Sunday, 7 April 2013

Nairobi to Arusha - Moral support visit from Dad

Nairobi was a fantastic city in which to have a rest day. With well established infrastructure, modern shopping malls, cute cafes, sights to see, activities to do and numerous good restaurants to try, everyone had a busy schedule. The Carnivore restaurant the previous night had been a great success and a comfy sleep in a hotel bed was just what I needed. Waking up to my Dad bringing me tea and my favorite homemade Buttermilk rusks in bed was like a dream come true. Over breakfast, we discussed fun activities to do, and the hotel waiter was a great help in giving us confused tourists ideas. We finally decided that visiting to Elephant Orphanage would be a great way to start the day and then lunch in town, before taking me back to the TdA camp that afternoon to do some bike maintenance and organizing of the locker. The visit from my lovely father was great on two levels; of course seeing a family member to boost your morale is one, but then there was also the delivery of many bicycle spare parts that I desperately needed, such as tubes, new road tires, new chain, spare spokes, de railer... the list continues, as well as bringing a large replenishing stock of Herbalife products as I was starting to run on empty. With the inflow of all these new and necessary goods I had to rethink what was important in my locker, thus, as a result, I sent home luxury items that weren't useful, like extra clothing, shoes and hammock, to make space for my very own Cycle Lab bike shop and Herbalife nutritional center.

The Elephant Orphanage was a heart warming experience. I have never been so close to baby elephants, which were super playful and interacted with the crowds who came to watch the morning feeding. There was a caretaker with a microphone who shared information about this baby elephant rescue project as well as telling the story of each baby elephant we saw getting fed. In total there were 22 baby elephants which had been rescued from all over Kenya, most of which had been victims of abandonment as their mothers had been killed by poachers for their tusks, which for me, as an animal lover, was very sad to see. As a result, I made a donation towards the David Sheldrick wildlife fund and it felt great to see what good it can bring to these poor baby elephants.

The following morning it was time to get back on the bikes. We got an early start and taxied to the camp for breakfast and the mornings rider meeting. It was extremely kind of the TdA organizers to allow my father to join the TdA trip for two days, as well as lending a bicycle to Rudolf, who was very excited about cycling from Nairobi to Arusha. With my Dad comfy on a TdA support vehicle and Rudolf on a bike, it was all running very smoothly.

Rudolf and I at the Hotel waiting for the taxi

Our security at the TdA camp

Team Make A Difference just before the start, with my Dad in the middle
This was the morning of the 11th March and back home in Cape Town the very popular Cape Argus cycle race was about to start, so I decided that Rudolf and I would team up as a MAD cycling team and ride the day as if it was the Cape Argus. Well, there were a few differences, like it being 157km with 1057m of climbing, wit a consistent headwind and a great big down pour of rain 10km from the finish.

Lunch stop along the road...

Rudolf my fellow MAD Cyclist having a rest
We took one Coke stop en route and hit the road hard for the rest of the day.

Claire and I at the Coke stop
We eventually rolled into camp, soaking wet, dirty and exhausted. However, seeing my Dad at the finish line was a wonderful feeling. Just seeing how amazed he was that I had just cycled 157km made me realize that what I'm doing is truly something special, intensely challenging, and something to be incredibly proud of. To think that only a few months ago I didn't even own a bicycle and here I am pushing myself to the absolute limits as I cycle across our magnificent continent.

Finally at the finish flag...
Reunited with my dad at camp.
Another reason why I was over-the-moon excited about seeing my dad was that out of the three rooms available at the campsite, he had one booked, with a hot shower waiting for me to get warmed up and cleaned up. It rained for the rest of the day and for most of the night, so I was terribly grateful to not have to be camping in a wet tent. instead, a small dirty room felt like luxury.

The TdA daily bike shop

The TdA truck providing a little cover from the rain

TdA campsite that evening
The next morning we woke up early once again and could feel that the previous day's cycle had definitely had an effect on Rudolf and I physically, as we had pushed pretty hard. In the end, with the usual aches and pains, we had breakfast in the rain and got ready for another big day on the bike. This was also the day we said our good-bye to Kenya and crossed the border into Tanzania.

With passports in hand, we began the 118km day's cycle with 1154m of climbing to Arusha and three days of rest. The border crossing went fairly quickly and then the battle against a strong head wind began. We cycled in a group to share the load of cycling against the wind, and took plenty of breaks as everyone was feeling pretty rundown. The best thing about stopping is that you get to enjoy the countryside and the view of the incredible Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance.

Our first rest stop after the border crossing

Claire and Tracy the other girls part of our cycling group

Rudolf enjoying the few moments off the bike

The road we need to continue along, seems endless at times...
Once at lunch, I got to see my Dad and enjoy a delicious tuna sandwich which would hopefully give me the energy I needed to get through the afternoon's ride, including the 10km climb that was still waiting for us. The good news was that at the top of the climb there was a village and a Coke stop, which gave everyone something to aim for and a place to rest after the climb was complete.

Coke stop at the top of the climb

Bike shop next to the coke stop...
After the climb we could enjoy the rolling hills of Tanzania and the breath-taking scenery as we made our way to Arusha. I'll be honest, we pushed a very fast pace when we realised we were only 40km away from Arusha and three days of rest. This was enough to ignore your paining muscles and hit the pedals hard.

The scenery on route to Arusha
Upon arrival in Arusha, all I could think of was how three days rest with family and friends was going to be like a mini vacation. My father had an amazing itinerary planned for us in Arusha. All I needed to do was arrive safely and at a reasonable time. That afternoon we rolled into the Masai Campsite where the TdA were based for the rest days and there, waiting for Rudolf and I, was my Father and our Safari guide with all our luggage already in the vehicle, ready to go. I locked up my bicycle, said good-bye to my TdA friends, and jumped onto the back of the safari truck to be whisked away.

Rudolf and I on the back of the Safari Truck
Still in my cycling clothes, we checked-in to the Outpost Hotel, a fabulous resort with a pool. I immediately got my costume on and joined in a refreshing swim, followed by a hot shower. That evening we had an early dinner at the hotel and by 20h00 I was ready for bed after a very long day. The next morning, our Safari Guide, Peter, collected us early and we set off on our first day of Safari at Lake Manyara. The wildlife was unbelievable but the green, lush surroundings made it difficult to spot the animals, albeit that it made for a very exciting challenge nonetheless.

Rudolf, the Guide Peter and my Dad... Something tells me they've spotted something interesting...
We stopped for a picnic lunch and enjoyed the view overlooking the lake. The best thing about doing these safaris in down season, is that it feels as though the wildlife is there for your viewing pleasure alone. I was surprised whenever other safari vehicles drove past, because in the thick bush of Lake Manyara it easy to feel totally secluded.

Dad and I at the lunch picnic
After a yummy lunch in amongst the Tanzanian wild, it was back to bird watching and searching for interesting big game. The afternoon safari was beautiful, and we were lucky enough to come across a heard of elephants in the complete absence of other vehicles and in silence we watched as they inquisitively moved closer and closer to us. It was a thrilling experience...

Here are a few more snaps of the wildlife we saw that afternoon...

After the Lake Manyara Safari came to a close, our guide drove us to our new accommodation, "The Country Lodge."

The drive to our hotel

This was by far one of the nicest hotels I'd stayed at since the tour began. I truly felt I was begin spoilt rotten by my Dad and it was great fun, besides, a bed with a mattress is a big step up from my little tent.

That evening we had a lovely dinner which somewhat resembled a delicious comforting home-cooked meal which we would eat back home as a family on the farm. Leek and Potato soup, avocado salad, red cabbage, roasted potato's, beef stew and coconut tart for dessert... I was in heaven!!!

After a wonderful night's sleep, we woke early to meet our guide and make our way to the famous Crater for our second day of safari.

At the entrance of the Crater... 

As we made our way down into the crater it was breath-takingly beautiful to see this enormous plain surrounded by this magnificent natural wall, which basically gave me the impression that it naturally trapped the wildlife. However, our guide reassured me that if the animals migrate they find ways and means to escape the crater, but yes, the crater does in a way trap the wildlife. It quickly became clear that the crater had far more tourists in comparison to Lake Manyara, just going to show how popular it is. Even during the down season there were still plenty of safari vehicles packed with foreigners. 

I've been on many safaris back home but never had I ever seen such vast numbers of animals, with herds of hundreds of buffalo, thousands of zebra and tens of thousands of wildebeest. I was blown away!!! The sheer volume of wildlife was unbelievable. We saw lazy lions basking in the sun, mischievous hyenas scavenging for food and a family of rhino. My Dad is a keen bird watcher so spotting many interesting bird species was part of the safari fun.

We did our picnic lunch at the hippo lake, the guide warning us to stay clear of the water's edge as well as to be careful of the eagles circling above, because they have been known to swoop down and take sandwiches straight from people's hands.

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