It’s 5am on Saturday morning, when we wake up and look down the cliffs of our last campsite in Malawi. Today is the day we will cross the border into Tanzania, but we don’t really feel like going. One of the reasons is the negative stories we’ve heard about the country: corrupt & rude police, grumpy people, expensive and much more negativity. We decide to check it out ourselves to form our own opinion…
We drive down the mosterroad from Livingstonia, and the only traffic we encounter is a herd of cows walking up. A drive of just over an hour brings us to the border, which we cross in minutes. The only expression on the faces of the immigration officers are smiles… A bit of a contrast with the stories we’ve heard, but this might be the exception.
We are asked to pay our roadtax in the backoffice, where we have a bit of a laugh with the officer collecting the money. He is the only one working, since all his colleagues are focussed on a big tv screen watching the English premier league. Without drawing the obvious conclusion, we find it interesting to see they have a flatscreen here and watch European television. The first sign of a more developed country?
The moment we enter Tanzania, our previous observation is confirmed again, since we see more modern buildings and the people look more healthy and happy compared to Malawi. It is way to early to say that Tanzania is more developed compared to Malawi, but the signs are positive.
The landscape is lush and green, with endless banana and tea plantation planted on the rolling hills: a complete contrast with the dry land we pictured in our minds before visiting Tanzania. We set up camp in the middle of a village, run by the local community.
Once settled, we hear preaching and singing coming from the building next to us: this much be the local church. Curious as we are, we ask if we could take a peek inside. The moment we pop our heads around the corner, we are noticed by the preacher-man and he demands for us to come in and have a seat in the front. 2 church elders are urched to change seats, so we have the best spots in the house.
It turns out the community is raising funds for a new soundsystem, and everyone is performing a song or dance. Even though we don’t understand a word of what they say, we enjoy this spectacle. When the last performance is finished, the preacher-man turns to us and makes clear with some hand signs that we have to introduce ourselves. So there we are, on our first day in Tanzania, talking to a church full of people, explaining why on earth we are here! Luckily we have a translator, and the people seem to like our introduction: a room filled with smiles, just beautiful!
When we finish our story, and donate a small fee for the sound system, we are surprised when one of the community members comes walking into the church with a live chicken: “for you! You welcome!” How amazing! We don’t have a choice, and hours later we are eating ‘our’ chicken with the rest of the community… For them quite a special meal, because “we normally only eat this with Christmas”.
Before dinner Krijn plays some soccer with the local kids with a ball made of plastic bags and rubber bands, and Linde has fun with a little girl and the iPhone.
Continuing our trip the next day, we visit some of Tanzania’s southern natural wonders. Beautiful landscapes, waterfalls, natural bridges and much more is keeping us busy all morning. We drive past a banana wholesale market, where the local farmers come together to sell their bananas to the markets in town. Farmers arrive with big bunches of bananas on their heads, the back of a bicycle or motor cycle. Where we saw many bicycles in Malawi, Tanzania is full of motorcycles. Again a sign that this country might be more developed compared to Malawi.
We drive through to Mbeya where we spent two days to have the wheel of our car fixed. For some reason the wheel-cap ‘exploded’, with a lot of oil and grease squirting out. All well and fixed, we continue our journey north-east.
Where we thought the first leg of the trip would be easy and short, it turns out the Chinese have decided to do some roadworks here. Where in the Netherlands we only work on a few km of road at the same time, and ensure a proper d-tour, in Tanzania they break up 150km of road at once! The alternative road is a bumpy, rock-filled, dusty dirt-track on the side of the new road. This is the main road through the country, used by all the trucks and busses driving to Dar Es Salaam. Whilst we struggle to avoid all the potholes, these guys just fly past us, blowing out massive clouds of dirty black smoke and dust. We are suffering… Without air conditioning we have to drive with open windows, but have to roll them up every so many seconds to avoid being poisoned and covered in dust… without much success.
Tanzania is filled with Chinese companies building roads throughout the country. The official reason: to help the county’s infrastructure. The un-official reason we hear is to gain more power in Africa, and to be able to transport Chinese made products throughout the continent more efficiently and visa-versa with commodities and resources. This makes us thinks…
After a good night sleep on the Old Farmhouse campsite, we exchange some overland tips and tricks with 2 great and hilarious gentlemen from the UK. With 68 and 69 years old, Brian and John are quite an inspiration and have just come from where we are planning to go. A great resource for the rest of our trip. We buy some farm produce and make our way towards Kondoa to explore some of Africa’s best preserved rock painting, some of which are dating back thousands of years.
As we stay on the parking-lot of a small guesthouse in town, we are exposed to all the sounds of the little city. We kind of forgot that half of Tanzania is Muslim until we hear the morning prayer come out of the loudspeakers of the mosque next door,m and all through the city, at 4am. Really?! We ask our Christian host during breakfast how she feels about this alarm clock every morning and it seems that they all live in harmony and accept each others traditions.
The rest of the trip towards the north of the country is not much to write about, with endless roads leading through dry plains. Up to the moment we arrive at lake Manyara, where out of the blue Masai villages pop up. Such a different culture to the ones we’ve seen so far. We see boys with bow and arrow guard their herd of cows and goats, dressed in the famous red & black checked blankets. Beautiful to see in the landscape with a backdrop of old volcanic mountains.
And then the fun starts: we want to visit the Ngorongoro Crater, but does Tanzania wants us to visit? It feels like they don’t, since it is almost impossible to work out how to get a permit. The procedure is as follows:
- Start to find the place where they can explain how to get a permit. We find our resource on the carpark of a hotel.
- There is not a set fee, so calculate how much we have to pre-pay. We need to pay to enter the park, to camp, to enter the crater and a fee to enter with your car. All prices depend on your nationality, the weight of your car and the country of registration.
- Try to find the right bank to deposit money. Nobody knows which bank holds the account. We visit 3 banks before we find the correct one.
- We withdraw cash at another bank, since this bank doesn’t accept our card.
- We return to the correct bank and exchange our Tanzanian shillings into US dollars.
- We deposit the dollars and get a receipt.
- We are sent to a petrol station (?), where they can explain to us where to find the Ngorogoro office to get our permit with the deposit slip.
- The petrol station has no clue, and in the meantime the bank had closed and we still don’t have a permit!
- We ask around and drive into the direction we are pointed at, and eventually find a tiny little office inside a hotel.
- We deliver the deposit slip and get a permit.
- This all has taken about 5 hours…. we are excited and exhausted at the same time!
With the lack of supermarkets, we source our groceries from tiny little shops and finally enter the park late in the afternoon.
The Ngorongoro Crater is known as one of the 7 natural wonders of Africa and, with a diameter of 19km, one of the largest calderas in the world. This collapsed vulcano provides a spectacular setting for all sorts of wildlife, to graze and stalk their way across the grand lands, swamps and accacia woodland. (Source: Lonely Planet)
We camp in a spectacular spot right on the rim of the Crater, and watch the sky turn purple when we prepare dinner. At 6am the next morning we drive down into the crater, and are treated to an absolute spectacle: in the rising sun we see the crater come to life. Massive herds of wildebeest, zebra, buffalo and springbok are making their way towards the swamps, leaving a huge cloud of dust. The warm yellow rays of the sun penetrate the dust, creating visual effects going beyond beauty. The green forrest, set against the dry grass plains and clouds of salt-dust blowing from the dry lake, finish off this wonder of nature. Worth the money and effort!
At 12 noon we drive out and continue the trip towards one of Africa’s other wildlife highlights: the Serengeti. On our way we see many red spots dotted around the plains and hills: the beautiful Masai warriors are everwhere. We drive past their villages and enjoy the stunning savanna scenery.
We reach the gate and still traumatised of organising the Ngorongoro permit, we are pleased to find out we can pay on arrival with our card. That easy? Yes, that easy…
Our campsite is the wildest so far: when we are preparing dinner about 30 elephants surround us, with a particular interest in our food. The closest approaches us up to about 5 meters, and when we hear the roar of lion followed by the laughing sounds of hyenas very close by, we decide to finish our dinner behind the steering wheel and rush into our tent, safely on top of the car, to fall into a deep sleep.
Driving around the Serengeti is feeling like a child in a candy store. Wherever you look, you see animals. Fabulous sightings follow each other in a high pace, with the absolute highlight a pride of 15 lions enjoying a zebra only centimetres next to us, with over-excited vultures, jackal and hyena impatiently waiting their turn to have a bite. The male lion obviously gets irritated and chases them away every few minutes, which creates an exciting spectacle to watch whilst we are having our breakfast in the car.
Continuing our way towards the otherside of the park, we are chatting about the great wildebeest migration. How exciting would it be to experience this in real life? As if on command, not even a minute later we drive around a corner when a wildebeest crosses the road, followed by another one, and another and many, many more. Without realising we find ourself in the middle of the migration! In endless long rows the wildebeest and zebras cross the plains, on their way back from the Masai Mara in Kenya towards the Ngorongoro Crater in anticipation of the rains and fresh grass. What an amazing experience!
The last few days in Tanzania we relax on the shores of lake Victoria, whilst we give our car ToeToe a spa treatment after the terrible roads of the Serengeti. She gets a nice new exhaust pipe (which we lost along the way), a motor wash and last but not least the alternator is fixed, after we found ourselves with a flat battery in the middle of the great migration. Thanks to our second battery we survived!
Cutting a long story short, Tanzania didn’t turn out that bad at all! We haven’t experienced one negative moment with the traffic police, crossed the country without getting a fine and met many beautiful people… But, if you’re looking for a cheap country, Tanzania is not for you!