Instalment 14 – Going loopy in South Africa & Lesotho

Jen – Going loopy in more ways than one…

1)    We’ve taken a bit of a loop down to South Africa before backtracking up north, mainly to avoid the rainy season in Zambia – South and North Luangwa have come so highly recommended we wanted to make sure we could get around and see them at their best

2)    We’ve had a couple of days going round in circles due to the rainy conditions we’ve found down south – Ben will tell you more…

3)    Joburg is a frustratingly ‘modern’ American type of city which reminds me of Redditch… (Mum – a bit like the day I tried to take you to Tescos!) you can see exactly where you need to go but can’t get off the road or in the direction you need to and end up driving around and around in circles… for hours – arrghh!

Ben – We made it to 2am!!  Rock & Roll!!

In our last instalment in Maputo we were off to catch some live music in the Gil Vicente  bar in the city.  The band were from Swaziland and called Spirits Indigenous.  They were simply brilliant.  A infectious mix of something funky & something traditional with two amazing female vocalists, one a little bit crazy, one just beautiful.  I’ve tried to find some of there stuff online, but so far failed to find a good example of the gig we saw, this is the best I can do.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9VuBpPJCiQ

Anyway, since Maputo we changed our plans a bit.  We were going to head down the coast on “the bumpy road”, (a term used by Noel & Ping, a great couple we met at the Maputo hostel who were also “overlanding africa”).  But we decided to take the easy route to South Africa to get to civilisation quicker and give the Disco some TLC.

South Africa, oh my word, a bit of a shock, we felt like we’d left Africa and re-entered Europe.  We spent an hour in a huge “Shoprite” supermarket in Nelspruit bewildered by 300 flavours of yogurt, meat piled to ceiling, all the veg imaginable.  The streets outside look like America, 3 lanes wide, endless shopping malls & fancy cars & pickups.  As soon as we rocked up at the Funky Monkeys hostel to camp up, we met Mo, an Englishman living in SA / Mozambique who phoned-a-friend for us to find a good Landy Mechanic, James Jackson was the man apparently.  The following day we hunted him down and finally met up with him in his workshop to talk about the few issues we had, nothing too worrying, but a couple of things that had needed attention for a while.  His workshop was full of old Series Landys & Defenders, and the years of experience James has in the Landy tinkering business said it was the right place to be.  James was a fantastic source of other info too, he’d spent a lot of time in Zambia & Namibia (we’re heading that way), so we ended up camping in his garden and joining him for a Brai (BBQ!) whilst drinking his beer & wine.

Jen: We had a fantastic evening chatting to James and his friend Val, James couldn’t have made us feel more welcome. Whilst Ben hovered around the workshop during the day, with the guys fixing the landie James opened up his house for me, and I sat on his veranda in the sunshine, with some amazing safari books, my sketch book, binoculars and a guide to South African birds – I had a lovely day whilst Ben had a slighty more stressful day and came back covered in grease. That night we were shown a true South African brai with a fair bit of wine, and beer plus we got to sample biltong (something we didn’t think we liked but we were wrong). James also had some many tips for us plus a bundle of maps that he gave us for our journey.

CampedatJames

CampedatJames

Whilst in Nelspruit town we also bumped into Marga, Marcel, Tom & Fleur, (the family we’d staying in Vilanculos in Mozambique with).  It just so happened that Ray & Avril (friends from back in Uganda/Rwanda) were also passing, so all 8 of us ended up camping up together for a night which was brilliant.  All in all our diversion to the non-descript town of Nelspruit had been a belter!!

From here we headed south, bound for the mountains of the Drakensberg & Lesotho.  The day we left was a dreary grey cold day of drizzle, much like being at home, and it was a long drive.  We rocked up in the Northern Drakensberg close to Bergville in the rain, had a hot-chocolate before cooking in the drizzle, eating fast & retreating to the hostels lounge & roaring fires.  It was another night of socialising, this time with Brother & Sister due Sam & Kat   They’d come down the West coast of the continent and were starting to head north in the LandCruiser.  The following day we almost joined them for the hike to “the amphitheatre” and the worlds 2nd highest waterfall, but the relentless rain put us off, so we left them to it.  Instead we drove south into the Drakensburg mountains which are apparently stunning.  I say apparently ‘cos the cloud and rain persisted for 2 more days, and we saw very little except ta stunning sun-set that lasted all of 10 mins, and some nice morning views from Hilton (the town, not the Hotel) that lasted all of 20 mins.  We passed through a number of fords that got deeper & faster flowing, before having to back-track for a couple of hours because a one that was simply impassable

1stRoadImpassableDrakensberg

1stRoadImpassableDrakensberg

As with so many things though, the disappointment was more than made up for later.  What had been falling as rain in the Drakensberg, was falling as snow in the high tiny independent country of Lesotho.  We headed up the Sani pass with warnings of terrible road conditions & possible closure ringing in our ears.  Lesotho is not like South Africa, or much like any other African country we’ve seen, in fact I’d liken it to Kyrgzstan, It’s simply stunning.  At the foot of the Sani pass the tar runs out, and track begins which gets progressively rougher & steeper as you climb to the summit at 2874m.  As we got near the top we reached the snow and it was just fantastic.  After the pass (and the border formalities in the hut at the top) the track plateaued for a while before climbing further to about 3300m, and over the coming days the landscape just got better and better.

StunningDrive_Lesotho

StunningDrive_Lesotho

On night 1 we stayed in a lovely “lodge” in Molumong  where we had the place to ourselves to cook dinner when Daniel the guy who looks after it went home leaving us with a box of matches to light the candles (no electricity up here).

ViewfromMulomong

ViewfromMulomong

The following day we drove 60km in 3 hours (the roads are all steep & rough and snowey in places) towards the Katse Dam before coming to a raging torrent of water that had washed out a major bridge.  So again we had to back track, and with no other routes this meant a return to the Molumong lodge.

2ndRoadImpassable_Lesotho

2ndRoadImpassable_Lesotho

Jen – As we drove along we went past lots of people, wrapped up in blankets and balaclavas, nearly every time we got a beautiful smile and a wave from them. We were both quite disappointed to be driving back the way we’d just come but I can’t think of many roads I’d have preferred to do twice (despite the rough and rocky conditions) – something we proved the next day when we had to go along the tar road which was still stunning but not a patch on the day before.

This time we had company though, Farni & his friend who we’d met at the foot of Sani were there with a French Hitch-Hiker called Alex who they’d found en-route.  Farni is a Landrover Technician from Cape Town who was there in a brand new Discovery.  We gave them the bad news that they wouldn’t make it to Katse, and agreed to take Alex with us the next day.  The alternative route was a more major route, and although the tar was pretty ropey, and in places actually gravel, it was way faster.  It was nowhere near as interesting as the previous day though, few sheep herders, or horsemen wrapped in blankets, and the feeling was not that of a completely remote wilderness,  we were so glad we’d taken our 6 hour detour, see some pics below.

LesothoLandscape

LesothoLandscape

We would have spent more time in Lesotho, we loved it, definitely a top 5 country of the trip for me (more top 5’s to come soon), but now we are on a mission to get up to Harare (Zimbabwe) to meet Andy (Jens Brother) who is joining us for a couple of weeks, so we’ll have to go back one day.  We are in Johannesburg now, and planning to head to Zim tomorrow.  Jo’berg is a sprawling urban city that hasn’t excited us much, we are looking forward to going back to real Africa!!  (We did visit the Apartheid museum today which was really interesting, and so well put together)

Anyway, tata for now, Ben

Posted in S Africa & Lesotho | 6 Comments

Instalment 13 “You’re really starting to irritate me now” – Jen to Ben as we’re nearing day 200 of the trip: Malawi into Mozambique

Jen: So we’ve made it to Maputo the capital of Mozambique and have completed over 200 days on the road. Ben is getting even better at playing me up but we’re doing well. As another overlander Marcello put it – “We have nothing left to say to each other but we are still talking!”

Following from our last blog entry, we left a rather dreary Nkata Bay and had a very short drive down to Chitenche and a lovely lodge called Mkuzi, recommended by nearly every overlander we met coming the other way. We arrived in the rain and were really chuffed to see another Overland wagon and roof tent with British plates – it could only be Brits braving the weather with sheets of rain coming down. We soon got talking to Keith and Laura who were travelling north, huddled under the only bit of shelter –  the back of the tent. Fortunately the weather brightened up and we got to appreciate just how beautiful our little camping spot was. The following day we had mixed weather but managed to squeeze in a small kayaking trip out to a nearby island and also try out a bit of snorkelling.

Just below Makuzi is Kande Beach where there is a nearby horse stables. We were greeted by a very friendly brummie guy Johnny who owned the business and also convinced us to treat ourselves and stay in his beautiful guest room for the night. Our afternoon was spent on a lovely horse ride walking through the local village and attempting to trot. Trotting proved a little challenging for me as my horse Clover was a girl after my own heart and liked her food. Just as I was trying to lean forward and steer her she’d come to a very abrupt stop, her head would go down in order to eat as much grass and leaves as possible which meant I’d lurch forwards and just about hold on. Ben did a little better and managed some cantering. The afternoon ended in taking the horses into the lake for a swim just as the sun was beginning to go down – amazing! thanks to Ant and S for this top recommendation.

Stopping by Cape McClear we ran into Karen and Marcello an English & South Afrcian couple who were also heading South but unfortunately not exactly in our direction. We happened to catch up with them on Karen’s birthday so we had a lovely glass of bubbly to celebrate, on the shores of Lake Malawi as the sun was going down and a good brai (bbq) with a few too many glasses of wine. Before leaving Malawi we spent a day up on the Zomba Plateau, a beautiful forested area with waterfalls and view points looking down on the plains below.

It was then time to head into Mozambique. The roads from Malawi to the main coast roads in Mozambique vary in quality but are generally dirt roads and can become quite bad in the rainy season. We’re currently in the rainy season and there have been recent flood warnings for the South of Mozambique. We therefore did a lot of asking around and checking but were told the road we wanted to take towards Ilha de Mozambique should be ok. After crossing the border we had most of the day on a very dull, straight dirt road which was slow in places but generally ok. The afternoon more than made up for this as the scenery changed with green countryside and the most enormous granite mountains springing up out of nowhere, as Ben said it looked like they’d just been dropped out of space. It made me realise how fantastic a journey like this is, we would never have just chanced upon this amazing landscape on a normal holiday.

NorthernMozambique

NorthernMozambique

Mozambique has a Portuguese history and we’d been expecting it to feel quite different to other African countries. After a stop in our first Mozambique city – Nampula we felt very much like we could be in Cuba or the Mediterranean. The buildings and architecture were different with a lot of tree lined avenues. There were even some Socialist/ Cuban type of murals on the walls. Some of the music also has a much more Hispanic feel.

We had a day or so exploring Ilha de Mozambique which was a little different to what we were expecting. There were some very dilapidated colonial buildings on the north side of the tiny island which had a feeling a tiny bit like Zanzibar. The highlight was the Palace Museum, the former home of the Portuguese Governor which has been totally restored, full of old paintings and antique furniture. We also ran into an Italian guy who’d lived on the island for 13 years who is keen to do his own overland trip in the near future. He invited us back to his for lunch and we had the most delicious food whilst we talked about potential routes and places to see. We also got see his beautiful home and hear a little about his work on the island as an architect.

IlhaDoMozambique

IlhaDoMozambique

We then had a little detour North to not the most obvious of places – Nacala is quite an industrial town and port. However just north of Nacala is a bay with a protected area good for snorkelling so we headed to Libelula and camped up in a spot overlooking the sea. Libelula was officially closed for renovations but we were ok to camp. We really enjoyed a day sat on the beach but under the shade of the trees reading and drawing. We spent the afternoon snorkelling off the beach before taking our mini bbq down to the beach to have dinner and wine as the sun was setting.

FernaoVelosoSunsetBbq

FernaoVelosoSunsetBbq

We took another little detour visiting a more mountainous area with tea plantations – Gurue which was stunning. The we had a couple of big drive days South. Mozambique has come as a bit of a shock to the system, we’re suddenly in a really large country with big distances between the major towns and not many accommodation options. The long driving days were made totally worthwhile when we arrived in Vilanculos. We stayed with Marcel, Marga, Fleur and Tom (the family we’d met in Ethiopia who were moving to Mozambique). They have bought a lovely property right next to the white sands and turquoise waters that stretch out to the Bazaruto Archipelago. They have some amazing plans to open a small guest house and bakery. We had a great couple of days enjoying the local surroundings, talking about travelling and their plans. Fleur who is 9 made us cookies or cakes each day and Ben finally got his lego fix, extending Toms lego kingdom with a boat jetty.

We left Vilanculos and headed towards Inhambane and the nearby peninsula which is renowned for it’s beautiful beaches and diving. We headed up towards the Barra peninsula and made our way towards the Lighthouse campsite. It all seemed a little strange as there was suddenly lodge after lodge, we were definitely in South African holiday territory. On travelling to our camp-spot we found the recent rains had caused some of the sandy tracks to flood. Rather than being beaten by a bit of water I decided to get the flip flops out and check out the depth and muddiness of the puddle before taking the disco through. Ben and a local guy were thoroughly amused as I tentatively made my way round the puddle, at one point the water going from my ankles to above my knees in one step. After my research mission Ben decided it was fine and ploughed on through. Everything was totally worth the effort when we arrived up at the Lighthouse campsite. An absolutely stunning spot looking down at a few kilometres of beach below and with quite a lot of surf breaking on the shore. We met the owner Dennis who soon won us around to having a fantastic meal of fish, calamari with some coconut and peanut sauce – an absolutely delicious feast.

After a couple of unsuccessful attempts to go snorkelling (for various reasons) we have made our way down to Maputo and we will try again as we drive south down the coast to Durban in South Africa. In the meantime we’re hoping to find some good music venues around the city to experience a little of the Portuguese influenced night life.

Ben – It has been great in Mozambique because it has felt quite different to the other parts of Africa we have come through.  We were both keen to come to here right from the initial plans for our trip, not because of any special sites, but because everything we read about it sounded quite vibrant and reminded us of Cuba (which we loved).

The food has been great, not only the obvious fish, calamari & octopus either (Mozambique has something like 2500km of coastline).  When we got to the first big town, Nampula, we bought some great fresh bread (not easy to find further north), and some delicious creamy & tasty local cheese.  When we met the Gabriel (Italian architect on Ilha de Mozambique), he introduced us to the local Mango and Lemon Pickle (quite like the lime pickle you get with your popadoms in India), and I have become addicted to it.  It is all very home made and gets sold on little stalls outside peoples huts along the main road, the first jar we bought erupted like a volcano when I opened it, fizzing over the jar sides for a couple of minutes.  It hasn’t killed us though, and a cheese sandwich for lunch has become luxury.  Not sure what I will do when it runs out

Peoples attitudes to us travelling though are quite different here too.  You tend to get ignored rather than hassled, which is quite nice !! 

Maputo seems a great city, relaxed but plenty going on.  Tonight we hope to find some live music in a bar we visited yesterday, we may well be up after midnight!!  That will be a shock to the system cos the sun seems to rise so early here our day tends to start at 5.30, and end embarrassingly early!

Anyway, until next time I will stop waffling on, Ben

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Instalment 12 – “Leaving Dar! & entering Malawi” AKA: “A (Book) Mission to the (Catholic) Mission”

AKA: “Sister Act 3” (maybe?? depending on how many previous Sister Act films there are, you know me and Jen are crap at films!)

Ben – We had arrived at Woody’s in Dar-es-Salam on the 11th February, and after 5 nights on Zanzibar for the music festival, a couple of days cleaning and servicing the Disco, a couple of days helping Woody out with a few things and a couple of days relaxing in his house & pool, and another day visiting the beach and museum, and finally getting our passports back from the Mozambique embassy with Visa’s installed, it was 27th February, 17 days later!  Thanks so much to Woody letting us treat his lovely house like our own, after 146 days on the road is was luxury, but the stay had caused a large plateau in my graph of days passed verses kilometre’s covered….

Back by popular demand its ……

___________________________________________________________________

Geeks corner :

On today (13th March) it is day 176 of our trip

We are in our 8th African country Malawi (and before: Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt)

We have covered 24,353km, in about 555 driving hours, using 2783 litres of diesel – Price ranging from 0.11 £/litre (Egypt) to 1.53 £/litre (Turkey)

The disco has been serviced 4 times, still only the rear shock has given us any real trouble, although a window winding mechanism, a set of rear brake pads and the clutch slave cylinder have been changed too, and a tinker with the diff lock mechanism was required in Kenya.

Sadly our bush-camp percentage is down to 10% as from Ethiopia south it’s a lot less easy & necessary (but in Namibia we hope to pull that back up again).  Nights in our tent has nudged up to 71%, the rest were in boats & rooms, including a new category “stayed with friends” which enters the chart at 8%, mainly thanks to Woody, but also thanks to Father Chahali & the Sisters (read later), and Ben&Lucy&Orla way back in Hassocks last September.

We have finished 4.3 cans of “Ultrathon” Mosi spray

Jen has finished 3.5 tubes of Pizbuin all day sun cream, Ben has used about 0.1.

Jen has won 53% of the Backgammon games, but only cos she’s lucky with the double 6’s.

Things lost:

The washing line (Jen blames me)

Our decent head torch (Jen blames me)

Large spoon (way back in Turkey, Jen admits it was her fault, definitely)

A plate (Before we even left home, no idea?)

10,000 Tanzanian shillings, thanks to a dodgy money changer guy I knew was diddling us, still that’s only 4 pounds, it still infuriates me!!

Our sanity (on occasions)

Bart, just for you, we’ve now used about 42 Dickshnoodles.

Days of torrential set in rain that looks like going knowhere fast, ONE, Today, can you tell I’m a little bored.

So, back to the story…

We left Dar 2 weeks ago, and with a Mission.  Woody & Roy’s company Wild Thing Safaris, also runs a lodge in the Udzungwa Mountains called Hondo Hondo.  The lodge is in an area that Roy has visited for various reasons for the past 18 years.  He’s particularly well known in a small town/village called Itete which is about 150km south of Hondo Hondo, and well off any kind of main road, and here Wild Things & Hondo Hondo have been helping build a medical facility & with other things.  It just so happened that as we left Dar there were 450 text books that needed taking down there…  Here starts our “fortnight of good will”.  Good deed no. 1:

Jen:  We had a lovely day in the Udzungwa Mountains with a very knowledgeable guide called David. He spotted lots of different animals and birds and was extremely patient with me and Ben being particularly blind in seeing anything (you’d think after nearly 5 months in this continent we’d be a little better but clearly we have a long way to go!). We hiked up to Sanje Falls with beautiful views below towards Selous National Park. We got suitably hot and sweaty on our climb and enjoyed taking a dip in the refreshing (ie pretty chilly) waterfall pool at the top. We returned in the afternoon to Hondo Hondo where we enjoyed sitting at the bar looking up at the forested mountain slopes and then treating ourselves to a very nice three course dinner and one too many glasses of wine.

We’d planned to leave Hondo Hondo the following morning but pulling out of the camp that morning Ben had thought something was a bit wrong with the clutch (as normal I’d not spotted a thing). After unpacking various boxes of spares from the back and me pressing the clutch “up” and “down” a lot Ben started to change the slave cylinder (I was listening to his mechanical ramblings for a change). It was particularly hot this day and Ben had managed to get quite nicely covered in Clutch fluid (nasty stuff) and a lot of oil and grease – I definitely had the better job. After some wurble wurble semantics (one of my Dad’s phrase that means general swearing and unhappiness) Ben finally got it all back together and it seemed to be working as good as new. We did however decide that driving a couple of hundred kilometres into the middle of nowhere, further away from any sort of help wasn’t the most sensible thing to do and therefore took it for a test drive up to Mikuni to check it out which proved all good.

The next day we were ready to make our trip down south, past Ifakara down to see Father Chahali at the Itete mission. We had a good drive down to Ifakara, a relatively big town considering it’s not on any main road. We had a nice wander around the market, stopped at the local Womens Weavers Association and tracked down the local nuns who apparently made good bread. From there we continued to the Kilombero Ferry crossing and down to the small town of Itete. We arrived at the Catholic Mission and were immediately made to feel very welcome by the Sisters and Father Chahali. As we were chatting to the Father over a cup of tea Ben just mentioned in passing that it happened to be my birthday, Father Chahali responded that we’d have to celebrate later that evening and I thought no more about it.

At 7 that evening we met with Father Chahali outside the mission for a couple of glasses of wine/ beer. As we were sat there we could hear some ladies singing and some drumming, the sound got closer and we then realised that the group of ladies were heading in our direction. The 7 trainee nuns had come from the convent to invite us back to dinner.

On arriving at the hall in the Convent it was clear a large amount of food had been prepared for us, Ben and I were ushered to the top of the room and sat at what seemed like a top table for a wedding. We had a lovely dinner with Father Chahali, the Sisters and the trainee nuns. After dinner there was mention of my birthday and then the next minute everyone was leaving the room. I had to stand by the top table whilst everyone re-entered the room in a long procession to “cheer” me a happy birthday. Some more sisters arrived with a large stereo and some dancing then followed before everyone again left the room. A long procession then came into the room, with each person bringing me a flower to add to a large bunch they’d already presented to me. Some more singing and dancing followed and everyone was clearly enjoying themselves.

Finally everyone again left the room and I was particularly surprised by the finale of my birthday celebrations –  the sisters filed into the room with the front lady carrying a huge birthday cake, fully iced with “Happy Birthday Jenny” the cake was still hot as they’d only had a couple of hours to prepare this. I really couldn’t get over the effort they’d made to celebrate my birthday. Father Chahali then insisted that I cut a slice of cake and Ben and I had to feed it to each other in front of everyone. I then cut the cake into 19 slices (they got a lot smaller as I went) in order for everyone to share in the delicious cake I’d been made.

More dancing and singing followed and there was mention that everyone was happy to be joining my birthday Saturday night rather than preparing for church the following morning. Finally we each had to make a speech, all I could really say was thank you, thank you over and over again. Ben who’s had slightly more practice at making speeches did a better job and explained how we’re so lucky to be doing what we’re doing and that over and over it’s the people we meet on the way that make is so special, a point that couldn’t have been more proven on this evening.

Ben – After getting back to the Tarmac it was a long couple of days slog down the “TanZam Highway”.  We’d heard from a few people that this was horrible with dangerous truck drivers, and long 50kph stretches through town and the endless police checks & roadwork’s.  We encountered all of this, but to be honest it was OK, we just took our time.

On March 6th we entered Malawi and breathed a big sigh of relief, it seems so chilled here.  It’s clearly way poorer than where we’ve been recently, few vehicles but lots of bicycles & pedestrians with no shoes.  But the people are so friendly, big smiles and waves, and a keenness to chat (the standard of English here is high).  Just over the border we stopped at Karanga for lunch & a “museum” visit.  The area is famous for its fossils and ancient remains, and particularly for a dinosaur skeleton discovery that is shown in a small but quite interesting museum in this otherwise unremarkable town.  The dinosaur is called the Malawiasaurus, how can you not stop to see that?

From there we headed for a camp on the shores of Lake Malawi before heading up a very steep & twisty road towards the old missionary town of Livingstonia.

ChitimbaBeach_LakeMalawi

ChitimbaBeach_LakeMalawi

We camped up 5km short of the Town, and planned to drive up, over and through it on the way to the Nyika Plateau the following day, but we hadn’t banked on the RAIN.  Overnight it poured, and was still trying in the morning.  We tried to drive up to Livingstonia, the mud on the road was of the African zero-friction variety that means when you try to drive forward, gravity takes control not traction, and you actually just edge sideways towards the big ditches.  We parked up and decided to walk, that was slippy too.  Livingstonia is like a little slice of Britain in Africa, built mainly by early UK missionaries.  The views off the hillside over Lake Malawi were beautiful.

When we returned to the Disco we popped into “Blessings Restaurant” as we had the previous day for lunch.  Charles the owner sorted us Nsima (maize based stodge) & mushrooms which was delicious, but I preferred the Nsima & Beans he produced the day before.  Charles is a lovely man, we chatted for a while and it turned out he was trying to get himself and 2 huge bags of  maize back down the hill to the main road to take it to market, hence good deed no. 2:

We loaded the maize in our 3rd seat, and Charles climbed onto the back bumper and held on tight.  After half an hour of bumping (the road was already nearly dry, it happens so fast), we rounded a corner to find a small Toyota saloon car in the ditch, the 7 grown men who were travelling in it were stood scratching their heads, hence good deed no. 3:

We dug out our towing straps and shackles, attached Disco to Toyota and with remarkable ease dragged the car back onto the dry bit of road in the middle.  Then we carried on for another half hour down to the main road and dropped of Charles and his Maize.

The rain and good deeds had shaken our plans up a lot, so we decided to stop en-route to Nyika in a small town of Rumphi, and we happened across a fantastic camp site run in conjunction with a large orphanage and medical centre called Matunka.  They had the place running sweetly with a good basic restaurant, and small Safari company too. We decided straight away we’d stop here on the way back from Nyika.  As we left the following morning Patrick (the Safari guide) stopped us and said “Are you still going to Nyika?  I have a friend with a small water pump who needs to head to the lodge up there”.  Hence good deed no.4:

We said yes.  The pump turned out to be about 1.5 meters long & weigh about 100kg, but it was accompanied by a very smiley guy called Rasarus, so we strapped the pump on the roof, and Razarus in our 3rd seat, and headed off

Jen: The drive up to the Nyika Plateau was slow, the rain meant we had to take it really steady. We’d climbed up to nearly 2500m although it was a gradual thing. The scenery had changed to something very reminiscent of Wales or Yorkshire with rolling hills, forested areas and lots of greenery, the main difference being the zebras and antelope wandering around. On arrival we managed to get the pump off the roof and then head up to our little campsite and chilled out with zebras grazing just in front of us. Sam and Razarus looked after us at the camp with constantly seeing to the camp fire and ensuring there was always hot water (a very nice treat indeed).

NiykaPlateau

NiykaPlateau

The following morning we decided to rent a couple of mountain bikes and enjoy some of the trails in the park. Rich, Dave, Cathy, Chris, Jon, Darren & Karen you’d all have been thoroughly unimpressed with Ben and my biking skills. The terrain was pretty hilly and we struggled with some of the hills almost immediately, we did try and blame some of our unfitness on the altitude. We battled on for a few hours before heading back, now every time we hit a hill my legs just turned to jelly but the scenery all around was beautiful and it was so so peaceful up there.

Despite wanting to explore the park more the following morning we woke up to a cloud of greyness and the rain looked like it was very set in for the day. We therefore reluctantly decided to head back to Rumphi. From there we stopped off in Mzuzu, a relatively large town for Malawi where we could stock up on some supplies. We’re now in Nkata Bay. Yesterday when we arrived the Lake was a beautiful turquoise colour and the beach just stunning. This morning as Ben has mentioned it’s raining and everything looks a little more grey. From here we’re going to head down to Lake coast and towards Liongwe (Malawi Capital)  before gradually heading towards Mozambique. Fingers crossed the rainy season doesn’t bring too much more rain!

Posted in Malawi & Mozambique, Uganda Rwanda & Tanzania | 2 Comments

Installment 11 – Mixing things up (slightly) in Tanzania

Jen: Some of you know that Ben and I decided to save the crazy $1000 it would have cost to go gorilla trekking in Uganda. We decided to put some of that cash towards mixing things up a bit and taking a little excursion over to Zanzibar for an African Music Festival – Sauti Za Busara which had come highly recommended by some friends.

We took a very fast and efficient (very un-African!) catamaran over to the island and spent our days exploring the rambling maze that is Stone Town, massively different to anywhere else we have been in Tanzania with it’s Arabic and Indian influences. We also took a couple of trips, one out to Prison Island for some snorkelling and to check out some gigantic tortoises that live on the island. The other trip was organised courtesy of Bens mate Woody who happens to run a safari company – Wildthings here in Tanzania so knows the best places to go. We had a great day checking out the Jozani Forest and the nearby Zanzibar Butterfly Centre and Zala reptile park All are doing great things with the local community to conserve the forest and educate/ help them to earn sustainable incomes. We then went popped up to Paje, a huge expanse of Indian Ocean white beach and turquoise waters which comes alive each afternoon with hundreds of kite surfers. Kite surfing always looks pretty amazing and we both though that if it weren’t so cold at home it would be a fantastic place to learn a new hobby.

KiteSurfer&Boat,Paje

KiteSurfer&Boat,Paje

We made sure we were back in Stone Town by late afternoon ready to enjoy the music… over to Ben who wanted to do a little review of Sauti Za Busara

Zanzibar Music Festival – Butler’s verdict

The main festival runs over Fri/Sat/Sunday, well 3 evenings/nights really, kicking off at 5ish and running though to the early hours (Which is incredible really ‘cos the venue is the old fort right in the center of Stone Town, a pretty unique and intimate gig venue.  We didn’t really know much of the artists playing before they came on stage, so an African Music Magical Mystery tour unrolled in front of us.  Most memorable acts for me:

Khaira Arby – THE HIGHLIGHT OF THE SHOW FOR ME, NO QUESTION.  Khaira is a Malian Blues singer, the “undisputed queen of Malian desert Soul” the program said.  I assumed it was going to be quite traditional for some reason, I think because Khaira came onto the stage in a quite fantastic outfit of massive gold jewellery, and a shawl and nightdress, that made her look like a lovely granny.  But boy can she rock.  She was one of those people who arrives on stage saying “I’m here, watch this” and captivates the crowd.  There was the biggest cheer between each song as she put her heart and soul into the performance.  The look of sheer pleasure on her face when she stepped back to listen to her bands screaming bluesy wah-wah guitar solos was infectious.  After her last song and a further huge ovation she left the stage, but not before retrieving her massive granny handbag from behind the bass amp, just brilliant!! 

I struggled to find some footage on the net that did the whole thing justice, this isn’t good sound quality, but you’ll get the idea……..

Sousou & Maher Cissoko – THE HIGHLIGHT OF THE SHOW FOR JEN – Sousou is from Stockholm-Sweden, Maher isfrom Dakar-Senegal, and with their band they made some fantastic music, a very talented duo.  Quite mellow and centered around the incredible Cora playing of Maher.  Sousou occasionally played a second Cora, but mainly she accompanied on guitar and sang beautifully. Most songs came from their album “Stockholm to Daker”, an album about their Overland journey between the 2, as you can imagine, we liked that idea a lot.  Favourite tune, “Jangfata”  Which means “drive” apparently, listen to it here but beware it may get stuck in your head … 

Comrade Fatso & Chabvondoka – A gang from Zimbabwe, famed in Zim for there political songs that speak out against, in Comrade Fatso’s words, “A country that is difficult to live in”.  They are banned on Zim radio, so are also famed for getting round this by getting there CD’s in all the CD players of the buses around the country.  I wasn’t expecting to like it much as the billing said “a blend of spoken word, rap, hiphop, reggae and more”, but the more was awesome.  A full on band funking the fort, and not a drum machine in site, perfect.  Fatso’s rapping tye thing is not usually my cup of tea, but he is good at what he does, and commands the stage, well nearly…   For the whole gig Amara Brown guest starred in quite an interesting outfit, with some crazy dance moves and a brilliant voice that pulled the whole sound together nicely, I cant find any footage on the net that really compares to what we heard, no Amara Brown, and the non-live stuff has a different feel, but if you’re interested listen here

Owiny Sigoma Band –  I’m really torn on what to say here.  They are a band formed of Londoners and Kenyans.  They are signed on Giles Petersons record label, and (as I found from a quick search round on the net) they seem to have collaborated with Damon Albarn, so they obviously like them.  On one hand I really liked the funky grooves they got into, and the Kenyan singer who joins the mix with a very traditional singing style (and a fantastic head-dress).  But on the other hand the grooves never went anywhere at all, and they seemed to have forgotten their sound crew, meaning the keyboard & lead guitar were inaudible, so was the London boys vocal bits.  They actually played twice, once on Friday, once on Saturday, and on Friday they finished the gig telling the crowd they were just warming up, and the next day would be “very different”.  It wasn’t, they looked as disinterested the following day.  All in all I wanted to like it, but was ultimately massively disappointed.  I would however go and see them again in the hope that there sound team made it on the plane next time.  A couple of tunes from the tinternet that sound way better than what we heard….

Atongo Zimba – A “cowboy” from Ghana.  We missed his first appearance, solo with his 2 stringed African banjo on Friday, but he was back on Sunday, we’d heard he was good.

Between Friday & Sunday he’d put a band together from random members of other bands at the festival, practised for about 10 minutes, and gone for it.  It was interesting! At first I didn’t know it was an ad-hoc jam, so was a little confused by the disarray….  The only coherent part seemed to be Atongo & his banjo, and that sounded great.  The guy has a fairly impressive presence on the stage, he’s clearly a man who knows what he wants. He definitely let the guys on the sound desk next to the stage know, first by pointing and gesticulating a lot, then by telling them quite clearly between tunes.  Both failed so the highlight of the show for me was watching him wander stage left with a huge African beaming smile before turning on the sound dudes and giving them an almighty bolloking (you could only see it, not hear it unfortunatly).  This didn’t stop him playing both strings of the banjo perfectly though.  The bolloking finished, the smile returned, and Atongo strode back to the mic and carried on.  Wonderful.  Despite the chaos of the Jam, you could tell Mr Zimba was good, I wish we’d seen him on his own on Friday.

See and hear some of the less caitic jam here, actual footage from the festival filmed by a guy about 3 rows in front of me on his massive iPad, I hope that doesn’t become a popular gig feature, you can barely see round the bloody thing!!

Mokoomba – A hugely energetic (and sweaty) band from Zimbabwe.  A great band to get the party going, with some crazy dance moves, and plenty of stuff going on to keep you entertained.  Here’s a little snippit for you from another gig…

Cheikh Lo – An “internationally acclaimed…… great maverick” from Senegal, he headlined the last night, and with good cause.  Another set of fantastic outfits and music, Cheikh’s singing and guitar playing drove the band forward, and on some songs he sat and played drums and sang, and what a drummer too.  The Festival was nicely wrapped up by them at about 2am.  Listen to Cheikh here….

Jen: Before and after the music festival we’ve spent a few days in Dar Es Salaam. Woody has very kindly put us up in his lovely house in Mbezi beach, complete with a very refreshing swimming pool.  A big thanks to Woody for making us feel so welcome and also Tanya who initially contacted us to tell us about the music festival and to invite us to stay. Ben and I have really appreciated having a proper house to stay in, as much as we love our tent it makes for a nice change.

Going back to the start of journey in Tanzania, after crossing the border we took a strange little detour up North as we needed to rectify the fact we’d driven all around Lake Victoria without actually seeing it. We spent a couple of days in Bukoba, camped up on the beach next to the lake listening to the waves breaking on the shore at night. Bukoba sees very few tourists and we enjoyed wandering around, checking out the local market and also eating quite a bit of local fish – Tilapia.

From Bukoba we headed south towards Tarangerie National Park. We had our first experience of the friendly (give me some cash) Tanzanian police…

Ben: Friendly!!! They drive you mad in Tanzania, you get stopped all the time for “checks” and stupid stuff.  On this occasion they weren’t happy cos I’d (just) crossed “a solid white line” in the middle of the road to overtake a car stopping in front of me.  I wasn’t in the mood for this at all.  We “chatted” for a long time about how it wasn’t dangerous and how arbitrary the line painting and speed limit signage is on Tanzanian roads, and how Mzungo’s (Foreigners) seem to be stopped more than anyone else, and how dangerous the bus drivers are and how they should be looking out for them.  Then the boss said that the 30,000 shilling fine I was being given could be “reduced” without a ticket (like they always do), and I was off the hook.  I just ranted loudly about how corrupt the police are in Tanzania and how I needed the guys name and badge number, and miraculously I was told I should carry on my way!!  I’ll be trying that one again.  On our day trip in Zanzibar (which is an island 25 by 50km), we were stopped in the car Woody hired 6 times in one day.  It must be a good way of reducing unemployment!!   

Tarangerie NP had come recommended as a great park with lots of wildlife and beautiful scenery but without the extortionate price tag of the Serengeti. The park is full of massive Boab trees that are hundreds of years old. One used to be used as a hide by poachers and you can walk right inside. We saw lots of elephants and giraffes. We drove around following reports of leopards and lions but weren’t lucky enough to see either. The closest we got was seeing a cat was half an antelope that the leopard had dragged up a tree before disappearing as he was a bit shy. We later heard that a sneaky lion had popped up the tree and taken the leopards dinner.

We took a little excursion up to Marangu which is where hikes to Kilimanjaro start and finish and enjoyed walking around the local countryside. We got a couple of glimpses between the clouds of the snow capped mountain.

We then took the main road across the Masai plains before winding our way up 1000 metres to the fantastic Usambarra Mountains and a little farm near Lushoto. The farm is run by the local church and produce all sorts of delicious produce such as cheese, muesli and mango chutney. The profits are then used to fund a local orphanage and school for the blind. We also had a fantastic camping spot looking down at the beautiful forest and farmland below.

Irente_Usumbarra

Irente_Usumbarra

We then decided to head North, further into the Usumbarra mountains as our guide book said the little village of Mtae was spectacular with had 270 degrees views all around from the cliff tops. As we were leaving the farm the Manager Peter told us about a Eco lodge and said it was worth us stopping by. I had the job of sorting out Sally Sat Nav and forcing it down the roads we’d been advised to use… unfortunately something went a little wrong and we found ourselves on a tiny track, barely wide enough for a car with lots of branches and massive gullies where the rain had washed the road away… we persevered and finally got back onto the ‘main road’ (well the road the buses use at least).

We were heading for the small village of Mambo where the lodge was located. We then got into further difficulties with the Sat Nav (not my doing this time!) when it took us up a dead end road and we had a few slightly angry villages not best impressed that we were driving our big old 4×4 up the road! Finally we adopted the old fashioned approach – i.e get out and ask someone! and got ourselves on the little road up to Mambo View Eco Lodge. A truly stunning little place that has been built by a Dutch couple. The views from wherever you are in the lodge are just magnificent and the whole atmosphere of the lodge only adds to it’s appeal. There are some swanky cottages that you can stay in perched on the edge of the cliffs but we had our very own little overlanders campsite which also had amazing views. We spent a couple of days soaking up the surroundings and also walking around the local village.

It was fascinating to learn how a couple with a Telecommunications background had gone about building the lodge on top of a mountain and then setting up numerous projects in the local area. The projects assist in improving education and teaching the locals new skills that could bring them a sustainable income, with the long term aim of reducing poverty in the area. You could tell that they had definitely got the buy in of the local community as the villagers were very welcoming wherever we went.

From Mambo we took the less well travelled road down from the Mountains on the north side and made our way down towards Tanga. We went from being cold the night before to getting very hot and sticky next to banana trees and padi fields, it was quite a contrast in the space of a few hours. We continued onto a little beachside camp called Peponis. We had the luxury of a beautiful Indian ocean beach and the swimming pool. We also took a little dhow trip out to the nearby reef for our first snorkelling trip on our journey.

From Dar we plan to head South making our way to Malawi and then Mozambique. I’m quite looking forward to climbing to a bit higher altitude and everything cooling down slightly!

Posted in Uganda Rwanda & Tanzania | 6 Comments

Installment 10 – Kicking back a bit in Uganda & Rwanda

Ben – On the face of it Rwanda is the cleanest, tidiest, most well organised country we have been to so far in our Africa adventure, with the most careful and considerate drivers who seem to adhere to the law (eg: we never saw more than 2 people on a motorbike, they were always wearing helmets. Yes I was surprised too!!

Prior to being here in Rwanda we journeyed through Uganda where the driving is some of the worst I’ve encountered anywhere in the world, it seems to be a country of risk takers.  But we survived.

Maybe Uganda’s risk taking mentality is the result of, or the reason that it has the reputation of being Africa’s adrenaline sport capital?  Or maybe that is just because it happens to sit on a very wild section of the Nile river as it leaves it’s source at the massive Lake Victoria.  (We’ve effectively been driving round it for the last 4 weeks and haven’t seen it yet! – we plan to put this right in Tanzania in a couple of days time).

The Nile rapids near Jinja, Uganda are grade 5 stunners, with walls of water 3 meters high or more, perfect for the rafting industry that flourishes around them and draws other craziness to the area (Bungee jumping, quad biking etc).  In the bar on our first night in Jinja there we got talking to Mathia & Sasha from San Fransico, they’d decided not to go rafting, but to tackle the rapids in the front seat of a tandem Kayak (the back being occupied by a pro paddler). They said it was “Awesome” (I think that’s the word they used, if not then they should have because they are from the states!).  We were sold, it sounded incredible, so we signed ourselves up.  Paulo Babi (great name) was my Kayak Pro, he told me he came 64th in the World Championships, and it seems from a bit of Googling that this is probably true.  He assured me I was helping not hindering progress, and we managed to get through the day without capsizing once (apart from practising beforehand), as did Jen & Peter, but how I don’t know, the water was huge.  All I can say is it was indeed Awesome, and it’s a pretty unique experience to tackle that kind of challenge with no skill or experience.  Anyone going to Jinja should have a go, but close your mouth in the big stuff, Jen swallowed a load a Nile water and was ill for a few days after, I got away with a nasty cough & cold type thing!!   Kayaking did mean a day without a camera though, so no 11 O’clock shot (only the second one missed to date), I’ll try to find some Youtube footage of kayaking near Jinja to fill that gap.

In Uganda’s capital, Kampala, it was more shock absorber Hokey-Cokey (you put the right one on, take the left one off etc etc).  Our Disco runs with extra shocks on the back, so 4 rear shocks in total, and it seems the mounts for extra ones are inferior to Landrovers originals.  I spent a long day in a workshop trying to get some more welding done to a decent standard.  Now it depends on your definition of decent, but its all back together and hasn’t cracked or rattled loose again yet (that’s nearly 3 weeks).

In Kampala we also met Clive & Tanya who have a pretty identical “Footloose 4×4” converted Discovery and are approaching year 4 of there eighteen month trip !! (Sounds like a project I once worked on!!).  They’ve come down the west side of Africa, and are now on their way back up the East, and there trip does seem to have suffered some “Slippage”, but good on them. (Incidentally they’re not running extra rear shocks, they have an “Air Lift” after market air-spring system which looks dead simple and has given them no issues, might be worth looking at it by any chance your considering a trip like this).

By complete chance in the same camp ground in Kampala was another “Footloose 4×4” built car, Chuck the Land Cruiser and his owners Alison & Richard.  They are really good fun too, but sadly also heading North so we won’t see them again on our journey.  We did spend a couple of days with them in the stunning Queen Elizabeth National Park (NP) though, and got a chance to see first hand how stressful being a bird spotter/watcher can be.  Ali was furiously trying to record all the new spots as we cruised along the channel between lakes Edward & George but her hard work seems to be paying off as she’s up to 355 different birds so far.

Buffalo&Mountains_QE

Buffalo&Mountains_QE

Uganda is a beautiful country, we also visited the Sipi waterfalls in the North, some Crater lakes near FortPortal, and did a crazily steep “Hill walk” near the RwenzoriMountains that nearly finished us both off with our post-rafting ailments.  The lakes in the South-West (Bunyonyi & friends) are gorgeous, and when you cross into Rwanda, it just gets better.

SipiFallsWalk

SipiFallsWalk

Jen: On our travels we’ve met the odd other traveller, and even more occasionally other overlanders.  We really enjoyed Uganda where we met lots of different people and seemed to spend each night chatting to different people (great news as after 4 months on the road Ben and I don’t have a lot left to say to each other!). Things started well when we were stood at the Kenya to Ugandan Immigration office and heard an Aussie accent trying to sort out his paperwork – hello to Ray and Avril, a great couple who have driven up the West Coast in their Landcuriser, over to London to check out the Olympics and are now driving back down the East Coast. We shared some good stories, meals, nibbles and drinks for a few nights with Ray and Avril whilst putting the world to rights on various subjects. Unfortunately they’re travelling a bit quicker than us in order to meet up with their kids but with a bit of luck a bit of luck we’ll catch up with them again sometime soon.

Rwanda is known as the “land of a thousand hills”, and you can see why.  In our first 4 days in the country we stayed on the west side, up against Lake Kivu & the Congo.  In 4 days the steering wheel only pointed straight as you changed from turning right to turning left.  The roads just wind on and on through the terraced hills of tea, coffee & rice fields, or miles of trees when your inside the parks.

Jen: It seems only right at this point that I add a bit about Rwandan trucks (some of you at home I know appreciate truck news). There’s a great bit of brand new tarmac road near Nyungwe NP, courtesy of the Chinese (in fact Ben says it’s better than some race circuits he’s driven on)  that winds up and down into the rainforest. There’s very few vehicles on the road but as you proceed all you can smell is burnt out truck brakes, then as you go around the odd corner there will be a whole load of tree branches in the road to alert you to the next obstacle – the carcas of a truck that clearly cooked his brakes and has come off the side of the road. My favourite one of these was actually the trailer sat in the middle of the road with flames leaping out the side of it, the driver and tractor unit (cab) no where to be seen… we thought we better tell one of the rangers as there are signs all over the forest warning of the dangers of fire in a National Park!

The parks are famed for their Monkey Business, the most famous of all, the worlds last remaining Mountain Gorrilla’s.  As most people visiting Rwanda/Uganda do, we umm’ed and arrghed for a long time about spending the 500-750 dollars per person to trek into the forest to spend an hour with them.  This is undoubtedly a unique experience, but we finally we decided not to, and to save the cash for other things.  Instead we spent a morning with Christian (a forest guide) and 4 “trackers” in the Nyungwe NP in search of Chimpanzees.  More super-steep hills to contend with, and this time through the rain forest, well off any kind of path for much of the time.  We did get some heart stopping glimpses of the Chimps about 10 meters away on the ground and in the trees, but sadly glimpses was all we had.  Apparently the “Fruit season” starts again in March, so at the moment food is scarce for them, and this makes them break into much smaller groups than is normal making them hard to locate & more shy of humans.  It was still a great few hours.

ChimpGlimpse

ChimpGlimpse

Eastern Rwanda is hilly, but much less so than the west.  Even the capital Kigali is built on top of about 10 good size hills, so getting across town involves more weaving right & left.  On the last Saturday of every month it is law across the country that everyone does 3 hours of community cleaning (8-11am), so the streets are spotless.  The out of town piles of rubbish you see in the rest of Africa & the developing world just don’t exist here, and plastic carrier bags are banned too.  We were in Kigali on the last Saturday of the month, and walking across town was eerie.  Because everyone is in their own neighbourhood cleaning, the city streets are empty of people & vehicles, it feels like a ghost town.

When it’s not cleaning morning Kigali is a really pleasant modern feeling city.  I was musing this on Saturday night as we sat in a bar overlooking the city supping a “Primus” beer to wash down one of the best curries I’ve had outside of India, and waiting for the band to come on………

…  Less than 20 years ago an evil force so strong was unleashed in this country, that in 100 days, 1 million people were killed by death squads trained by their own government.  The night-cityscape we were looking over would have been stacked full of dead human bodies apparently being eaten by the hungry street dogs, whilst the rest of the world seemed to be looking the other way.  We visited 3 memorials to this terrible event over the past 2 days, one in Kigali where 250,000 victims are buried in mass graves, and two others 30km south of Kigali where over 50,000 more bodies lie.  In Kigali a Museum of the events sits next to the Memorial with an account of events that lead up to this Genocide and others in Kosovo, Nazi Germany, Namibia & others.  No sense can be made of any of it in my head, and it leaves you thinking that it seems incredibly easy for one small group of evil evil people to brainwash enough others do this kind of thing.  May it never happen again in the world, but chances are, it will.

On that cheery note I’ll bid you farewell for now, sorry if it put a downer on your day.  Maybe Jen can lift the mood ??

Jen – As Ben said we had the most amazing curry (which is worth a second mention) and then decided to follow the advice from our hostel for some live Rwandan music. It was all slightly odd as we wandered down a deserted but very nice street in a pretty affluent area of Kigali, the type of road that houses a few embassies. We then found the bar and wandered in, they confirmed there was live music and it started “when the band turn up” – very useful indeed! Things were looking promising however as there was a drum kit and a bass guitar set up with somebody checking that the microphones worked. Whilst waiting for the band I enjoyed looking over the very orderly streets of Kigali and doing a bit of people watching of the well off locals enjoying the bar. The music being played wasn’t really our thing – raga type music (no idea what it was actually called – think I’m showing my age now!) but Ben and I spontaneously burst into laugher when a few tracks were played, so similar to Flight of the Conchords – She’s so Hot – Boom, that they it was scary… Anyway after quite some waiting and laughing at the dj’s choice of music the ‘band’ came on. It wasn’t quite the authentic Rwandan music we were looking for, instead 3 guys dressed up as gangster rappers came on talking over some backing tracks that intermittently kept turning off – a cross between a bad karoke and a bad X Factor audition – we made a pretty sharp exit and headed home for the night.

As much as we’d like to spend more time in Rwanda it’s pretty hard as it fits more or less inside 200km square so we’re now heading to Tanzania for, our seventh African Country.

Posted in Uganda Rwanda & Tanzania | 8 Comments

Installment 9 – “It is too close, but I kinda like it!”

Jen: This was Ben’s response when I asked him if I’d parked too close to a group of lions sat under a tree in the Masai Mara. As we talked about the game viewing on our last instalment it seems only fitting to tell you about the finale of our safaris in Kenya. There were a few things we weren’t expecting from the Masai Mara
1) to get stuck on the roads that access the park
2) to get absolutely drenched in several torrential downpours
3) to pull up next to a group of lions and later a couple of
cheetahs with not another vehicle in site

We’d heard many good things about the Masai, in particular how easy it is to see cats (as you know something we’d mainly missed on previous safaris) but I’d also worried that it was going to cost silly amounts of money and that there would be a ridiculous number of cars in the park. Fortunately there were times when no one else was around and it wasn’t as expensive as we’d feared. Some lovely family members also gave us money towards the Masai as a Christmas present so thanks so much to all of you.

The whole experience started with us trying to stay at Talek Gate (one of the few areas where you can camp outside the park without paying the $80 daily fee). What we hadn’t quite realised is that the main roads to the park take you to other gates and you then have to drive through the park to get to Talek. As this involved paying the fee we were trying to avoid of course we didn’t go for that option …. instead we turned off the tarmac roads (also bear in mind we’d had quite a few days of rain beforehand to the point Ben started complaining it was too much like home) and asked a couple of safari drivers coming the other way what the roads were like. We were told “ a bit wet for 1km then they’re fine…”. It soon became clear that the road wasn’t “fine” after 1km, we waited for a landcruiser to pull a saloon car out of a flood and then took as many hints as we could, following him along, bouncing left, right, front and back (pretty much at the same time) through massive holes filled with mud. There was also a pink bus, complete with sofa on the roof that looked like he was going to topple over but somehow managed to make his way along.

Progress was slow worrying we were going to get stuck and we began to think that we weren’t going to make it to the camp in the light. The local Masai people didn’t seem overly friendly and we couldn’t imagine there was anywhere else to camp. Fortunately the road improved and I got a bit too confident that Sally Traffic (GPS) was correct in her estimated arrival time of 18:00 (Ben did tell me not to get carried away)… then we hit a big steep water crossing where the river had just washed the road away. There was a truck stuck in all the mud and we had to go through the water and take a very steep slope of mud up the other side. The disco wasn’t playing and we all recoiled as we heard her slide back onto the rocks in the bottom of the river a couple of times. Fortunately no damage was done. Ben wasn’t perturbed and after a few different attempts and the best part of an hour he managed to get the disco up the other side (we realised in the middle of all this that the diff lock had stopped working hence the difficulty).

We finally made it to Aruba camp just before it got really dark and got chatting to a lovely couple from Germany – Gerrard and Inge who had done lots of travelling across Africa and had lots of hints for us.

The following morning involved Ben getting covered in mud trying to fix the diff lock (which of course he managed) and a massive downpour before we entered the park around midday. Initially I wondered whether the drive was going to be like our earlier game viewing attempts but we met a very friendly mini bus driver who gave us very clear instructions of where to see some lions. Our first glimpse was a massive male, sat there with his mane in full view and looking straight at us. The one other safari vehicle soon disappeared and we had the place to ourselves, we then saw 4 other lions sleeping under a neighbouring tree and you could here them breathing. We turned the engine off and just enjoyed sitting watching them, it then seemed obvious for us to sit and enjoy our lunch at the same time and figured the lions wouldn’t be too interested in a potato salad!

MasaiLion

MasaiLion

After lunch we made our way onwards to search for other wildlife, it wasn’t long before we saw the same minibus driver and we thanked him for pointing us to the lions, in response he asked if we’d seen the cheetahs. We again followed his instructions and it wasn’t long before we saw a group of cars, as we pulled up there was no sign of cheetahs but instead a pile of vultures and underneath the carcass of the cheetahs dinner. We then drove a few hundred metres and Christine spotted the cheetahs lying on the ground, there faces were pink, covered in blood from their dinner, they were breathing really heavily, they had enormous bellies from all the food they’d just eaten and clearly had the meat sweats! The cars disappeared and again we sat for an hour or so just watching the cheetahs and soaking up the whole experience.

MasaiCheetahs

MasaiCheetahs

It was approaching late afternoon when we then saw a couple of hyenas, they ran towards the carcass, the next minute we saw a lion who was limping along, clearly injured with two open wounds that had clearly been made by the antlers of her prey. We followed the hyenas who ended back at the carcass, they soon saw the vultures off, a couple of jackals also tried to get involved in the action but the hyenas were having none of it. The injured lion just lay in the grass and we weren’t sure if she was going to try and take the remains, knowing that she was too weak to kill her own dinner. As all of this was unravelling we looked up and became aware that the whole place had filled up with safari vehicles and there must have been 30+ cars and minibuses all vying for position… we were now in the middle of a Masai traffic jam! As it was approaching time for us to leave the park we drove back to camp, not quite believing what we’d just seen that afternoon.

The following morning we drove for a couple of hours without seeing much wildlife although the open African savannahs were pretty impressive none the less. It was approaching the time we needed to leave the park when another nice mini bus driver asked if we’d seen the 20-30 lions!! We then went on the hunt following his advice and it wasn’t too long before we saw a car pulled up next to a tree, underneath it were 4-5 lions, the tree next to it had 4 or so adult lions and lots of little babies. Each tree nearby seemed to have a group of lions under it and we realised the driver hadn’t been exaggerating when he said how many there were. As we drove out of the park we saw elephants and giraffe in the distance and it was a lovely way end to our whole Masai experience.

Ben – I said I wanted to see Cats (not the musical) and the Masai really delivered, after our unexpected mud bath on the way in, it was great that the experience was so good. It also generated the quote of the trip for me so far, from Jen within the first hour of Masai’ing …. “Look over there on the horizon, animals, animals over there, look………., err no it’s a car……………..Please pass my glasses”

Before the Masai Mara we’d met Chris (my sister) in Nairobi, us girls had a lovely afternoon catching up over lunch and then heading back to her rather nice hotel room for the evening. It all became a bit surreal for me after 3 months on the road. Chris’s room had bed sheets that fitted, a duvet, a hot shower that didn’t flood the bathroom and a toilet complete with a seat! We nattered away whilst looking through fashion magazine she’d brought from home and we watched Come Dine With Me and Nigellas Christmas dinners – all very very strange and it made me realise that I don’t miss the mags or tv at all really.

Ben – This was strictly a girls night in, I had a mad lads night in with the Disco & Cedric at the same Overland Camp we’d use on the first Nairobi visit (Jungle Junction). I went mad and had a couple of beers, but Cedric went a bit crazy and 3 or 4, all he could do the next day was sit on the dashboard! Lazy Cedric.


From Nairobi we headed out to Lake Naivasha, all our fears of not finding nice, affordable accommodation at Christmas were unfounded as we camped up lovely little spot called Carnelleys. We camped right next to the lake and there was a lovely bar and restaurant on site. We had a couple of pretty chilled out days, visiting Elsamere Conservation Centre (the home of Joy and George Adamson of Born Free fame) where we had some rather nice tea and cake. Chris also treated us to a Xmas Eve boat ride where we saw loads of birdlife where Ben and my knowledge consists of “little blue one”, “green beaked one”, “pelican looking one” although we did manage to identify the fish eagle as it scooped up the fish out of the water just next to our boat. We then saw loads and loads of hippos and it made for a lovely Xmas Eve excursion.

 

Christmas day consisted of a cooked breakfast from Carnelleys restaurant, some games of cards and backgammon and some chilling out with books before we got the camp fire on the go to cook up our nice fillet steak for Christmas Dinner. We all really enjoyed our dinner, complete with mince pies for pudding.

XmasDinner_Naivasha

XmasDinner_Naivasha

From Naivasha we popped into Kericho and visited the Kenyan tea plantations. We spent New Year in the largeish town of Kisumu where we had a very nice meal and went to an expat type bar, run by a dutch lady for new year celebrations. We also spent a couple of days in some smaller National parks/ reserves in Mount Elgon and the Kamecha Forest where we got to do a little leg stretching, learn about some medicinal plants and saw a lot of baboons and Columbus monkeys. From Mount Elgon we put Chris back on a Matatu (minibus) for her to make her way back to Nairobi before we drove on to Uganda where we are looking forward to experience the white water in Jinja.
Happy New Year to everyone, thanks for reading our blog and please continue to stay in touch as it’s lovely to hear from you all whilst we’re on the road.

Posted in Ethiopia & Kenya | 14 Comments

Merry Christmas & some top 5’s !!

Ben – On the very wet drive into Nairobi (along the same road for the second time!) we got to thinking & talking about our trip so far.  Kenya for Christmas was always our “plan” / aim, and we’re here.  The chat  resulted in a good old set of “top 5’s (Clara I know how you love a travelling top 5 session!!).  We thought we’d share them along with a quick HAPPY CHRISTMAS message from all aboard the Disco, thanks for showing an interest in the blog and sending messages and generally staying in touch, Ben & Jen

Top 5: Food & Drink

At 5:  Sudanese fruit Juices – The guys on the street with a table, a food blender and a massive pile of mango, grapefruit, Orange, Banana, you name it, deliciuous (Just ignore the glass of nile water they throw in with it !!)

At 4:  Turkish coffee in Port Said (Egypt!!).  Jen hates it, but I just cant get enough of the cardamom spiciness’, ummmm

At 3:  The very “Un-overland” Champagne dinner we had with my Dad & Sue right back in France on about day 3, luxury looking back !!

At 2:  Fillet steak ala Harry Arssee.  Yes Harry & Barts surname really is Arssee (Brilliant).  To be 3 days into bush camping down lake Turkana and have Harry pull a massive Beef Fillet out of his Freezer (yes these guys do it in style) was incredible.  Cooked on a grate over a roaring fire it was one of the best piece of meet I’ve ever eaten, and was accompanied perfectly by a South African Red (we drank the lot, sorry Harry!)

And no 1:  Injera in Hawzien.  In Ethiopia they don’t really do bread, they have injera with everything.  It’s a kind of sour pancake, a bit like Apam in India, you love it or hate it.  It’s very often served with meat in a spicy red sauce laced with something like cayenne pepper, it smells so distinctive I think it almost defines Ethiopia, there bank notes stink of it as they don’t use cutlery here !!  We (you share one big plate, with a massive injera on it and a pile of spicy meat on top) had the most perfect example in a cheap food place in Hawzien.

Top 5: Bush Camps

At 5:  Near Siboli National Park with campfire, Lake Turkana route, See “Fillet steak alla Harry Arssee” above

At 4:  The very first desert camp back in Egypt.  After struggling to find a nice bush camp during our euro dash, then coping with the turkey-egypt ferry and the craziness of Cairo, it was sooooo nice to park up undisturbed under a sky of stars in the Western Dessert

At 3:  Another camp on Turkana route, overlooking the lake, windy but stunning, and I managed to chat with my Dad on the sat phone to say Happy Birthday too (he was stood in a que a Heathrow airport though, timimg very poor, I must do better next time).

At 2:  Sudan desert, near Dongola.  After our excursion to the deep sand near Old Dongola and a day of digging the car out, it was another sky of stars, and a dune horizon to bring the day to a fantastic end.

And no 1:  More desert (you cant beat desert camping), the best spot we found was on the edge of the white dessert, take a look back at our Egypt pics if you like, words cant explain how stunning this rocky dessert is (the photos only do it a little justice too!).

Top 5: Days

At 5: Axum, Ethiopia.  More my fav  than Jens, and a nothing kind of day at an animal market, mooching, and getting some welding done on the Disco.  The guys at the little dirty workshop were great, the animal market real (no Faraje here), and I liked Axum for a reason I cant put my finger on.  A good day.

At 4: Climbing to the Rock Hewn Church in Hawzien, Ethiopia.  It was hassle hassle hassle all the way, but the shear ridiculousness of the climb to this tiny church, and the views en-route will not be forgotten.

At 3:  Wawa with Mohy and Solub temple.  Compared to Egypt, not a stunning temple, but the boat ride there, the lack of anyone else at all when we arrived, and the hospitality and genuine friendship shown to us by Mohy (who spent all day with us, and not for cash!), sums up our time inSudan very nicely indeed.

At 2:  Turkana, Liongolani day.  The day before was stressful with things breaking and going wrong, but on this day the lake views were fabulous, the groups mood lifted.  The people at the “women’s camp” in Liongolani were so nice, especially the boss, and they seemed to be doing some genuine good for the orphaned kids of the region.  We wish we could have stayed a couple of days.

And no 1:  Samburu national park, Kenya.  An elephant practically poked his trunk through the drivers open window of the disco, and we watched a Leopard up a tree about 10 meters away, what more can I say!  

Top 5: Stresses

At 5:  Turkana trouble day:  We stopped because of a loud knocking coming from the Disco but failed to find the problem, but at the same time found that Jerrys fan/water pump was failing fast (no spare), Harrys air system was going the same way.  We spent a couple of hours trying to contain the issues.  The road was endless bleak, rough rough rough dry river bed crossing & rocks that shook everything loose, Harry speared a tree with the truck and spent an hour or so sorting the damage,  then the Disco knocking got worse and we found the sheared shock.  We wondered if we’d all bitten off more than we could chew, but we hadn’t, it all turned out OK, just slow & bumpy!

At 4:  Old Dongola, Sudan.  We headed off the tar into sand, deep sand, and got stuck, very stuck, 2 or 3 times.  The people we encountered were desperately asking for anything and trying take things out of our hands.  Finally we decided we had bitten off too much and turned back.  I hate turning back!

At 3:  Jens Mortgage !!!!!  A few days before we left the UK,  Jen went to the Nationwide to move all the mortgage overpayments she’d been making on here house as “savings for trip” into here current account, only to discover she’d got the terms of the overpayment all wrong, and she could not retrieve them!!  It was a tense time trying to work out how we were gonna pay for half the trip, but we’re here, and all is well.  Nice one Jen x

At 2:  Aswan Ferry Car loading.  I wrote plenty about the stress of loading the Disco onto the Barge, watching it get buried in miscellaneous crap, then sail off on a barge without us at the time, it was horrible.  Such a relief to see it on the barge in port at Wadi Halfa when we arrived on the passenger ferry a few days later.

And no 1:  Aswan Passenger Ferry Riot!  Running in sandals (always tricky) away from a mob chucking rocks the size of jacket potatoes is never fun, nor is hiding under a sleeping mat whilst the rocks crash down on you.  The atmosphere in Egypt was tense (post-revolution), and at that moment ut seemed to explode.  All in all the Aswan ferry was “an experience”

Merry Christmas all

Ben & Jen

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments