Welcome back to chapter 2 of Sarah and my wild camping adventures through Africa. In the first chapter we started our trip in Kenya where we had some incredible safari experiences and spent time getting to know a local Maasai tribe. This week we continue on to Tanzania and Zanzibar. This blog comes with a trigger warning! I discuss in some detail the horrors of the Arab slave trade from Stone Town in Zanzibar, including sexual assault and torture. So please proceed with caution.
We had a very long drive to Tanzania. During our long journeys we laugh and joke a lot together on the truck and sleep the rest of the time. Taking photos of each other whilst asleep in ridiculous positions, mouth wide open and dribbling became a favourite pass time. We stopped occasionally for a bush toilet break, something I took advantage of literally every time, due to being anxious about needing to go when we couldn’t stop! It became a running joke, with everyone looking to me each time Michelle and Letoloy asked if we wanted to stop. I am chuffed to now say I am a pro bush toilet girl, though my toilet anxiety on long trips continues! During our stops we often came across local people and would take the opportunity to talk to them as well as local wildlife who were always endearing.
We crossed our first African border into Tanzania at the busy Namanga frontier which was incredibly exciting for all us travel geeks as we got a new stamp in our passports! On we travelled until we arrived at Arusha, Tanzania’s ‘safari capital’. It is located at the base of Mount Meru which reaches 4556m in altitude. As with most African cities it was brimming with colourful curio markets, aromatic smells of cooking and busy streets full of people and vehicles trying to navigate around each other. We spent some time exploring the local markets buying food and essentials before heading to our camp at the Meserani Snake park. Yes they had snakes, also crocodiles and other reptiles, but all safely kept, and no giant spiders so I was ok. Once we had pitched up our dome tent we set to doing some chores, washing clothes in buckets and hanging them out to dry around our little tent. We showered! Showers became luxury despite most of them being cold. This did however make it very difficult to wash Sarah and my long, thick hair and it became a massive chore so we tried to do it as little as possible.
The next day we hit the Serengeti national park for some more safari adventures. The Serengeti is much flatter than the Maasai Mara, with it’s name deriving from the Maasai word ‘siringitu’, “the place where the land moves on forever”.
The wildlife was slightly different here with many more scavengers than we had previously seen including ostriches, vultures and loads of hyenas!
We had the incredible luck as we were driving of coming across 3 baby lions playing on their own. We were told mama lions will leave their babies to go hunting especially if they are hungry and haven’t eaten for a while. They were the cutest little cats ever!! We enjoyed watching them for a long time and followed them when they went for a little walk to some raised rocks which looked the spitting image of Pride Rock in the Lion King. Later, once we’d dragged ourselves away from them, we saw the mamas returning to their babies with blood stained mouths, having clearly had their filling. We also saw a large male Lion with the most incredible mane happily dozing.
The next few nights we wild camp or “bush camp” on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater where hyena and lions roam nearby. Zebras were roaming all around when we put up our little tents. We were told by Michelle and Leteloy in no uncertain terms that we were not to take food back to our tents as the wild animals would smell it and come looking for it. Most of us were very careful about clearing up food leftovers that night and disposing of them well. Some idiot on the trip however had other thoughts and did take food back to the tent! Sarah told me in the morning that she had been woken up during the night by hyenas sniffing at our tent!!! Sarah could hear them cackling and rummaging about and had been too terrified to wake me in case I made a noise and made the situation worse. They had been sniffing at everyone’s tents and had even gone onto our open truck in the search for food! We all got a serious telling off in the morning and quickly learnt not to mess with the wild and to listen to our wise and experienced guides who obviously knew what they were talking about.
The Ngorongoro Crater was formed when a large volcano exploded and collapsed in on itself some two and a half million years ago. It is 260km squared making it the world’s largest intact caldera and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The rim where we camp is at 2400m above sea level and is quite windy and cold in the evenings especially. The land within the crater is rich and fertile. From above it looks barren and I couldn’t imagine any life in there, however as we descended the 600ms, through the clouds, into what felt like a new world, we discovered an incredible array of animals, as abundant as in the Maasai. The only animal not present in the crater are giraffes as they cannot manage the steep slopes leading down into it with their long and clumsy legs! This was probably my fav safari experience as it was just so different to the others.
Once our time had come to an end, we packed up our tents and headed for the coast. Whilst we had been at the Crater a couple of people from our trip had been climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. We headed to meet them and got the most incredible view of the snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak at 5895m in altitude. I was not into hiking at the time, my love of mountains has definitely come with age. I kick myself now for not having taken the opportunity to hike up Mount Kili, although I would have probably died half way up as despite my youth, I was not as fit then as I am now. I really hope to have the opportunity to hike Mount Kili at some point in the future. We camp that night by the beach overlooking the Indian Ocean near Dar Es Salaam which means “place of peace”, Tanzania’s main seaport. The city itself is hot, humid and busy with the roads full of people, animals, tuktuks and vehicles, again all scrambling to get by. We prepare for our ferry crossing to Zanzibar the next day.
Oh Zanzibar! Such an exotic little island that arouses all the senses with its pristine white sandy beaches, salty sea air and zesty aromas of tropical fruits. The towns around the island are romantic, exuding a sense of serenity and mystery. You could just wander endlessly, browsing the crumbling colonial buildings and boutique shops without ever getting bored! Zanzibar was the base of 19th century explorers such as John Hanning Speke, Richard Burton and David Livingstone and is now a major trading centre of spices. The capital of Zanzibar is Stone Town, and like Dar Es Salam, the Arabian influence on architecture and culture is evident. Indeed the Swahili language itself is a result of mixing Arab and African languages and cultures over many centuries.
We had a guided tour of Stone town including the impressive cathedral. On our way along a promenade up to Christ Church cathedral, we were told to stop and look up. There, in between the trees, were GIANT (in my eyes) spiders that had made webs between the trees on each side of the walkway! I have never run so fast in all my life! I safely made it to the church where I was blessed with sanctuary and refused to walk back down that same way. Just in case one decided to come say hi and suck all my blood (my imagination gets the best of me when it comes to spiders, i know!) Other than the spiders, the tour was great and we learned lots about the history of the island.
If you delve beyond the beautiful exterior however, Zanzibar has a much darker side having been a main port for the trading of slaves in the 1800s. I had heard and learnt a lot about the slave trade of Africans by Europeans, but never about this. Millions of men, women and children were taken from tribes in the African interior and brought to Zanzibar where they were held in tiny cellars without food or water. There are 15 of these cellars and we were able to visit one. It had a really low ceiling and you can still see the chains that no human would have been able to escape from. It felt eerie and horrible. Many died of starvation or suffocation in there. I have been to several ‘dark tourism’ sites including Auschwitz, but nothing has made me feel as uncomfortable as this. The men were castrated to minimise the “risk” of them impregnating Arab women, as many were made to work as harem guards. The women were raped. All were tied to a tree and whipped to test their ‘strength’. Those who did not cry or faint fetched more money at market. The white marble altar surrounded by red to mark the blood of slaves, in the Christ Church Cathedral now marks the place of the whipping tree. The selling of humans was finally prohibited here in 1873, but it was not until 1909 that slavery was finally abolished in East Africa. Outside the church is a memorial created by Anthony Gormley, with the figures wearing original chains.
Whilst it is difficult reading, I feel it is so important to discuss these issues, for us to remember the horrors that humans are capable of. Whilst the slave trade has been abolished, ‘Modern day slavery’ and exploitation of people continues to take place across the world, including here in the UK. I hope that we, as a human race, can learn from the past and work towards a time when all people are free, safe and happy. No-one should ever have to experience what those sold into the slave trade did.
We had 3 nights in Zanzibar with unstructured time so we could spend it as we wished. We stayed at a basic, local B&B where we shared our room with another lady from the trip. We were very excited to have a proper bed for the night. It felt like luxury after having spent so long in our little dome tents. When it came to bed time though, Sarah found a cockroach in her bed and so we ended up having to share mine.
Sarah and I enjoyed lots of time on the white sandy beaches, lying in hammocks between coconut palm trees drinking cocktails. Remember coconuts kill more people than sharks, so don’t lie directly underneath palm trees! The northern beaches of the island are the best to enjoy the Indian Ocean in all its glory. On one such beach we found some ladies who braided hair for a living and thought it would be the perfect solution to our hair washing problem! So we both had our hair fully braided, and honestly, it was one of the most liberating things I did the whole trip. We also visited local spice plantations where they taught us to make, hats, bags and jewellery from the palm leaves, something that tickled me greatly and I came out of there pretty much dressed in leaves.
On our last night in Zanzibar, everyone on our tour decided to go on a Dhow boat sunset cruise. We decided to stick the men on one boat and have a ladies only cruise, which was a good chance to get in on all the gossip. With so many people on the tour there were all kinds of stories to tell; love interests, break ups, planned engagements. The cruise was incredible! We had some drinks, watched the sunset and had so much fun jumping off the boat into the sea. After our cruise we stayed up all night having found the epicest reggae beach bar. It was so warm, we went for the occasional dip in the sea to cool down before heading back to the sandy bar for another drink and a dance. The next day we had the news that 2 people on our tour had got caught having sexy time on the beach and been arrested! Zanzibar is a strict muslim island and the police do not stand for such behaviours, especially unmarried couples! Michelle and Leteloy had to convince the officers that they were newly married in order to let them off! So maybe don’t go having sex on the beach in Zanzibar!
Once our time on this magical island had come to an end we caught the ferry back to the mainland to continue on our journey and adventures to Malawi. Bye bye bed, hello again dome tents!
Check out the rest of the blogs in the series:
Chapter 1– Kenya safaris and the circle of life
Chapter 3– Going wild at Lake Malawi.
Chapter 4– Zambia, the African capital of extreme outdoor activities.
Chapter 5– Exploring the Okavango Delta and the importance of sustainable travel
Chapter 6- Coming soon!
If you’re interested in booking this or a similar trip with Acacia Africa, check out their web page here.