Dear Diary - ABC In 1-2-3 - Galong-Galong Oh Do Come Along
Journaling, travelling, and recording my steps are in my blood. Writing my thoughts down is a whisper only I can hear, and in listening, to retrace my journies. My scribblings are not always to remember, but at times to forget. My Diary sets the record straight. “How can I begin anything new with all of yesterday in me?” Leonard Cohen
Like the spokes on a bicycle, there are numerous entries for Arusha. The view is never dull.
Unexpectedly, It’s back to Arusha we go to have our bikes fixed. Accidents happen. ABC Arusha Bike Company is our destination, and we’ve been assured the manager will allow us to wild camp on the large property. On their website, I read the following:
"Enhancing Lives Through Bicycles.
ABC Bicycle Company Limited is the largest retail and wholesale refurbished bicycle distributor at an affordable rate in Tanzania. Established in Olasiti, the outskirts of Arusha Town, with a branch in Moshi, Kilimanjaro Region. ABC imports Bicycles from Switzerland in partnership with Velafrica. ABC Bicycle Company partners with ABC Impact in Arusha, Tanzania, to help students overcome long distances to and from school and other programs to create awareness of the value chain of bicycles and their positive impact on people’s lives."
Impressive. Once again, our knowledge and impressions of foreign countries and some NGO's have been proved incorrect.
We stopped in a sea of bicycles, and the staff welcomed us with big smiles. We have permission to camp, and to seal our deal (not that we asked), the night watchman will keep a close eye on us, we’re promised.
The delightful receptionist books a bajaji to whisk us off to a mall for supper. In Tanzania, you can’t go wrong ordering Curry. The cooks and chefs have got the spicing just right. Cheeky, hot and a tickle to the tastebuds, we taste India in every bite. Star Anise, Cinnamon, an interesting Garam Masala and Chillies galore. It’s not sweet and mild like our Tumeric-infused Malay Curry.
The minute we land in Arusha, two things happen: 1. The temperature drops by at least eight degrees and 2. Safari vehicles are like ants in our pants—a nuisance. The bikes have been unleashed and will be serviced tomorrow first thing.
The Bikes have been valeted, serviced, repaired and are 100% good to go. Arusha has three million bicycles, and Arusha Bicycle Company’s bikes cut their baby teeth on the Swiss Alps, but Tanzania puts them through their paces. Rusty, trusty, they’re geared to endure conditions well beyond their capabilities.
As good as new, our trusty steeds are strapped and harnessed back onto the Honey Badger. All the staff affectionately embraced us. Spoilt, treated and welcomed us. Here the upliftment, success and empowerment of staff through training and new skills is as important as selling bicycles, one of the Trustees told Butch.
We were queued for lunch from the staff kitchen, a feast. The chef and sous chef were generous in their portions. Do we look underfed? They just smiled. The watermelon, our first for the season, was a treat.
A Shona proverb: “Kandiro Kanoenda Kunobya Kamwe."
Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you. Literally, “The plate of food goes where another comes from”.” We are constantly reminded of this truth.
Teary farewells from us, kindness pulls at the heartstrings. Group photos that included us. Just like that, we’re family. Another reminder: “What you’ve found, eat with relatives because strangers are forgetful”.
The professional photographer employed by ABC does a sterling job and ensures that their social media presence on all platforms are up to the minute, engaging and fun.
At 15h00, it’s time to hit the road, Jack.
I’ll never forget ABC Bike Company: efficiency, pride, hard work, ambition, spontaneity, generosity, and kindness all come to mind. Teamwork is dreamwork.
Up, up and away, we climb the mountains to Peacematunda Campsite and Backpackers. Engaging full-on 4x4, we did a steady grind and climb through subtropical forests and hairpin bends. We slithered and slid like a lazy puff adder, negotiating potholed roads, never imagining these conditions possible a mere 1.5km from Arusha’s CBD. We’ve still not learned.
Finally, we see the signposts hidden in an ancient cluster of bamboo. If truth be told, dear Diary, I didn’t anticipate we’d make it over the rickety bridge. Butch was gung-ho while I clutched my thumbs and prayed. Onlookers called me Doubting Thomas. Filmed for posterity and an insurance claim.
During the late afternoon the donkey is stoked with fresh wood. Hot showers are sublime on a cold night. A soft mist envelopes us. We pull up the duvet and fall asleep, listening to Bushbabies and the trickling brook gurgling below us.
A housewife’s work is never done; she must do housekeeping, laundry, and smoothies using frozen ripened subtropical fruit.
We met a German matriculant and her chaperone aunt, volunteers at the Peacematunda Orphanage for their summer holidays. Admirable. We doubt anyone we know would sacrifice a summer holiday voluntarily!
The campsite needs a little TLC. Showers are good when the donkey’s fired up. I was relieved of my laundry. One of the housekeepers offered to get stuck into it. It’s such a rare treat.
We’re still enshrouded in mist. Does it ever lift? Only occasionally does a thin shaft of sunlight penetrate. The laundry’s not dry the ancient lady proclaims. Akuna Matata. "Arrangements can be made Akuna Matata", the manager says when we find him.
While enjoying our morning coffee, the highlight was observing a platoon of army ants march across our road. They were relentless in their mission and cleared a path 2cm in width. We Captured the march on video. Liam (or his parents) will be fascinated.
We woke up to a flooded bathroom. Panic stations. Woodrot worries. Back into Arusha to have the Honey Badger pampered. She will not be ignored nor outdone for attention.
One phone call to Kieran, and we had a lead. Wasim, at Wasim Trans Garage, took one professional look and assured Butch it was a minor maintenance repair job. It turns out that the inlet water pipe in the bathroom had detached and could be repaired in a jiffy.
Anacreon delivered two new khaki shorts and an enema kit (instead of an EAR irrigation kit) for my beloved. There was to be no eudemonia for Butch’s constipated ears. Anacreon offers to fetch the laundry. We make a dinner date.
I really can’t wait to get out of the city.
One pair of Butch’s new shorts, unworn, has three Jik burns on the derriere. The bottle tipped over and dripped undiluted bleach onto B’s favourite khaki shorts. Murphy’s Law. No hakuna matata this morning.
We're going west to Lake Manyara and staying at Migombani Camp for two nights.
The countryside delivers colourful surprises, rolling hills, arid patches and swathes of cultivated lands. Sometimes, even sunflowers turn their heads towards us.
Migombani Camp is uniquely located and built high on an escarpment plateau. It provides endless views of Lake Manyara and the Great Rift Valley and is the gateway to many national parks. With the picturesque Lake Manyara in the foreground, the campsite is one of the closest accommodations to the entrance of Lake Manyara National Park.
With some persuasion (we offer the “pensioners-don’t-drive-at-night” card), we secured the last campsite on the terrace overlooking rolling lawns, the gigantic Baobab and the infinity swimming pool before the view drops and rolls across the valley and Lake Manyara.
Safari vehicles soon arrived, filled with very pale tourists, backpacks and tents. Charcoal fires light up as chefs start prepping evening meals for their guests. All around, a cacophony of foreign languages can be heard. In a tent a mere 5 meters away there's an outburst of rapid fire French. Nerves are frayed.
The two Haredim (Orthodox Israelis) pitched their tents a few yards off the Honey Badger’s nose and immediately began preparing their Shabbat meal. Dressed in their robes, neat Payots and yarmulke, they fulfilled their religious duties and prayers.
As the sun set, candles lit up dinner tables like stars, when the gong sounded guests floated down the terraces to enjoy a safari-style dinner under balmy skies. Butch did our Friday night steak braai to perfection. We slept like little logs.
It was a leisurely morning for us while our neighbours hurriedly packed tents and luggage. Coffee and rusks were served before they set off, presumably on a safari to the Ngorogoza crater. I could hear the sing-song chant of the Hebrew Saturday (Sabbath) morning prayers.
Glorifying God in this place on this perfect morning must be glorious. “Adonai, I love being in Your house, the place where Your glory dwells. I will bow and bend my knees and kneel in praise before the God Who made me. And I will pray to You, Adonai, at this time of favour; God, in the greatness of Your love, answer me with the truth of Your salvation.”
I think fondly of my Jewish friends scattered worldwide who, united, will say this very same prayer today.
We jumped into our walking shorts and sneakers, donned our hats, set our walking sticks, and walked to Lake Manyara National Park’s gate. Lions do climb trees here.
The ubiquitous informal fresh produce, colourful touristy stalls make my day. A snooper's delight, you will find the needle in a hay stack. Finding something adds value to the economy.
I am catching up with Sunday’s blog—"Serenity inspires every word when we’re submerged in the abundance of nature." Anon.
The pool beckons, but a newly engaged couple have a photoshoot going on. Her ringfinger weighed down by a heavy gemstone. Later, a new herd of tourists arrived, breaking our peaceful spell like a swirling cloud of Red-billed Quellea.
Tents go up. Chefs unpack saucepans and crates of food, the same procedure as last night, Miss Sophie.
The sun has just hit our solarpanels as we shut our windows, roll down the blinds and reverse out of our campsite, manoeuvring carefully between the tents.
We’re heading to the top of the pass, where we’ll stop to enjoy the view. Breathtaking. A vast landscape of water and giant skeletal trees. We feel like voyeurs, our binoculars scanning lodges and villages sprinkled liberally below us. Early morning cooking fires’ smoke coils lazily in thin, blue, silky tendrils into the sky.
The Barista serves Tanzanian Coffee at the Tanzanite Experience at Manyara Kibaoni. My coffee addiction kicked in.
We peruse magnificent cut stones in the Atelier. (too rich for my blood and too fancy). Let the Chinese couple planning their dream engagement be thrilled. The bride-to-be insists on an investment in an heirloom. (Ching-ching goes the credit card while the assistant ties a red satin ribbon around a small ring box.) The curio shop is a visitor's treasure trove of interesting novelties. I steal with my eyes and trusty camera.
While we waited for our coffees, I snooped around art. The talented artist, Kingu, busy at work, took a few minutes off to accompany me, pointing out his favourite pieces.
I told Kingu of my appreciation of art and showed him Bar Knight’s (my son) work on Instagram. “Ahh”, he said, “Jean-Michel Basquiat is alive!” He graciouslyI agreed. “He is very talented. I see he does collage!” the soft-spoken man said, fascinated. Kingu knows his oats.
Butch was chomping at the bit albeit outwardly calm; I am too curious and have a motor mouth. “Curb your enthusiasm, Maricha,” a voice warns. But I can’t, dear Diary. The open wifi saved the day. We always have silly fun when it's offered.
We made it in good time, enjoying the landscape, so different to what we've experienced, to have supper in the dining room at Foresight Eco Lodge and Safari.
This would be the first time we, lowly overlanders, got an ensemble singing a welcome song when we stopped. The views, quaint A-frame wooden cottages, suspended walkways and gardens promised an excellent visit. The scent of pine oil infuses the air.
We joined other guests at the firepit for sundowners and then for supper.
All tables were reserved. The trained Chef, George Washington, was a card. Soup followed by a buffet-style main course and dessert. A perfect end to the weekend. Leaves are added to the fire, the smoke and oils in the leaves act as an insect repellent. We were infused by the fragrant smokey perfume. Not stooi's at all!
We struck up a conversation with a German guy on his motorbike. Of course he's in finance, how else does one travel extensively at 28? I’m always fascinated by adventurers.
The gardens are a work in progress and all the staff are involved in the plantings and maintenance of the borders. Banana trees make an interesting feature lining walkways. My Mom would've loved this garden, I recognise many plants she had in her rambling gardens.
Anita, a German lady, on safari met Ernest, Rapha's Dad, who was her driver, after spending time and hearing his story Anita inspired by Ernest, had the foresight, to invest in the local community, the land and made a commitment of support by building a lodge. The lodge is now managed by Ernest, a partner, and mentored by Anita who is still acitvely involved and frequently spends time at Foresight Eco Lodge. This is another example where a vision becomes a successful reality.
There’s no peace for the wicked. Up at 4h00 this morning. We wriggle into our safari gear, boots, hats and puffer jackets well before sunrise. A thick meringue mist drips fat drops onto the idling Land Cruiser where Rapha (Raphael), our guide, is waiting to whisk us off to Ngorongoro National Park to see a crater.
Wish list tick. The fees are exorbitant, but we succumb with the other’s permission. We dip into our savings and vow we’ll save on eating out. Right.
Mysterious drive through the dense rain forest ascending the crater’s rim, Yellow foglights cast a jaundiced glow, illuminating a few meters of gravel road. Giant acacias, rubber trees, and other indigenous trees choked by spineless tendrils draped and twirled heavily around branches and trunks—the ghostlike silhouettes of trees silent, limbs outstretched, like dancing ogres frozen in the spooky grey light.
Raffa points out a pair of Buffalo and a Giraffe in the glow.
The open top Land Rover or Toyota Land Cruiser is synonymous with Safariing in East Africa and could be regarded as a sub-species of wildlife, we capture them as we would an elephant.
"Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Ngorongoro district. 180km from Arusha, The Ngorongoro Crater is a large volcanic caldera.
A caldera is a large cauldron-like hollow that forms shortly after the emptying of magma in a volcano eruption. When large volumes of magma are erupted over a short time, structural support for the rock above the magma chamber is gone. The ground surface then collapses into the emptied or partially emptied magma chamber, leaving a significant depression at the surface (from one to dozens of kilometres in diameter)."
Ngorongoro originates from the onomatopoeic sound of the cowbells’ ringing galong-galong (ngoro-ngoro in Swahili), traditionally worn by the Maasai cattle. The Ngorongoro is the traditional homeland of the Maasai tribes.
Land use is controlled to prevent adverse effects on wildlife and to protect grazing. For example, cultivation is prohibited at all but subsistence levels. Recently, the Maasai were relocated to higher ground and do not currently occupy the caldera.
Like a heavy stage curtain drawn, the mist lifted. The sun, a moving spotlight, beams highlighting trees and grazing Zebra as we snake into the crater, revealing the velvety, brittle, golden grasses that carpet the landscape during the dry season.
Also, it reveals the impact of tourism in Tanzania. Tourists are encouraged to use Safari companies and guides to visit the park. Although fees are exorbitant (for us), private vehicles are charged an extra cost and the Honey Badger even more. Besides, I don’t think we’d have been kindly received by safari operators and might not have enjoyed the sightings we were treated to. The road running along the crater rim is a public road and used by small vehicles and huge trucks alike en-route to western districts and the Serengeti.
There were dozens of safari vehicles scurrying all over the park when we reached the crater/caldera floor and stopped for our first sighting.
Drivers are in radio contact, and as soon as there’s something newsworthy to report (e.g. a lion sighting), the word is out, and like iron shavings drawn to a magnet, the race is on.
Most vehicles stick to the same route once leading vehicles report back specific sightings. The sportsman’s agreement among drivers is that each safari vehicle spends a certain amount of time enjoying the sighting before moving on. In this way, all the vehicles can spend time with good visibility. It’s very much like a conveyor belt moving forward. In a private vehicle, one wouldn’t be privy to this.
Although unaccustomed to this safari style, we were in awe of our surroundings. The cherry on top was the teeming herds of wildebeest, gazelle, buffalo, and lion sightings.
Butch recalled the story of his Uncle Tommy, who, on his way to Ethiopia to liberate the country from Fascist Italy during WW2, stopped on the lip of the crater and saw the plains teeming with hundreds of thousands of gazelle, elephant and the cats. This made such a lasting impression that Butch was determined to see the phenomenon himself.
Before the apple disaster, Eve felt in awe as I did, surveying Eden for the first time. (Adam was easy, one bite and he was a-gonner).
For lunch, we joined the other game viewers parked along the lake’s eastern edge, where we alighted our vehicle and enjoyed a scrumptious full picnic basket prepared by George Washington (his full name always ) and packed by Rapha.
After lunch, we slowly made our way east, taking a slow drive home. The climb out of the caldera offers us the opportunity to see the plains animals from on high. There were the elephant we hadn't spotted all day.
It is only now that I understand what I experienced, the magnitude of the plains, the preservation and conservation of wildlife for posterity and future generations. In my mind’s eye, it is impossible to imagine an 8,292 square kilometer parcel of land. But, being in an open safari vehicle and able to stand and turn 360˚, and as far as I can see, there’s a golden caldera protected by looming crater walls as high as the blue sky cradling huge herds of wildlife who are protected by and dependent on the natural circle of life. Amazing.
My jaw dropped when Rapha reminded me that various hominid species have occupied the area for 3 million years based on fossil evidence at the Olduvai Gorge.
Rapha’s heartfelt confession about his disappointing experience with previous clients highlighted a sad truth about arrogance. Guides, like Rapha are passionate about their knowledge and see it as a vocation, they're eager to teach, tell and show about wildlife and nature. They take pride in sharing their knowledge, anecdotes and bush lore and enjoy interacting with clients who ask reasonable questions and even share their knowledge. When grumpy and obnoxious clients treat guides with disdain and undermine their authority/expertise, they are deeply hurt, offended and shocked, yet, while on duty, must weather the blows without missing a beat. On safari the customer is always right he reminded us. The insult affects their self-confidence. Butch and I were touched that he trusted us with his pain and humiliation. The tongue is more dangerous than a gun.
I hear the dinner gong sound.
Reminder to self: do not forget to mention the new species and sub-species we were introduced to e.g. new gazelles and zebras with striped stockings. I hope my photographs will illustrate the magnitude of the landscape yet, highlight the littlest seed and tiniest hatchling. The Ngorogoro is about the big picture and then turn it ons it's head and zoom in.. I must remember everything.
Tuesday 25th to Fri 29th
We’ve moved on to Flamingo Lodge and Campsite in Karatu. The cold, misty weather does not augur well when you depend on sunlight to charge solar panels.
Our new campsite, just a few hundred meters off the main road, suits us.
A bustling village specialising in the Car Wash business. The dusty red clay street to our campsite is lined with small businesses, restaurants and a parade of happy children. I especially love the pretty cloth hanging over the front door of one house. We dropped our laundry for a professional launder.
The campsite needs TLC, but it’s conveniently situated, enabling us to walk to the village to shop.
Butch and I are in love with Rapha. He’s highly intelligent, funny, and a raconteur who encapsulates all the qualities we admire in our children and grandchildren. His visits break our routines and inspire us to explore.
His recommendation to try a local restaurant gets the thumbs up. The cooks specialise in a traditional pork rib dish. Delicious. The fried bananas served as an accompaniment is a novel idea, we loved the flavours.
We wended our way home, zig-zagging through narrow streets and the fresh produce market and stopped at a European Bistro for coffee, to Rapha's disappointment. The coffee was excellent, but he thinks we could’ve done better elsewhere. (We guiltily returned for coffee the next day after our cycle and again for a curry. Delicious.)
The newly serviced bikes must be tested Butch announced. The hilly, elevated terrain did not auger well for me. My legs were weak, and I struggled with aches and pains. It could be dehydration again. When it came to the umpteenth hill, I picked up my ball and announced I was going home. A downhill all the way. I loved it.
An Overlander stopped with a busload of American University Students and a few adults. They’ve taken over. Fortunately, they’ve had early starts and long days. I heard the guide announce departure at 8h00. Silence descended upon us at 22h00. Quite civil, and we meet up with Kiringo a guide, from Kenya working for Intrepid Travel.
On our way into the village we spotted, in the nick of time, a tiny furry critter, Butch thought it was a sneaky mole and almost put his size 10 foot atop it. Caution prevailed and on closer inspection realised it was a tiny hedgehog.
"The African pygmy hedgehog, or four-toed hedgehog, nungunungu in Swahili, can be found across much of Eastern, Western, and Central Africa. They weigh between one and two lbs. They are seven to nine inches long.
Nocturnal, resting in rock crevices, under tangles of brushwood or dry leaf litter during the day." Rapha told us and Wiki confirmed.
Rapha said these cuties are often kept as lucky charms and pets, as a schoolboy, he kept one in his shirt pocket. Unfortunately, they’re also traded illegally.
Butch gently moved him into the scrub for safety.
Another landmark day. This morning Butch did it! He went to a local butcher and purchased a 2kg rump steak. The butcher was insistent that he would select the Top Rump as requested. Butch relented and bowed to his superior knowledge when he wielded his machete, butchering our supper. It was not the top rump but a beautiful, well-hung, clean and fresh cut of meat. The butcher's knife (machete) skills are impressive. Butch unwraps the newspaper to reveal our dinner. Supper would be a treat served with garlic butter. Rare.
On his hunt to find the restaurant on the corner’s proprietress, Butch was introduced to Fatima, a home cook two houses up. Who agreed to prepare a traditional meal for supper.
He packed a few serving dishes in a basket and, at 17h00, went off to collect our supper. A Halaal chicken curry and Roti.
At 12h00, the next day, there was a knock on our door—Fatima with a tray laden with bowls and covered dishes. Shocked, we tell her we’ve not ordered lunch.
“No!” she says, gesticulating madly while stepping inside. “I am here to serve you!” We’re dumbfounded. “Sit,” she says, adjusting her Hijab, and asks for our cutlery and plates. What can we do but obey?
We are served a delicious Tanzanian beef stew, vegetables and sticky rice. We insist she and her firstborn son join us for lunch.
Just before sunset, we set off to Fatima’s, where we meet her daughter and a baby, her Mum and Ruth, her best friend and a tribe of shy littlies. While under the magnifying glass, we sipped our cups of spicy maise tea. Butch loved it and immediately put in an order for a flask of tea. To be collected by him the following day at 10h00.
We cycle a few more times, and I manage far better and even enjoy the rides and our visit to Foresight Eco Lodge to say Hi and have a coffee and biscuits.
Another busy day goes by in a flash. Next to me, I hear a gentle purr of contentment—time to switch off the light.
Saturday 30th – Tuesday 1st
I must keep this short and sweet. We’ve taken the plunge and will dip into the children’s inheritance (the SKIN principle) to tick another bucket list item. The Serengeti. An arm and a leg. After thinking long and hard about it, we’ve accepted Ernest’s quotation for the five-day, fully catered, guided trip to the Serengeti and Lake Natron.
Butch finds a campsite where we’ll be permitted to leave the truck while we go on Safari. Kudu Campsite and Lodge is a popular destination with Overlanders and foreign guests who fly in, stay a night and then go off on Safari on organised package tours.
Fatima delivers our spicy tea and shows me how to tie a Hijab with the scarf I gift her. She removes a lovely black beaded necklace, instructs me to turn around and fastens her precious, and only, necklace around my neck. The kindness of strangers has overwhelmed us time and again.
Butch insists she accepts his gift. She does so reluctantly.
On his motorbike, our German acquaintance Wolfgang is packing his saddlebags and preparing to leave via Kingo's art gallery where he's purchasing a painting.
A red Rotel truck pulls in. Their guests sleep in 600mm x 600mm and 2m in length cubicles. My claustrophobia doesn’t allow me to even think about this. Many guests are from the Netherlands we pick up.
We’ve binged on too many fast foods (in our defence, here they’re not fast foods, but wholesome Gourmet indulgences. The freshest organic, ingredients are used and the generous patties are homemade!)
We are preparing for our Safari to Serengeti. The days are busy with activities. Rapha has been around to give us final instructions on what to pack and promises to meet us at 6h00 sharp.
Anacreon and Carolyn deliver our fresh laundry and spend the night with us before we set off in the morning.
Our last supper is local. Anacreon orders a bajaji to take us to an upmarket restaurant for a traditional dinner and Konyagi shooters for the boys.
Our hearts are full after catching up with our dear friends. I’ve set the alarm for an ungodly hour. I can see Butch’s eyebrows lifting sceptically. Excitement bubbles inside me. I probably won’t sleep a wink.
Until the plains of the Serengeti, dear Diary, I sign off before the alarm shrilly sounds.
Wasim Trans +255 764 024772
(Specialising in the conversion of Safari vehicles and offers storage of vehicles.)