was here that we realised the true potential of unwanted items. The sellers were very keen to trade clothes, shoes, hairbands, batteries or softdrink (but only in recyclable glass bottles). If we had known about this we would have brought a few more clothes with us. One of our fellow travellers bought a table in exchange for his very old sneakers plus a small amount of US$. Don't be fooled into thinking you can offload your dead batteries, they will check them first!

At a supermarket later on in the trip, I realised why they wanted these items. A pack of hairbands was nearly 6 US$ and shampoo was almost $10. Another tip, softdrinks will be cheaper in a glass bottle as the shop gets money back for returning the glass. A can of the same drink will be at least twice the price.

The second stop for the lake was at Kande Beach where we would spend 2 nights. The drive there was short and we finally had an opportunity to go to a local market in Mzuzu. The market is huge with different sections and packed with people. Fiona headed off into the fruit and vege section while Claire went searching for thongs (or Jandals or Flip Flops) with Craig and Pip. After some heated negotiation, 2 pairs were bought at tourist prices (1.50 US$) and then they had to find their way back out. For the most part it was surprisingly organised inside. Most of the stalls looked pretty permanent and were in definite isles, it was just a matter of figuring out which one went to one of the exits and then where did we leave the truck? The stalls in the clothing sections were piled metres high. The most impressive was the sock stall. A huge array of unmatched socks, although some of them did look a little worn they were all white or pretty close to it. Maybe this is where the 'traded clothes' end up.

The campsite itself is on the beach and since we were the first truck in we had the pick of sites. We decided it was time to upgrade from the tent so paid $80 for an ensuite room with electricity and hot water for the 2 nights. Claire did miss the tent as the bed had some definite lumps and bumps in it, but it was worth it just to spread our stuff out and remember what we had bought with us.
The 'surf beach'.
One of the highlights of our stay here was a trip to the local village. We were met at the gates by about 20 guys and the tour guide. The idea here is that 2 of the locals will be friendly with you and then on the way back to camp they bring out samples of their woodwork in the hope that you will purchase something off them. Most of them told us they were students, but Fiona said they must get alot of holidays as they are there everytime she stays here! Claire's new friends were named Kevin Costner and Isaac. Apparently 'Kevin' was studying to be a tour guide and Isaac was still learning english so he could apply to schools. As we approached to village the children came running towards us and grabbed our hands. Similar to Tanzania, they love being thrown around in the air. All of us got a definite gym workout that afternoon. Claire in particular was a favourite and the little girl took some persuading to go back to the village. In the village we also saw a water pump donated by a Canadian charity, visited the school and met the principal as well as the small medical clinic where a baby had just been delivered. As we returned to camp Claire succumbed to the marketing and put an order in for a wooden carving to be picked up the next morning. The guys all seem to take on a western name and Craig was stoked to finally meet Jonah Lomu, although he was a slightly shorter then we expected!
The Canadian donated water pump
Jumping isn't enough, they need to flip over as well. Very sore shoulders the next day
Inside the main school building
More fun in the school courtyard
This little girl was quite attached to Claire
Earings were very exciting!
All the kids liked to play up the camera even if the don't really understand what is happening
Still jumping, this time back towards camp
One last group shot before we had to leave the kids behind
Local bus service went through the village just as we were leaving
That night it was Georgia's 21st and Fiona had managed to find some decorations and get a cake made for the occasion. The party ran long into the night and for the first time in the trip it wasn't a problem making it past double figures (10pm). The only small downside were the little flying bugs. There were 1000's of them and while they didn't sting or bite, they were just everywhere. Alfoil lids were created for drinks and food and as soon as the washing up was finished all lights were off. We hadn't realised this and had left a lamp on in our room. As soon as we opened the door a cloud of them swarmed in with us.

Day 2 started with meeting 'Kevin Costner' at the gates and going to get our carving, which we planned to turn into a fridge magnet. Claire had designed the magnet the day before and it was still being carved when we got to the workshop. To make the time go faster Isaac challenged Claire to the Bao Bao game using the female rules of course! 2 games later with Claire managing one win we left with our magnets freshly polished with Kiwi Boot Polish and doubting that Australian quarantine was going to let us bring them back home. Another couple on the truck got some engagement rings carved as well. Claire ended up returning later in the day and buying a painting that had caught her eye. The negotiations were much easier here when compared to Chitimba. She had decided that 10US$ was her limit and the seller started the bidding at 7 - bargain! While Claire was shopping Steve decided to test the waters of the lake and went for a swim. It was a strange sensation catching waves in fresh water and not gagging on salt when you get dumped.

For the last night on the lake we drove down to Senga Bay. It is surprising how 250km will take 4hours because of the road conditions. One bump in particular sent the truck's freezer out of its bracket and at least 30cm forwards, as well as shearing the fuse box off the wall. Quick roadside repairs and we were off again.
Senga Bay
The lake really spoilt us for scenery as we were again camping on the beach. The bar here is definitely a feature. It is a circular building that is set on concrete pylons that have a prominent lean into the water. It was a fantastic spot to take in another amazing African Sunset and finish our time in Malawi
Notice the definite lean, and the floor inside was alittle up and down as well.
Sunset from the bar
Sunset from the beachSunrise over the bay
Steve and Craig, very dedicated at 5am with tripods
For us this section from Zanzibar was pretty much a transit drive. It was nice to have a couple of days to relax, but I think we would have preferred a long drive and 2 nights somewhere that offered some sort of activity. By the end of this week we were looking forward to something a little more exciting as we were starting to become a little bored. Maybe this is a result of the excitement of safaris early on, and we had already had the few days in Zanzibar to wind down from that.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


After leaving Arusha we spent 2 days driving to Dar Es Salam which was our launch point to Zanzibar. The overnight camp along the way again put us in close company with some Zebra's, probably to be expected as it was called Zebra Camp. The second days driving should have been quite short but we were warned that the traffic in 'Dar' would add an extra hour or 2 to the trip.

Saying that triffic is a little congested is an understatement. The streets are lined with stalls selling just about anything and everything you could imagine and there are people that run to your windows and try and sell water, ice-creams or anything else they might be carrying. We were sheltered from this because we were elevated in the truck. Even with traffic lights and police presence, it seemed that at times the drivers just have to take a deep breath and hope to make it across the intersection safely.
The camp at Dar was just outside of town at Kipepeo Beach and was a beautiful spot. We were right on the beach and enjoyed listening to the waves all night. For the boys it was one of the first times we had a TV and there was a few hours of catching up on the Cricket at the beachside bar. We also met 2 of the new people that were joining us in Zanzibar.
Leaving the beach we drove into the 'town' and caught a ferry back to Dar. Much simpler as it only took 5min. On the drive we saw heaps of people riding bikes with amazing loads precarilously balanced. Our 10/10 prizes go to the guy with bananas and to the person with a sack of potatoes that received a gentle nudge from a car and still stayed upright.

Once in Dar we had about an hour to spare before the next ferry. We had been warned by another Acacia group at Snake Park that the crossing was extremely rough and motion sickness pills were suggested. A number of us chipped in and bought a packet from the rather bemused pharmacist.

Even though Zanzibar is part of Tanzania you get stamped in and out as if you were going to a different country. As we had only limited spare pages left in our passports we thought this was a little unnecessary. When we tried to board the ferry we were told that Steve's daypack was too big and that it had to be 'checked in'. This pretty much involved throwing it up over the front of the boat to be put in a pile with all the other big bags. We decided to sit inside and dozed for most of the 2 hour trip. The others that sat out of deck said they saw Dolphins. When we docked in Stone Town, the crew realised that half of the wharf had just been painted and all our bags had to passed down the length of the ferry via a human chain to the dry section. When we saw that Steve's tripod had opened up during the trip we were a little concerned that it was going to fall out of its strap. Thankfully it and all the bags made it to dry land safely.
We were met by a local tour operator who walked us to our hotel and then gave us a description of the day trip tour options. All of the group decided to do the Spice Tour that afternoon, mainly because it included lunch. This tour included a few of the local sights including St Monica's Cathedral which was the location of the slave market and has a small memorial to it. The cathedral itself is pretty rundown, but only a very small percentage of the population of Christian. The locals are predominantly Muslim.
Just follow me, the hotel is down the street....
We had quick photo stops at Beit El Ajaib (House of Wonders), Livingstone House and Maruhubi Palace before arriving at the actual Spice Farm. This scaled down version has Vanilla, Turmeric, Lemongrass, Nutmeg, and Pepper as well as a number of tropical fruit. The tasting session that followed was great with some of the best pineapple we have ever had. Back in Stone Town we had a 'last dinner' as 7 of the group were finishing their tour here. We also wandered through the excellent night market and tried some of the seafood kebabs. The food here was fantastic and we could have happily picked out way through the stalls for dinner finishing with the chocolate and banana pizza.
'Ali D in the bus' our guide for the spice tour, complete with cockney accent!
Using a machete to take the skin off a pineapple.
Night markets, the spicy lobster kebab is highly recommended!
One of the tour options presented to us was the 'Prison Island Tour' for $20US. We thought this was quite expensive and did some investigating of our own. In the end 8 of us hired a boat and snorkelling gear directly through a local fisherman for under $10 each. Bargain. We got up early the next day and headed over to the island where we were the first boat of the day and had the place to ourselves. One of the island's attractions were the Giant Tortoise's. The handlers gave us some food and let us loose in the enclosure. There were over 100 of them and they are huge! When they move the shells creak and make a small thud when the settled down again. Our captain then gave us a tour of the island which is now partly a ritzy private hotel. Even though it is called Prison Island it was never used as a prison but rather as a Hospital. After the tour we sailed a little futher round the island and went snorkelling. We were amazed at the vast number and different colours of fish and coral that we could see. One of our group did get a little close to a jellyfish, but a quick stop back on the island for some vinegar soothed the sting.
This starfish was on the and where the boat landed.
Feeding the always hungry giant tortoise.
Our boat and captains
The cove where we landed
A spot of snorkelling
This storm started to approach as we headed back to Stone Town
Once we returned to Stone Town we headed to Kendwa Beach in the north of the island. This was our stop for the next 2 nights. This beach is lined with hotels and their restaurants and bars. One thing with this part of the Acacia Tour is that there is no accommodation pre-booked for you. This means that you can organise your own before you go or your tour leader will book something while you are on safari. We went for the latter option and we were all disappointed with the standard of accommodation for this leg. A few people decided to upgrade their rooms at one of the neighbouring hotels. Our advice for anyone doing this trip is to ask the company what their plans are and if Kendwa Beach is the destination, it wouldn't matter which hotel you are in as they are all next to each other. We still met up for drinks, dinner and games of beach volleyball or cards over the 2 days we were there. It was nice to have the couple of days to relax after the high excitement and early starts of the 2 safaris. The only downside was Steve had a 24hr tummy bug so was confined to the room and missed another fabulous sunset.

Our return ferry on the last day was for the afternoon, so we decided to get an early transfer to Stone Town and wander through the streets. Steve ended up having the first phone interview for a job back in Brisbane, in a waterside park as it was the only place that didn't have people everywhere. The only issue was as soon as we sat down, a group of school girls came up and wanted to practice their English with Claire. Not really what Steve needed at that time. Interview over, and both our prepaid UK sim cards left with no balance, we hit the streets for souveniours. While negotiating the price of some artwork we noticed a group of police outside the shop. We nervously took our purchase and made our way back into the shopping precint. When we walked past again about 30min later, there were no paintings on display and the shop was boarded up! Oh well, at least we liked the paintings.
Before the shop was 'closed'
On the ferry for the return trip we again decided to sit below deck. The return crossing was definitely much rougher than the way over. Claire decided to stand outside for the trip and the crew were seen handing out quite a few black bags! As far as we know everyone on our truck was okay, but quite relieved to see Dar and Kipepeo again. Since we have said goodbye to 7 people in Zanzibar and had 3 join us, we have been given new work groups, although not much to do tonight as we didn't need to prepare the food. We ordered a fabulous BBQ from the campsite next door instead.
A hard working porter from the ferry.
Leaving Kipepeo the next morning we started our drive towards Malawi. We drove along the highway through Mikumi National Park. We did see some Elephant and Giraffe but were unable to stop as we hadn't paid the park fees (and it was a highway). The other noticeable thing about this area is the number of Baobab trees. Our campsite for that night was aptly named as there is a massive tree right in the middle of it.
Our next drive was really short and we arrived at lunch time. It was only a matter of minutes before the clothesline was out and the handwashing begun. We spent the afternoon, trying to find the lake that is somewhere on the property, playing cards and the tradional Bao Bao game. It was also our first wedding anniversary at this campsite!
Sunset at 'The Farmhouse' with the washing line.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Ngorongoro Crater

The morning game drive for the Serengeti had us all excited for the afternoon drive back out to the Crater. The heat of the day seemed to have affected the animals, as we didn't see much. A Lion carrying a baby gazelle and a cheetah were the highlights. Some of our 4WD had gone on the sunrise balloon ride and most of us managed to squeeze in a short nap.
Just a small snack
It looks menacing but is just a yawn. A bit how we were feeling by this stage!

After a short detour we made a stop at Oldupai Gorge which is also known as 'The Cradle of Mankind'. It is here that the oldest humanoid fossils have been found. The museum is very interesting showing the different forms of archaeology explorations that have occured over the years. As we were about to leave, we encountered the faulty alternator again. This time with the help of around 10 Masai the 4WD was push started on its way
Note the girls are still in the 4WD
We got to Simba camp on the edge of the crater and kept an eye out for the bull elephants that we had seen the day before. Sadly (or fortunately), no repeat performance, but then we didn't leave our mattresses outside! The temperature here drops quickly and it wasn't long before we were all huddled around the fire. Our guide, Blessed, warned us that there were often Wild Pigs in the area looking for food and that we shouldn't leave anything edible in our tents - this included toothpaste. There was a rush for the 4WD's as all our supplies of chips, lollies and biscuits were safely locked away.

We did get some animal visitors after dark. The first were a group of Zebra grazing between the groups of tents. This camp site is very big and when news of the Zebra spread there was a large group of head-torches bobbing towards us. Later in the night when there were only 6 of us left round the fire the rumoured wild pigs arrived and headed straight for the scrap bucket in the kitchen area. It was very funny to watch the cooks chase them away, only to have them return a few minutes later.
For us the scariest moment was in the early hours of the morning when an animal (we think it was a pig or warthog) skidded into the side of the tent, giving Claire's head a light tap on the way. For the next couple of hours all we could hear was the snuffling of them as they continued to feed. We had the flysheet on so couldn't see out the window to see exactly what they were, and we weren't going to stick our heads out the door!

When we woke up we were surrounded in mist and it was freezing cold. All of us were concerned about the lack of visibility but the drivers assured us that in the crater itself the mist would have already lifted. We were very glad we used the fly sheet because it was soaked and our tent was nice and dry and warm. Back in the 4WD and rugged up in everything warm we owned we headed down into the crater.
Even though there are no fences, the steepness of the sides are enough of a deterrent for most of the animals to leave. There is still a migration pattern with the Wildebeest but just to different areas of the crater. Today was supposed to be the best chance for seeing a Rhino (our last remaining animal of the Big 5) and we spent a few hours looking. In the end we had to surrender and accept that it was a bit too cold for them as well. It got to the point where any dark animal in the distance could be a rhino and there is still dispute about whether there was actually one there. It was too far away for a good clear photo but our driver decided it was a buffalo.
The other end of the camp disappears into the mist as we rug up ready for the game drive
Even without the Rhino, we saw a Cheetah on the move, the never ending Zebra and Wildebeest migration, some Hippo's returning to their waterhole for the day, Flamingos in the distance on the edge of Lake Natron and a pride of 10 Lions including some cubs. The landscape here is quite changeable with an almost tropical area of trees and bushes and then large plains of grass like the Serengeti. At one of the waterholes (without Hippos) we took the opportunity to have a group photo of our 4WD as this was nearly the end of the trip for half of our group. On the way out of the crater we saw a few bull elephants. One of which had a broken tusk and our driver estimated his age at 60.
Cheetah on the prowl
A halt in migration for feeding

Was good to see these guys moving around. Wasn't long before they were all submerged again!

In dry season this is as close to the lake edge as you can get. In wet season you would be at water's edge.

Group nap for this pride of Lions

This elephant has led a tough life!
Back at Snake Park camp site in Arusha where we had our first experience of crowded camping. There were 4 other overland trucks there for the night which meant that there was no hot water and a very busy bar. This camp also has a truck garage and while we were on safari our truck, 'Limpopo', was serviced and repainted. This took a little longer then anticipated and there was still another coat of paint needed when we returned. It made accessing clean clothes interesting as first you had to find out who had the door handle for the truck and reattach it in order to get to the lockers.
Last group at Arusha as all the other companies had just left for the Serengeti.
While in the bar we heard that the Mozambique Spitting Cobra had just been fed some live mice. Since we had only seen a few stalkings and no kills on safari, most of the truck crowded in front of the enclosure and waited, and waited and waited....... The Cobra did make a few half hearted attempts but we think it was just tormenting them. Hunger got the better of us though, and someone was dispatched at regular intervals during the evening to check the progress. When we left the following day, there were still mice, although our guess is they were getting pretty tired of the narrow escapes.

The next morning while waiting for the last of the paint to dry we were taken on a tour of the local Masai Village. This village is directed more at tourists with an optional camel ride from the camp site. The village itself is more permanent with bigger huts and the general surrounds were much cleaner than we had seen in the Masai Mara. There is also a small hospital and school attached to the village. It was a holiday period while we were there so the kids were quite keen to hold our hands and try on our hats and sunglasses and generally interact with us.
Masai hut
This little girl made Claire jump and hop all the way back to camp
Lastly, since our washing had all landed in the dirt last time we were at this camp we had put our white clothes in to be washed. We aren't sure what the locals did but they were returned spotless with lots of tiny indents from being dried on the thorn bushes.