11.06.2009 - 12.06.2009
I'm not entirely sure why I will start with a note from the national news, but as nobody complained last time I did it, i figured i may as well do it again. Todays snippet comes from a Tanzanian paper that might have been 'the Guardian', but then again, might not have. It was a small item announcing that Norway were opening a new Consulate on Zanzibar today. In itself, that is not particularly amazing, I grant you, but two small things jumped out at me about it: The first was that whilst the Norwegians said that really, the amount of trade and interaction between Zanzibar and Norway was too small to normally warrant such a move – perhaps understandably: After all when you think of the worlds largest or most important trade partners, they aren't two that instantly spring to mind -, 'an increasing number of Norwegians are finding they require assistance on Zanzibar, but generally only of the consular nature'. Translation: lots of Norwegians are 'losing' their passports (and almost certainly most are not accidental loses, either) and need new ones in a hurry*. The second thing that amused me was that the consular officer who has been appointed is actually Danish, after a thorough search for a qualified Norwegian familiar with the island was, apparently, 'sadly unsuccessful'.
And now I've happily wasted a paragraph.
As you might deduce from the fact i was reading a Tanzanian newspaper, i was back in Tanzania and bouncing merrily down the not yet built Arusha-Nairobi main road (although the later part, you might not have deduced. If you did, serious kudos). I was back in Tanzania for a couple of reasons, most relevantly of which was that my previous days violation had gone reasonably well and I now had almost a week free before I needed to be back in Nairobi. My love of that glorious city has already been documented in these annals, and thus (especially as I have a still valid Tanzanian visa) I had resolved to get the hell out of there as quickly as possible.
Bouncing down the 'hopefully-will-be-a-real-road-in-a-few-years' south of the border, the only tourist on the bus and on a gloriously sunny morning, I suddenly felt perfectly content: I was no longer in Nairobi, my rear end was coping with the bouncing with surprising ease, I was listening to some good music and gazing happily out of the window whilst my mind merrily wandered. Then, from above the layer of cloud, I saw Kilimanjaro – or at least the patchy snowy sides of the top kilometer or so of Kilimanjaro, and its summit – in the distance, and for the first time in a while i actually felt properly happy with the world and was enjoying my travels again. Great stuff.
Sure, there was a small (OK: really large) pang of regret that I wouldn't be able to climb it anytime soon (for reasons of both current issue and Italian exploits from last year....), but that just gives me an excuse to return to East Africa, and hopefully soon. More than that was the joy at realising that it actually exists: Maaret and I had traveled this way twice when we went to Arusha, without being able to see it and I had begun to wonder whether my relationship with the mountain would turn out to be similar to that of Mt. Fuji-San (for those lucky enough not to remember that tedium – or the non Kiki parts anyway – there is more detail here.
Oh great. The electricity has just died completely. So I am now sitting in the bowels of a pitch black hostel, with just the strange glow from my laptop for company. But lets move on, and see if i can finish this warble before the battery dies.
But as I mentioned above, there were a couple of reasons for coming, and here we explore the main one. Back when I was still pretty much chained to a loo in Nairobbery, I had spent some time googling and looking at ideas. After realising that independent travel to most of the East African parks is either not possible or hideously expensive, I had begun to investigate tours. Though I generally detest guided tours, i am also realistic – and poor – enough to accept that sometimes, they are the only way I will be able to visit certain places.I have long wanted to visit the Ngorongoro Crater and the nerd inside me (or, perhaps more correctly, the nerd that is me) really wants to visit Olduvai Gorge and see the area where the Louis Leakeyand family had done so much brilliant archaeological work, and found the remains of Homo Hablis (aka the Handy man) a major link in the evolution of humans. I had found a decent sounding and affordable tour from a company who had been recommended to me, and provisionally booked it on the hope that I would be well again. So far, so good, i hear you say.
However, all Ngorongoro trips come tagged onto trips to a much larger and generally better known attraction: The Serengeti National Park, and here lies the issue. Although Ngorongoro is a famous and compact game reserve in its own right, I want to visit for the geology of the Caldera as much as anything else. And when provisionally booking this trip, it looked like it would be perfect timing to catch the wildebeest migration, and a safari in the Serengeti sounded brilliant. But, of course, I had not been to the Masai Mara.
Now, I suddenly find myself heading to arguably the most famous and well known game reserve in the world (you could probably argue Kruger, but that would be it), an area of vast grassy savanna of the sort that, I'm sure will now realise, I have been to a week ago - the much smaller Masai Mara is actually part of the Serengeti ecosystem, and separated only by the irrelevant political boundary – and ended up hating immensely.
And, apparently, the wildebeest have moving on from the area that we will be in. Yup, I have been here for the whole of the most famous animal movement in the world, an event of apparently unrivaled grandeur, and despite visiting the middle and the end, will probably miss them in both locations by a matter of days.
My timing is impeccable as ever.
I am going to try and go into it without any preconceptions and take it on its own merits and experiences. And obviously, things might work very differently in the Serengeti to the radio-linked hunting madness of the Mara, especially given it's much greater size, although I sadly doubt it. But i must admit that pretty much the last thing that I want to do at the moment is go on a Safari (I am kind of animaled out and don't currently have the “wow” factor that you should have for such trips. I have, after all, recently seen the big 5...) in grassy savanna, much less one where there will be lots of other vehicles around all driving off-road – and thus affecting the habitat – whilst hunting down sightings mercilessly.
I will of course let you know how it went when I actually know, but if I don't, and you hear reports of, say, a crazed gunman killing lots tourists in different buses near some rare animals in the Serengeti, I wouldn't try to hard to put 2 and 2 together...
- Technical note: Despite the fact that Zanzibar is part of Tanzania (it is, in fact, the central 'zan' part of it), it maintains many independent rules and regulations, including running its own immigration checks. As a result, you have to fill out immigration forms and get your passport stamped on arrival/departure from Zanzibar, even if you have come from/are going directly to the mainland. Which means that it is not quite as simple for Norwegians – or anybody else – who have lost their passports to just get a boat to Dar and replace it at the embassies there, as one might suppose