Tag Archives: defender

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

Chopper at Ngorongoro

Living in South Africa is great, but I must just clarify that we don’t all spend our time on a safari, we don’t have lions in our gardens and we don’t ride elephants to work every day (only some days). I know many people have cottoned on to the fact that we are actually a pretty progressive country, but we still get asked some of the most absurd things (see here and here).

Elephants in the mist

Elephants in the mist rain

Speaking of safari… I have never been to the Kruger National Park, even though I live in South Africa. Apparently some people think that is a little bit of treason… I, however, have not yet learnt how to appreciate seeing buck after buck after buck. It’s kind of like going bird watching when you know nothing about birds…

You don't need to know anything about birds to acknowledge just how majestic this one is...

You don’t need to know anything about birds to acknowledge just how majestic this one is…

So going into Ngorongoro Crater was a massive breath of fresh air. It was the last leg of our big adventure. We though we might attempt doing the crater, going across into the Serengeti, and traveling up through to Kenya from there, however, there were supposedly really dodgy border crossings there, so we chose not to risk it. It also transpired that Serengeti was ridiculously expensive, so it worked out well for us that we couldn’t make it.

In fact, most of Africa is just geared to wealthy (American) tourists who have lots of “dollas” – we had to pay to get into the Ngorongoro national park, for both of us as well as our Landy, Chopper. Then we realised that we had to pay AGAIN to get into the actual crater. As if we were just driving into the national park “on the way” to somewhere “better”. Yeah right, you need to actually see this place.

The crater has its very own climate as well... I can't even begin to tell you how quickly rains came and went and came again and then disappeared like they had never happened

The crater has its very own climate as well… I can’t even begin to tell you how quickly rains came and went and came again and then disappeared like they had never happened

Ngorongoro Crater is this massive bowl full of the most incredible African wildlife you could imagine, all enclosed in a natural game reserve of sorts. Except you don’t feel like the animals are actually caved in at all. They also live happily alongside some Masai people. So maybe some African people do have lions in their back gardens…

We saw all the animals. I didn’t realise that I hadn’t actually seen a buffalo in real life, but when I saw this thing, I finally learned the difference between them and wildebeest. It’s largely based on size, in case you weren’t aware.

Sup buffalo

Rolling buffalo

Judgmental Zebra is judging the buffalo who really just knows how to have a good time...

Judgmental Zebra is judging the buffalo who really just knows how to have a good time…

The animals in this little oasis are completely comfortable in their home, they show no fear about tourists because they know that they are the ones in charge. It is really great to see how conservation efforts are paying off, and it reminds you of why they are so important.

IMG_7781 IMG_7888

We had a really friendly and informative tour guide by absolute chance who we somehow managed to squeeze in the Defender with us. It was useful having him there because he knew were to go to find the specific animals, like the lions (who were asleep in the heat of the day. You know, cats and stuff) and the hippos.

Hippo and baby

The drive in and out of the national park as well as into the crater was extremely hectic uphill and downhill with blind rises and hairpin bends and of course, in true Landy style, we had a bit of a smokey moment, which was repaired in no time at all (again, in true Landy style).

Before the trip, I had never even heard of Ngorongoro, but I would highly recommend a trip there if you are ever considering a trip to Africa. It is the reason that going on Safari is so highly revered – nature is awesome, Africa is powerful and we will never truly be able to tame it. And that’s what makes it so special.

Ngorongoro Landscape

Overlanding through Tanzania

Chopper, the Land Rover Defender 100 that took us on our epic journey through Tanzania

Chopper, the Land Rover Defender 100 that took us on our epic journey through Tanzania

I saw Mount Kilimanjaro. And it was so amazing that I forgot to take a picture of it. That’s when you know a moment is special: when it’s so amazing to be in the moment, that all other superficial cares of the world are lost in it – there’s no need to take a photo, or check in on Facebook, or prove to other people how much of a good time you are having. Those are the ones that are often cherished the most. It’s difficult for me, though, because I love to share my experiences with other people. Now, all I can do is tell other people I have seen it, but I have no proof! I have had to learn how to appreciate that moment for what it was: just me and the awe of being in nature’s massive presence.

The moment was amazing: we were driving along, trusting the GPS that there was a large mountain somewhere ahead of us. We tried to identify which one it was – maybe it’s that one over theeeeeere in the distance, it seems a bit bigger than the others, right? Then you see a slightly larger one, and you wonder if it’s not perhaps that one. Then all of a sudden, you look up. As in, up up. High above the clouds, high above any of the surrounding mountains that you were assessing, and you are left without a doubt as to which one it is. And you can’t help but feel small at the foot of this enormous chunk of rock that just rises high above all that is around it.

Then it gets confusing to your mind because it is so far away but so big that it actually looks small…

The roads were long, and mostly decent. The sun was bright, and it was hot. You can see the water effect on the horizon - polarized sunglasses were necessary

The roads were long, and mostly decent. The sun was bright, and it was hot. You can see the water effect on the horizon – polarized sunglasses were necessary

Tanzania was beautiful. I was highly surprised by how green it was though! Particularly in Ngorongoro, but everywhere you looked there was green. I definitely had different expectations. Traditionally I had pictured Africa to be more Savannah-type landscapes, with bush-veld as far as the eye can see. Instead, there were trees, and green fields. It was almost like the UK or Europe, except with skies brighter blue than you could ever imagine, and a sun that shines directly from above chasing all shadows away.

I also wasn’t expecting the traditional cultures to proliferate as they did: you drive along, and there are just Masai tribesmen walking along in their traditional blankets, with massive looped earlobes, with their knobkieries, just herding their cattle. Yes, I am most definitely a city girl, but this experience particularly highlighted how different South Africa comes across to me: yes, we have traditional people, but often it feels like they are traditional at certain times, and then resort to commercial, modern, “first-world” tendencies. For example, they live and work in the city, wearing suits, driving BMWs and drinking expensive coffee (I’m thinking bank executive here), and then get married in their traditional garments with cows as labola. The Masai tribesmen seemed all-tradition, all the time. It was fascinating and good to see that there are still some cultures out there that have held on to their traditions and the simple ways of life that don’t require the hustle and bustle and stress of today’s “modern world”.

Yes, there are people that still live in huts like this every single day of their lives. It's incredible and beautiful and so simple it just about makes you want to live like that too

Yes, there are people that still live in huts like this every single day of their lives. It’s incredible and beautiful and so simple it just about makes you want to live like that too

Having said this, however, I didn’t get any photographs of the locals. Unfortunately, while they still live according to their old ways, they have been touched significantly by the tourism industry, and as a result, I found that one of the only English words in their vocabulary was: “Dollar?” We tried to drive up to Lake Natron and got stopped along the worst dirt roads and we were asked for toll fees (you know, to maintain the dirt road?) a good number of times. At the one stop, there was a Masai woman who was trying to sell us her jewellery, which is fair, but after the heavy tolls, I didn’t want to be buying some piece of jewellery (which, to be honest, was basically the same as what I would get back in South Africa, except triple the price). When I told her “No”, she insisted that that I at least take a photograph of her: “Photo? Dollar? Photo? Dollar?” I tried to say no in as many tones as I knew, and she kept repeating those two words and ignoring (and not understanding) my refusal. The Dollar tourism industry has made travelling quite expensive, even (especially) in Africa. None of the Masai folk would let us take photos of them without us handing over some cash. So I didn’t take any photos of them (religious reasons would be ok, but tourist exploitation was unfair on principle).

***

We took a slight detour off the only just beaten track to check out this huge crater mountain thing. This is what we found on the inside (a crazy hat man! Just kidding).  It was easy to imagine a lone tent sitting at the bottom of the basin, but we unfortunately didn't have time to spend the night

We took a slight detour off the only just beaten track to check out this huge crater mountain thing. This is what we found on the inside (a crazy hat man! Just kidding). It was easy to imagine a lone tent sitting at the bottom of the basin, but we unfortunately didn’t have time to spend the night

The journey took us up from Dar Es Salaam (which was polluted and busy and full of traffic and taxis far worse than any Johannesburg Kombi) to the foot of Kili at Moshi, up through Arusha, and a slight detour to Ngorongoro Crater and National Park. We would have done Serengeti too, had time and finances allowed. We took the scenic route from there up to the border. This route took us past some cool volcanoes and craters that we did our best to explore (uncomfortably by excitingly off the beaten track). There were Zebra, wildebees and buck roaming free, and the expansive wilderness was breathtaking and typically African. Unfortunately we never made it to Lake Natron, but it worked out better as far as time went anyway, so I can’t complain too much.

We were tasked with getting some rock samples from the foot of a special volcano in Tanzania. This sounded simple, but it turns out there's a whole load of different rock types at the foot of a volcano, that aren't necessarily volcanic rock

We were tasked with getting some rock samples from the foot of a special volcano in Tanzania, Ol Donyo Lengai. This sounded simple, but it turns out there’s a whole load of different rock types at the foot of a volcano, that aren’t necessarily volcanic rock

Tanzania (I still don’t know how to pronounce it properly) was an awesome African experience. It challenged my preconceptions of my continent as far as the landscape goes, and it showed me just how far of an influence America actually has. I loved seeing that there are some people who still hold onto their cultural traditions as tightly as they can, with no desire to change that, where I am a person who is confused by people who are not looking for progress, growth and development (in themselves or in the world around them). It is definitely a place everyone should experience some time in their lives. I’m not sure that I would go back, but if I did, I would definitely go with lots of “dollar?” just to make the journey that bit easier and less frustrating.

Chopper delivered us safely through this unknown terrain. Such an awesome experience

Chopper delivered us safely through this unknown terrain. Such an awesome experience

How I ended up in Africa

Spike Reid. Adventurer. Writer. Explorer. Photographer. Gentleman. Motivator. Friend. Opportunist. British. He’s a climber, a sailor, a mountaineer, an expedition leader. He was even mine once.

Spike

Spike discovered an opportunity to deliver a rare Land Rover Defender 100 from Cape Town to Nairobi for an Englishman who is now working up in Kenya. Spike needed a co-driver, and I had decided that this was going to be my year of adventure, so I said “Yes”. And what an adventure it was!

Spike would laugh at me beforehand when I expressed my reservations about going to ‘Africa’. “But you live in Africa!” he would say. I think I can now conclusively state that I do not, in fact live in Africa. South Africa in particular is very different from the likes of Stone Town and Moshi.

Stone Town

Google also didn’t help. This was my first holiday “on my own” and I had little experience in planning this kind of trip. Google told me: “BEWARE!” Beware of the water, beware of the fruit, the vegetables, the disease and, of course, the malaria. So I got my prophylactics, purchased some go-to snacks (3kg of them to be precise), and made sure I had a well-stocked first aid medications kit. I was glad to have the snacks (particularly the nuts and fizzers), and with the amount of mozzie bites I got, I happily endured the trippy dreams in prevention of the malaria.

***

So it turns out that Africa is very African. I expected a few ‘big towns’, and Arusha and Nairobi did meet (and somewhat exceeded) these expectations, but I didn’t expect just how rural many of the “towns” were. The corruption in the police also took me by surprise. Yes, we got stopped by every group of traffic cops we passed by (ons blanke), but by the end of the trip, not one monetary bribe was paid.

Just your casual African petrol station not too far out of Arusha

Just your casual African petrol station not too far out of Arusha

I was lucky to have had the opportunity to go on this trip. It was different, it was educational, and it took me right out of my comfort zone, which was ‘fun’ for me, but which Spike probably didn’t enjoy so much – if you ask any of my family, you would learn that I am not the easiest of campers, though I generally happily take on the challenge.

***

Here are my tips and warnings for planning a (camping) trip to Africa:

1. Use local currency – US Dollars are not as widely accepted in the more rural areas as Google claims. It also works out substantially cheaper.

2. Take antimalarials. Get your yellow fever and tetanus jabs up to date.

3. Don’t take too much food, but easy and healthy snacks are nice to have with you because ‘healthy’ options are rather limited.

4. Check when the rainy season is. We weren’t affected by it (somehow – we were there in the rainy season, but all the ravines were dry as anything – it still made for some awesome 4×4-ing).

5. Water. We bought water. It was pretty reasonable, and out of sealed bottles you know you can trust it. Obviously this is for drinking, and if you’re as fussy as me, you can cook your pasta in it too. Don’t forget you also use water for brushing your teeth.

6. Make sure your guidebooks are up-to-date. Ours wasn’t even that old, but the recommended campsite no longer offered camping. Also related to campsites: don’t purchase drinks from the bars – they are so overpriced! Grab your G+T’s from local spazza shops in the towns.