34 A wife’s tale
The perks of marrying a tour guide
MY husband’s name is Martin Slabbert. He is from Explore Africa, the preferred safari tour operator for Leisure Wheels. Every year he travels through Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Botswana, to the Serengeti and back to South Africa. The whole trip is a long 39 days.
Last year, I joined the group from Mussina to Malawi.
This year, I decided to join them in Tanzania after their Serengeti experience.
What follows are my experiences. Don’t judge me: the wife of a tour operator mows the lawn, takes out the garbage, feeds the dogs, does some maintenance and pays the bills, so when she is spoilt; I promise you, she deserves it.
OFF, OFF AND… AWAY?
I boarded an Air Kenya plane at 1am, a bizarre time to fly.
I was anxious to see Martin after 29 days and I feared travelling alone through Africa. On top of this, I had a terrible cold and had been struggling to get any sleep.
I flew directly to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport near Nairobi and two hours later, caught a local flight via Kilimanjaro (Arusha) to Mwanza in Tanzania. The airport in Mwanza is nothing more than a small building, it doesn’t look like an airport at all.
On arrival, the officials checked my medical status and yellow fever card. She then took my temperature which was 340C. She was astounded: I was too cold!
Apparently 37 degrees is the average, so what was wrong with me? It took me nearly 30 minutes to explain that I felt fine, just tired. In the meantime, the luggage from Nairobi arrived... without my bag.
After convincing the lady behind the glass that I was not a corpse, I had a complete snot en trane meltdown when I found out my bag was missing.
No one knew what to do with this ice-cold, lily-white lady sobbing as if it was the end of the
world. A huge man approached, put his arm around my shoulder and softly said he would help me, adding that I had nothing to worry about. He filled in all the necessary forms, walked me to the hotel/airport shuttle service and promised he would find my bag. In my sorry-for-myself state, I wept the whole way to the hotel.
Eventually Martin and the group arrived and I began to feel better.
The hotel was exceptional; it is on the banks of Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake by area, the world’s largest tropical lake and the second largest freshwater lake in the world. It is also the source of the Nile. Mwanza is known for its large boulders but the place is typical Africa: organised chaos, different smells, a cacophony of sounds, a lot of friendliness and markets.
I walked up and down the streets, bought some souvenirs and chatted with the locals.
I was never afraid and was never treated as a foreigner, I was just another human being and I loved it. Back at the hotel, I received the message that my bag had been found and I could pick it up at the airport.
On arrival at the airport, the huge friendly man came running up to me, shouting “Maaagdalena! Maaaagdalena! I have found your bag!”
If he only knew what was in the bag: a duvet, a bottle of wine and my swimsuit. A duvet? Well, on a previous trip with Martin, we had a single bed duvet between us in the roof tent. After 32 years of marriage, it no longer as romantic to sleep nearly on top of each other under one duvet, so I decided to bring my own.
My clothes were in my hand luggage. Wrapped up in the duvet was an expensive bottle of wine for a special occasion. The swimsuit was an afterthought.
After two full days in Mwanza I was sad to leave, I fell in love with the place and want to go back again.
Some monkey Business
En route to a campsite next to Lake Tanganyika in Kigoma, we slept in a former colonial hotel built in 1924 by German settlers in Tabora. The following day we went off to Lake Tanganyika, the longest (677km) freshwater lake in the world, the second deepest and the second largest by water volume.
We were scheduled to track some chimpanzees in the Gombe National Park. A boat (imagine a vissersskuit at Paternoster with a roof) came at 6am to take us to the park to find the chimpanzees of Jane Goodall. Fortunately, I had a good night’s sleep under my own duvet.
The trip took three hours but it was beautiful. You see the sun rise and get an idea of the vastness of the lake. At Gombe you must pay the entrance fee with a credit card and produce your passport. We climbed for hours before we found the chimps. Please take note of the tour leaders advice to wear proper hiking shoes; fancy takkies from a boutique shop do not work. I learnt this the hard way.
It takes hours and lots of climbing before you finally arrive among the animals. Sitting there close to primates, who share nearly 99% of their DNA with humans, was amazing. You are not allowed to make eye contact but if you sit calmly, the chimps ignore you.
The young ones gave us a display of their energy and we had to be quick with the camera. The return journey was even worse; one lady in the group just sat down and bumped down the pass on her bottom all the way to safety.
It was a physically exhausting day but the experience could be ticked off the bucket list. The return boat trip was four hours and the lake was angry with the wind, it was as if we were in a storm out at sea, with huge waves attacking the boat.
The next stop was Katavi National Park where the ablution facilities were awful. The following day we drove to Kipili, a small town on the edge of Lake Tanganyika.
Martin had once told me about this place but I had envisaged
a sort of a tented camp, only to find that the Lake Shore Lodge is paradise. If I could have my honeymoon all over again, I would choose this place. The owners are Chris and Louise, a young South African couple who moved to Tanzania in 1997. They opened the lodge in 2009.
All the furniture, windows and doors have been made by hand with local wood with a reddish colour and then oiled with palm oil. The style of the place is African-Zen as they have tried to incorporate all the elements of light, water and the earth.
I decided to upgrade to a chalet, or a banda as they call it and it was worth every penny. Words cannot describe the luxury and the fun we had drinking South African Pinotage (not yet the one rolled in the duvet) in the jacuzzi literally on the banks of the lake.
Dr Livingstone… is that you?
I am glad I visited Tanzania and saw the place where the famous words “Dr Livingstone, I presume?” were uttered in 1871. We visited the spot in Ujiji, a Muslim village.
This is ironic in a sense as Livingstone’s aim when he arrived in Africa was to bring Christianity to Africa and to end slavery. Henry Stanley, a journalist on a mission to find David Livingstone, finally caught up with him under a mango tree and said the well-known words. The original mango tree died in the 1920s but two of its branches were used to plant the trees standing there today.
The vastness of Lake Tanganyika is mind-boggling and I found the people amazing, always saying karibu (you are welcome).
Tanzania is one of the least urbanised African countries, the urban population is only onethird of the total of more than 44 million people.
The driving is difficult, though, as you should maintain only 50km/h in small villages and 80km/h when there are no huts or houses. But you end up driving 50km/h most of the time. This can be frustrating.
We crossed the border into Zambia at the Zombe Border Post. It was no more than a small office in Tanzania and an even smaller office in Zambia. No questions were asked and it took about 10 minutes.
At our overnight stop in Mbala, I saw a chair carved out of a tree stump which was on the veranda of the reception area of our campsite.
I asked if I could purchase it. The manager asked what I would offer, I said $20 and the deal was done.
I did not care where I’d put it. I knew Martin would make a plan. He eventually found a spot for it at the back of our vehicle next to the fridge, not very impressed. Now this beautiful chair is in my spare room at home, reminding me of Zambia.
We visited Kapishya Hot Springs – which are completely natural and sulphur-free – situated close to the Estate of Shiwa Ng’andu (The Africa House) and along the banks of the Mansha River.
The water bubbles up from the earth and it is warm like a bath. We sat in the natural water for hours and drank my expensive bottle of wine.
The group then proceeded via Lusaka to Livingstone where the tour officially ended. The most difficult part for any tour leader is saying goodbye to people you shared 39 days with.
I am nevertheless glad that I joined the group, albeit for a little short of two weeks.
I saw Tanzania, Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyika, Kipili and Kapishya Hot Springs; places I would never have visited if I was not married to Martin.
When people ask me what my husband does for a living, I now answer: he makes his (and other people’s) dreams come true.
Above: Magda and Martin Slabbert. Magda joined her hubby on a recent trip and had some adventures of her own, too. This page: Is that an elephant on my stoep? On the Leisure Wheels safaris, there are times when humans and the animals – quite unplanned – get up close and personal with each other.
Above, clockwise fromtop left: Masai warrior. The massive Lake Victoria. A special bottle of red, for a special celebration. The trip included a visit to Jane Goodall’s chimpanzees. Left: A market in Mwanza, a friendly place on the banks of Lake Victoria.
Above left: A former colonial hotel, built by German settlers in 1924. Above, right: The Mara river, near the Kenyan border, where the Serengeti becomes the Maasai Mara.