Dragoman - Nairobi and Dar es Salaam (ZND)

30th April - to Nairobi

Heathrow to Nairobi, 8 hours with a 5yo right behind me screaming his head off half the time and kicking the back of my seat the other half. Watched 'Up In The Air' 'Sex and Drugs and Rock 'n Roll' and 'Blindside'. All pretty good but my top recommendation is SnDnRR. Andy Serkis is fantastic.

As always the taxi from the airport was fun. They drive on the left which is good. But no seatbelts, some mad over-taking manoeuvres and traffic lights on roundabouts meaning nothing. Twice the lights were red, twice not a single car took a blind bit of notice.

1st May - Nairobi

A free day in Nairobi so decided to go into town and have a look around, not really knowing what to expect. It's not all that big. The centre is only 15 minutes walk from side to side. Around this are some rich parts and some slums. The centre looks quite modern with the odd 100 year old colonial building thrown in. It looks quite rich and today not all that busy. But today is a Public Holiday (Labour Day) so maybe it gets busier.

Many of the shops may be closed but Labour Day is a great day to be in Nairobi. In one of the many parks around the city Uruhra Park there's a big event going on. A show presided over by the Prime Minister. Whilst I was there we had choirs, pop singers and actors/comedians. Didn't follow much of it but a great scene with the crowds of people of the slopes of the park, the show, the dignitaries and the centre of Nairobi behind giving the perfect back-drop.

2nd May - Nairobi

Lazy day in Nairobi, met up with someone from my trip and we wandered around Nairobi. It's a nice enough place, probably quite liveable but not a whole lot for a tourist. Most people who come here head out to see some animals, but I think I'll see enough over the couple of months.

In the evening met up with the group that I'll be on the truck with. It's the expected mix of Brits, Yanks and the colonies. Went out for a meal, all seem OK. Early start tomorrow, 7:15am.

Dragoman - Nairobi and Dar es Salaam (ZND)

3rd May - Arusha

Off early today, heading for the border with Tanzania. 4 1/2 hours on bumpy and unfinished roads. They seem to be doing a lot of work on them but very little seems finished.

An easy border crossing and then another 4 hours on bumpier roads to Arusha. All the way little kids come running out to shout and wave. It's as if we're doing a Royal Tour.

First night camping. On the trip along with the sixteen of us are Olly and Kim the Driver/Leaders and Dougie and Arthur our African cooks (and Christie our truck). Olly gave us a long guide to the truck, the usual tasks and everything else we need or the trip. Each day will take the same sort of structure. Tents out and up. Kitchen set-up, rucksacks out, chairs and washing-up area set-up. We take turns to help with the cocking, cleaning etc.

Sharing a tent is a bit of a pain but otherwise all good. The food was excellent. Crashed out early, knackered. Holidaying is hard work.

Christie and our World Cup banner.

4th May - Mto Wa Mbu village program

School kids singing the ABC (or PQR ... in this case.)

Day spent at the local community Mto Wa Mbu village program. It's a program used by lots of tour companies allowing people to see all parts of life in the area in a low impact and very profitable way. Local guides took us on a leisurely stroll around the area. It is very prosperous, it's in a basin feed by water off the hills and is the bread basket of Tanzania. We walked around paddy fields and banana plantations. Mango, papaya, sugar cane, okra, avocado and sweet potato, anything thing you can think of. We saw how they make banana beer and got to taste it. Would be a lot better if they filtered it :-)

We visited a Pre-School where they are obviously primed to sing for us, do the numbers and alphabet etc. They ran to us and high-fived us etc. as we arrived, a rock-star entrance. Gotta admit it was fun. Then after a walk up and up to a sacred 500 year old tree and some great views over the plains, it was lunch time. Loadsa local foods, okra, plantain, beans and other stuff. But most surprising was something very like a Beef Biryani and Chapattis.

5th May - Serengeti

Up very early, which I think will become a theme of this trip, packed up, said goodbye to Christie and jumped into Toyota Land Cruisers for our three days in the Ngorongoro Reserve and the Serengeti National Park.

As we wound our way across towards the Serengeti the open plains came into view. We started to pass Masai herding sheep and goats and trying to sell stuff to tourists. Then our first zebra, then a giraffe. As we hit our first plain, there were animals everywhere. Herds of zebra and wildebeest who often stick together. Ostriches, gazelles, a hyena, a jackal ...

Then our first biggie, four lions, two male, two female and not far away. They were just lazing around as if the tourist board has put them there just to entice people further into the park. Just before we hit the main gate there were some adult elephants along with two small ones. The tourist board is doing a great job. After seeing this there is no way anyone is going to turn back to save the entrance fee.

The Serengeti area is split into two parts, the Ngorongoro Reserve and the Serengeti National Park. The Masai are allowed to live in the Ngorongoro Reserve but no one can live in the Serengeti proper.

The rest of the day was spent game driving around the park. It's now the end of the wet season so the park is very green and the grass high which makes seeing things a little harder. But with so much food around all the animals are in this area the Southern Serengeti. The herds of wildebeest have migrated South and go on as far as the eye can see. Zebra and gazelle everywhere. And where they go the predators follow.

Highlights today. Lions lazing around on a giant rock, although we didn't get a perfect view of them, some very meerkat looking mongooses. What is the difference between the two? Also saw some hippos lazing in a big pool but the number one was five young cheetahs out for a walk. Pity we didn't see the parents.

Our camp is pretty basic and in the Serengeti Park. It's completely open to the park so anything could wander in during the night. Over the two nights we were there we had wildebeest charging round the site, a lot of animal noises including a lion roaring which sounded very close and an invasion of fire ants. They swarmed through one tent, all over someone who was sleeping (not for long) and bit her. Her screams woke us all. We promptly moved our tents, made a line of cinders between us and them and went back to sleep. I slept fine but I think many others had a sleepless night :-)

6th May - Serengeti

Day 2 in the Serengeti. Up early for a dawn game drive, back for brunch. Headed over to a 5 star lodge to laze out of the mid-day sun then another game drive back to the camp site. It's a hard life. By heading out early we get to see the animals more active than during the day and also the remnants of the night's activities. This morning we saw two separate gazelle carcasses being ripped apart by the vultures and storks. One was right beside the track. The rib cage had already being ripped clean by something else but the vultures were still getting a good feed out of the remains.

Today's highlight was a lioness so close we could touch it. We saw it first from about 40 yards lying in a tree. After watching for a while we decided to head around the other side, which would take us ten minutes over a rough and wet track, but get us a whole lot closer. Daniel our fantastic driver sped around and she was still there. We then saw a young male lion approaching it came up to the tree and tried to climb up. It failed miserably, it obviously thought 'I look a bit of a dick, no chance of pulling here' and walked on past the front of our 4x4. About five minutes later the lioness gets restless, chews some bark, fidgets around and eventually jumps down. She then walked right up to the 4x4, walked along the side then cuts through behind us and wanders off into the long grass. It was as if we weren't even there.

Lioness video

Soon after leaving the lion we got a puncture. So within the view of another lion we circled wagons to get it changed.

In the afternoon we got to see a Leopard. It was sitting up in the branches of a tree maybe 60 or 70 yards away. My 140-600mm equivalent lens I bought myself for Christmas has been useful throughout the Serengeti but never more so than now.

7th May - Ngorongoro

Up before dawn again, pack up our tents and tell our fire ant stories then off for a drive back to the main gate so that we can head into the world famous Ngorongoro Crater. But no drive through the Serengeti is a normal drive. Two of the highlights of the Serengeti visit came in this hour or so drive.

The first was a hippo out of the water walking around. Then another stood eating grass next to the pool they wallow in during the day. Kodak moment, sunrise, silhouetted trees and the hippo grazing all reflected in the water of the pool.

Next we saw a lioness stalking and intermittently half-heartedly chasing some wildebeest. It was probably a young lioness out having some fun. It soon gave up and then walked directly towards us, crossed the road right in front of the 4x4 and wandered off. We then saw there was a whole pride in the long grass. I counted 18 in all. They all got up and wandered over to a rocky outcrop which is obviously their home.

The Ngorongoro Crater is a huge caldera - a volcano which collapsed in an immense explosion. It measures 19km in diameter and 265km² in area. We drove around had our lunch and drive some more. We saw flamingos on the lake, buffalo, wildebeest and zebra. We saw more elephants here than in the whole of the Serengeti and then in the distance a black rhino.

8th May - Kilimanjaro

Heading East away from the Serengeti towards the foot of Kilimanjaro. We headed back through Arusha and onwards to the town of Moshi. Here we visited the Amani Children's Home. This Home helps street kids in Arusha and Moshi takes care of them educates them and aims to return them to either their parents or a relative.

We had a look around and then met up with the kids. We joined in with their football game. Dragoman team against the kids. Was great fun, my first real exercise since the start of the trip. Tiring though running around in the beating sun and the soles of my feet are sore from not wearing shoes whilst running around on grass and dirt. A great interlude in a day spent mostly on the road.

Camp tonight is in the grounds of an old German colonial hotel in Marangu. I say camp but on all but three of the nights from Nairobi to Zanzibar there are upgrades available to stay in a room rather than camp. The price ranges from $10 to $30, a no brainer for me. No hassle putting the tent up and down, hot shower, ensuite and a good night's sleep. Why rough it?

9th May - Usambara Mountains

We spend this morning with the team at the Village Education Project. From here we headed off the beaten track into the remote Usambara Mountains, a 6 hour drive. We will be based for 2 days at the old German colony of Lushoto where we stay in the grounds of one of the earliest hotels in Africa.

The Village Education Project was set-up by by an English lawyer who came to Tanzania and saw village life and wanted give something back. Now the project has grown and educates kids from the surrounding areas from primary all the way to 16. In Tanzania primary education is in Swahili and secondary in English. This puts those at poorer schools at a big disadvantage because they are not thought much English. The project brings in people to train the teachers to teach English to level the playing field. They also teach vocational skills such as art, needlework, carpentry and masonry so no one is left behind.

10th May - Usambara Mountains

Took a day off today. Most of the group went off for quite a long walk out to the Irente viewpoint and visited a farm which produces it's own cheese. I had a lie in. Every morning we're up around 6am, nice to lie around doing nothing for a morning. Dougie made us some toasted sandwiches and salad for lunch and then an afternoon laying in the sun. This is what a holiday should be like.

11th May - Dar es Salaam

Long travel day heading for Dar es Salaam. 10 hours in total with a number of road side pee stops, a quick stop for some soft drinks and an ice cream and a short ferry trip at the end.

When we eventually arrived at our camp site right on the beach everyone was straight into the Indian Ocean. Sun was shining, the sea was warm, perfect. Then Dan got stung by a jelly fish, lines of stings right across his torso. We decided that maybe beach volleyball was a better plan!

12th May - Zanzibar

Up for a 5am breakfast and I didn't get much sleep anyway because it is so hot and humid. Short ferry back to Dar and then a 2 hour ferry to Zanzibar. I didn't know until today that Tanzania was formed by the federation of the nations of Tanganyika (the mainland) and Zanzibar the islands off the East Coast. They still are quite separate with separate parliaments etc. So when we reached Zanzibar we has to clear customs and immigration before making our way to the hotel in Stone Town.

We spent the day doing a quick tour around Stone Town and then a Spice Tour checking out the fruit and spices grown on the island. Stone Town is a Unesco protected area containing beautiful European and Persian colonial buildings. Stone Town is the site of the last active Slave Market, finally shut down in 1873. Being in the East Coast the slave trade here served mainly Persia and to work on the island itself.

The Spice Tour was very good. It's an area set-up by the Government to show off all the fruits and spices found on the Zanzibar Islands. At each plant / tree our guide picked a fruit or a leaf or a bit of root for us to smell or taste. We tried peppers, passion fruit and vanilla which all grow on vines. Turmeric and ginger which are roots. Cinnamon which is the bark of a tree, saw a teak tree, lemon grass and pepper corns growing on a tree. We also saw the aloe vera plant which is a bit like a mini cactus with its fleshy, spined leaves, they cut it open and the liquid poured out from inside. Of the fruits, many types of orange, custard apple, melon, grapefruit, jack fruit and some of the 27 varieties of banana. A guy shinned his way up to the top of the highest coconut tree I've ever seen.

The main cash crop here is cloves which grow on big trees. It is one of the few indigenous plants, the rest were introduced by colonialists. For lunch we stopped at someone house and sat cross-legged on the floor eating something like a biryani with a potato, tomato and spice sauce and a cassava based dish followed by loads of fruit.

In the evening we headed over to the Sunset Bar for cocktails whilst watching the sun setting over the sea. Very relaxing and very civilised compared to a week and a half riding on the truck through hot and dusty Tanzania. From here we headed down to the seafront to the night market. 30 or 40 stalls set up mainly selling BBQed fish and sweet and savoury 'Zanzibar Pizzas'. There's crab, lobster, shark, tuna, barracuda, prawns, snapper and many more all looking very fresh. A huge plate of lobster, barracuda and tuna with a chapatti came to less than $10. The Zanzibar Pizzas are a kind of crepe parcel. Take a crepe put minced beef, onion and other salad, tomato, cheese, chillies and an egg on top. Mix and fold into a parcel and cock on a hot plate. Lovely. They also did banana, nuttella and condensed milk 'pizzas'. Too rich for me.

13th May - Zanzibar

Free morning in Stone Town. Had a bit of a walk around trying to avoid the locals always hassling, trying to sell stuff or scam you. They are really persistent and will not leave you alone until you're rude to them. Being low season there are very few tourists around so it's not easy to deflect them onto someone else. So I decided to escape them and duck into an air-conditioned Internet Cafe. Got to make the most of good quick email when we find it.

After lunch we transferred to the north of the island. idyllic beach resort. Bungalows right on the beach. Pure white sand down to clear blue waters. Going to be a good couple of days.

14th May - Zanzibar

A free day on the northern beaches of Zanzibar. We are staying in chalets right on the beach. Some guys went scuba diving or snorkelling, I decided to have a lazy day in the sun.

The sun hardly shone all day, cloudy most of the time with some showers. Didn't stop us lazing around on the beach and in the sea. Judging by my skin colour now probably a good thing the sun wasn't out. The sun near the equator is strong and I got the perfect amount today through the clouds.

We lose 6 people from our trip today and tomorrow with only one new person joining, so the truck will be quite empty to Livingstone. Out for a group meal tonight. A buffet of fish curry and chicken curry. Pretty good but as usual on these sorts of trips if you were served it at home you'd be disappointed :-)

15th May - Dar es Salaam

Final day of the first part of the trip. Morning sent on Zanzibar with lunch back in Stone Town. The hydrofoil back to Dar and over to the beach side camp we were at a couple of days ago. Very choppy ride back of the 13 of us including Ollie and Kim 3 were sick. Thankfully I came through OK.

Next part of the trip: Dragoman - Dar es Salaam and Livingstone