Monday, May 19, 2014

Hakuna matata

Rising early, packing up the tent I pitched in the hostel garden and washing under a freezing tap, it was time to leave Rwanda under a sun rise. Today it was off to the Serengeti and it was going to be a long journey. Aside from the gorillas and a few seedy looking engineers at the bar in downtown Kigali, I had seen much wildlife, so here was shopping that one of Africa’s largest tundras would provide.

But first, it was time to make sure that the lions, hyenas and any single lady foolish enough to stroll in to my path wouldn't smell me from a mile away – I need to buy some luggage. Recruiting the services of Amy, a jovial Aussie girl I’d met – it was time to find a place to buy some clobber. We had found out there was a western style shopping centre in the hills, that also contained a big coffee shop. We were both keen. She for the shopping, me for the motorbike taxis you jump on to as they weave in and out of traffic at breakneck speed.

After a frenetic shopping trip which covered malaria pills, toiletries, underwear and some fetching shorts, I looked towards Tanzania and the endless dirt road ahead of me.

Several hours in to my journey we pulled over for a pit stop. It was here I discovered an amazing food. Whenever I go travelling I tend to bring back a native dish. Sometime it’s standard – Vietnamese pho for example – and other times it’s not so. This dish is one of the latter. It’s name: Chips My Eye.

Cooked on the side of the road with nothing but a burner, a pan and a shit load of oil. It’s a Tanzanian specialty. Slices of potato are placed at the bottom of a skillet, then whisked eggs are poured over it and the whole thing is cooked together until it's a solid omelet. The you cover it with chili sauce. So unhealthy. So unhygienic. So yum. I’d go over the unhygienic part, but when they’re cooking this with a dead goat smothered in flies hanging next to it, this is the best you’re going to get!

Chips My Eye stops were the only thing that broke long, dusty journeys. For hours there’s nothing but stretches of road, punctuated by random villages with people gawking as you slowly lumber through. With the sun beating down and the dust kicking up, I was soon not the only sticky, smelly, dirty one. But after travelling for most of the day, the dirt and dust starting turning to grassland….and dust.

Thanks for the warning...

I was off to find the source of the Nile (well one of them) but it was going to be a good three days slog to get there. Along the way were friendly villages, grand open skies and some long drives. Lake Victoria is Africa’s largest lake by area, and it is the largest tropical lake in the world as well as the world's second largest freshwater lake by surface area.

Suffice to say when I got there it was huge. Hopping on a ferry to cross one of the small side parts I was camping on the banks...with a warning about crocodiles. Pitching the tent I headed for what looked like a bar for a well earned beer and, happily, sat down to watch Arsenal be demolished. It was the start of the season.

After a few beers and making some dinner, I really shouldn't have bothered. Kicking off on the side of the lake was probably the biggest wedding I had ever seen. From the DJ who, after announcing people's named, scratched the vinyl repeatedly, to a wandering dog that kept jumping on to the tables whenever people got up to dance - it was a cracking evening. Noticing a few of us watching the celebration kicking off a family member, I think, came over and invited us to join. What I thought was just come in and dance turned out to be meeting the bridal party, eating their food, drinking their drink and being hurled around from one guest to the next. About 2am I decided it was time for bed and so left them to it.

The next morning it was back in the saddle But with grassland starts to appear what you come here for – the animals. Only one or two at first, but eventually more and more. At first you’re so excited to see gazelles, zebras and elephants roaming around in their natural habitat, taking dozens of photos of one elephant 500 metres away. If someone had told me that 2 weeks later – when facing a super herd of over 100 elephants I would scoff ‘what, more?’ I wouldn't have believed them, because right now two of them in the distance was awe inspiring.

We had entered the Serengeti.

The Serengeti is a region of savannah about 30,000 square kilometers, and one of the greatest areas for wildlife. It has more than 1.6 million herbivores and thousands of predators. This area is most famous for the migration that takes place every year. Every year around October nearly 1.5 million herbivores travel towards the southern plains, crossing the Mara River, from the northern hills for the rains. And then back to the north through the west, once again crossing the Mara river, after the rains in around April. This phenomenon is sometimes also called the Circular Migration and attracts some of Africa’s largest predators.

And me.
And I set up a tent in the middle of it.
With only this guy to protect me.
And his bow and arrow.