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Tanzania

Tanzania – A giraffe with a mouthful of berries stolen by a hungry bird. An elephant clan attracted by delicious foliage, circling us and forcing our car to stop, just ignoring us. Trees overflowing with red and purple flowers blazing under the sun. Maasai women with a little girl nestled at the entrance of a tiny house to escape the unbearable heat for a few minutes. A Danish grandfather taking his 15-person family, ages 7 to 77, to celebrate Christmas on a safari, a visual gift they will remember their entire life. Small frights during the night, hearing the noises and footsteps of wild animals around our tent or at the front door of our hotel. Feeling envy when meeting trekkers getting ready to climb Kilimanjaro. The list of all of the very poignant moments felt during this Tanzanian trip could be very long! Let’s start at the beginning…

This adventure really begins with air travel. Canada and East Africa are quite far from one another: long flights and many layovers and transits await us. The best way to survive such an itinerary is to be attentive to the different local customs that will be encountered both on the planes and in the airports, beginning with the Canadian coolness, passing though the London frenzy, transiting through exotic Ethiopia, before finally landing at the foot of Kilimanjaro.

Whoever is curious will have already had an interesting trip at this point: in images, flavours and foreign currencies.

Affability and efficiency upon arrival

The first lovely surprise at our destination was that our luggage, which was full of tiny gifts we don’t usually pack but were suggested by our tour operator that we bring, has accompanied us through all of the transfers and is waiting for us. Phew! Otherwise, the week would have been a long one! The second surprise was the warm greeting by an English-speaking guide and driver who took us to the hotel in 40 minutes, comfortably on the national highway as well as on the bumpy roads through villages.

Comfort without fail

We find the Springlands Hotel, with its Western décor with an African touch, to be clean, comfortable and well equipped with new technologies – they are quite used to greeting tourists coming to Africa for the first time. They know how to put us at ease with a smile, and the logistical organization is a well-oiled machine: you are given 24 hours to rest and to gather together your questions before you are invited to the information session for the adventure you have chosen.

Before embarking on the safari, we also have time to take a shower and to recoup some sleep, to take a dip in the pool, explore the well-trimmed garden, to meet the driver and guide with the vehicle we will be traveling on, to use the Internet in the computer room, to store whichever valuables are worth keeping in a safe box, to taste dishes that are much more varied and flavourful than anticipated (often Western, or with a touch of India) and even enjoy a glass of wine or a beer with fellow travellers from Australia, France, Norway, Denmark, Hong Kong or San Francisco, sharing dreams and fears due to our lack of knowledge about the African continent.

A must-see: the Maasai village

Even though we were eager to leave for the safari, we decided to reserve our second day to meet the Maasai. Unlike in North America, the native people of Tanzania don’t live on reservations. They are everywhere in the modern cities, as well as in smaller villages, along routes and pastures where very young children guard herds, and they even work in hotels.
To meet them in a typical village is, however, a must if you want to really see their daily life. They live in a very traditional way, in plain houses without any evidence of luxury, even though their huge herds of cows, sheep and goats provide them with relative prosperity.

The shukas (blue or red checked dresses for men and women) quickly seduce us, along with the shaved heads on both men and women, elaborate make-up, heavy and colourful necklaces and earrings, and traditional dances during which men jump to amazing heights.

The children are particularly charming and, like any other children in the world, they adore sweets. We had brought small boxes of Smarties. These colourful candies, easy to share, were a real hit! Just like the pencils, pens and crayon that are so rare in Tanzania. The fun stickers were also very popular.

We will traverse many Maasai villages during our safari week; however, to really visit one, it is recommended to ask your guide to take you. He will know the ones where tourists are greeted with pleasure and those who would rather stay away from the cameras.

Of course, to settle our guilt over voyeurism, especially when we want to take photographs of the people, asking permission and offering a few dollars always proves to be useful.

Around the city of Moshi, Chaggas constitute the main ethnic group. Christians and Muslims can be found in equal numbers and the muezzin will wake you up for prayer quite early in the morning. As per tradition, Maasai men, even though Christians, have up to four spouses.

En route towards the land of animals, but the daily lives of people first

We are now en route towards the huge spaces where we will be (visually) chasing big African animals. (Stay with us!)

Before getting there – each destination requiring a two to four hour drive to reach – we cross the cities of Moshi and Arusha, and between the two we will be stopping at lively and colourful markets where women in multi-coloured dresses sell quite a wide variety of products. Do you think you are in a developing country? Think again, there are as many cell phones here as on 5th Avenue in New York!

You will feel admiration when you see the women walking back home along the roads, carrying heavy loads on their heads of all the food bought at the market. Men ride bicycles with quite impressive loads as well.

Watching mothers and daughters braiding their hair in all kinds of creative styles at their doorsteps or in their small gardens is a real pleasure. And we can’t hide our smiles at the discovery of the building facades, which are completely painted to advertise what is sold inside, whether it is meat, electronic devices or even advertising a hair salon.

To buy handicrafts such as bowls, masks, necklaces and wooden or goat skin shields, you should ask your guide for the best boutiques in the village. The ones along the road usually have exorbitant prices in comparison with others.

Have you heard about tanzanite? This rare gemstone, whose blue color can appear from a translucent sapphire blue to violet, must be bought in well-known jewellers. We recommend researching it prior to buying to be able to recognize its purity and authenticity. It is, however, a lovely and imperishable souvenir, whether buying just the stone or set as a ring or a pendant.

The Lords of the plains and savannahs

Being East Africa’s largest country, many expedition circuits are offered in Tanzania. The one we took led to national parks and animal reservations in the north of the country: the vast Serengeti plain, the Tarangire savannah at a 1,100 meter high altitude, the Ngorongoro crater measuring 20 km by 16, where only Maasai are allowed to take their herds to graze, and Lake Manyara, covering 40 km by 15.

Some animals can be found in all of those environments, while others have adopted a specific territory. What can we see? Depending on the time of the day, we can see wild animals far afield, but most of the time very, very, very close… meaning less than a meter from our 4 X 4, whose roof can be opened and pushed up to allow a rider to stand and comfortably take pictures all around, while being protected from the sun and even the rain.

There are in great numbers – by the dozens, hundreds and even thousands - elephants, giraffe, buffaloes, gnus, Thomson and Grant gazelles, zebras and baboons.

In small numbers, depending on the season, the hour and the height of the grass that serves as protection, there are lions, leopards, cheetahs, hippopotami, rhinoceros, crocodiles, elks, hyenas, warthogs, ostriches, marabou and small, pale coloured birds, sometimes so bright they are almost fluorescent.

Lake Manyara is a feeding place for pink flamingos, which meet here in great numbers. To get a chance to see them, you have to be there at the right moment and on the right side of the lake, meaning the side from which they haven’t yet skimmed up and eaten all of their favourite food.

The driver/guides really have a sixth sense to spot our “prey” from far away, which we gently chase with our lenses and zoom. They are constantly waiting to reveal an animal lying in the shade under a tree or spread out on a leafy branch. They are real hunters, never hesitating to use their walkie-talkies to ask a colleague if he has seen a lion or some other animal, and where, precisely, in order to get us there quickly.

We are told there are snakes… apparently not dangerous ones. We haven’t seen any...

Tree admirers will become ecstatic in front of the baobabs and umbrella acacias with their yellow bark. And the Lion King’s rocks, called kopjes, and the views as far as the eye can see, and the famous African sky…

When exiting a reservation, a message will remain in our minds for a long time:

“Don’t take anything out of this park, except:
Food for your soul
Solace for your hearth
Inspiration for your mind”

At the Cradle of Mankind

Amateur archaeologists or specialists will be fulfilled when crossing the Olduvai Gorge, known as “The Cradle of Mankind.” This prehistoric site, one of the most important in the world, conceals fossils dating back 2.5 million years. In 1986, scientists found the remains of a woman who lived 1.8 million years ago.

Eating your lunch facing the magnificent red monolith, before visiting the archaeological museum, is a treat. Excavations are going on permanently on the site, which is of course protected and only accessible when accompanied by authorized guides (which Zaratours guides are).

Feeling protected in the wild

Our guide, quite open to the sometimes half-baked questions from foreign visitors, was very knowledgeable about the animals, birds, plants and trees on the territory. He was also very protective and always concerned about our wellbeing as far as the heat, dust, mosquitoes and more-than-bumpy roads on which we sometimes travelled were concerned.

Of course, we sometimes felt tired after a whole day on the pathways, enduring these minor inconveniences, but overall, it is an easy trip if you have an experienced and attentive guide.

Most of the time, in the savannah and on the national park paths, we were the only vehicle, thus able to enjoy the African nature and its beauty in a respectful level of silence. At times, we met another vehicle and, on only one occasion did we end up being one of seven 4x4s in the same spot, in the middle of an elephant herd’s path, involuntarily blocking them.

The wild camps

Throughout the week, we slept in two wild camps, the Ikoma and the Serengeti. In our minds they represent the perfect equilibrium between rusticity and comfort for the majority of travelers: those who are not looking for too much luxury, yet without being explorers at all costs.

These sites are equipped with a handful of large tents. Each has two double beds protected by mosquito nets, a shower and toilets, table and chairs, rugs and even electricity. Some are put up directly on the ground, while others are on a wooden platform and have a straw roof for better protection against the sun and the rain. Even though the campsites are large, we never saw more than forty people at any of them and the tents are wide apart, ensuring campers will experience intimacy with nature.

Personnel at the camps greet us on arrival and attend the dinner at night and the breakfast served in a huge and well-equipped rustic dining room. The food is excellent, especially the banana soup, the coffee, South African wine and local beer, such as the Kilimanjaro, with the well-chosen slogan “If you can’t climb it, drink it!”

An interesting stop in Karatu

In the middle of the week, we slept in the newest hotel owned by Zaratours, the Highview Hotel. The quality of the service and the overall organization was comparable to Springlands. The décor, the newer amenities and the surrounding nature make it a superior place to stay. Add the fact that Maasai are doormen and that music and dance shows are offered in the lounge, around the huge swimming pool terrace and in the garden facing the endless plain and the surrounding mountains and you have the ultimate!

The hotel is also self-sufficient for coffee, milk, wheat and many vegetables. Travelers are even invited to plant a tree after making a $10 donation to a charity organization.

Usual precautions

Health and food – You are not allowed in Tanzania if you do not have a yellow fever vaccine. You have to seriously protect yourself against mosquito bites and Tsé Tsé flies. Only distilled bottled water should be consumed. Avoid eating chicken or eggs exposed to heat and the sun for too long.

Attitude – In a wild camp, even if guards and security measures are enforced, a hyena or a buffalo, attracted by the scent of the kitchen tent, could be found inside the camp where they could even be followed by hungry lions. The verdict: never keep any food or snack in your own tent and never go out at night for a walk!
Furthermore, never touch a lion, elephant or a monkey approaching you… even if they look friendly and nice!

Key words

Jambo: Hello
Karibu: Welcome
Polé Polé: Slowly…
And of course, Hakuna Matata: No problem!

The climate

We spent Christmas there: it was hot, nevertheless comfortable most of the time and sunny, around 25 degrees Celsius. It was hotter in the vehicle around noon but bearable. Fortunately, it had rained in the few weeks preceding our stay. Rain was therefore behind us and we were able to enjoy the scenery sporting a fresh new green.

It is advisable to check the weather for the different regions of the country depending on the time of the year you plan to be there. The climate fluctuates.

For those considering climbing Kilimanjaro, “the Roof of Africa,” read our article on the subject. It is worth noting that on the same day, it could be 30 degrees Celsius at the foot of the mountain and –10 at the summit…

How much?

The stay and the tour are very reasonable with Zaratours: around $1,500, all-inclusive for the week. The expensive part could be the airfare, depending on where you originate. Tanzania is not a mass-tourist destination.

Hats off for the Ansell ladies!

Zainab Ansell is the owner of Zaratours, which has two hotels, two wild camps, a significant fleet of vehicles and 400 employees and 70 guides. She is a visionary: an energetic and altruistic woman, supported by her daughter Leila. This adventure began 20 years ago for her.

She has plans for new projects, such as the opening of new wild camps, for example, one at the Ngorongoro crater and a cultural tour based on the Maasai. Her projects are always accompanied by sustainable development measures with contributions to dedicated humanitarian causes, for example, to the emancipation of women, education for young single mothers, the fight against malaria and famine, equitable treatment of carriers at Kilimanjaro, artistic development of teenagers, etc.

You would not be surprised to know that Zainab Ansell was awarded the Tanzanian Grand Tourism Award in 2011, and that the two most recent presidents of the country have made the trip to meet and congratulate her.

It was also quite interesting to learn that Zainab’s brother, Adam, manages operations for Zaratours from Canada; more specifically, in Toronto.

One last incentive, just in case you are not yet convinced that you should visit Tanzania

A hot air balloon ride over the Serengeti…


Sylvie Berthiaume

Translation: Christiane Théberge


Thanks to Zaratours for the expert services of Paul, our guide, for lodging and for meals at the destination. A very special thanks to Penny, Franck and Saïd for their availability, professionalism and smiles. 

www.zaratours.com
www.tzrepottawa.ca
www.tanzaniatouristboard.com

Springlands Hotel

Getting ready...

 Massaï mother

Ready to become men

Massaï necklaces

At the Sadala market

The brown or the black?

Grant gazelles by the dozen

Black Crowned Crane

Buffaloes

Flamingos at lake Manyara

Lion King's rocks

Olduval Gorge

Wild camp

A tent in a wild camp

Highview Hotel

Pool at Highview Hotel

Zainab Ansell

Hot air balloon over the Serengeti

  

 

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