It’s been a while since I have updated, but I’ve been moving nonstop! Stephanie came to visit and we had a very busy itinerary, and I’m happy to report that it all went very smoothly! Unfortunately, it also went very quickly – the past three weeks went by in a blur. We started our journey by meeting in Kilimanjaro Airport. I arrived 5 hours earlier than her and wasn’t allowed to wait in the actual air rt, so I had to sit outside all afternoon, but it was all worth it when she arrived! We headed back to my old stomping grounds, a hostel in Arusha, and called it a night. We spent 4 days in Arusha, visiting my old friends Baba Jack and Baba Jerry, my home stay family, and touring the city. It was so amazing to see them all again and even more amazing to share it all with Steph. My ‘Mama’ welcomed us with open arms, served us an endless fried banana and chai afternoon snack, and updated me on the past few years. My Swahili, though still broken and basic, has improved significantly since the last time I saw her. We communicated a lot easier than I remembered before, and that was pretty cool.
Then we headed out on safari, introducing Steph to her first camping experience! 3 of the 4 parks I had done before but they were just as incredible this time as they were the last! We saw everything and more – including the extremely rare sighting of a leopard hunting and killing a baby warthog! (I wish I had a picture, but I don’t). I had never even seen a leopard before, so that was incredible. We started out in Arusha heading to Tarangire, Ngorongoro Crater, and the Serengeti. We did a budget safari, literally the cheapest I could find, and we were pleasantly surprised with how well everything went and how good the food was (although I did have to eat goat).
Safari car selfie
After 4 days on safari, we drove through the Serengeti, away from Arusha. I had arranged for us to be dropped off at the other end of the Serengeti, closest to Mwanza, where a JBFC driver came to pick us up and take us to Mwanza. We spent 2 nights in a hotel there, where we were able to relax and do some laundry (in the shower), plus my coworkers were able to come meet us one night for dinner and drinks. Next, we were off somewhere new for both of us – Kigoma!
Kigoma is a small city on Lake Tanganyika. We had a few options of how to get there, and in the end decided to fly. Though extremely expensive (it was a charter plane), with such a
limited amount of time it made the most sense for our plans. So we boarded the smallest plane I had ever been in, and we were off. I knew I loved Kigoma the minute we landed. It’s a very small rural area, I’m not even really comfortable calling a city (no supermarkets, but we did find an ATM!). We hopped in a cab and headed for the docks on the other side of town, where I was told we would find water taxi’s heading out to Gombe Stream National Park – the place where Jane Gooddall lived with the chimpanzees, and still visits twice a year. After wandering around the small market attempting to stock up on fruit and bread to snack on, we climbed onto our boat. The boat was large, uncovered (yay for sunburns – the trip took 3 hours) and filled with about 40-50 Tanzanians, a few huge bags of rice, large crates of sodas, and a handful of chickens. We also had the pleasure of a few not-so-subtle photos being taken of us from the water taxi next to us, because what’s funnier than white people on a boat? We managed to kill time on our long ride by having a few conversations with the one person on the boat who sort of
spoke English. Mainly we talked about Obama, Tupac, and Rihanna, because America.
The one snag we hit was upon our arrival in Gombe around 4pm. It’s $100 per 24 hours spent in the park. Apparently as of 2014, once you step off the boat you are officially in the National Park, even if you aren’t trekking or doing anything other than sleeping in the guesthouse. You can’t start a trek until the morning, and you can’t get on a water taxi until the morning. So in order to do a trek we would have to spend 36 hours total in the park, most of which we would spend sleeping. After about an hour of arguing with the employees, and having no way off the island, we were faced with the option to either a) pay $100 just to spend the night (not including the guesthouse fee or food) just to wake up at 6am and get on the boat back, b) pay for two 24 hour permits – $200 each, or c) hire a $300 private boat to come and get us. After quite a bit of arguing, we reluctantly agreed to pay for both permits. When in Tanzania, right? And when their credit card machine wasn’t working, we handed over the only USD we had – $100 each. They promised the machine would work the next day, and we crossed our fingers and hoped otherwise. At 8am the next day we started our trek with a guide. Another guide elsewhere in the forest sent a message to ours (via a loud whooping sound he made – no cell phones or walkie talkies here!) about a chimp sighting, and off we went through the jungle. We found one chimp, a young male off by himself high above our heads in a tree. We sat at the bottom for a while until he came bounding down, running right passed us. The chimps are wild animals, and they know no paths or trails, so when you follow them, you follow them through the bush – a real trek. He lead us to his mother, who was in a tree with her 5 year old son, as well as a one-month old baby on her belly. The family was un-phased by us, and as soon as the fruit they were eating looked better in another tree, they climbed down and walked directly between us – the 5 year old stepping on my foot as he bounded after his mom. We spent a while there watching them, and to surprise ran into two more tourists – a Canadian couple who had hired their own boat to take them for the day. After visiting the waterfalls, spotting another chimp family, and hiking through the forest some more, we packed our bags and jumped on their boat, our untouched credit cards still in our wallets. Take that, overpriced park fees!
Stephanie with the mama chimp!
With 2 days still to kill in Gombe, we found a nice little hotel to stay in. For $10 a night each, we got a double bed, mosquito nets, our own bathroom and refrigerator, and free breakfast. Not too shabby. Each day we hopped on a bajaj and headed for beach on the lake. It’s the off season, and the beaches were quiet. We were lucky enough to pay $3 a day to lounge around in our own private cove. It was beautiful, and exactly what we needed. No seagulls here, however we did have to fend off monkeys trying to eat our food! Finally, we flew back to Mwanza and hung out around JBFC for a few days before Stephanie headed back home.
our private cove on Lake Tanganyika
It was a successful vacation, and I’m sad it’s over. Stephanie being here and then leaving has made me pretty homesick. However, I’m reaching the halfway point of my time at JBFC and feeling both happy and nervous for the summer to start. It’s my first summer ever away from home and I’m hoping that it’s going to be a good one!
During the annual migration, there are 2 million Zebras and 4 million Wildebeest in the Serengeti
The coolest photo I’ve ever taken – not zoomed in and right next to our car!
A hyena hangs out in the road
Overlooking Ngorongoro Crater
Stephanie with a herd of Elephants
Waterfalls of Gombe Stream