Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The African Safari

As mentioned in my post on Passion and being a passionate traveller among other things, I thought it would be a good idea to publish, some of my travel related adventures. I started with Hong Kong in Asia and am now shifting to the African continent.

The idea

It usually is a rather simple conversation that strikes off a decision to go somewhere, isn't it? In this case, it was a discussion among friends in a book shop about where would be an exotic place to go, during a forthcoming holiday. One of my friends held up a guide book on Africa and that's when the idea got generated.

The thing with a good idea, is that once it takes seed in your head, it tends to grow roots and flower and eventually turns into a fully matured tree, which you can't afford to ignore any more. And so began the discussion. Finally three people, including I, had decided that we would go to the East African country of Tanzania - probably one of the oldest known inhabited areas on Earth. The United Republic of Tanzania was derived from the two states of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, united in 1964.

As luck would have it, my American and the Hong Kong companions left it in my hands to do the research and organising the trip. With the week long Eid holidays coming up in Muscat, where we all were stationed, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to visit a land that none of us had ever been to. Also, there was another angle to consider.

While US and Hong Kong citizens are privileged in that, their passports are good enough for most countries to welcome them with a free or paid visa on arrival, it is not so the case with the Indian passport. Most often than not, I have had to apply for a visa well in advance. Not in the case of Tanzania, where the Indian passport was considered good enough to be provided with a paid visa on arrival. Given the few weeks left for the public holidays to start, this seemed a great, not-to-be missed opportunity that could be really accomplished.


Africa. The dark continent. The launch pad of human evolution. Exotic cultures, customs and cuisine. Wild animals. Majestic mountains. Parks and ranges that most of us have only so far seen on a Discovery or National Geographic TV channel. It was a thrill just to think about it, imagining how truly exciting it would be to have a real safari. A once in a lifetime kind of thing.

The Research

Starting with turning to Google search and various forums where other world travellers had provided information and feedback on services and other such things to keep in mind, I got into some quantitative and qualitative secondary research.

One organisation came across as quite decent. And as it turned out for us, Base Camp Tanzania, owned and managed by Achmed and Zainab Phillips was the best choice we made.

The feedback on the forums about Achmed, his responsive nature, professionalism and ability to adhere to indicated costs, while providing the best economies of scale turned out to be correct. I started by corresponding with him. It was impressive in that he responded to every request I made - information, domestic flight tickets, itinerary, etc. I also checked out the best and economical way to get to Africa from the Middle East. I wouldn't say that the overall costs were cheap, but were they worth it? A resounding yes! I had to literally push one of the trip companions as the person was having some difficulty in confirming the choice, despite having made the decision. Finally, we agreed on the trip details. I went ahead and booked the flight tickets. It also meant, some of the excitement started off in Muscat itself.

As we discovered, it was necessary for travellers to get a Yellow Fever vaccination prior to reaching Tanzania, else it would a jab at the airport and 100 US dollars down the drain. As with most African states, various diseases are always a possibility and thankfully today we do have a plethora of preventive medication available to ensure we do not suffer during or after such a trip. Since all the hemming and hawing on the trip had happened, while we were supposed to get the vaccination about 10 days prior to the trip, we eventually ended up getting it a day before we were supposed to leave! Luckily, it was September and a good time to go with low instances of mosquitoes and therefore fewer chances of being infected.

The Start

Finally it was D-day. Backpacks with essentials and sleeping bags were packed. Anti-mosquito and basic medications in our survival kit was assembled. Tickets were re-confirmed. Travel money had been converted into US dollars. Passports were in hand. And with big smiles on our faces, off we went to the airport.

Our itinerary was quite packed. We were to land in Dar-es-Salaam the capital of Tanzania. Take a domestic flight to the town of Arusha. From there we would be taking a private safari vehicle, with a guide and a cook to various parks, ending up back in Arusha almost a week later. Then it would be a quick flight to Zanzibar. A sea ferry back to the capital. And return to Muscat.

Flight to Dar-es-Salaam was uneventful. Landed at the airport. One terminal building contained both the international and domestic sections. Security and infrastructure were minimal. We had a gap of a couple of hours before we boarded the domestic flight. So we headed out of the building, and waited.

It was also the day of Eid. And kids from a nearby ghetto were being provided free access to the airport and tubes of ice candy. As a bonus, here was an American, a Chinese origin and an Indian trio just outside. I had gone for a short walk to take some shots of the building. When I started walking back, I couldn't see my companions. Instead, I only saw a multitude of bobbing heads! Turns out the kids were gazing and feeling the exotic looking visitors sitting in front of them.


I was laughing a lot. It was really crazy, watching these kids stroking the white skin of one person and the straight hair of the other. Maybe they had never seen such exotic creatures before! Finally had to wade in and 'rescue' my companions, got the kids to move off and we trundled up the domestic section for our journey to Arusha.

Arusha

It is not a very long flight - about an hour or so. And interestingly it was a turbo-prop aircraft that was to transport us. It was branded - Precision Air and the emblem on the tail wing of the aircraft was a jumping antelope. The colours also looked really nice. As we were walking up to board the aircraft, one of my companions had a 'eye-opened' look, for having never seen an ATR-type plane before. Gave me the opportunity to inform that there are plenty of these in India. They tend to bob up and down a bit, especially if there are air pockets, but it was generally safe.


The airport, near Arusha, where we were going was called Kilimanjaro - the famous African mountain that has been written about by just about anybody who has ever been enchanted with this beautiful continent. Interestingly the beer served on board was also called Kilimanjaro!

It was night by the time we landed. We were met on time by our guide - Abombe. A very interesting character, whom I came to know quite well over the next week. He was in a largish vehicle - the indefatigable Land Cruiser. Again, a vehicle we all got to know quite well as we spent most of our time in it. Abombe took us from the airport to Arusha and the drive was pretty decent. But when he took the turn off the main road to take us to the resort, where we were being camped for the night, it felt like we were in the real Africa. A non-existent road, houses and shops inches away from the body of the vehicle, people standing and looking. Finally we end up in front of a large gate and inside was a really lovely resort. And Achmed, who was waiting to meet and greet us.


Now, I had only corresponded with Achmed and given no other indication, had assumed he was a full blown Tanzanian. Well he was Tanzanian alright, having married his wonderful wife Zainab from the country and having settled there. But the accent and look was as British as it gets! With a handle-bar moustache, twinkling eyes and a penchant for straight faced jokes, he was an interesting character. It seems he fell in love with this place and the people and decided to settle down. Even changed his name to Achmed and would not disclose what his full name or previous name was. He regaled us with some stories and a briefing, as dinner was being prepared and served to us. Here was the first time, that I had a taste of a local refreshing beer 'Safari' and an interesting carbonated ginger ale called 'Stoney Tangawizi'. The place was enthralling in the type of furniture and furnishings used. Especially worth noting was the roof made from banana plantation bark, after curing and drying. All in all, a great trip so far. It was a bit cool as well and I certainly looked forward to the shower and the bed. As the 'real' adventure starts the next day.

From thrilling vistas, to open expanses of land never seen before teeming with wild and free life, it was majestic Africa that was to open up in front of my eyes. Coming up, in the next post.

9 comments:

  1. Lovely post! Africa has so many treasures for travelers, waiting to be explored. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Thank you for the compliment. This is the first part of the series. Hope to see you back reading all of the ones to follow :)

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  3. You seem to have converted this into a travelogue! Good posts!

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  4. If there's a place in this world that's worthy to be visited, that should be Africa. Despite its conditions, this continent is home to the most majestic natural hotspots in the world—not to mention an incredibly biodiverse area. Looking forward to your future posts about this!

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