By Oneika Raymond
Anybody who knows me well knows that I love to travel, and rarely pass up an opportunity to go somewhere new. So when a friend asked me if I’d like to accompany her on a two-week safari trip through the East African nations of Kenya and Tanzania, culminating in a beach stay on the island paradise of Zanzibar, I didn’t hesitate. She asked me if I wanted to go on a Thursday, and by Saturday the plane tickets were booked! We purchased tickets to go at the end of December, it looked like we would be having an East African Christmas and new years! Not bad at all!
East Africa wasn’t really an obvious choice for me, as I am currently working in Hong Kong and could have used my time off to travel somewhere in the Asia-Pacific region. But after perusing the itinerary for Absolute Africa, the tour company we had booked with, I immediately knew that I had made the right choice.
Absolute Africa is a tour operator based in London that specializes in creating packages for travel all over the African continent. The tour that we chose, dubbed the “Maasai & Migration” tour, sounded exciting enough: starting in Nairobi, Kenya, we would go overland all the way down to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, camping for seven nights along the way just outside the Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater. We would eventually take a ferry from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar where we would spend another four nights getting some much needed rest and relaxation. The tour was was well priced, and by all accounts, well run. All that was left was to board the plane!
Our 14-hour flight to Nairobi passed without incident (except for a faulty entertainment system which meant that I spent the duration of the flight movie and music-less!), and we soon found ourselves in a different world. My friend and I had arrived two days before the start of the tour and set off to discover the sights and sounds of Nairobi, which we found to be a bustling, cosmopolitan city.
Soon, however, it was time to set off on our safari adventure! We met our awesome tour guide, Amos, and the rest of our tour group (which consisted of six other people) and boarded the massive truck that would take us where we needed to go. What transpired from that point on was a series of highlights. One of our first stops was to a Maasai village, where we learned about the Maasai tribes of Kenya and Tanzania and their way of life. We got to sit inside their little mud huts and also visit a school (while class was in session!) for Maasai children on the reserve. The people we encountered in the village were ridiculously nice and welcoming, and very interested in sharing their history and culture with our tour group.
We crossed over the Kenyan border into Tanzania and based ourselves in Arusha, one of the larger cities in Tanzania which is located just a stone’s throw from Mount Kilimanjaro. Driving around the city of Arusha, we were able to see the snow-capped of the huge mountain, affectionately known as “Kili”. From our base, we drove out to the Serengeti National Park, which I can only describe as breath-taking. I mean, really! The Serengeti! The sweeping plains and wildlife were enchanting and hypnotic. To visit this wonder, we abandoned our large truck in favour of a smaller 4×4, sturdily made in order to navigate the rough terrain. We encountered many other tour groups there during our two days of game drives, all of us in hot pursuit of spotting what is known as the “Big Five”: the lion, the elephant, the rhinoceros, the buffalo, and the leopard. We had been warned by our guide that we may not see all of them, but, blessed with good luck, we saw them all, in addition to hoardes of wildebeest, zebras, and even pink flamingos!
After the incredible experience of the Serengeti, we were again blown away by our descent into the Ngorongoro crater, where we saw many of the animals mentioned above. We also encountered a family of hippopotamuses (hippopotami?) that bathed themselves lazily in the shallow bodies of water located in various parts of the site. Very cool. On Christmas day, we went back to our camp after a game drive in the Crater and feasted on a variety of dishes, including chicken, wildebeest, and zebra kebabs! I stopped short of being adventurous in that respect, however. I played it safe and had the chicken!
This safari trip was great as it opened me up to a variety of new experiences, one of which was camping! We camped for seven nights, and it definitely is not for the faint-hearted! We had to set up and take down our own tents, often in inclement weather as the region bizarrely got a lot of rain during our stay. Despite the rain and inconvenience of setting up our tents, camping outside of the Serengeti and on the cusp of the Ngorongoro Crater was a mind-blowing and unforgettable experience that I would not trade. As for our camping conditions, we were advised to not leaving the tents after dark, as wildlife is known to roam freely around the campsites at night! Bundled up in our flimsy tents at night, we heard lions roar, which was more than a little intimidating! On one particular evening, my friend and I tried to leave our tents to go use the bathroom, but stopped dead in our tracks when we encountered a group of wild boars eating out of trash cans not even 50 metres away from us! Talk about an authentic experience!
Capping off our trip was a four-night stay on the idyllic island of Zanzibar, otherwise known as heaven on earth. The white sand beaches were flawless and the water a dazzling shade of turquoise. After having roughed it for a week in tents, we relaxed in simple beach huts and lay around in loungers on the beach. We visited the historic centre of Stonetown, the main city of Zanzibar, and visited a spice farm where we marvelled at the lush and abundant greenery. We feted the new year on the beach, cooling ourselves off with frequent dips in the Indian Ocean. Not a bad way to end the perfect trip!
My trip to this part of East Africa was both eye-opening and rewarding. I tested my personal limits by camping, saw amazingly beautiful things with my very own eyes, and met a variety of people, both locals and tourists, who intrigued and inspired me. If travelling to Kenya, Tanzania, and Zanzibar isn’t already on your travel bucket list, it definitely should be! I highly recommend it and can’t wait to go back!
Oneika Raymond is a high school teacher and travel junkie who has travelled to nearly forty countries. Originally from Canada, she is currently teaching French and English at a high school in Hong Kong and has previously taught in France and Mexico. She writes about teaching, her travels, and her life as an expat on her blog “Oneika the Traveller”. Conect with her on Facebook and Twitter.
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