Sunday, 29 January 2012

from mountain to Maasi

Well we're just about over the mountain blues - it's exactly two weeks (unbelievably) since we started out on our trek and this time two weeks ago, I was sitting in the mess tent at the end of day one, chilling after a three course meal with my new mountain mates and marvelling at the clarity of the star flooded sky.

It's taken about this long for the soreness to abate - both physical and mental and I'm just about ready to look at the photos of our mountain again, which is just as well, seeing as I apparently toook over 1000 of them! Not all were of the same peak, thankfully and plenty were from the Serengeti and safari, so it won't all be rocks and snow.

The Kilimanjaro climb ended with a few beers back at our hotel with our mountain guides - at our invitation, where we intended to show our appreciation by buying them a few drinks, expressing our gratitude and saying our gooodbyes. Many hours later, after drinking until they fell asleep and asking us for taxi money home - four times more than the actual cost of the taxi (which they were told to poke), they left and we dropped into bed, chastising ourselves for being taken in and realising how very poor and desperate for money these guys really are.

We packed again, ready for the off and had a whole day being driven around by our new safari guide, heading closer to the safari location via every available market and craft shop and picking up a few crates of beer on his advice for the hotel that night. I'd also bought the girls and I matching 'safari' tops - short sleeved black t-shirts, with leopard print hearts emblazoned on the breast and we each wore them with respective slacks, shorts or cut offs. I'm describing the outfits, because it sets the scene for when we later arrived at our unexpectedly posh hotel for the evening, which looked like a scene from, 'Out of Africa', with a colonial style feel to the perfectly polished wood balconies and immaculately manicured lawns. We rock up in our cut off denim shorts, hiking boots and matching tops, me with my tattoos on show and clutching a crate of beer while desperately trying to hide both behind my oversized bag. To our horror, the way to our rooms meant being paraded in front of the more refined, linen clad residents taking G&T on the terrace, watching the sunset and as they stared aghast at the intrusion, frankly we felt like the Sex Pistols invading an old people's home. The only thing I could think to say in defence was, 'We climbed Kilimanjaro', at which they all seemed suitably impressed, made lots of gasping and congratulatory comments and told us to enjoy our showers  - we just left out the bit that we'd been back for 24 hours and this was just us - as we come.

The safari started the next day in the Ngorongoro Crater, which is a vast and dormant volcano, who's crater long ago collapsed and formed the natural conservation area for the wildlife that now roam freely and plentifully. As soon as we came around the rim you could see for miles across the plain of the sunken crater, with the huge lake in the middle and pink tinge to the surface - created by thousands of flamingo, too far away to make out, save for their collective colour. We dropped into the crater and immediately came face to face with buffalo, wilderbeast, warthogs, Thompson Gazelle and zebra and it's all you can do not to break out into a rendition of, 'The Lion King' while gawping like a gobsmacked child! I still, to this day can't get my head around the fact that we weren't in a zoo, because the animals are all around and so so many and it's like no matter how many times you've seen them before on TV or in a zoo or safari park, to see them in the wild is like seeing them through new eyes. It took me a while to accept that the zebra really were real and not just painted donkeys - seriously, I was like some simpleton seeing animals for the first time ever!

The most amazing encounter though has to be the lions - three in a tree, just staring at us and lazing in the sunshine, while one of the males decided to amble over to the trucks, parked nearby and lollopped down onto the ground, using the wheel of our truck as a prop. It's quite amazing to be so up close to such a huge beast and because a lot of the animals in the crater get used to seeing trucks and people, they don't seem too scared, so you almost get lulled into a false sense of security and forget they could kill you with one swipe and probably would given half the chance, because they're still wild animals - not something we were paying too much heed to when we urged Sam to stick her head out of the window of the truck, two feet above said lion, while we took a picture from the roof... and she did! Lunatic!

We left the crater and as we headed to the camp, our guide mentioned we were headed into giraffe country and quite literally, around the next turn, we came face to face with about ten of them. The whole lion thing was amazing, but seeing the giraffe, wandering across the open plains, crossing the road in front of us and grazing only a matter of feet away was mind blowing. It genuinely felt like the scene from Jurassic Park, where they see the dinosaur for the first time. For such awkward and almost clumsy looking animals, they are so graceful and amazing to watch.

I think it's fair to say that I'm pretty exciteable at the best of times, so trying not to sqeal at every new sighting and send the animals running, was no mean feat and to be honest I'm still reeling now! The next day was equally amazing, seeing more zebra, giraffe, wilderbeast, wart hog and a visit to the Maasi village was incredibly enlightening. The Maasi are inherently nomadic people and seek out land to best support their cattle, depending on the rainy seasons. They literally have nothing but the cattle they keep and the materials and water they can buy, from trading meat and animal goods and more recently, raising money from tourists where they can, to buy water for the dry seasons. They live in the most basic of huts made from twigs and branches and mud and the children spend most of their times dirty and covered in flies. It's heartbreaking, but a way of life that has served them for centuries.

The grim highlight of our Serengeti safari though had to be the gruesome, up close and graphic display of post kill devouring of a zebra carcus by a cackle of ravenous vulture and hyena. We came accross the kill about 20 minutes after the zebra was set upon by the others and they masacred it before our eyes, from about 15 feet away - the vultures pecking out the eyes and underbelly and the hyena literally climbing inside the gut and tearing out the inards and whatever flesh they could - amazing and there are just a couple of tatser photos below - though not for animal lovers or the faint hearted!

Sadly after the safari, we had to say gooodbye to Heidi and Kristin, which was so much harder than I ever expected. We've genuinely cemented two true friendships there and already have our eyes firmly set on the next adventure...

As for Sam and I, well there's really only one thing to do after climbing a mountain, camping for a week and then spending two dusty, bone jittering days in the Serengeti... chill out in paradise! Zanzibar is a fantastic place for anyone who wants some good, proper Tanzanian culture, food and shopping and the coastline is nothing short of idyllic. The white powdery sands of the beaches, the warm bathlike water of the turquoise sea and the infinity pools were amazing and just what you need to sooth those aches and pains away and relax before coming home - oh and the mahoosive cocktails didn't hurt either!

So, until the next plans begin...

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