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Tantalised by Tanzania

Published May 31, 2002

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By Riaad Isaacs

After nearly four weeks travelling throughout Africa, I've seen many awe-inspiring landscapes, but the Serena Lodge in the Serengeti, Tanzania, is a setting one only reads about in soppy, romance novels.

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Nestled neatly into the side of a hill, the rustic chalet provides a balcony from which I was treated to the most spectacular sunsets one could hope to see.

The lodge's position allows you to watch the sun inch its way gracefully beneath the horizon while across the vast, open plain the fading light lazily dances between the wispy streaks of white, and then gently settles just as the first stars begin their night vigil over the Serengeti.

Africa, in all her untamed glory, is something quite special, and nothing epitomises her qualities better than the Serengeti. The endless miles of savannah are home to hundreds of different animal and plant species - including the Big Five and an abundance of bird life.

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The best way for the ordinary enthusiast to view this is through open-topped 4x4 game drives. The guides are very knowledgeable and impressive in their skill of spotting game.

However, for those more inclined towards the spectacular, there is an alternative - hot-air ballooning! Fainthearted types need not apply. For the Serengeti to be truly appreciated, rise at the crack of dawn, brave the chilly, bumpy drive, climb into the basket, say a prayer, and then hang on for dear life - as a professional and very knowledgeable pilot whisks you off for the experience of a lifetime.

The view from a hot-air balloon is nothing short of breathtaking, and provides a unique perspective with which to soak up the plenty there is on offer.

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Coming back down to earth with a thud an hour later, a champagne flute is thrust into your hand lest you lose that giddy feeling too soon. A short drive later and we were neatly ensconced at a breakfast table under a tree with nothing but fresh air between us and the Big Five. Another tough day in Africa.

Later in the day, we boarded the domestic flight out to Arusha and hopped into our ready and waiting Honda 4x4. We then took a leisurely drive through picturesque, green countryside to Moshi.

Situated at the foot of Kilimanjaro, the town itself is unremarkable but for the stately, snow-capped peak looming over it. Even when the volcano is completely obscured by clouds or darkness, its massive presence still invades the psyche, challenging would-be adventurers to test their mettle on her slippery slopes.

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Moshi remains the gateway to any summit attempt, and offers the alpine enthusiast a limited range of options in terms of accommodation. This hardly deters thousands of climbers who spend a week or more in tiny tents with no running water on their way to the summit. On returning, a warm bed and hot shower is all that is required to ensure eternal gratitude.

We then head further south through more stunning scenery to the capital city of Dar es Salaam. For local residents, a large proportion of them South African, this is as good as it gets. Beautiful beaches which rival its more illustrious neighbour, Zanzibar, nicely offset the bustling hub of commerce and government.

For the determined sun-and-white-sand worshipper, Zanzibar is a mere 20-minute flight away. Zanzibar - just the name itself conjures up visions of palm trees swaying in a gentle zephyr, endless stretches of soft powdery sand and tranquil, deep blue waters.

You can almost smell the aromatic spices hanging in the moist market air, or hear the humorous cajoling of men pushing their wares onto an uninitiated tourist.

The labyrinth of narrow cobble-stoned streets, bordered by decrepit, but imposing buildings with ornately carved doors and banisters all lend Stone Town, Zanzibar, an air of exotic and ancient mystery.

The apparent contradictions as old and new collide within a confined space enhances Stone Town's reputation as a tourist destination par excellence. It offers an incredible array of hotels and guest houses to suit any budget.

Diving, snorkelling, private beaches, mouthwatering seafood at the evening seaside market are just some of its other attractions.

The town's many historical buildings also offer the more cultured traveller a fascinating glimpse into its sometimes dark past.

There are many tourists who now call Zanzibar "home" after becoming smitten with all she has to offer. It is definitely a place that has a unique magic and allure to it, and once you have tasted her opulent pleasures, you too may call her "home".

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