On a lovely June evening of 2012, my crowded Emirates flight landed in Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. After a hassle-free Kenyan immigration and customs check, I stepped out into the African night with a beating heart. I was about to start my first overlanding experience the next day and it was expected to be a pan Tanzania trip. Until then, apart from a long icebreaker expedition, I did not have much experience in being literally on the road for weeks and had no idea what to expect from such an adventure. For those of you unfamiliar with this term, overlanding is one of the most popular trends in adventure travel. This style of trip usually covers long distances in a motorized – usually off-road vehicle, with the focus on experiential travel. Most overland vehicles are customized to endure the tough terrains and self-sufficiently carry everything needed for the trip; food, camping gear, tents, chairs, cutlery, and even the kitchen sinks. While overlanding may not be everyone’s cup of tea, its travel experiences are unique and it is as adventurous as it gets.
Overlanding was the highlight of my Tanzania trip
My Tanzania trip was booked with Overlanding Africa and they seemed to be reputed, reliable company. Since it was my first time at overlanding, I was a bit nervous because unlike other trips, I had nothing booked for the trip. I was not carrying much money since the trip was already paid for and panicky thoughts of getting stranded in Kenya briefly ran through my mind. Thankfully, the company proved its reliability from the very first moment and my airport pick-up arrived right on time. As we drove out of the airport towards Nairobi, I started to gather my thoughts about Africa, little knowing that someday, I will actually end up living there. Africa is the most ancient land known to mankind and being the cradle of humanity, is packed with rich culture, history, incredible nature, and misfortune. This makes the continent one of the most blessed and unfortunate places in the world.
What makes Africa an ideal overlanding destination?
Because of its diverse and incredibly breathtaking nature, Africa is also one of the most popular destinations for overlanding trips and this high activity style of holidays come in various comfort levels and budgets. From luxury campers, fit for royalty tents and gourmet cuisines with personalized services, overlanding Africa is a great way to see the continent in style and a trip usually covers more than one African nation. My journey too, which began in Kenya was to cover a few countries and perhaps because of Zanzibar’s sugar white beaches, I was looking forward to the Tanzania trip the most.
Crossing land borders and zipping through a vast continent
My itinerary of twenty-one weeks was broken into a few parts and the entire trip was dotted with some R&R periods at various destinations scattered across East Africa. The first part included two weeks with the start from Nairobi and it ended at Dar-es-Salam via Arusha, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Serengeti, and Zanzibar. Dar-es-Salam was the selected pit stop for a break before crossing into Uganda and after that, it was a flurry of countries like Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia with the final destination being Cape Town in South Africa. The route was an epic trail and despite my pre-Tanzania trip apprehensions, I had an exceptionally good time.
My overlanding Tanzania trip is not every one’s cup of tea
That night, however, started on a shaky note and the bumpy one hour drive to Acacia camp was along poorly lit roads. A severe thunderstorm ravaged the city the previous evening and uprooted trees, mangled electrical wires and a partially decomposed dead body of an accident victim greeted my tired eyes. I could barely manage a wink of sleep that night and noises of other travelers watching sports, swapping stories and gossiping floated into my log cabin. Acacia camp was a cheerful place with thatched hut restaurant and bar and it was a popular watering hole for weary overlanding travelers. Thus, at all times, the parking area of Acacia remained crowded with big trucks and the next morning I met the rest of my group there. Our overlanding Tanzania trip was about to begin and a formal introduction was called for. The group was a small one, consisting of about fifteen people from various countries and the team included Kristy, our tour leader, Muagwe and Joseph, our driver, cook, beer buddies, and Man Fridays.
Crossing over from Kenya into Tanzania, one border done, few more to go
We started early that morning and after a quick briefing from Kristy, were ready to begin our epic overlanding Tanzania trip. The truck which was to be our home for the next twenty-one weeks looked scrubbed clean and though simple and functional, the vehicle came equipped with cushioned seats, card tables, safety boxes, goody bag lockers, and individual charging points. Africa promised to be a photographer’s paradise and immediately upon beginning our drive, the beauty of the continent kept up to our expectations. The short ride to Kenya-Tanzania border, though terribly bumpy was breathtakingly beautiful and we gaped in amazement till the Namanga checkpoint arrived. The immigration point though was no beauty and vile pollution belching vehicles crowded its radiating unpaved, broken muddy roads. Thankfully the drive after Namanga resumed its beauty and a blue sky accompanied us throughout the day.
The moment my Tanzania trip became drop dead gorgeous
Immediately upon crossing the border, our Tanzania trip started getting better and the countryside was of terracotta red earth which seemed carpeted endlessly with wildflowers. Green meadows rolled softly and a warm sun drenched the rural Tanzanian country in clear golden light. A fresh cool breeze whistled in through our open windows and huge tracts of fully blooming sunflowers greeted us like a thousand golden discs. Tanzania’s countryside looked something out of a child’s painting; beautiful, colourful, and simple. Every now and then we passed little villages made of colourful clapboard houses, where modern amenities did not seem to have reached. The whole countryside was a riot of colours and huge billboards advertising mobile phone networks and soft drinks loomed in rows. We stared at people, as they gaped at us, or rather our monstrous truck and bright-eyed children herding donkeys waved playfully.
Arusha, our first stop in the long overlanding Tanzania trip
We were on our way to Arusha, the pitstop for that day and the road became better as we approached the sprawling city. Located at the foot of Mount Meru, Arusha was a popular starting point for many Tanzanian safaris and it was a busy place full of touts, souvenir sellers, and tour companies. Our first campsite was at the Meserani Snake Park and though, not the most comfortable sounding place, it came fully equipped with clean bathrooms, showers, a barbecue, and a fully stocked bar full of bush weary travelers. The site was located in the outskirts of Arusha and a small colourful local village grew around it. Being a market day, the little village bazaar bustled at the time of our arrival and we spent that evening bargaining for cheap Masai shawls, beaded jewelry, and fruits. After being nearly seven hours on the road, exhaustion overpowered us fast and that night we slept like babies amidst hissing reptiles, sizzling barbecue and soft, rolling Swahili conversations. Our Tanzania trip had just begun and I was already enchanted with Africa.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE