I awake rested. Zanzibar is great, especially the hotel Emerson Spice and it’s giant poster bed with mosquito netting and a ceiling fan insidethe bed frame. But the Serengeti awaits us tonight and I’m excited to go. The South Africa safari a few weeks ago was so amazing that I can’t wait to do it all again on mainland Tanzania.
You can check out any time you like…
The island of Zanzibar won’t let go so easily. First, Emerson Spice is incredibly slow with breakfast and the taxi driver arrives late. But the real problem begins at the airport, when the ‘security’ lady says we need paper tickets from the airline ticket office. They don’t yet take e-tickets at the Zanzibar airport.
I walk out and around the corner to the office of ‘Precision Air’ and they guy behind the counter is nice enough, although he comments that I shouldn’t need paper tickets. The dot matrix printer he is using with his DOS program (I’m not kidding) malfunctions and it takes a while. By the time I return, they tell us we have missed the flight. The manager tells me it’s my fault that I’m late and I will have to pay a fee. Maybe they can send us later in the day.
I lose my cool and yell. I’m not proud of my temper, but it seems to work this time. Another guy comes out and says they won’t charge us the fee and we can be at Kilamanjaro airport only a few hours from now. It does take another 50 minutes to cancel and change our flight with the DOS program and the dot matrix printer, but it gets done eventually.
The boss says he would like me to send an angry letter to them because they have been trying to get the security people to stop making everyone print out paper tickets. He says I have helped him. Ha! His buddy that I yelled at doesn’t look so pleased though. I give them all tips and say I’m sorry.
In the boarding lounge we pass the time by playing a game invented on our Italy trip. The girls then were playing a sing-songy kids game called ‘Concentration’ where you have to name an item in a category like ‘clothes’ until one person is unable to name another item. I modified the game to include that loser gets a punch in the arm as soon as she loses.
Lily wins a few rounds of punch-centration. We buy some stuff at the nice coffee vendor inside.
The flight to Kilamanjaro goes through Dar es Salam, and the plane lands in a matter of minutes because it’s on the coast across from Zanzibar just a few miles away.
I ask the attendant what to do when we get off because we are switching planes to get to Kilamanjaro airport. ‘You have to disembark and get new boarding passes, but you’ll come back on this plane.’ Sounds easy enough.
We get off with the passengers, and are surprised to be in the international arrivals section, with uniformed guards and passport control officers in a long barrier in front of us. But ours was a domestic flight. Zanzibar is part of Tanzania. They won’t let us go through immigration again and we are stuck here in a bureaucratic black hole.
I ask someone what to do and she says to wait at the ‘transit desk’ which is loudly marked but unmanned. We wait a while, but anxiety rises becauase we only have 40 minutes to get back on that plane and even less time to lose before our safari departs.
After 10 minutes, she takes me to the lost baggage guy for Precision Air, who calls someone on his cell phone. Again, he says ‘Wait at the transit desk.’ And again, no one shows there. 20 minutes have gone by.
Now we are really nervous and the place is now nearly empty. I’m pretty sure we will miss the connecting flight. Who knows where our bags will go?
Trish goes through some airport security doors that should be locked and is quickly pushed back out by a woman in a neon vest. Fortunately By breaking the rules, we have caught the attention of the only person who knows what to do. She flashes her badge at the passport control line, opens a door and points us on to the street where taxis are lined up and passengers are loading and unloading bags.
‘Go check in again at domestic’ she says. Domestic is the next terminal about a hundred yards away. Holy cow, I don’t know how we were to know this? We clear domestic security again and get new boarding passes. A few other people like us seem lost too. Precision air seems… wait for it…. damn imprecise.
On the other side, a woman admonishes us that we are late and are holding up the plane. Really? Now it’s my fault too? They have held the plane fortunately and 90 minutes later it lands in Kilamanjaro airport.
The Tanzania safari week was even harder to book than South Africa. My first attempts using trip advisor and guide books failed because they only listed lodges in the parks. I found them to be more expensive than we could afford. But with more reading, I figured out that I wanted to look at operators out of Arusha, the largest city in Northern Tanzania out of which all the budget safari operators are located.
Jackpot – I found a half dozen operators that book camping/budget safaris. All of them got comparable reviews on trip advisor, and the costs were very close. I chose East African Safari because the responses to my emails were the best, and they were the only ones to change my requested itinerary (slightly) for the better.
The others took my suggested itinerary completely literally even though there was an obviously better way to arrange the days. Sadly the costs of a budget/camping safari in the Serengeti area are about the same as South Africa for a much higher grade of service – partly because the Rand is so devalued.
Silent Saige and the Serengeti
I was worried that the bags wouldn’t make it, but they did. Waiting for us at arrivals is a guy with a sign ‘Creekmores’. He is not very clear or talkative but he says his name is Saige and will be our guide and driver.
It’s an hour to the East Safari office in Arusha. The box lunches we get on the way are ghastly: cold fried meat ball, a brown banana and water. And then our guide can’t find the East Africa office. It’s obvious that he’s never been there, which is weird.
Worse, Trish is in tears. Her back and hips hurt so much that she cries in the car. She had a bad accident at a young age and has metal rods that fuse two vertebrae in her lower back. Sometimes the pain is crushing, and long travel doesn’t help. It’s been flaring up badly and she is worried she won’t be able to travel any more because it’s been so bad. There isn’t much to do to comfort her.
The East African Safari Office
We find the ‘office’ of East Africa. There is an abandoned building, car parts and areas where trash has been burning. The owner, Simon, reminds Trish of Jabba the Hut. Yes, he’s a little over weight, but it’s more the way he just sits there ordering people in swahili over the cell phone he holds. He also doesn’t talk to us much either, except to remind me that I to pay him the second half of the bill via Pay pal, which I do in their small office.
The jeep we are taking is quite small for 6 people (us, plus driver and a cook), camping gear for 6 days and all our luggage. So we have to unpack and repack, leaving some stuff at the‘office’. Trish’s back is still killing her and she can’t help much. I do most of it myself, frantically, because ‘we are very late!’ the guide says. I’m sure I’ve forgotten things.
Just as we go, I remember that Simon promised there would be a way to get my camera battery charged. The guide and cook say they don’t have anything like a charger in the gear, but another staff person at the office assures me that all the public campsites have outlets. I hope they are right. I will not be happy if I can’t take pictures on safari.
We roll out and Trish is still teary. The roads are mixed, some clear pavement, some bumpy dirt and some with holes a foot deep. Saige is obviously pushing to get there fast and it’s bone rattling in an old jeep with no shocks.
It’s obvious that we won’t be there till night fall, and that will make setting up camp harder. We were supposed to do a hike on the crater edge, but that got scrapped a long time ago.
Simba Camp, Nogorongoro Conservation Area
At the Ngorongoro park entrance, there is a tiny ‘museum’ where the kids and I discuss evolution. They are pretty interested in the concept at this age. It’s not far from here that some of the oldest bones of human ancestors were discovered. They are particularly fascinated to know that it’s likely that humans lived with pre-humans at the same time.
There are just traces of light when we hit the ‘Simba’ public camp at Ngorongoro, which is a grassy area and about 20 small tents, two buildings and a few latrines. The camp has a cooks area, which is greasy with years of heavy use. Pots clang and charcoal burns as they prepare dinner for various groups.
It’s too late to cook any meat. Paul the cook serves a gruel he calls ‘potato soup’ and a greasy vegetable pasta with some white bread. We don’t have chairs to sit on, and the meal is rushed, but it’s the first hot thing we’ve eaten in a while. Paul is very apologetic.
Trish takes a Valium to go with the dozens of ibuprofin and loopily proclaims “I feel much better now that I’m on a lot of drugs!” When she goes to the toilet in the moonlit darkness, some people whisper ‘Whoa, she doesn’t even see it.’ She has nearly run into an elephant ass that was, admittedly, in the dark. But it’s still an elephant she missed right next to the toilet. It could have been dangerous.
The electricity situation is difficult here but as promised there are outlets in the public dining area. Saige says nothing is safe so I have to babysit the Kindles and my camera batteries while they charge.
The tent flap is broken and won’t stay shut. They have only a few medium wool blankets for the 40F night air. The chilled air blows through the tiny tent. Lily and I make a ball, trying to keep warm. She and I are the ones in the family that like to cuddle. Emma and Trish prefer to be separate. They avoid night-time blanket sharing fights.
It was a rough today but when I wake up, I will expect tomorrow to go according to plan, just like I expected this morning.