There’s a lot more to coming to East Africa than just to see animals, as I’ve often written. And overland travel increase those options even more.
Our day of travel from Kenya to Tanzania (from Amboseli to Tarangire) was made easier by the enthusiasm of everyone to do everything on the way! So we left very early, around 7 a.m. I was mightily impressed by this gun-ho group demeanor. The drive out of Amboseli reminded us of how bad the park is: parts of the drive were really little more than desert. I was reminded of villages in northern Cameroun near Chad.
And to make matters worse, we were on Kenyan roads. Now granted that there is a lot of road building going on right now, which has an appearance of something better than the last 25 years. But there was no road building from Amboseli to the Namanga border, and our three courageous Landcruisers were traveling with accomplishment over some of the worst dips, potholes, gutters and canyons I’ve ever seen in something dared to be called a road.
I suppose it was inevitable. I was with James in the front car and we stopped at a giant termite mound when the cell phone reception stopped and we could no longer see Bonface or Sammy in their respective Landcruisers.
Finally, there were a couple of antennas on my phone and I got through to Bonface. His car “had been defeated.” He had enlisted the help of a nearby Maasai village, but no one could restart the vehicle. Ari, Dillon, Marley, Tim and Hayley all piled into Sammy’s car which was on its way. We turned around immediately and headed to their defense.
It was only a few minutes and Sammy’s car was racing towards us like a true Kenyan matatu, now with 11 people in a 6-passenger vehicle, plus everyone’s luggage! According to Ari the Maasai weren’t very helpful, and during the attempt, she “killed eight flies.”
Despite the setback we actually got to Namanga pretty early, which is a definite plus, since border crossings between Kenya and Tanzania can take hours. Fortunately, this time it didn’t. Tumaini, Charles and Justin were waiting for us with our new set of Landcruisers; we pretty much sailed through customs and immigration on both sides when…
We met the Tanzanian road builders! The road from Namanga to Arusha is completely torn up, with heavy equipment looking even more enthusiastic than I’ve seen in Kenya. But torn up is the key phrase, and we lumbered to Arusha when we should have been sailing.
The drought effected areas continued most of the way. Erosion is one of Africa’s biggest problems, and just north of Arusha huge hunks of earth have been lost to overgrazing followed by erosion. Encouraging, though, was the area just north of Arusha which is being reclaimed by local landowners and citizen groups. Combined with new irrigation in the area, it transformed a desert into pretty agricultural landscapes. Kudus for Tanzania!
So despite all our problems we were at the Arusha hotel more or less on time, and several people walked around the town for a while as others changed money. We then headed to Meserani, as nearly everyone wanted to see the snake farm. We had a wonderful guide, and at the end of the tour, Marley, Bill, Dillon, Hayley and Ari got themselves draped with a (non-poisonous) snake for a few exceptional photos.
Marian teaches at Bank Street U in Manhattan and among her classes are some in museum use, management and design. She took several of her family across the street to the Maasai Cultural Center (the ticket for the snake farm allows free entry, there) and said she was pretty impressed.
After wolfing down our lunches and shopping at the curio store and Tinga Tinga gallery, we finally started our final leg into Tarangire National Park, arriving the welcoming baobab tree at the park gate around 4:30p. Game viewing hadn’t even begun and it had already been a pretty full day!