I’m awake way too early but it gives me a chance to watch the sunrise. No sign of any bush babies, though. After breakfast we’re driven to the public beach in a rickety 4x4 for our sailing trip. The boat turns out to be a Ngalawa, a traditional outrigger canoe, with a crew of 3 led by Simba, who speaks English. It’s pretty cramped and the only place to sit is on the side of the hull. Simba asks if we have any questions and Simon tells us later that he wanted to ask “where are the lifejackets” – instead he asks how long it takes to build the boat; the answer is 3 months. The central hull appears to be carved out of a single tree trunk, the outriggers being lashed on in a way Alex finds ingenious. The sail is clearly hand-stitched and I doubt a single mechanical aid was used in the construction.
For the crew to set the sail, we have to crouch in the bottom of the hull. One of the crew balances on a strut joining the outriggers to the main hull. It’s clear that with 3 passengers on board the manoeuvrability is compromised, as it’s difficult to tack when we have to be made to duck. We sail towards the north side of Mnemba Island but the wind is not favourable for the planned circuit of the island and we turn around and return to the public beach around an hour later. We make the short walk to the private beach and a few minutes later take the scheduled motorboat back to the lodge.
We spend the rest of the day by the pool and we’re ready when our driver arrives a little early to pick us up. It’s a fairly hair-raising drive to Zanzibar airport. The quality of the roads improves as we go, from rocky track to corrugated dirt, to Cuban-style potholed asphalt, smoother asphalt and finally a 2-lane dual carriageway. Our driver approaches them all with a similar level of urgency. There are many obstacles including ducks and hens with chicks in tow, bullock carts and cycles, Matutus that stop and pull out without warning and hoards of schoolchildren looking extremely smart in clue and white uniforms. There are no pavements or road markings and much overtaking, often perilously close. Despite the fact that many of the buildings look barely habitable and everything is covered with a patina of red dust, the schoolboy’s shirts and girls’ headscarves are pristine white.As we approach the airport, Simon receives an SMS advising that our flight time from Nairobi has changed and that we have been moved to a later flight from Amsterdam to Heathrow. The timings are still a bit unclear, but it will give us longer transfer times than the hour or so we had been expecting. It more or less negates the benefit of having chosen the alternative flights to avoid long night-time waits for connections, notwithstanding the extra time we had at Matemwe.
Zanzibar International is a step up from Arusha, but not much. The flight changes mean that the boarding passes we downloaded are not all valid and we can’t get a replacement boarding pass for the final flight here. When we reach the departure lounge there are only 3 gates, a snack bar with a loudly whining fridge and a handful of shops, mostly closed. The announcements about departures are almost incomprehensible and there is no departures board, but we finally ascertain that our flight is being called and are taken by bus to a Kenya Airways twin-engine jet. Alex is asleep before we take off.At Nairobi we repeat the now familiar transit security process and arrive at the departure gate to find it so full we can’t sit together. There is a loud hum from something – air conditioner, perhaps? – that sounds like one of those high-powered air hand driers, but Alex still manages to fall asleep on my shoulder. When the flight is called, Simon has to go right down to the gate and indicate by sign language when our seat numbers are called as we can’t hear the announcements over the noise. We arrive in Amsterdam with just enough time to have made our original flight to Heathrow, which of course is no longer possible as our seats were cancelled. We have breakfast and do some shopping instead.
I watch our bags being unloaded while we’re waiting for the airbridge at Heathrow and I can’t see mine … my fears are realised when it doesn’t arrive on the baggage carousel. I file a report at the baggage desk and they confirm that it was left behind in Amsterdam. I’m given a claim reference and a url for tracking and told it will be delivered. On the Railair bus to Reading I turn on my phone and find an SMS telling me my bag was not loaded; it was sent before we landed which I guess is pretty efficient on one level at least. We’re greeted in Reading by heavy rain and a much-anticipated lunch at Nandos on the way home.
Our trip was the Explore Worldwide Family Serengeti Safari, booked through Putney Travel. In place of the standard flight package, Charlie at Putney Travel secured slightly more humane flight timings resulting in around 36 hours extension to the holiday and a £100 saving on the brochure price. This was a fantastic introduction to East Africa for anybody who has never been on safari before, and I would highly recommend it.Some top tips for Tanzania:
· If you’re flying to Kilimanjaro Airport from Nairobi, ask for a seat on the left of the plane for a view of the mountain
· On our trip, we could have managed quite easily with just US Dollars which are accepted pretty much anywhere. If you do want to change cash into TZ Shillings, you get a slightly better exchange rate for $100 and $50 dollar bills, and the worst rates for $5 and $1 bills.
· My most useful piece of kit was a snood – good for keeping dust out of your mouth and nose on dusty dirt tracks as well as keeping your neck warm when you get up early for game drives and it’s still chilly (also keeps long hair out of your eyes when it’s windy!)
· Unless you are a very serious photographer, there’s no need for ultra-long lenses – my 16-300mm lens was perfect for 99% of shots and meant that I didn’t need to keep changing lenses or lug around a huge camera bag. Do put a UV or daylight filter on your lens, though, to avoid it getting damaged by the dust, and take a blower brush.
· We took a while researching the best photo-sharing site when we got back, and recommend Shutterfly which allows a private website to be created where you and your fellow travellers can share your photos at full resolution and with no storage limits and a promise to never delete an image.