Weird Places: Lake Natron, Tanzania | Weird Places, Vol. 1: Lake Natron in the Arusha region of Tanzania, close to Kenya. That’s actually not too far away from Mt. Kilimanjaro. Lake Natron is a truly strange place because of high levels of natron and trona in the water. As we all know, water should better be around about pH-neutral. Otherwise we can’t drink it. A very high alkalinity makes the water of Lake Natron reach a pH greater than 12. That’s just too much. Animals die from this and get mummified. Petrified bats and birds are regularly found washed ashore here. The average temperature of the water is 55 degrees celsius. High alkali salt content and high temperatures make Lake Natron inhospitable. Amazingly some birds and even fish survives in these conditions. Slightly less salty water at the edge of the lake provide home for flamingoes, other birds, fish and endemic microorganisms. Not a top tourist destination for sure. Beautiful to look at though.
Lake Natron Tanzania
Lake Natron is unique and worth to be protected. But unfortunately it belongs to one of the poorest countries on earth. A real threat to Lake Natron is the proposed development of a soda ash factory on its shores. This plant would pump water from Lake Natron and extract sodium carbonate. It’s a base for washing powder. Possible earnings from tourism will not exceed those ones coming from a washing powder factory.
Arusha and Kilimanjaro | No matter if you want to tackle Mt. Kilimanjaro, Mt. Meru or you plan to hunt Africa’s “Big 5” with your camera: the two airports in the Arusha Region will be your gateway. Arusha’s airport (ARK) connects travelers to all of Tanzania’s other national airports, including Zanzibar, Pemba, Kilimanjaro and Tanzania’s capital Dar es Salaam. The second airport in the Arusha Region is the completely reconstructed International Airport of Kilimanjaro (JRO). It connects you to the Netherlands, Germany, Qatar, UAE, Turkey, Rwanda and Kenya.
The to-do-list for nature lovers in the Arusha Region is long (tourist magnets in bold letters): Arusha NP, Empakaai Crater, Engaruka, Great Rift Valley, Lake Manyara NP, Mt. Longido Forest Reserve, Mt. Meru Forest Reserve, Mt. Kilimanjaro NP, Ngorongoro Crater, Ngurdoto Crater, Oldonyo Lengai, Olduvai Gorge. The distance by car between Arusha and Ngorongoro Crater: 200 km (4 hours drive). Distance between Arusha and the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro: 80 km (2 hours drive).
The almost 5,900m tall Mt. Kilimanjaro owns Africa’s highest peak. The mountain is part of the Kilimanjaro National Park – a major climbing destination. In recent years the peak itself has been subject of many scientific studies because of its shrinking glaciers and disappearing ice fields thanks to man-made global warming. Each year, Kilimanjaro NP generates US$50+ million in revenue. That’s the second-most of any Tanzanian tourist area (Serengeti NP is no. 1).
The recent construction of luxury tourist hotels in this conservation area allows people to access the unparalleled beauty of one of the world’s most unchanged wildlife sanctuaries. The name of the crater has its origin in a nomadic Maasai wording describing a sound produced by cowbells (ngoro ngoro). Based on fossil evidence found at the Olduvai Gorge, various species of humans have occupied this area for 3 million years.
City of Arusha
Nestled in the verdant foothills of Mount Meru, Arusha remains the primary gateway and jump-off point for safaris into several national parks. Generally treated as little more than a stopover on the way to somewhere nice, Arusha actually provides plenty of chances to get to know the “real” Tanzania. A vibrant nightlife scene and colorful marketplaces add to the city’s dynamic vibe, while its location provides nature lovers with opportunities to climb Mount Meru or visit local coffee plantations. Safari agencies and operators provide organized tours of Arusha and its surroundings, offering experiences that range from short treks and day trips, to longer ventures to the Serengeti or Mount Kilimanjaro. Arusha is Tanzania’s best developed region. But being top in one of the 10 poorest countries on earth does actually not mean much.
Where to stay in the Arusha Region
Life is not easy in the Arusha Region. Unless you stay beyond 1,800 m altitude you are a potential target for the Tsetse mosquito. This means: Malaria. And apart from that it can be very hot in the plains of northern Tanzania. You should invest into a decent accommodation. This will come at a hefty price. The iconic Serena Safari Lodge at the rim of Ngorongoro Crater charges a minimum of 400 Euros per night. In comparison Villa de Lemaya sounds like a “budget bargain” at just 200 Euros for a 2-bed-room.
Disappointing Travel Destination Pyramids of Giza | They are some masterpieces of ancient architecture, world wonders for a reason, but out of reach for tourists. The Pyramids of Giza are among those. Yes you did read right. We recommend not go to the Pyramids of Giza. Here is why:
When reaching the entrance to the Pyramids, a dozen of men will jump on your vehicle, bang on it and shout at you. They are trying to stop your car right there and get you on one of their mule-drawn carriages. This is illegal, but keep in mind: you are in one of the world’s poorest countries. People are desperate. Once you enter the site, there will be a constant nagging of merchants wishing to sell you souvenirs or offering a ride on their camels. It’s annoying, but you still want your selfie with the pyramids in the background! So you just continue to say no for the next 20 minutes. Now imagine this: Police has no more authority due to the lack of respect from the Egyptian people. This security vacuum led to an influx of locals including donkeys and camels. The stench of piss and shit is horrendous at the Pyramids of Giza. Everybody – humans and animals – are pissing everywhere. A layer of smelly shit covers the entire area. Watch your step. To make matters even worse: you don’t see that in the broshure. The area around the pyramids is just a big dump site for rubbish. Plastic bags and toilet paper with patterns on it fly around everywhere.
Meanwhile Egyptian media continues to state tourism has increased by this and that magical number, while failing to report that there are no more tourists at the Pyramids.
Instead of going thru that same lovely experience you might check in at Mena House. The historic Mena House Oberoi hosted Winston Churchill, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Charlie Chaplin, Cecil B. DeMille and soon maybe you. This hotel has managed to retain its charm. Stylish interior design makes you feel like you have traveled back in time. Having a nice but expensive lunch and a fancy coffee with the Pyramids of Giza in the background will be your reward.
Disappointing travel destinations Casablanca (Morocco) | There are quite a some movies, poems and songs out there that might leave you under the impression, Casablanca is worth the money. If you follow your manipulated inner voice and visit Casablanca, you will soon realize that it is by far the least-interesting place in an otherwise interesting country. Casablanca is nothing but a dumpy business district on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. Other than an obscenely expensive mosque that the previous king had built, there’s literally nothing to visit. And this is actually quite surprising because Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco (5 million people).
Only outstanding point of interest: the Hassan II Mosque. It was designed by French architect Michel Pinseau. Situated right on the coast this mosque can host up to 25,000 worshippers. A further 80,000 can be accommodated in the attached courtyard. Its minaret is the world’s tallest at 210 metres (690 feet). Hassan II Mosque is the largest in Africa, and the third-largest in the world. Work on the mosque started in 1980, and was intended to be completed in 1989 – for the 60th birthday of former Moroccan king, Hassan II. However, the building was not inaugurated until 1993. Authorities spent an estimated $800 million in the construction of this site.
What else: Casablanca owns the first skyscraper ever built in Africa – Immeuble Liberté – erected in 1949; a rather ugly building, not worth a picture.
The Moroccan Jewish Museum is the only museum devoted to Judaism in the entire Arab world. Not sure what exactly tranquilized the governing body in charge. Muslim authorities usually turn blue and throw stuff at you when it comes in other religions in general and Judaism in particular. It must have historic roots. Prior to World War II the Jewish population in Morocco was approximately 225,000. During World War II, King Mohammed V protected Moroccan Jews from being sent to concentration camps. Hitler demanded King Mohammed V to hand over the Jews of Morocco. But the King state: “In Morocco we don’t have Jews, we only have Moroccan citizens!”
After the war, a steady stream of immigration of Moroccan Jews to Israel turned into a flood after Morocco’s independence in 1956. Today’s population of Moroccan Jews is considered to number around 10,000 at the most. Since Moroccan independence in 1956, the ruling Alaouite dynasty has continued a tradition of tolerance and support toward the country’s Jewish minority. Hassan II was particularly active in the 1980s in trying to bring peace to the Israel/Palestine conflict. Prime Minister Shimon Peres was the first Israeli government minister to be invited to an Arab country: Morocco.
Countries to Avoid in Africa | The list of Travel Warnings for countries in Africa is endless. From Libya in the north to Lesotho in the south almost every country fills a chapter. But two countries in particular stand out from the crowd:
Countries to Avoid in Africa: Somalia
Countries to Avoid in Africa: Somalia | The so-called Federal Republic of Somalia does not exist as a country in the modern sense of politics and economics. Technically speaking what is described as Somalia has been in an ungoverned region of civil war since 1991 – the year that saw Mohamed Siad Barre and his Somali Democratic Republic fall into a political vacuum. The influence of the current government on Somalia’s 10 million people is at about zero. Somalis employ themselves. The informal economy is in an okayish state. For tourists Somalia would be very very dangerous. Fortunately there are none.
Somalia – What will you miss out on? Nothing. There are neither natural nor cultural sites worth visiting in Somalia.
Countries to Avoid in Africa: Madagascar
Countries to Avoid in Africa: Madagascar | Known for some super gorgeous, unique and diverse landscape, Madagascar provides travelers the opportunity to visit thick jungles, swamps, deserts, and miles of just stunning coast lines. As a tourist you’d be able to view wildlife and nature that you cannot encounter anywhere else in the world. Unfortunately here the story already ends, because Madagascar is politically very unstable, and there are many potential dangers, scams, and annoyances going on in this otherwise beautiful country. You can’t drink water from the tap, you can’t dring local milk or creamer, you can’t eat local meat, you will most likely get either Malaria, Dengue or Chikungunya, or all three diseases at once. There is no functioning public transport, and traffic rules do not exist. The many stray dogs on this island carry rabies. Theft is a wide spread profession. The police will put you in jail if you do not carry your passport. Last not least, in case you have no choice but to travel to Madagascar: Under no circumstances never ever fly Air Mad. You have been warned.
Madagascar – What will you miss out on? For example Ifaty = on the coast of southwest Madagascar. Offshore, a 60-mile long coral reef. And you will miss out on The Avenue of the Baobabs = a group of truly astonishing big baobab trees lining the road between Morondava and Belon’i Tsiribihina. Ile Sainte Marie = an island off the east coast of Madagascar with protected bays and inlets that already drew the attention of pirates during the 17th and 18th centuries. The wrecks of several pirate ships can still be viewed from the shallow waters of the Baie des Forbans.