The Road to Zanzibar

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Jun 29th, 2001, 01:01 AM
  #1
Dave
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The Road to Zanzibar

The Road to Zanzibar - part 1

WARNING: Reading long posts such as this has been known to cause boredom. At the first yawn, you are advised to go to the next post. Side effects may also include faint smiling.

This is a report of a trip my wife and I took with Elderhostel to Tanzania (T) from June 6 to 18. We were 17 seniors, and the fee included everything from the departure city and back. We had a full-time tour leader, drivers, local guides, and lecturers. The trip included stays at Arusha (A), Kilimanjaro (K), Ngorongoro crater (N), Serengeti (S), and Zanzibar (Z).

I have read many of the Fodor reports on T; this report contains my experiences, and provides some detailed info which may be helpful to someone planning to travel to the area.

We left Newark on KLM, took 71/2 hrs to Amsterdam. After a few hrs wait, we left for K airport (JRO) on a half-full plane. About midway, while flying over Sudan, I saw endless bleak sand. Suddenly a ribbon of water appeared which went from east to west and continued south for a long distance. We asked the stewardess, who asked the captain, who invited us into the cockpit to see the Nile River. He and the co-pilot were glad to talk to us because they were bored after flying 4 hrs over sand. We landed at K, where they looked quickly at our passports, visas, and yellow fever cards. Those that didn't have visas got them quickly for $50 US cash. We then went by bus 40 minutes to A, where we stayed at the Novotel Mt. Meru Hotel. The rooms were average sized, and when we woke in the AM we saw a beautiful landscape. We left by bus going east for 2 hrs on good roads to Nakuru Hotel at the base of K mountain. This was a small hotel with small rooms. In 2 days we visited an elementary school (don't ask), learned about the local culture, and saw a tribal dance (less than exciting.) There are 120 tribes in T, each with its own language, so children learn 3 languages - tribal, Swahili, and English. We drove in a van part way up to K- to 8000 feet- then had a 2 hr walk down on a good path. A full trek (for younger people) up to the top takes 5 days. After 2 nights, we left K, drove west 2 hr to A, then on minivans to N. Outside of A the road changes from paved to gravel. We stopped at an overlook of Lake Maynara, then a pause at Gibb's farm where we had a welcoming drink.
 
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Jun 29th, 2001, 01:04 AM
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Dave
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part 2

Three hrs out of Arusha we turned off the gravel road to a very rough mountain road for 15 miles to the N Sopa Hotel, which is at the top rim of the crater (really a caldera). We were offered a hot towel and a welcoming drink. The hotel, which has been described on Fodors previously, is truly impressive. The rooms were round, with a very large bedroom with 2 queen beds, and a large bathroom. An enclosed balcony overlooked a great view of the crater. However, the hotel is showing its age with linens, carpeting, furniture having had better days. The hot water was limited in the evening. The next day we went in 4x4's down to the bottom of the crater where the usual impressive number and variety of animals were seen. The days were warm and the nights were cold, as the hotel was at a high elevation. We then visited a Masai village which consisted of a single extended family of about 50 people, in 10 huts around a central corral. The corral is where the cows are kept, and was covered with cow dung. On this carpet we were treated to Masai songs and dances which consisted mostly of men jumping up. We went into a hut which was about 12 ft round, with a low entrance. The walls are sticks with dried cow dung used as wall plaster. There was a small fire in the center around which the family sleeps, about 5 to a hut. Their diet for centuries consisted of a mixture of cow blood and milk, and some meat. We were not offered a welcoming drink. Only recently have they started to eat fruit, vegetables, and grains. As we left, we had the opportunity to buy local crafts - bracelets, necklaces, spears, and calabashes (a hollowed dried gourd in which the blood and milk are stored.) We returned to the hotel, and after a long hot shower we had dinner and a lecture. In the Masai village, we were able to take pictures of them free, by arrangement of our tour co. But we were told that if we wanted to take pictures of other Masai, they would generally expect 1000 shillings ( about $1.15) for each Masai.

After 2 nights, we left N, drove on gravel roads about 1 hr to Olduvai gorge. Positioned along the road were young Masai men in red robes with sticks, who wanted you to stop and let you take their picture for a fee. Olduvai gorge is a depression in the earth with exposed rock layers in which ancient human and animal fossils were found. An hour walk into the gorge with a naturalist was informative. We then drove another few hours to S Sopa lodge. The road from N to S was progressively rough, with miles and miles of barren scrub alternating with scattered and grouped small trees, mostly acacia (umbrella). The scrub extended as far as you could see, with small mountains on the horizon. Scattered animals (gazells, zebras, wildebeasts) began to appear. Approaching the lodge more animals (giraffes, lions, hyenas) appeared, until at one point our van was accompanied and engulfed for a few minutes by hundreds of running zebras and wildebeasts, somehow leaving a small space in front for the driver to see the road.
 
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Jun 29th, 2001, 01:05 AM
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Dave
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part 3

The S Sopa Lodge is an impressive hotel situated about 100 ft above the plains floor. Each room had a small separate sitting area leading to a largeroom with 2 queen beds, leading to a small balcony with a magnificent view of the plains. As with the N Sopa, the carpets and furniture show some wear. The walls are not soundproof. I suspect that the shower was an afterthought, as it is flimsy and in a bathtub with a narrow base making it difficult to stand. The hot water was listed to be on from 6-9 AM and PM, but generally remains hot to 10. Being lower in altitude than the crater, the nights are not so cold. Next AM we left for a game drive in a minivan with 6 people. Four people in a Rover would be better, but that was not offered. The top of the van was opened and we were able to stand, see, and photograph the animals. In 3 days we went on 4 game drives through the bush and saw many animals. Most memorable was the leopard in a tree, 3 lions in one tree, and 4 cheetas eating a zebra. We did not see the "Great Migration" beause it had not yet started. We went to the S Research Center which is helpful in understanding the migration.

The roads in T are rocky, rutty, and dusty, so much so that when an oncoming vehicle passed, the dust cloud made it difficult to see the road ahead. The condition of the roads varied from white knuckle to teeth chattering to bone rattling. You will experience the roads, or the lack of them, even if you fly, as that is how you go on the game drives which last about 4 hours. Be advised that there are no bathrooms in the bush.

After 3 nights at S Sopa Lodge, we drove 1 hr to the Serengeti International Airport, AKA the Seronara airstrip. This was a dirt landing area guarded by a Land Rover to shoo off the wildlife. We piled into a chartered 18 passenger, 2 engine prop plane and take-off was confirmed by 3 Grant gazelles. The 2 hr ride passed over the huge barren areas and finally over the Zanzibar channel.
 
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Jun 29th, 2001, 01:08 AM
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Dave
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part 4

A short bus ride brought us from the airport to the Z Serena Hotel, in Stone Town, on the western side. The hotel is situated on a corner of a beach, and there was a good ocean view from all the rooms. It was a reasonably good hotel, with standard sized rooms. There wasn't much of a beach, and the water was not fit for swimming. The central part of the town was small, and we were able to walk to see the old slave auction area, central market, and "House of Wonder" which left much to be desired. We took small boats to Prison and Cemetary Islands. This involved wading knee-deep off the beach to climb into the boats. Socks or wading shoes were helpful. Prison Island had a tortoise nursery which was fun. Also good was the 45 minute drive to the southern part of the island to the red Colobus monkey rookery. This drive through the city and countryside gave a good view of the roads and buildings, and the hustle and bustle of the native life. After 3 nights in Z, we left for a week in Kenya, then home.

PS - I can't be more thankful to the many people who posted on Fodors and who took their time to answer my emails in preparation for this trip.

Some Swahili words which are commonly used:

hello - jambo
thank you - asante
thank you very much - asante sana
no problem - hakuna matata
you're welcome - karibu
goodbye - kwaheri
please - tafadhali
how are you? - habari?
good morning - habari ya asubuhi
 
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Jul 17th, 2002, 07:18 AM
  #5
JedB
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Hey Dave - Just found this report. We are going to Tanzania and Zanzibar next winter, and plan to go to some of the same places. Thanks
 
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