Waiting by the dusty roadside in Robunda village, a lack of cars had me thinking maybe I should just take the bus. Besides, it’d be a very different experience going through one of the most famous national parks in the world on a bus. I was heading to Arusha, the base city for climbing Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro and the fifth highest peak in Africa, the less explored Mt Meru – my next adventure targets.
The bus showed up after a half hour’s wait and my gut instinct said to get on it. A seat was provided in the front bench, behind the driver, just under the TV screen blaring out cheesy African pop songs. The videos all had the repetitive theme of half-naked women shaking their arses, the ‘artists’ – usually men – clad in sunglasses, gold jewellery and riding in fancy rides.
“I’m Samuel,” my co-passenger snapped me out of my criticism.
I introduced myself in Ki-Swahili, explaining of my travel methods as the bus sped along through the Serengeti, slowing down to allow some zebra and wildebeest to cross the road. I was disappointed that I didn’t get a window seat to be able to take photos but Samuel explained that now, “Most of the animals are in the southern region of the park due to the rains.”
We did pass a few giraffes, gazelles, warthogs and a solitary bull elephant. All I wanted to see was a chuli (leopard) and a simba. With all these grazers around, there had to be some predators out for breakfast. I spotted something slinking in the high grass that could have been either one. It was definitely a predator but the bus was flying.
“I’m a school teacher,” Samuel said as we crossed a bridge over a stream where a pod of hippos were wallowing in the water. “I teach science, physics and chemistry,” he continued as we passed secretary birds. These birds are so big they need a running take-off to get airborne.
Serengeti means ‘Endless Plains’ in the Masai language. They weren’t wrong about naming the place. Just endless plains of green elephant grass dotted with herds of grazers.
In the Ngorongoro Crater was a herd of a hundred-plus wildebeest (gnus) stampeding across the road. I noticed that the calves are born the same colour as lions, perhaps to assist with camouflage during the early, vulnerable ‘predator-target’ years.
The Ngorongoro Crater itself is an impressive sight although the woman blocking the view refused to allow me to take a photo as she snapped away on her smartphone. Even though the guy next to her, the conductor and other passengers were giving her shit about it.
Africans, for the most of them, go out of their way to make a foreigner feel as comfortable as possible. Gotta love ‘em.
“What time do you think we’ll arrive in Arusha?” I asked Samuel, his 7-year-old son, Alex, sitting on his lap.
At 17:00 we pulled into the bus station, Mt Meru shading the city of Arusha. A typical African city, Arusha boasts buildings that are higher than three levels and lawless traffic that somehow seems to work. It’s also the tourist capital of the north of Tanzania. From here you can plan your climbs of Kili and Meru and of course, your safaris to Serengeti (the word ‘safari’ is Ki-Swahili for ‘travelling’).
Arusha is also the halfway point between Egypt’s Cario and South Africa’s Cape Town.
“Kilimanjaro is behind it,” explained Samuel. “We should find a place to spend the night.” This guy had bought me tea, wanted to buy me lunch (I refused as I had eaten too much ugali during the last two weeks) and now was offering me a bed in a hotel he was crashing.
We took a taxi to the Amazon Hotel opposite the city stadium just down the street. One of his students, Juma, had joined us. It’s quite common in Africa for students and teachers to travel together and stay together in places of accommodation. The room was small with three single beds.
“You take this bed,” Samuel indicated to the one by the wall. “I’ll share one with my son and Juma will take the other one.” We stood out on the balcony. “I’m a big fan of football,” he said. “I support Arsenal.”
“Ah, I’m a Liverpool man myself,” I grinned. I turned to Alex and asked him in Ki-Swahili who he supported.
“Chelsea,” he mumbled.
“His mother is a Chelsea fan,” Samuel explained.
“Sheesh, that’s worse than tribal wars,” I winked, cracking him up to a hi-five.
“We should find somewhere to watch the game tonight,” he said. “Chelsea versus Man City.”
Both teams were at the top of the ladder. Not that I’ve had much of a chance to follow any sports but these things are explained during game time.
We walked out to a bar where Samuel shouted Tusker beers (beers in Tanzania are served in 500ml bottles. Love this country already) and a potato omelette known as chips mi-i (which means chips with egg and is now my latest food addiction) for dinner as we watched Liverpool beat Westham 2-0, Man United (who I despise) thrash Leicester City 3-1 and Chelsea draw 1-1 with Man City.
The next day I hopped onto the web to get a phone number from a couch surfing host, Nick, who, after breakfasting with Samuel and his soldier friend, George, came to collect me.
I thanked Samuel, said goodbye to Juma and Alex and headed out with Nick to his neck of the woods called Ola City in Maruhani, about 15 K’s from the centre of Arusha.
Nick works with Nelson and Michael in the Likizo Safari and Volunteer company they started just over a year ago. The great thing about their company is that, “10% of our profits goes to helping out communities,” Nelson explained. “Providing clean drinking water in remote dry areas, medical supplies, school supplies. And we can organise the cheapest safaris and climbs of the mountains.”
Regardless of bartering, there was no way out of the $700 USD government fees for climbing Kilimanjaro (fees include park entry, tax and rescue service). Meru, known as the poor man’s Kili, was the better option and the boys agreed to my barter of an article in Africa Geographic Magazine, helping to boost their company’s name and reputation.
Now to celebrate my birthday without remorse.