It’s been a long time coming but I am finally on my way to Tanzania, my father’s birthplace. He immigrated to the UK age 17 during the 1960s and only went back once for his honeymoon.
The trip has been in my mind for some years but dad’s poor health has been the catalyst to make this journey now. I want to be able to come back and share photos and stories with him of what I have seen and if possible to get to Mwanza where he grew up. I would have loved for him to have done this journey with me, but alas it wasn’t to be.
As usual I’m in transit, this time it’s Addis Ababa for four hours. Terminal 2 is one long corridor filled with empty shops and a few restaurants/cafes stuffed to the rafters with starving, jet lagged passengers. Business men, backpackers and a surprisingly large amount of south east Asian tourists are wandering aimlessly up and down trying to find a seat to collapse in. Loungers are piled high with African children sleeping on top of each other like human sandwiches while their watchful parents share a seat next to them surrounded by a multitude of bags.
The smell of coffee is everywhere. A deep aromatic, robust aroma. It hangs heavy in the air but it’s also mixed with the pungent scent of cheap musky men’s cologne. Duty free caters to chocoholics and smokers with the odd bit of bling on display. It looks like a high street hit by recession where everything must go.
I had been pacing carefully up and down watching for a free table to sit and eat something. You have to move fast if you want to bag a seat. I ducked into a tiny space at the back of cafe sharing a broken table with an Ethiopian couple. I’m stuffed down a mushroom omelette, sipping hot, strong coffee ahead of my leg to Kilimanjaro airport.
When I land in Tanzania I am expecting a queue that will test the patience of Mother Teresa. Dig deep girl T.I.A (This Is Africa). The last seven years have taught me nothing happens quickly in this continent. I literally have had no time to get my visa in London before my flight as I was bouncing around Italy last month and planning another more permanent trip for later this year. Watch this space!!
If all things go to plan when I land I should be being met at the airport by my tour guide. This adventure has three parts. The first is safari. I have factored in days to work in between my travels, but so far my contacts are being slow on the uptake for delivering case studies who are proving elusive.
Over the next five days I am hoping to see one of the wonders of the world, the wildebeest migration through Serengeti National Park. The behaviour of animals cannot be predicted, even an annual spectacle like this has an element of doubt unless you have oodles of cash and can chase them around the park staying in the very exclusive lodges with the best vantage points. But on a budget your hands are tied and your luck is in the hands of the Gods.
I had to explain very clearly to every tour operator I contacted on email that seeing the big five, while impressive, was not the main focus of my safari trip.
Tour Operator (TO): “Ms Asha, seeing wildlife in Africa’s parks is a magical experience. You will see many elephants, giraffe, buffalo and other species. The migration is not guaranteed, depends on the weather and when they decide to move……you should consider all the other animals too…”
Me: “Dear (TO) I fully appreciate how amazing it is to see wildlife in its natural habitat. I have been coming to Africa for the best part of seven years and have done safari in South Africa, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. I am a primatologist and all biodiversity interests me. However if I am to fork out a large amount of cash to visit the Serengeti I am expecting to see something that resembles the migratory phenomenon. I’m not expecting a National Geographic sequence of leaping antelope across the riverbeds while crocodiles snap at their ankles. I would be just as excited to see millions of different animals gathered in one place, regardless of if they are moving or not. That alone would be incredible. If you don’t follow the route then I am not interested in using your company. …..”
I cannot begin to explain to you what an absolute ball ache it has been to get onto a tour as a single person. The fees are extortionate for lone travellers with all the supplements and it is a sheer miracle if you manage to secure a spot without having to privately hire a bloody driver, guide and vehicle just for yourself!
It took some time and several weeks before, Bingo! I was contacted about a potential spot. I reluctantly wired across half the money to an African bank account and crossed my fingers this was a legitimate deal. I had managed to slot onto a jeep with a Swiss couple. I sincerely hope they’ll be easy company ie: no shouting, wailing or non-stop ranting to startle the animals. The Swiss don’t have a reputation for being extrovert quite the opposite, so here’s hoping they live up to the stereotype.
Also on my list of hotspots in the area is Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro Crater a UNESCO World Heritage Site and somewhere my dad told me this weekend he regretted he’s never been to!
If I survive the mossie, avoid Dengue fever and don’t get hauled away by wildlife. The next challenge of my second leg will be climbing to top of Africa’s roof – Mount Kilimanjaro.