Overlanding across Africa: navigating vast expanses of savannah, hitting the road in a giant truck, witnessing exotic wildlife going about its daily business and waking up to what you hope is nothing bigger or more dangerous than a monkey shaking your tent. Sound like your kind of holiday? For some, it’s the ultimate in adventure tourism; for others, it’s one long nightmare on a dusty campsite. Whichever side of the fence you’re on, or if you’re yet undecided, a trip to Africa can never fail to open your eyes to new sights, awaken your senses and introduce you to entirely different experiences and perspectives. Maybe you’re wondering what is it really like to live off a truck in the wilderness for weeks at a time? Isn’t it dangerous to camp outside in the bush? How close can you really get to the wildlife? Hopefully my ‘Trailing Africa’ travel log series (based on my original travel log of overlanding from Nairobi to Cape Town- an actual paper diary!) will answer at least some of your questions, so if you’re considering a trip to the world’s second biggest continent but don’t know if it’s right for you, keep reading!
Day 1: April 24th
Set off with a rucksack full of combat trousers, sleeping bags and Boots diarrhoea tablets (presumably they’re the same as the real Imodium deal). Caught the 10:20am flight from Heathrow to Nairobi (I’m joining the tour there and we’re driving to Tanzania tomorrow). It dawned on me at the airport that, should I be delayed or have any other problems, I’m going to miss the start of the tour, maybe should’ve allowed a bit more leeway there! Luckily landed on time, though. The airport is small for such a big city but quite efficient-looking, apart from the crates of lost luggage gathering dust in the reclaim hall. Managed to find my bag and was met by a very smiley taxi driver. Endured an interesting journey to the hostel just outside Nairobi- driving style was speedy, if a little erratic. The hostel is a very comfortable bamboo barn-type building. I gazed at the Southern Hemisphere stars out my window for the first time ever before heading to bed.
Day 2: April 25th
Got up early and met the other people on my tour, there are nine of us in total, comprising many different nationalities; Brits, Australians, Canadians and Germans, as well as our driver Henry, who is Kenyan. We embarked on the long drive to Tanzania during which we became accustomed to our home for the next seven or so weeks, a huge truck with roll-up plastic sides, a space to lie down and inward facing seats so you can watch the scenery out of the opposite window and/ or chat as you travel. It carries everything we need for the trip, including tents, sleeping mats and lots of cooking equipment.
At the border, bureaucracy held us up a bit and we were approached by some Maasai women selling amazing beaded jewellery. Across the border we made our very long way to Arusha. We went past several tribal villages with circular mud buildings and Maasai men in traditional dress, herding cattle. Arusha was a wake-up call, from what we’ve seen it’s basically a city of ramshackle huts. The campsite was very comfortable, though. There was a bamboo bar, hot showers and guinea fowl wandering around. We were split into teams to cook and ate outside by the truck. Some of the others helped me to put up my tent, which was nice, apparently these are military-grade tents, and definitely not a one-man job! After dinner we played darts in the bar and went to bed.
Day 3: April 26th
Some of us headed to Serengeti National Park (it’s an optional side trip.) During the drive there we saw several antelope with twisty horns and some zebras. We were a little delayed getting into the park because one of our driver’s colleagues had rolled his Jeep, so all the other trucks went to help. In the park we saw wildebeest, more zebras, giraffes, hippos and lions as well as some colourful crows. We set up camp near Ngorongoro Crater. This campsite is more basic-squat toilets, which take a bit of getting used to! We ate dinner with some other tour groups around the campfire. There was a lightning show in the sky- both sheet and forked at the same time, and the stars above were spectacular. Saw the Southern Cross for the first time!
Day 4: April 27th
Woke up early to find a pair of buffalo just a few feet away from our campsite, we then braved the (surprisingly bearable) cold showers and headed for an early morning game drive. We saw a cheetah almost straight away- great start! The cheetah almost caught an antelope but was thwarted by it jumping over a stream- apparently big cats don’t like water just like domestic ones! We then saw a couple of buffalo at a drinking hole and after an urgent radio call we were rushed to a rock formation where we saw the rarity that is a leopard! As we were driving away, a herd of giraffe wandered in front of our Jeep , which held things up a bit. We then witnessed a herd of wildebeest migrating and later I spotted a pair of lionesses in the long grass. We stopped to get pictures and they passed right under our Jeep! We were awe-struck and pretty nervous! The lionesses looked hungry and were eying up some nearby elephants but eventually vetoed that idea, presumably on account of being vastly outnumbered and much smaller than them. We also spotted a chameleon hiding in a tree. As we sat around the campfire in the evening, a full-grown bull elephant wandered into our campsite and started drinking from the water tank, putting paid to the idea that ‘animals cannot get into the camp’, as we had previously been told!
Day 5: April 28th
To further disprove the theory that animals cannot get into the camp, I was confronted by what I thought were two donkeys when I got up in the dark this morning. After the sun came up, it transpired that they were actually zebras (which in hindsight was kind of obvious.) This was our day of game driving inside the crater and it was absolutely teeming with animals; the concentration of wildlife here is one of the highest in the world. Our guide managed to spot a cheetah from very far away as soon as we entered. We also witnessed an elephant having a mud bath and some hippos playing in a lake plus a pair of lions, some rhinos, wildebeest, warthogs and countless other animals and birds. After the game drive we left the National Park and drove back to Arusha to rejoin the rest of the group. Tonight’s campsite is known as Snake Park because, somewhat horrifyingly, it subsidises the existence of a reptile sanctuary. Having sat in the camp bar for a while reading newspaper cuttings about giant man-eating serpents, we paid a visit to said sanctuary, which was made even creepier by the fact that it was dark and there were gruesome snake attack illustrations on the walls. There were also some tortoises though, which were cute.
Day 6: April 29th
After a night of turbulent reptile-infested dreams and imagining hissing sounds outside our tents, we had a lie in (by which I mean we got up at 7:30am), made pancakes for breakfast and swiftly hit the road. My team did some grocery shopping as it’s our turn to cook soon. We reached the White Parrot campsite at about 5.30pm. Henry warned us that it was pretty basic but it turns out he was having us on, it’s really nice! There are bearable showers, a nice thatched roof area for cooking and box hedges around the camping areas. The journey today was very scenic- lots of mountains covered in trees and little colourful towns. We had lunch on the way overlooking Mt. Kilimanjaro and, aptly, tucked into Kilimanjaro beers upon arrival at the campsite.
Day 7: April 30th
Today was a very early start- we all got up at 4am and put our tents down in the dark which, unsurprisingly, ended in disaster when I trod on an ant’s nest, resulting in what can only be described as the total annihilation of my feet and lower legs (I later counted more than 50 bites on each limb and yes, I was wearing shoes and socks!) We drove the whole day, stopped off for lunch in a bustling ramshackle town where I felt incredibly conspicuous due to being European, tattooed and a female in trousers! In the evening we eventually hit a campsite with hot showers, which was hugely exciting! The campsite is on a farm and eerily empty. We went for a walk to the lake and wandered past several men in full on chemical suits spraying some flowers, it was like something from a zombie apocalypse movie! This is the darkest campsite we’ve been on and it’s very creepy. There was, however, a little thatched hut with straw mats and candle lanterns where we could enjoy a beer and a chat and the stars appeared to shine even more brightly in the darkness. Best of all- no snakes!
Day 8: May 1st
Henry apparently has an (apparently mild) form of malaria and as a result has adopted an even more gung-ho approach to driving than usual. We’re talking approaching bumps at 60mph in our giant truck- so there was many a ‘face-might-get-smashed’ moment. This turned out to be no bad thing though, as we hit the infamous Dar Es Salaam traffic at about 1pm and finally arrived at our campsite a mere couple of miles away at 3:30pm, although it seems we got off lightly; legend has it that it can sometimes take up to 7 hours to get across town, as there is only one road in and out of the city! Our campsite is not on the mainland as it’s not deemed very safe to camp there, instead it’s a short ferry ride into the harbour (please refer to the very accurate map which I drew on the bus).
The site itself is right on the beach, it has a thatched bamboo bar overlooking the Indian Ocean.We had a quick dip in the pool before my group cooked for the first time. We created some pasta and veg idea, not the most creative but safe and it did the job. After dinner we took a quick (salt water) shower which left us feeling less clean than we did before it and had a couple of beers in the bar before bed. It was an extremely hot and humid night and I woke up to find giant millipedes crawling over my tent! To make matters worse, some of us have ended up with ‘runny tummies’- just what you want when you’re in a toilet with no roof, swarming with (presumably malarial) mosquitoes. I have mozzie spray, mozzie roll-ons, mozzie nets and mozzie sticks, and it’s still not enough here! Even better, tomorrow we leave the affluent and well-connected metropolis that is Dar Es Salaam and will all be stuck on a toilet-less truck in the traffic for at least three hours! I am really beginning to wish I’d gone for the real Imodium now! Well, come what may, we set off for Zanzibar tomorrow, so let’s hope the promise of the white sandy beaches and glorious sunsets just across the bay can see us through!
Overall, Tanzania has been incredible, in particular with regard to scenery and wildlife. I honestly think that Serengeti and Ngorongoro will be hard to beat when it comes to safari and game drives. It’s the perfect place to get in touch with nature and experience the flora and fauna hands-on. One or two things I learnt along the way:
1. Never, ever scrimp on diarrhoea tablets.
2. Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater are truly unmissable.
3. A reptile park after dark (or arguably at any time) is not a pleasant place to be.
4. A salt water shower is not, in fact, better than no shower.
5. You can never have too many anti-mozzie devices.
Keep an eye out for ‘Trailing Africa Vol. Two: Zanzibar-Stonetown, Spice Tour and Nungwi’ to find out if we recover from our bout of ill health, and what happens when we cross the bay!
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