Saturday, 13 July, 2013
Ngorongoro, Arusha, Tanzania
I will be finishing this trip off in Iringa; after all, that has been my home for most of the experience. It’s the location of my friends, and frankly, I owe that kid, Tyson, just one more gruelling footy match (he previously made me bleed on the football field).
However, Tanzania has a lot to offer. Therefore, I wasn’t going to be heading back to base quite yet. First, I went north to visit the Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest intact volcanic caldera and home to the big five.
I was pretty short of time; so, I wanted to find a cheap tour package that could take me to the crater the following morning. I tried every window and questioned every deal.
My persistence paid off! My budget, or tight-arse ways, however, meant that I wouldn’t be taking one of the glamorous package deals such as ‘The Leopard Experience’ or ‘Africa in the Wild Tour’. Nope. In fact, the company that I went with didn’t even have an official name. He was just a bloke with a jeep called Max.
When travelling alone you don’t get to choose your company on a trip – it could be anybody – sometimes a perfect personality match, sometimes not. That’s just the nature of solo travel.
Well, as I sat on the hostel entrance stairs and watched Max’s jeep pull up, I soon realised that I had selected the Joker card. My company appeared to be a bare two, a proud looking man with his arm around a woman on the backseat. Great, I would be third-wheeling my way around a safari.
The small talk began and I soon discovered that they were not only a couple, but a couple on their honeymoon. Well, of course they were! Within minutes I had gone from being a third-wheel on a date, to a third-wheel on a honeymoon. Perhaps I should turn up at the birth of their first child, too.
Although, as time passed the husband grew to be as annoying to me as I probably was to them. So, I gradually started to care less about intruding on their special trip.
He was a ‘Billy Big Bollocks’ type, he knew everything there is to know about a safari, even more than our guide, and wouldn’t shut up. That said, Max was hardly blowing our minds with groundbreaking information, at one point he told us that, “Ostriches have long necks, as do giraffes. However, an ostrich is a big bird, unlike a giraffe.” – Still, I didn’t pay to hear Billy’s theory on every animal.
Not only did he know everything, he had also achieved everything, and was not too noble to list all of those accomplishments for me. I call bullshit, and here is why, he was on this package, the one that doesn’t even have a name – life champions don’t book with ‘a bloke with a jeep called Max’.
Furthermore, he was wearing a shirt and tie on a safari. Who is that stiff? Maybe if you stopped spending so much on shirts, mate, your wife could have a luxurious safari with ‘The Leopard Experience’ and not a little British boy whose presence secretly reminds you that you’re not doing as well as the story suggests.
On day one of two the tour took us to Lake Manyara, a huge lake surrounded by lush nature and animals. It was here that I received an ill-timed phone call from the bus company confirming the travel details for my trip back to Iringa. Billy grunted really loudly to the sound of my ringtone, which only made me play out the conversation longer than necessary. I started asking about bus seat numbers and the journey length, just to be childish.
It appears that my phone call prevented him from getting a good photograph of a warthog with his fifty-foot camera (overcompensating?), a frustrated Billy then muttered about his shortcomings as the warthog started to move behind a tree. I won’t lie, I was secretly pleased, and even contemplated setting my phone’s alarm clock on a ten-minute cycle after that ordeal.
In the evening, we were joined by two New Zealand girls, who would be accompanying us on the second day of the trip – I’d never been so happy to see complete strangers before. We were now a much more comfortable five.
Harmoniously, we asked Max if we could leave pretty promptly in the morning, as some of the rarer animals make their presence more known in the early hours. Max agreed that we could leave at six. Although, what Max failed to inform us is that he needed to top up credit at the bank, which didn’t open until eight.
This resulted in us sitting outside of a bank for two hours on a paid safari tour. Two options that could have been better: a) seek out leopards, or b) sleep longer. If option one is unattainable, let us kip a few more hours, man!
You get what you pay for, I guess, and in this case, it was a tool in a suit and an illogical guide.
It was easier to forget about previous irritations once inside The Ngorongoro Crater though. The place was incredible, and more importantly, impossible to get wrong. There were big groups of animals no matter which way you turned, meaning that even Max couldn’t cock up.
As the only person on the tour alone, I was also given the seat alongside Max at the front – not only did this allow the best view, but also provided a window between myself and Billy. Day two was set to be a whole lot better than day one, that was for sure.
We were fortunate enough to see a wide variety of animals in the crater. However, the highlight of the trip actually occurred in the parking area, when a baboon ate Billy’s sandwiches and ran away with his chocolate bars – it appears that Mr. Animal expert didn’t pre-empt that one.
We had parked up for a toilet break, but I didn’t need to go. So, decided to stay in the car and squeeze in a little power nap. As stated, we were up at six for no real reason, therefore, I decided that a quick bit of shut-eye couldn’t hurt.
I was suddenly woken up by somebody shouting at me from across the parking lot, “Hey, Mr! There is a monkey in your car!”
I looked around, and sure enough a massive baboon was on the backseat – somebody had left their door wide open! Putting that aside for a second, what exactly was I supposed to do here? I had no desire to wrestle a monkey out of a jeep!
It had no shame either, its big, red arse was pointing right in my face, as it rooted through the bags in the back. What did it find? Oh, only Billy’s sandwiches. It sat down and started munching away. This made me laugh – what a brilliant monkey! I gave it a thumbs up and left it in peace to feast.
The monkey soon cleared off when some people started throwing stones at the car to frighten it, the cheeky little rascal still nabbed Billy’s chocolate bars before making its quick exit though.
Everybody, except Billy, thought the story was great when they returned from the bogs.
Billy didn’t speak much after that, he mostly spent the rest of the trip sulking in the corner – which, frankly, improved the experience greatly. Max could finally get back to leading the tour with no interruption – perhaps now he could finally get the chance to tell us not to confuse the lions with the hippos.