April 4, 2015

Sleeping in the jungles of Africa!

Driving around the massive African Savannah trying to spot the big 5 is definitely an adventure in itself. But sleeping in the middle of the jungles with no fencing or barrier except for your tent? Now that's an experience quite like no other.

Before we started planning our safari trip to Tanzania, I was clueless about how accommodations worked. I thought the lodges would be situated outside the jungles. And camping in the jungles would mean having big fencing all around and rangers guarding us all night.

I was so very mistaken.

The lodges we stayed at, while luxurious, were right inside the jungles with no fencing or barriers. In the evening, we would be escorted by security from the main dining area to our rooms because the lodges are visited by all sorts of animals, especially by the pool areas for water drinking purposes! We were in the jungle for 4 nights and slept 2 nights in the lodges and 2 nights in "luxury tents".

Luxury tents are the best thing happened for people like me who run away from camping. The luxury tents were spacious enough to have a double bed in them and some walking space. They also had a zipper attached to a small washroom area - and flush toilet! And the incredible thing is, these tents are mobile tents, meaning they move these tents according to the animals' migration every season. In the middle of the jungle, you've got flush toilet and even hot water to bath. You tell the camp people what time you want to shower and they come around that time with hot water, fill it in a bucket that then leads to a shower head. Incredible!

So we stayed 2 nights in Serengeti in 2 different camps. The first night we stayed at the Kati Kati Camp. We got to our camp area at dusk and there were people chilling by the bonfire. 

Kati Kati tents. Ours was the furthest away from the Mess tent.

Our tent

Dinner was served in a mess tent - an awesome 3 course meal cooked right there. After dinner, we were escorted by a guard to our tent. While walking, we spotted a pair of shiny tiny eyes in the darkness. The guard told us it was a hyena. 

I've never camped in my entire life because a) I like my safety and comfort and b) I am terrified of creepy crawlies. So just the sounds of crickets and various bugs around had my fear levels up, and then there were hyenas!

Why did I ever agree to this insane level of vulnerability?! 

Once inside our tent and after making sure the entire place was zipped properly so there's no room for any living creature to creep in, we tucked ourselves in the bed to try and sleep. It was only 9.30PM but we were pretty beat. Then we heard a sound.

What is that, I asked?

Sounds like a cape buffalo, replied Umair.

Oh, it's just a buffalo, eating up the grasses. He's having his dinner. Just like I had mine. All good.

Then there were more sounds. Buffalo walking....around our tent? That's fine. As long as it just walks...around it.

More sounds. Of buffalo? No. Really loud thuds. The fabric of our tent was moving. Really hard.

....Um....do the tents shake when buffaloes walk around them?

The tent walls started shaking harder. And kept getting volatile. It was freaky and I shut my eyes tight and announced,

Buffaloes are trying to break into our tent. They are charging at our tent. We should blow the whistle and call the guard.

....No, it's ok. They'll get bored and move on. Said Umair.

But the shaking didn't stop. It only got harder. At this point I was pretty terrified so we decided to turn the solar lights on and maybe peep through the window to see what the heck is it that these buffaloes wanted. I'm not sure why we thought that was a productive idea.

Once the lights were on and we got out of bed and moved around our tent, we realized IT WAS THE WIND. 

I've never been so grateful for crazy winds this much in my entire life. It was a crazy wind storm of some sort. And the next morning our guide told us that yes, Serengeti can get really volatile winds at night. 

Okay then, now that it was settled, I could finally sleep. I heard hyenas calling each other out. An attack? Yup, it seemed like the hyena just got his dinner too. Then I heard a lion. Oh cool. There's a lion. Maybe he'll eat up the hyena.

But after all that intense fear and what not, I was surprisingly mellow. I pretty much passed out to an awesome night's sleep at the sounds of the lion. 

We were up at 6AM the next morning to go for game drives to spot cheetahs. I had survived my first morning in the camp! 

Bring on Night 2 of glam-ping, I was more than ready for the hyena lullabies!

Our tent the first night. No fences or barriers around!

the Mess tent. Having breakfast after chasing a cheetah.

Our 2nd tent - Serengeti Wilderness camp

Inside the 2nd tent - not too shabby!

Morning after our 2nd camp night, we saw some visitors outside our tents!

February 1, 2015

A Night in the Sahara

When I was in grade 6, we studied about ancient Egypt and Caravan routes through the Sahara. Since then I've had a fascination for the Sahara Desert and the great pyramids of Giza. Two of my top bucket list items since I was a kid. In 2014, I got to check one of these off my list. When we started planning our Africa trip, Egypt and Tanzanian Safari were in our books. After much research and pondering, we figured maybe Morocco was safer at this point in time to visit. I had grown a fascination for Morocco in the last couple years, so we altered our itinerary to Morocco and Tanzania.

Apart from Marrakesh and Fez, which are a must-do in Morocco, I also really, really wanted to experience the Sahara and camp a night in the vastness of the majestic desert.

It was a bit difficult at first to fit it into our itinerary. But we had to do it! I mean, how many times do you get the opportunity to sleep in the middle of nowhere in one of the biggest deserts on the planet, under the gazillion stars?! All the Sahara tour guides I was emailing told us we needed at least 3 days. Morocco is huge, and they don't have train networks connecting Marrakesh or Fez to Sahara. So our only bet was to get there by car which is around 10 long hours of a bumpy, curvy ride!

So we cut one day short in Fez and signed up for a 3 day trip from Marrakech - Atlas Mountains - Sahara - Fez. 

Left: Todra Gorge on the way to Sahara. Top Right: Fortified City. Middle: Crazy roads we drove through Atlas Mountains. Bottom Right: Atlas Mountains

After a long drive under the hot African sun on Day 2 of our 3 day trip, we reached the little town of Merzouga, which is the gateway to Sahara Desert in Morocco. Once the weather cooled down in the evening, we were taken to our camels that were going to take us into the Sahara to our camp in true nomadic fashion! 

As we started our 90 minute journey, endless rose gold sand dunes was all that we could see. We didn't spot any other tourists on our way. All I kept saying to Umair was, 

We are in the Sahara, can you believe it? In the SAHARA!! ....Umair, are you listening? 

Yes, what, yes...I think I'm slipping off the camel. Also, I think my camel just peed.

Rose gold coloured gorgeous sand dunes!

Halfway through, night fell upon us and the only light around was that of the stars. I've never seen so many stars so clear shining bright. I won't lie, I was starting to get nervous and maybe even a bit scared. I kept asking our guide if he even knew how to get to our tents, because really, to me it seemed like he was just walking without any sense of direction. He smiled and told me not to worry, he knows the way; he follows the stars!

Sigh, I wanna live a life of following star trails rather than GPS. How cool would that be?!!

Once we got to our camping area, we checked out our adorable little tent. We didn't go with the basic tents because well....I've never camped in my life! And my first time "camping" (some might call it glam-ping!) was in the Sahara. Second time in the jungles of Tanzania (more on this in a different post)! I'm not a camper, but I like to try different things. And one of my goals in life has become to push myself out of my comfort zone. So yes, even with a bed and an attached washroom in our tent, this was me getting out of my comfort zone! 

Our Berber tent!

We were the only ones that night in our camp area, which was awesome! We gazed and admired the amazing stars while hot meal was being cooked for us. 

So many stars <3
Our host, Mohamed, told us stories about his Bedouin life. Moroccans are simple, and amazingly hospitable people, which we had already experienced by now in Marrakech and with our guide through this 3 day journey. But Mohamed - he was a unique one! When I was researching on Sahara tours, I emailed Mohamed a million times with senseless questions such as:

Will there be any bugs in our tent?! Are the lizards or scorpios in the desert gonna harm us??

Don't worry about anything, Naima would be his reply to my emails. I could sense amusement in his tone even with just the emails. And when we finally met, he didn't forget my worried questions and teased me about them when we were finally at the camp. 

Our Bedouin host Mohamed and Umair chatting away.
In case you're wondering, we spotted no geckos or weird bugs or scorpios around. Just a few mosquitos trying to taste some Canadian blood :)

After an awesome meal and spending some time with our host by the bonfire, we hopped into our beds to sleep. It was pitch black once we turned off our solar powered lights in the tent, and my realization of being in the middle of nowhere in the darkness of the night started to creep in. Umair fell asleep right away, and I was up, with a flashlight next to my pillow, trying to sleep.

....And then the guard dogs started barking. And running around. I could feel them running around close to our tent. Barks grew louder. I was terrified because the "door" of our tent was literally just a thick piece of fabric with no zippers. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally fell asleep. We were woken up by our host at 6AM to watch the sunrise.

We climbed up the highest dune around us to welcome the bright new day. It was a very calming experience; no one around, except for us and our host, fresh chilly morning air and the majestic sun rising slowly. The world we live in truly is a masterpiece.

Waiting for the sun to come up.

We had breakfast then, and off we went to our hotel in Merzouga to freshen up and start our journey to Fez! I was now ready for my next camping experience in the jungles of Africa! Not really....stay tuned.