A slow journey west

We left the campsite at 7am. It wasn’t fully light, it was cloudy so still a bit dim. As we left we were surprised to not just find zebras outside the campsite but wildebeest too.

It was cool and the roads quiet. It felt like we made good progress, the road condition was good and we had lots of good runs at 80. Until we looked – after 90 minutes we’d gone 69km. It was going to be a long day and we knew we wouldn’t be able to make our destination in one day. We also knew that as we were now going off the tourist trail there were no campsites along the way. The plan was simply to go as far as we could and find some accomodation when we reached that point.

The road got quieter and the road condition was perfect as we headed up into the hills. We passed through so many cool little towns and villages. A couple of hours in we pulled over for some breakfast on the outskirts of one.

For a while the clouds were so dark we wondered if it would rain (and we simultaneously wondered how good our windscreen wipers are), but as we reached the top of the hills it had lightened and we could see that if it was clear and not dusty/hazy there would be a view for miles. We stopped in one village and through a combination of 2 shops and a fruit stand got ourselves a few more provisions. Lunch was some kind of bread rolls eaten while driving. They are slightly sweet and being small they made good snacks.

By lunchtime the cloud had completely burnt off and it was stinking hot again. The heat kicked the tiredness in, so we stopped at a top of the hill pull off and made a coffee. We’d turned onto what was clearly a main route as it was full of trucks. The road condition was also no longer great. It had patches and dips and the heavy trucks had eroded the edges. The trucks made it slow going, no sooner had we passed one than we’d caught up with the other.

We’ve always got through checkpoints without being stopped but we hit one where they were pulling everyone over. The main guy then waved for us to go without any checks, but we couldn’t see round the stopped vehicles to pull out, however Emma managed the whole ‘I can’t see’ conversation in Swahili and he told us when it was clear to go.

We called it a day at 5pm when we reached the town of Nzega. It had taken us 10 hours to travel 442km. iOverlander app showed a few basic accomodation options so we picked the one that sounded the best and that had secure parking and a guard and headed there. We got a bungalow set around a bit of a garden with a good sized bedroom, mozzie net, aircon, bathroom and a living room with table, tv, fridge and couch for the same price as we’ve been paying at campsites. It was basic but comfortable. The living area has a fan so we did some laundry and hung a line across the room. We left the fan on full all night and it was dry by morning. The on-site bar and restaurant didn’t have favourable reviews but as we were on the ourskirts of the town in a lovely suburban area it was the only place to eat if we didn’t want to make ourselves a picnic dinner. We played it very safe, with no written menu we ordered chips, rice and vegetables, which turned out to be mainly cabbage with some onion and other non-descript veggies but whatever they had been cooked in was very nice.

We slept a bit average. The bed was comfortable but sagged in the middle and typically it was the hour before the alarm went off that we slept the best.

We left just after 7am. We’d discovered over dinner that 4 days earlier the government had declared the day a public holiday. It was census day (done every 10 years) and the holiday had been declared so everyone could stay home and be counted. We needed a supermarket before we headed into a quieter area for or a couple of days and had got our sights set on the next large town. We had no clue if it shops would be open or not.

As we left our accomodation we had to complete a census form each. All in Swahili luckily the woman who had been dealing with us had enough English that we close enough figured out the questions.

It was blue skies when we left. This didn’t bode well as it meant the day was going to heat up fast. The roads were still quiet though with less trucks and buses on the road.

It took us 9 hours to cover the 291km to reach the campsite we were aiming for just down the road from the Western gate of the Serengeti. The guy that runs it has made such a effort with it, it is dotted with trees with hammocks and a volleyball net strung up, planter boxes of veggies also hang from some of the trees, there’s a hut in the middle which is cool and has electric plugs and a freezer and the toilet and shower and sinks were immaculate and had shelves and plants. For hot water it was just a case of flicking a switch 10 minutes before. It also had a fire pit which they will light for you if you want and after dark they switched the wifi on.

We camped up quite central in a spot they picked for us. Fenced by a tall (3m?) dense hedge they told us that at night we’d hear the hippos in the pond just up from the camp and that sometimes elephants try to break in, but not to worry they know how to handle them and we were safe there. The Serengeti National Park is literally the other side of the road and on the other side of us was a village by Lake Victoria and they grow watermelons and sugar cane, which the elephants are fond of. He said we might hear the villagers in the night making noise to drive them off and elephants trumpeting in protest but again we shouldn’t worry.

By 6:30pm, after a typical red sun African sunset, it’s dark. The tall camp lights by the hedge faced outwards in the elephant territory. No one else arrived so it was just us and the guy that owns the camp and his brothers. It was a warm night and despite being close to the road being completely knackered after 2 long hot days driving we slept well.

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