Travel - Safari Adventure

February 17, 2015

it's shrove tuesday, if you missed yesterday's post go have a look for some pancake talk.. 

Do you want to hear about the time I stupidly agreed to go to Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain? It was awful. But it wasn't all bad, we got to go on safari whilst we were there, something that I'll remember and treasure forever. 

That Mountain. {Skip this bit if you just want to read about our Safari} 
A couple of years ago, just before Christmas in 2012, Ben and I went off on an African adventure. We were going to Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, something Ben had done on his gap year. He always said that he wanted me to do it again with him some day and I remember the afternoon when I decided that I was up for the challenge whilst sitting in our flat in London, avoiding uni work. We were going to climb it to raise money for WaterAid and I managed to win an LSE law and Linklaters {a London law firm} aspire competition, to gain extra sponsorship money. We geared ourselves up, buying equipment and organising a trip to Tanzania through Honey Badger Lodge who would arrange our safari and climb in one. I had no idea what to expect, it would be a climb on the Marangu route over four days, sleeping in huts up the mountain at the end of each day. We would have two guides and porters to carry our bags. The altitude would be the biggest problem. I was really fit so didn't think much of it. However, it had been 10 years since Ben had climbed it and had remembered it through rose tinted glasses. It would be a fun challenge, he said. We'd do it no problem, he said. In reality though, whilst we did well for the first three days {although not without a lot of moaning from me}, the altitude affected us both so severely that we were just two hours from the very summit when we had to rush back down and fast. They thought about getting a helicopter for Ben, who was being sick constantly, but that would take several hours so it was better for us just to descend as fast as we could. I wasn't sick but it was hard to breathe as the air was so thin and it was the coldest I'd ever been with the achiest legs I've ever felt before. It was the middle of the night and pitch black, you have to climb the last bit at this time when the rock is the most frozen. I didn't really know how serious, of course altitude sickness can kill I knew that but it was but when we got to the bottom they told us lots of stories about how common it can be to get blood on the brain which could have happened if we'd have pushed ourselves and gone on any further.  We ended up walking down the whole mountain in one day without any food and not much water, a whole 25 miles. It went on and on for what felt like days. We had walked through countless areas of different terrains from jungle at the bottom, through the clouds to what looked like the moon at the top. Black rock and ice. It freaked me out being so far away from everything. It wasn't all fruitless though, we raised over £1100 for WaterAid in the end and had very nearly made it. I didn't expect it to be that gruelling. An experience we'll never forget. Ben still says he wants to go back and do it again one day but WHY?!! I will not be stepping foot on a mountain like that again in a hurry, that's for sure. 
{The top of Kilimanjaro as seen out of our plane window flying into Tanzania. You should have seen my face 'we're going to climb to the top of that, above the clouds?!'}
Ok, the good part: SAFARI {Insert elephant's trumpet and lion's roar here}
Anyway, the best part about Tanzania was the safari. I've wanted to go on a safari ever since I was little, a real life Zoo! Ben would never have got me anywhere near the middle of Africa if it wasn't for the promise of going on a safari beforehand. Needless to say, it was incredible and such a magical few days. 

Everything was organised through Honey Badger Lodge, a company that Ben found whilst researching our trip. They were based just outside of Moshi, a town in Tanzania and owned by the lovely Jenny, from England, and Joseph from Tanzania. It's super ethical, employing and educating locals and investing in the local community with sustainable projects. The lodge itself was a great base with a much needed swimming pool and the most delicious food. We spent a couple of days there to start with before going on our four night camping safari with a night back at the lodge before our four night mountain experience and then a couple of days recovering before flying home for Christmas. I can't recommend the Honey Badger lodge more highly, and we absolutely loved George our safari guide.

We started off at Lake Manyara National Park, the first on our circuit. It was the greenest of them all being close to a huge lake and we drove around the park for the afternoon. 

We saw animals almost straight away, a big group of baboons with their babies were sitting on some rocks right near the park entrance. I was snap happy straight away. George opened the roof on our truck so we could stand up and see everything better. It was boiling hot so the breeze of driving along made it more pleasant.

{Fashionable bush attire.. cargo pants and baggy t-shirts..}

Within a few more minutes we'd spotted our first Zebras walking across some open grassland, I love their stripes. It feels like your eyes will go funny if you stare at them for too long. There were also hippos to see at a distance, crown birds with big fluffy orange crowns on their head and some buffalo. We were doing well so far and felt the buzz for every new animal that we saw.

After stopping to take some photos and watch the animals for a few minutes we drove on, George always seemed to know the best routes to take. We turned a corner and in came my favourites into view, Elephants!!

We were really close to them but they didn't seem to mind, tucking into the grass at the side of the track.

Onwards again, we saw Ben's favourite animal, a Giraffe eating some acacia leaves with a group of zebras in front of him.

Including our most adorable spot of the whole trip, a fluffy baby Zebra.

After another hour of animal spotting we were tired from a long day of driving so headed to our first campsite. I was apprehensive having only ever camped once in my life, on a school trip in Wales but it wasn't as bad as I was expecting. Ben's brilliant with that kind of thing getting my sleeping bag all set up and cosy and promising to protect me from any lions that came prowling around... Our first night was actually outside the park and surprisingly ok. We had a cook with us that cooked all our meals. I don't know how he managed to cook such delicious things every night in the middle of the bush!

We were really excited for the next couple of days that would be spent in the Serengeti, one of the seven wonders of the world and Tanzania's oldest national park.

It didn't disappoint and within minutes we'd seen a lioness with her cubs much to my delight.

Then along the track we found these two making lion love! Yep I'll spare you the x-rated photo but it was quite funny to see. I love this lion's mane, we didn't see many males on our trip so when we did I loved to watch them.

On the rest of our game drive that day we saw:

A leopard keeping watch in a tree, they're quite hard to find so we were pleased with this spot. Also a leopard and her cubs high up on some rocks.

A pair of ostriches.

Two cheetahs having a nap out of the midday sun.

A huge herd of elephants that were so magical to watch, probably one of my highlights. There were babies with them and we watched them cross the track to a watering hole for a drink and bath, there were so many of them I could have stayed watching them for hours.

Another pair of cheetahs watching a gazelle from a few hundred metres away. They were waiting and ready to pounce, checking that the wind was just right so as not to be detected. So amazing.

Countless gazelle, impala and the like but they're boring to take photos of. These lovebirds were rather cute though.

Driving through the Serengeti was beautiful and nothing like I'd expected. The park was vast and impossible to cover it all but our guide knew the best routes to drive around. 

We camped that night inside the Serengeti! This is when I really was scared of lions and elephants, they have been known to come inside the campsite but there were rangers with guns patrolling and we ate our food inside big metal cages!! Yikes. In reality though we didn't hear a thing, I remember the stars being particularly amazing and unlike anything I'd ever seen before, so magical in the middle of the night. It really was so so much better than staying in a lodge {and if you know me at all by now you know I wouldn't say that I preferred a tent lightly!}.

We woke up and after a quick breakfast, went out for another half a day's game drive around the Serengeti before heading to our final campsite ready for our last national park the next day.

This time we went to a different area of the Serengeti and saw some hungry Hyenas. I wouldn't want to get in their way! We saw a few vultures circling too, it reminded me all too well of the Lion King.

We found a huge hippo pond with a few crocodiles in too, there was a picnic area right next to it. You'd have to be crazy to get out and walk near a hippo and crocodile pond, right?!! I would not leave the car.

A lioness taking a drink and a few more giraffes. I love watching them walk, so gangly.

On our way to the Ngorogo Crater, our next game park we passed a Masai tribal settlement that had opened themselves up to visits in exchange for some dollars to visit. I was interested to see their nomadic lifestyle living in the middle of a game reserve but at the same time felt acutely aware of our huge differences in standards of living.

We witnessed their warrior jumping, colourful clothes and jewellery, got shown around the huts that they live in and saw children in a school shack. The males demonstrate bravery by spearing a lion as they come of age. 

Onwards to our final campsite, they saved the best until last.

A huge grassy field overlooking the Ngorogo Crater down below with the bluest sky. I fell in love with this place and don't think you could find a better campsite in Africa. I think the whole simplicity of it, being in such an amazing beautiful place and sleeping under the stars again. And then to top it off, as I got out of the shower {and yep there were clean showers with hot water}, an elephant wandered into the camp to take a drink from a water tank!

So surreal! I was just metres away from him.

I love this photo with George our fabulous guide, he really made the whole trip and Ramma, our cook. They were such good fun and genuinely really friendly guys. I still talk to George on Facebook and he tells me about his cute son called Mac. Also look behind me in this photo, all hail the power points to recharge phones and cameras! No wifi though although it was the ultimate digital switch off for a couple of weeks. 

We woke up to this sunrise, packed up and drove down into the crater. It's a large volcanic caldera where thousands of years ago, it erupted and then collapsed in on itself {like the one in Santorini} with approximately 25,000 large animals living inside it. We'd been really lucky in the other parks managing to see so much but they leave the Ngorogo Crater until last in case you haven't seen everything as you're almost guaranteed to see everything inside it as the animals can't really climb up the steep hillside walls and escape. It's like a natural enclosure, incredible when you think about it.

This photo is looking down into the crater, it's still huge but you can see the natural boundary all around.

It has one of the densest populations of lions in Tanzania and we saw two big prides including little cubs who thought it was sassy enough to try and hunt a gazelle on it's own.

We also saw a prized black rhino, there are thought to be less than four left in the crater now due to poaching.

The sun shone everyday that we were in Africa with clear blue skies. I think December is a good time to visit and we were lucky to see some of the migration.

We saw lots more zebra, buffalo, flamingoes, gazelle etc but by this time I had stopped taking photos and just took in the incredible views.

We found a lake, the largest watering hole in the Crater and it was unlike anything I imagined the middle of Tanzania to look like. Seriously beautiful, although I didn't want to hang around out of the truck for too long. I'm a chicken worrying about hippos or crocs! Or a lion sneaking up on us haha.

I was sad when our safari came to an end after four incredible days, everyday was so exciting driving around wondering what you'd see. Four days was the perfect amount of time for us although we had seen a lot of animals from very early on. I guess if you'd been unlucky you'd be wishing for longer although I think if you're going to the Crater you'd have to have your eyes closed for the whole time to miss out. 

We had a night back at the lodge near Moshi before our hideous mountain adventure started, if you're interested I can share more photos but I think I'll leave them off for now. 

We practically threw ourselves into the pool when we finally got back down from Kilimanjaro and then realised how starving and dehydrated we were. Getting our boots off and eating a huge lunch after a shower had never felt so damn good. We spent the next two days not moving from the sun loungers whilst our legs ached and feet seemed to throb for a good few days. 

The Four Seasons it was not but African luxury at it's finest. We could see the mountain from these sun loungers and I shuddered every time I saw it. It's behind the clouds in the next photo. The lodge were playing Christmas music which was quite surreal.

We walked around the local village and spoke with the local children but most of the time just slept, enjoyed the warmth of the sun {it was freezing back at home in the middle of winter winter} and then couldn't wait to get back home for Christmas. We arrived home on the 23rd December and after not eating chocolate for nearly two whole weeks, we went crazy and gorged ourselves on all things Christmassy feeling like we'd never eaten before {putting back on all the weight we'd lost climbing Kili ;)}

Oh, what an adventure. The mountain was probably the hardest thing I've ever experienced in my life whilst raising money for such a good cause and the safari one of the best.

Honey Badger Lodge info here.  Our Fundraising Page was here.

Also if you are thinking of going on a safari, try not to go in the peak holidays, we found the parks lovely and quiet spotting only a few trucks but in peak times you can see up to forty in one area trying to get close to lions or elephants etc. I think it would detract from the wilderness.

R <3 xx

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