Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Ngorogoro Crater and Off to Nairobi

The fog is thick as ....lets just say it's really thick when we get up at 5:30am. We pack and meet Chicho and Peter for breakfast at 6:30.  Peter always served wieners at our breakfast and today they have wieners in the breakfast buffet. It must be a Tanzanian thing.

Water buck are eating grass beside the terrace.

We actually get internet so I help Graham put a bit more money into his bank account to pay his rent.

It's still foggy and bitterly cold when we leave. Shawn and I are in our winter jackets and wish we had also worn our toques and gloves.

Chicho is back to wearing his normal hat instead of his tall hat. I comment on the change and he says he wears the tall hat to keep the dust out of his hair but the Ngrorogoro crater roads are not as dusty as Serengetti so he doesn't need it. It now makes sense.

The dirt on the road is red. All the plants at the side of the road are the same red  because the jeeps kick the dust onto them.

As mentioned, we are on top of an extinct volcano and are descending into the large crater area. Many of the animals live there all year round and don't leave the vicinity.

The road is super steep going down into the crater and has numerous curves and large drop offs at the side. I'm thankful that Chicho is a such a good driver.

The fog begins to dissipate the lower we get until it finally disappears. The views are great and Shawn is constantly clicking pictures. It's a bit harder for me to get the pictures because only my telephoto lense is working on my camera. My regular lense stopped working in Zimbabwe for some reason. My lense cap also hasn't stayed closed since Shawn stepped on it in the Serengetti.

In the crater, we are out of the fog but the sky is still overcast. It seems a bit desolate at first ( could also be my mood because this is the last game drive of our trip), but then the sun peeps out more and more.

We spot an adorable flock of Guinea fowl. I always get a kick out of them with their bright blue heads and plump bodies.

A number of hyena and two jackals run towards a safari jeep that is amplifying hyena laughs. Once the hyenas get close, they seem confused as to who is making the sounds.

Chicho explains that hyenas are also one of his favourite animals because they laugh when they find a new carcass to alert the other hyenas. I get my best pictures yet of jackals.

Chicho says his least favourite animal is the hunting dog which lives in the Serengetti but is becoming less and less visible. He says that unlike the lions and hyenas who kill swiftly, the hunting dogs take bites out of their prey a bit at a time. Chicho says he hates to watch because it is a long and painful death for the prey.

A male lion lies in the grass as a herd of nearby zebras keep wary eyes on him.

We stop at a swampland pool that is fed by underground spring water. There are bathrooms and a picnic area here so we can get out and walk around. A herd of hippos wallow in the pond a few feet from where we stand on the shore.

Continuing our drive, we get some great close up ostrich shots. Besides all the usual animals, there are also many gorgeous cranes as well as saddle bill storks here. We watch a couple rhinos in the distance. Rhinos are the only animal of the big five that can't be seen in the Serengetti, but some do live in the crater.

Too soon we need to zip out of the park in order to get back before our park permit expires. The guides are fined by the government even if they are one minute late. One time Chicho was late because he was stuck on the road for 45 minutes behind a herd of elephants that wouldn't move. Despite it not being his fault, he was still fined.

After leaving the park we pass a large ostrich killed on the road.

We also pass by many Masai villages. The Masai in their colorful blankets and beaded jewelry seem timeless...however,  the spell is sometimes broken when I notice one speaking on a cell phone or driving a motor bike.

Chicho and Peter sing a few Swahili songs for us. The one that stays with me is the Jambo, Hakuna Matata song.

Our time together becomes shorter and shorter, the closer to Arusha we get. We pass Karatu Town with its Hilary Clinton Shop and Mosquito River Town near Lake Manyara. We spot a giraffe standing beside the highway.

Traffic comes to almost a standstill when we get into Arusha. It takes forever to go a short distance. Drivers are aggressive. No one wants to let you in. Chicho drives by the It Started in Africa office and they come out to the road and give us our bus tickets for the morning. They advise us that a car will be by exactly at 7am in the morning to take us to the bus depot and that our bus leaves at 8am.

We say goodbye to Chicho and Peter when they drop us off at "Christina's Place".

We have a lovely Tanzanian supper cooked by Rose at Christina's. It starts with a delicious pumpkin soup served in a wooden bowl with a large wooden traditional Tanzanian ladle. We then go on to a number of other Tanzanian dishes including a bean dish, rice with beef, a vegetable curry and fruit salad. The boys, Shawn and I have a beer and really talk and laugh.

The plan for the next day is that a car picks all four of us up and takes us to the bus station. We will take the 8am bus from Arusha, Tanzania to Nairobi, Kenya which is a 5 hour trip. The bus driver will drop Graham and me off at a different stop after the airport. He will have organized this by phone with our private tour guide, Stanley after we cross the border into Kenya. Graham and I will meet Stanley, who will take us on a four hour tour of Nairobi and drop us off at the airport in time for our flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where we will connect with our flight to Dubai.

Meanwhile, Shawn and Cameron will get off at the Nairobi airport because they have an earlier flight to Dubai than us.

After supper, Im very relaxed as I pack up for the morning, shower and then all hell breaks loose when I check my emails. There is a notice from Ethiopian Airlines advising of a change in one of Graham's and my flight times. Originally we had a 55 minute flight changeover in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia but then the airline bumped our first flight back by 30 minutes causing our layover to be for only 25 minutes....which makes it almost impossible to make our connecting flight to Dubai.

Thank God we actually have internet that works so I can make successful skype phone calls. I first call Ethiopian airlines who say that even though they changed the flight time, any flight changes for Graham and I need to be done through AirCanada not them because that is the Star Alliance partner I booked it with . They give me a number for help from Air Canada, which I call. It's the voice mail of some guy who works for Air Canada. I then call up Aeroplan's customer service, whom I got the tickets from. I receive a message saying that due to high call volume, they are not accepting any calls,call back later....its currently 11:00pm In Tanzania and I need to be up at 5:30am.

I look up the number for Air Canada customer service. After about 5 minutes on hold, I get a service rep. I explain the situation, she looks it up and says that it was booked through Aeroplan and I need to speak to them. In the background Shawn says, " keep calling back Aeroplan". Instead I tell the sales rep that Aeroplan is not excepting calls, it's after 11:00pm in Africa and it looks like my son and I are going to be stuck in Ethiopia and I'm a little freaked out...I said this all in a very calm voice. She says she totally gets it and if I could stay on hold, she will call Ethiopian Airlines and get this all worked out. After checking back with me many times, after 25 minutes, she comes back and says that if I miss my connection to Dubai in Ethiopia, they will put me on the next flight to Dubai, leaving an hour later. I am so relieved. That Air Canada consultant went over and above for me.

I am now able to sleep soundly in our white cotton sheets swathed in mosquito netting.

Our family wakes, eats a lovely breakfast prepared by Rose and has all our luggage waiting at the entrance for our 7:00am ride to the bus station. And we wait...and we wait... By 7:15 I ask one of Christina's staff if he would call " It Started in Africa" and let them know that our ride didn't show. Within five minutes, Christina herself pulls up her own car and braves the busy, often disorganized traffic and under construction, bumpy roads to take us to the bus stop. We get there in time. The bus leaves twenty minutes late.

There are a mix of tourists and locals on the bus. Sitting across from me is a local boy about eight or nine years old. He is neatly dressed in a school uniform and dress shoes, a back pack at his feet and one in his lap. On top of the backpack on his lap is an envelope with his name ( I assume) Davis on it. He is totally by himself. He dozes off and the envelope falls on the floor a few times. I pick it up and put it back on top of his backpack.

About an hour into the trip the kid opens his backpack and pulls out a brown glass bottle with a label that reads "Bavaria". It looks an awful lot like a beer. As the ride goes on, he drinks it...?...hmmm.

Then seemingly in the middle of nowhere, the kid goes up to the driver, gets him to stop the bus, grabs his stuff and gets out. The driver and a local lady in the front talk to him as he leaves but the kid seems confident that he is in the right spot. Shawn says that he saw a Private school a little bit back.

We pass five giraffes eating leaves at the side of the highway.

All passengers get out of the bus on the Tanzania side of he border. There are all kinds of people hawking their wares. We show our passports to the agents, give our fingerprints and get our stamps. Then we walk over to the Kenya side.

On the way I spot some pay washrooms. Shawn pays the fee. Unfortunately they end up being squat bathrooms that we have to pour water from a bucket in when done.

When we get to the Kenya side there are lots of Masai selling jewelry, carvings and Blankets. We say no to any purchases, go in to the office, have our passports checked, give our finger prints , get our stamps and have our baggage security checked.

Getting back to the bus, I am surrounded by Masai women again. I stick out of the crowd here as much as a person in Masai dress would stick out in Downtown Toronto. One elderly women with very stretched earlobes is especially persistent. I see a bracelet that catches my eye and I buy it. Then I get a second Masai blanket. We get more bracelets and by this time we are so surrounded that I get back onto the bus. The women,  especially the older one, continue to press things up against the window. I am forced to pretend I don't notice.

The bus driver says he will call Stanley. the guide for my Nairobi day tour,  shortly in order to work out where to drop Graham and I off.

The border crossing for everyone on the bus takes a good hunk of time. We are now running over an hour late. The bus stops at a big souvenir shop on the Kenya side so that people can use the washrooms. This also takes a while.

Once we get to the outskirt towns around Nairobi, traffic grinds down to a slow crawl. We are over an hour and a half later than planned and I find out that we would be dropping people off at the airport first before getting to our stop with Stanley.

As we get to the airport, all the locals at the front of the bus and the bus driver feel that I would be risking my flights if I try to do a tour in the crazy traffic. The bus driver promises to call Stanley. I feel awful about not doing the prearranged tour but we can't miss our flights.

Graham and I get off at the airport with Shawn and Cameron. We split up since Shawn and Cameron are flying out earlier on United Emirates.

This gives Graham and I a chance to speak with the check in agent and management about our challenging flight connection. Management advises that there are a number of people going to Dubai from our flight and that if it is missed we will go onto the next flight an hour later. However, she said that since we are early, she will put us first on the waiting list to get an earlier flight to Addis Ababa.

True to her word, we do get on the earlier flight.

Ethiopian Airlines is good in that they serve a lot of meals and offer free wine or beer along with their other drinks.

Addis Ababa has one of the most disorganized and confusing airports I have ever experienced. As soon as they open our gate there is a huge mob pushing and shoving to get on to the plane. Once we get to the front of the line, they make Graham and I wait until almost the end because for some reason, despite us both having boarding passes, Graham is booked in, but I am not. After getting on the plane, all goes well and we make it to Dubai only a half hour late.

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