A Tanzanian Road Trip: The Kilimanjaro Region Edition. (Day 1-3)

DSC_0489 copyAfter our grueling journey from Cairo to Kilimanjaro International Airport, which include nearly 4 hours of layover time in the Nairobi Airport, just enough time for a nap and meal, we were in Tanzania, outside of Arusha. We hit the ATM at the airport to get all the cash we could, because despite setting money aside for the car from day 1, we had to pay $250 USD cash to Tanzania’s immigration department for our Visas. NOTE: when we visited Zanzibar in 2016, we were able to pay with card, but since then their payment terms have changed.  With this unexpected issue, we had to visit the airport ATM to get more cash, however it was still not enough for our rental car. When we met up with our car provider, for our rented 4×4 Land Cruiser for this leg of the adventure, we had to strike a deal with him to pay with credit card when we returned the car because even with the ATM withdrawl we did not have enough cash for him and what lie ahead. Thankfully, he was flexible on this issue.

It wasn’t long before Brad was behind the wheel on the opposite side of the car & the opposite side of the road, cruising. We were warned by the owner of our vehicle to not exceed the speed limit because of photo radar (aka a man hiding in the bushes of Tanzania with a radar gun). Well, somehow, despite not speeding, we were pulled over on the side of the road by a Tanzanian officer dressed in all white. He claimed that they had a picture of Brad (it was on the officers cell phone) & that he was exceeding the speed limit. Brad had a choice.. fight it and possibly be taken in and have to fight it in court, or be quiet, pissed, and pay up $15 USD. Well, Brad paid the man… and got his very first speeding ticket… haha. (don’t worry I have a copy)

Anyways, we continued on to Moshi. We stopped in the small town in hope of picking up some snacks, and we did find a small convenience store but the options were very limited, but we were able to get a large pack of water and KitKats.  From there, we continued onto our hotel at Lake Chala. On our way down the incredibly rough dirt road, we had to stop at the Wildlife Management Area office to register. Not just register, but pay a fee. My weaselly and stingy husband (who works in the Congo, mind you), who knew about this ahead of time because of my research, was trying to get out of it. He tried every way he could claiming that hotel covered it, the hotel said it was covered, blah blah blah. Meanwhile, I was just sitting there so aggravated and slightly taken aback at how far Brad was willing to go to try and get out of giving the Tanzanian government any of our Tanzanian shillings …which they didn’t even want. (They wanted US Dollars.) NOTE: Do I blame Brad for wanting to get out of it, absolutely not. African governments can be astoundingly shifty. …but I was exhausted, sweaty, and just wanted to rest. I WANTED TO GO. Finally, Brad had no choice but to surrender more of his hard earned shillings to the man.

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DSC_0372With Brad feeling even more irritated and ready to lose it, we got our paperwork, continued on our way & finally arrived at our hotel in the late afternoon. We were the only guests staying there (now I know why). The place was very clean, and the view over Lake Chala was stunning, but this was easily one of the most poorly run hotels we have ever stayed at (we’ll get more into that later). Before showers & dinner, we decided to take the hike down to the lake since we were already covered in travel grime. It was a bit slippery from the recent rain, but it was a beautiful short jungle trek with gorgeous views over the turquoise water below. We spent a short while on the dock overlooking the deep jewel toned waters & watching the locals a little ways down the water’s edge making a fire.

We headed back to our tent which had a deck that overlooked the lush plains below. We stood there for a little while hoping to spot some wildlife, but there was little to see.

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After washing hours of travel grime off of ourselves and changing into clean clothes, we headed over to the “lounge” for dinner. It was basic, not just basic, but dry… It was not the first meal I was hoping for in Tanzania which was a bummer since food in Africa is typically always mind blowingly delicious, and something I always miss. Not only was IMG_1741our meal not great, but the staff was telling us how horrible their boss was which made our meal a little uncomfortable. We were the only ones there for dinner and it began to rain as we ate. We made a game of counting the geckos that had joined us. Itwas their turn to feast.  They shut the area down early, before the daylight was even 100% gone because we were the only guests and the rain. We headed back for a quiet nights sleep. It seemed there was no big game in the area, and not even the baboons kept us up.

The next morning we had our bags packed early, and grabbed our breakfast. Then we headed to the main house to pay for our stay. Well, what we found out when we got there was shocking. They didn’t accept credit cards, only accepted cash. We were trying to find ways around this but there was nothing to be done. They had no way to process a credit card, The internet didn’t even work,  so wiring funds at that moment proved impossible. We weren’t willing to hand over cash because it was going to take up the vast majority of it, and holding onto cash in this country was already proving to be more challenging than anticipated. So, after probably an hour of dealing with their mess which included bad communication from the time of booking, and Brad trying to help get their internet up and running,  we left with an agreement to wire money when we returned to the states.

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Once we were back in the car, we headed back through the Wildlife Management gate, and went on towards our next adventure. We stopped back in Moshi for lunch and cash, and were going out of our way to avoid the police. We found the bank, but getting money there was a hassle. Our car had to be inspected, we had to park a certain way, and getting cash naturally was a challenge.

Needing a break, we stopped at the Coffee Union Cafe for lunch to hold us over until we got to our next hotel. The food was decent, and it was nice to have a quick meal that met our expectations, as well as a break from the Tanzanian roads where it felt like anything goes in terms of being pulled over. NOTE: …I got pulled over while driving so that the could inspect the vehicle, and verify our credentials… crazy

We had to face the roads again at some point, and once we were far from the city and reached our off road point we finally felt like we could breathe again. We were in Maasai territory, and I was in heaven. We were headed to the Maasai Lodge, a 5 star heaven in the middle of nowhere. I have nothing but praise for this hotel. For starters, the drive in was a blast! There was so much to take in… Villagers, rock scapes, livestock… I was in my African heaven. When we got there, we were greeted wit dance and song which was enchanting. They got our bags to our room for us, gave us a run down of the place and showed us to our incredible mud hut.

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It wasn’t long before we were back outside with a couple of other women who were recovering from climbing Kilimanjaro. They were a riot, and in Maasai costume, and we had a great time talking to them while we all learned about Maasai culture and got to learn spear throwing and experience the Maasai dance and song for hunting (it gives me butterflies). We were all like a bunch of little kids with huge smiles on our face as we raced the rains to the main house. We had to outrun the downpour. It was so fun. A little while later was dinner. ..and it was exceptional. We were fed a wonderful 3 course meal of soup, meat and veggies, and dessert. The perfect African meal and completely worthy of the 5 stars the hotel bares.

IMG_8176We were so lucky because the next day they let us check out at 3PM because they didn’t have anyone coming in after us. We made the most of it. We had breakfast, did a walk through the plains with Jeremiah, our Maasai guide, took in the views and rested. Then after lunch we decided to get out of their hair, but I was definitely sad to go. We were suppose to visit Arusha National Park that day, but because of the number of days we had coming up in National Parks, we opted to take it easy. NOTE: A big part of this decision was also the cost. The planned cost between park fees & conservation area fees was in the thousands, and we thought it would be wise to reduce this a bit, since we just wanted to relax anyways. Our drive back was just as exciting, we had to cross the shallow ponds created by the rains, and wait for herds of cattle to move. We met some of the local kids, and chased by others. We watched a storm move through, and embraced it.

IMG_1851When we got back to Arusha, we went straight to our hotel, Mount Meru Game Lodge. So while the rooms and bathrooms were just alright, the location was AMAZING! The outside was like a giant garden. With towering trees that monkeys going from end of the property to the other in a flash, towering cactus, and water buffalo. Yes, buffalo…. They were on the other side of a low wall, but you could get within feet of these giant beauties. There were also several species of birds. It was awesome! This hotel was far more exciting that I anticipated when booking. Despite the constant light rain & the mob of mosquitos, I couldn’t not keep myself inside. I wanted to be with the animals. Naturally, I was speaking to them constantly.

Eventually, though, I had to give into the idea of dinner, so I ordered a nice piece of Chicken Schnitzel with chips (French fries) which was a funny change of African eating. With bellies full, after the long, but restful day, we decided to retire to our room to prepare for day 4.

After a decent night’s sleep at the game lodge in Arusha we packed up our bags, again, and grabbed breakfast. We hung out a little bit longer so that I could get some additional pictures of the resident animals & then we checked out to head to our next stop…. We stopped and loaded up on snacks and water again for our next drive. It was about 3 hours to the Tarangire area, but we were ready. We are road trip champions after all.

…to be continued.

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South Africa: The Johannesburg Edition.

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yes, that is an ostrich….

After a flight to Atlanta and then a grueling 15 hour flight to Johannesburg, I was there, and I knew that Brad was waiting on the other side of Passport Control. I couldn’t wait.

 

We found our hotel driver, which I had booked ahead of time because I wasn’t sure how safe it would be getting from the train station to our hotel (as we figured out later, it would’ve been fine). We were booked at The Capital Empire in Sandton.  We confirmed with our driver that we were safe to wander at night, so once we were settled into our room we headed back down stairs to go try to find dinner, and get some exercise. After a brutal total of flight times, my appetite was minimal, but I knew if we didn’t get something that I would be up at 4 AM feeling starved.

We headed out the door of the hotel and through the security gate, down and around the corner toward Sandton City, the mall. We wanted to find Mandela Square. Brad had been there once before, but couldn’t remember how to get there. We wandered down various streets all around the mall trying to figure out how to access it. The struggle was real. It felt like we would never get there. Finally, we found the back way in. What we later realized is that it would have been just as easy to get there had we entered the mall first.  Once we were through looking at the gigantic recreation of Nelson Mandela we began looking for a restaurant where we could get something fairly simple and easy. We settled on a Tasha’s Cafe inside where I got a grilled cheese, and Brad got a salad… The grilled cheese was good, but America’s are better & I make the best..  Either way, with full bellies, and absolute exhaustion, we headed back to the hotel to sleep. Thanks to Brad’s job, he didn’t have to adjust to a different time zone. I was the only one that would suffer!

africa-extras-008The next morning we were preparing for what we thought would be a full day. When I woke up (before Brad) I didn’t feel like laying there until he woke up, so I went to work out for about and hour. When I returned, he was still in bed so it gave me sometime to get showered and start getting ready with the hopes that we would be out the door at the same time. The first thing on the agenda was breakfast. It was not included in our hotel, so we had to find something. When we reached the end of the sidewalk outside the hotel, we went right. We wandered a little ways down the road, and found a very enchanting cafe that I believe was called the Tea Garden. They had indoor and outdoor seating. Naturally, we wanted to enjoy the beautiful outdoor weather and the environment. It reminded me a little bit of Alice and Wonderland or Disneyland. It was whimsical and we thoroughly enjoyed it.We proceeded to have some delicious omelettes and toast before we wandered the grounds a little bit.

A little bit after we continued up the road a bit to see what else was there. We found a couple other small cafes as possibilities for the next morning, but we realized that it would be a good idea to head back in order to get on with the next activity. We gathered our essential belongings and headed back toward the mall to the Thrifty car rental. Getting a car took an extensive amount of time, as it seems is the norm. FACT: Car rental companies and patience are two things that don’t go hand-in-hand.  

With both of us in the car – opposites sides of the car this time, and driving down what felt like the wrong side of the road… We were ready to take on British-influenced streets of South Africa in an attempt to get to the Cradle of Humankind. FACT: It is ranked as one of the best things to do just outside of Johannesburg, and I would say that it was definitely an interesting exhibit. It is great for the science-loving, fact hunting, museum enthusiast. For me however, I got a little bored by the end. There are only so many little information tags under each exhibit that I can read before it all turns into mumbo-jumbo about the same thing. I did enjoy the boat ride,  though… Yes, a boat ride… A boat ride exhibit of how the earth has changed over the millions of years. …and there was a spinning starry tunnel which was kind of trippy. TIP: I will say that I would recommend this to anyone who has a free 4-6 hours, and doesn’t mind driving on the opposite side of the road, unless you are used to Her Majesty’s way. It truly was an interesting experience that  would be fun for kids and adults…. If anything, you get some incredible views of the South African valleys when you are done. But as a whole, it was way more & better than I expected.

We had a fairly long drive back into town, and thankfully, it was easier getting back into the city than leaving it. We returned to the hotel to drop off our car (we needed it the next day), and went to find ourselves a tasty meal. We headed back in the direction of the mall, as that is where the action was. We had a late lunch at Wangthai where we both indulged in a some delicious Thai noodle dishes. We sat on the patio as well which sits on the second floor overlooking the square. It was nice to just be able to sit and relax for a little bit with out any further plans hanging over head for the day. But eventually the check came, and an obligation to move on.

We spent quite a while cruising through the mall, and checking out some of the shops. The mall felt like a giant maze filled with all the usual things, but some unique brands. A few hours later, we found ourselves hungry once again for an evening meal. We wandered all over and eventually discovered what I call “the best Indian food (aka Chicken Korma) I’ve ever had” (granted, I’ve never been to India) at a lovely restaurant called The Royal India.

Once again, un-adjusted from the jet lag, we headed back to the hotel for an early bed time. The next day was a big deal, and we were extremely excited about it!

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S.A. McDonalds deliver your food on a scooter… and American ones have two drive-thru lanes… lol

 

We were up and at’em. We were in the car for our 2 hour drive, but still needed food. Being the bold adventurers that we are, we stopped at a McDonalds along the way for a very quick and efficient breakfast composed of egg biscuit sandwiches. They were delicious as usual, and definitely cheap.. We were back in the car, quick as a flash, and were headed to Bela-Bela in the Limpopo province. What awaited us was way more than we we bargained for. We were headed to Bambelela to interact with Vervet monkeys, and learn about them and the organization that operates as a Vervet Monkey & Wildlife Sanctuary for the young and injured. FACT: I had a really hard time staying in contact with them when trying to schedule, for some reason they were not receiving my originals, so I ended up having to contact them from another email address.

 

Getting there, the dirt road was incredibly rough. I didn’t expect a dirt road, and neither did our compact vehicle. We made the best of it; well, Brad made the best of it. Eventually we reached the gate, where we gave our name and were let through. We followed the signs pointing us in the direction of the sanctuary, and it was quite an intriguing drive. There were several large private homes along the way that seemed like a dream to be in.  Eventually, at the end of the road we

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a young Baboon

found Bambelela, a big giveaway was the large amount of monkeys running all over the grounds. Not just Vervets, but also Baboons.  We were pleasantly surprised to see that we were the only guests there (…and it stayed that way). Once we were out of the car we were greeted by Sue. She was great to “work” with. She was very pleasant and informative. You could tell that she was truly passionate about her work, as well as the animals. After our informational tour, it was time. Time to get in the cage with the “cheeky, naughty” (as Sue calls them) youngsters. What a thrill. We removed anything loose or valuable and handed them over for the 15 minutes that we were in the cage. The little guys lived up to their reputation. africa-extras-041The amount of spunk that was jumping around was sensational. It was really something to have these tiny primates jumping all over from person to person. From 5 feet away you suddenly feel a gently thud on your body… At one point one crazy Vervet crawled up inside my shirt. and out the top. They were biting my wedding ring, and occasionally my fingers (all in good, somewhat gentle fun). They were completely fascinating by my bun of hair, and also felt the need to open my mouth, inspect the inside, and check my eyes for any issues… One little monster even stole my hair clip, which I had forgotten was there. The volunteer that was in the cage with us (also, our designated photographer), went to get it back by grabbing the monkey by the tail and offering it a disciplinary action (as would be done by an adult Vervet). As they instruct, you never take from a monkey, unless they know you are in charge, or else you’ll be engaging in a battle with an irrational creature.

Eventually, our play time came to a close, the bill had been paid & we were back in the car. Thankfully, I had packed hand wipes… We were filthy, and we even had bits of monkey poo on our clothing which we were desperately trying to remove with a pack of Wet-Ones. It was no-matter.. We had another wildlife encounter ahead, and as we found out it was also, a bit messy. TIP: Always pack hand wipes, they are a game change for the overly adventurous traveler.

From Bambelela we made our way back down the extremely bumpy dirt road to Adventure with Elephants. I had arranged an elephant encounter, where we could learn and of course interact with African elephants (yes, they are definitely different from Asian elephants & I will post more about that later on). When we arrived, we got checked in and had to wait for them to bring the elephants around, which seemed like the perfect time to take advantage of the bathrooms to try and remove the monkey-poo. Once I removed all that I could, we headed back to the patio where we were able to observe some natural wildlife on the grounds below.

Eventually, 4 large beautiful African Elephants & 1 baby made their way to their covered stand. They were put in their places, and we started from the right and began working our way left. With the first elephant, we got to see how intelligent the elephant was. First they introduced us by name. (I don’t remember her name). Then we each gave her a shoe. As she was instructed, and according to her smell, she was able to return each shoe to the correct individual. Next we got to meet the baby… one big baby. It was beautiful, but didn’t have much of an interest in hanging out with us. It wanted to hang out with mom. We got in a couple pets, and then decided to let it do it’s own thing, with mom. The next elephant we gave treats to, and got to learn a little bit of the basic elephant anatomy. We got to inspect it’s tail, touch the pads of its feet, and examine it’s eyes. Such big beautiful eyes.  Finally, we moved down to our last elephant. A very handsome fellow, who I believe was in charge of tricks. He offered us kisses from his trunk, sprayed us with water, and even kicked a ball back and forth. He was wonderful!

Here is my little Elephant Gallery, please enjoy, and disregard my monkey hair…:

africa-extras-053From their our tour came to a close… We watched the elephants wander back off to their side of the land, and within a minute or two we found Trouble, the adopted Meerkat who was taken in by the founders. He was much too busy hunting for bugs to want anything to do with us… It was unfortunate because apparently he is quite the socialite with guests… TIP: If you have the opportunity to interact with African elephants, I would highly recommend it. It is incredibly life changing to be able to see the grandeur, intelligence, and beauty of such a majestic animal.

africa-2016-053-2We stayed on the property for a while because we were waiting for our USB drive of photos that they took for us. While we waited, we were able to get washed up again, and just relax. While we waited we had the delightful experience of seeing a couple giraffes come up near the complex. We just watched them for a while, until we felt it was time to get back.

We hadn’t had a proper lunch, just snacks that I packed for the drive, and we were both feeling starved. When we got back into town, we decided to get cleaned up before we dropped the car off, that way once we were clean & changed out of our filthy clothes, we were able to head back over to the square from Thrifty. We went hunting for dinner, not literally, but couldn’t commit so we ended up back at Tasha’s for an easy meal before we just cruised the mall again. Eventually, we headed back to the hotel because we had to get packed. We were being picked up the next day by our guide for Krueger National Park, and he was going to be there relatively early.

The next morning proved to be a bumpy one. During getting ready, I had a little bit of an accident. My bottle of foundation (aka makeup) got knocked to the floor and smashed. Their was liquid and glass all over the hotel room floor, and thankfully there was no carpet (although, then it wouldn’t have broke). Anywho, I began to panic at the thought of going the next 2 weeks without it because I was not blessed with perfect skin… My survival instincts began to set in, and I quickly messaged Neil (our guide), and asked if we could delay our pick up time by 1/2 an hour. Once again, we headed back to the mall… but not just for makeup, for breakfast too. We found a really yummy cafe, Doppio Zero, near one of the entrances. The breakfast was really exquisite. TIP: Breakfast in Johannesburg is top notch. They know what they are doing. I knew we were on a mission, so as soon as the shops opened, and we were done with our food, we headed toward one of the “department stores” to quickly grab what I needed, and then get back to the hotel.

To our surprise, it actually worked out perfect because we ended up having to wait a little longer for Neil, than we all anticipated.

africa-2016-054-1LESSONS LEARNED: 

1) Sometimes even maps can’t help you find your way.

2) Dirt roads and compact cars don’t go together.

3) Monkeys shouldn’t be pets — much too frisky.

4) Makeup just shouldn’t come in glass bottles

5) I’m way too accident prone, to own small, frequently-used items made of glass.