My last African country for the year and African country No.50.
Burundi is a small country next to Rwanda with a very similar landscape to its neighbour and the Ugandan Highlands. Its population is made up of two tribes, Hutu and Tutsi, like its neighbour Rwanda.
Tourism is nearly non-existent and most governments warn that travelling to Burundi is high risk due violent crimes, such as grenade attacks and armed robbery which occur regularly.
There are also violent street protests, the shutdown of independent media, torture and arbitrary detentions, mass displacement of citizens and the emergence of rebel groups, as well as a recent failed coup attempt. All these are the result of political tensions due to the President running for an additional third term. Sound familiar?
Bouts of ethnic cleansing and ultimately two civil wars and genocides during the 1970s and 1990s have left the country undeveloped and its population as one of the world’s poorest as well as apparently the most unhappy people in the World.
From The Comoros I flew to Dar es Salaam for a night and the following morning flew to Bujumbura via a 40min stop in Kigoma. I really enjoyed the flight seeing some parts of Africa I visited two years ago as well as some new landscape.
From Dar we flew north over the Northern Beaches but I was sitting on the wrong side of the plane to see Zanzibar. We crossed the coast at Bagamoyo where we spent a night last year and followed the road north that we drove along last year on the way to the Usambara’s.
Traveling inland I had my first look at Dodoma and then onwards to Tabora where I followed the road to Kigoma for a while, which we drove in 2017, reminiscing from 25,000ft and eventually crossing the coast of Lake Tanganyika, one of my favourite dive spots, eventually landing in Kigoma.
￼From there we followed the coast flying over Gombe Stream NP where I visited Jane Goodall’s research station three years ago.
Flying down the centre of the lake we had the small Congolese village of Kalisha jutting into the lake and on the other side of the plane the mountains of Burundi.
We flew along the snaking Rusizi River which forms the border, with the DRC ‘Congo’ on the left and Burundi on the right prior to landing in the old capital Bujumbura.
I took the risk of getting a visa on arrival which everyone said I couldn’t do but with the help of a well connected local fixer on the ground he was able to arrange it and entry was easy and efficient.
Not long after landing I was told my planned two days in Kibira NP was not going to happen because of the activities of armed rebels in the area. That was disappointing.
I asked my guide could we go and have a look at the Rusizi River I had just flown over and we were soon on our way. Two hours after landing I was in a boat watching Hippos and Crocs, while cruising the river.
We stopped at a local fishing beach where the fisherman were preparing to head out. The local routine here is fish all night, sell your fish in the morning and then sleep next to your boat in the afternoon.
We finished the first day at a local beach on the side of Lake Tanganyika.
Burundi is a small hilly country, dotted with tiny villages and community farm plots, intersected by countless winding roads spiderwebbing their way across the landscape.
Traveling the countryside its not a whole lot different to the neighbouring regions of Rwanda and Uganda, with lush green patchworked hillsides mainly made up of tea plantations, bananas and pineapples.
Deforestation of the entire country is almost complete due to overpopulation. Burundi has the second highest population density in Sub-saharan Africa.
Despite the roads being surprisingly good, it’s still a slow trip to pretty much everywhere in the country.
Over the next few days we drove out to the Source of the Nile, which is in the mountains about 120km south of Bujumbura and halfway to Tanzania, although technically no one can still agree if the actual ‘source’ is in Rwanda or Burundi. Either way, the locals here are very proud of their ‘source’ and have even built a pyramid nearby as well as a tiled the pool, which kind of makes it more attractive than water bubbling up out of a muddy spring, although I personally prefer the spring.
I also visited the Karera Waterfalls in Rutana Province, which is a set of four waterfalls amongst the rainforest and a nice spot to relax for a while.
During the week we also visited the Livingstone – Stanley monument where explorer and missionary Dr David Livingstone and journalist and explorer Henry Morton Stanley visited and spent two nights on 25–27 November 1871. The location where Stanley said the famous words “Dr Livingstone, I presume?”, is close by in Kigoma, Tanzania and occurred two weeks prior to their stay in Burundi.
No visit to Burundi is complete without seeing and hearing the Royal Drummers. These guys have toured the World, so I expected them to be fairly good but I was blown away by how awesome they were.
There were about twenty of them and I couldn’t stand closer than 6m from them they generated so much noise. It was hard to comprehend how they could generate the sound they did just from a few drums.
It was fast, rhythmical and with lots of bass they were in a different league than all the other displays of drumming I’ve seen in Africa. Absolutely brilliant and worth coming to Burundi just see them. It took me until the second last day of three years in Africa to see them and it was definitely worth the wait.
On my final day we drove the coast road south of Bujumbura, along the shores of Lake Tanganyika but the weather deteriorated at midday and we abandoned our drive.
At the end of my time in Burundi I’m left confused at what I have just witnessed. I arrived expecting to see bad roads, crumbling buildings, rubbish strewn streets and severe poverty, which in most African countries stems from politicians siphoning the country’s money, while the population suffers and infrastructure is barely existent.
What I saw was completely different. I saw good roads, one of the cleanest countries in Africa, nice houses, markets full of fruit and vegetables and friendly people.
I’ve now been to 19/20 of the World’s poorest nations and spent an average of 12.5 days in each one.
My favourite country this year was the Central African Republic, which is just ahead of Sierra Leone, both have incredible remote untouched rainforest, amazing wildlife, adventure and are light years away from the touristy game safari parks of Eastern and Southern Africa. For a beach break, The Seychelles, São Tomé, Sierra Leone and Rodrigues were standouts. For scenery Cape Verde and Réunion were spectacular. It was a great year of travel.
I still have a couple of African nations to visit and will get to them all eventually. I could have visited every African country over the last three years except Libya but I preferred to set a more casual pace.
I haven’t sat down and worked out all the stats but a few are:
Average of two weeks in each country.
Travelled over 50,000km by road.
Crossed about 30 borders by road.
Travelled East Africa by road from Cape Town to Alexandria.
Travelled the West Coast by road from Cape Town to Morocco.
Drove across the Sahara twice.
Travelled East to West and West to East across the continent by road.
Travelled by boat on Africa’s four great rivers, the Nile, Congo, Niger and Zambezi.
There were also lots of fun things that happened that I decided not to put in the blog like inadvertently entering war zones, having crazies pointing guns at you and being arrested, interviewed and detained a few times.
I visited many seriously remote places that took days to reach and lost count of the times I met people that had never seen a white person before. If you’d told me three years ago that was possible, I wouldn’t have believed you.
The list of amazing people I’ve met and incredible things I’ve seen is endless.
Bye for now……
African country no. 49…getting close….
Poverty in paradise!
The Comoros is a safe tropical island nation with beautiful beaches, a healthy coral reef and protected marine park, volcanic craters, rain forests, an active volcano and friendly people.
It has a laid back ambiance and small country charm, while also being the sixth least visited country in the World by tourists, as well as having the reputation of being the World’s dirtiest country. I’m no stranger to tons of rubbish lining the streets in just about every African nation but this place takes it to another level.
Comoros is one of the slowest developing and poorest nations on the planet with a history of twenty-four military coups and attempted coups since independence in 1975. That’s an average of someone attempting a coup in the Comoros every two years! After being here for a few days I can see why. I reckon if I’d lived here, I would have organised one as well.
The country declared independence from France in 1975 and the new President didn’t quite make it into his second month of rule before being ousted in a coup. Since then the country has been in a continuous downward spiral. Sound familiar??
Just like many more nations on the continent, driving around you see crumbling hospitals, dilapidated schools, pot holed roads, collapsed bridges and decaying colonial architecture, all built prior to 1975. The photo above is a resort slowly being dismantled by the ocean, sand and wind, with the help of a few locals.
In 2018 eighty percent of the Comoros central government’s annual budget was spent on the country’s complex electoral system and it’s politicians. YES, you read that correctly, 80% of the entire nations budget is spent on its politicans! The current president has recently changed the constitution so he can rule for another ten years, which he managed to achieve after having the opposition leader arrested. Sound familiar?
I wonder if there is a single country anywhere in Africa where an opposition leader hasn’t been arrested and spent time in goal? Usually just before an election.
The islands initial wealth came from the spice and slave trade as they are ideally situated close to Dar es Salaam, Madagascar and Zanzibar.
The main island is called Grand Comore and due to a lack of inter-Island flights I had to spend six days on the island before jumping across to Mohéli.
My three weeks on the islands were far from relaxing, although the days I lost to rain were mostly spent in my motel rooms. The four inter island flights each pretty much took up an entire day and my choice of accommodation on the remote far side of two islands also cost me three days of travel just negotiating terrible roads and waiting for taxis but spending time in remote coastal villages was certainly worth the hassle.
My guide on Grand Comore was yet another local who years ago managed to get to South Africa where he learnt English and made enough money to return to The Comoros and start a travel business. This is a common theme I’ve encountered in many African countries across the tourism industry from local guides to wealthy hotel owners.
I travelled across an uninspiring centre of the island along roads lined with rubbish and endless rusting car bodies. The rainforest had been cleared with slash and burn decades previously and was now useless scrubland.
Hitting the North Coast you immediately see the country’s tourism potential.
Following the coastline a few old lava flows intersected the coast at ninety degrees.
It wasn’t long before I reached my first beach and although in the middle of a town it was relatively free of rubbish, with soft white sand and azure blue water.
Travelling along the coast we passed one beautiful beach after the next, all deserted.
The Comoros is the World’s largest producer of Ylang-ylang oil, which is extracted from the flower and used to make perfumes such as Channel No. 5.
The second island I visited was Mohéli, the smallest of the group and also the least populated. The much shorter road to my hotel, which was on the far side of the island had been washed away, so I had to do nearly a complete 2hr circumnavigation of the island just to get to my hotel. With plans over the next few days of hiking in the mountains and snorkeling I went to bed early only to be woken at 2am by torrential rain.
Unfortunately by 6am in hadn’t eased off and at 4pm the next afternoon it finally slowed. Day one…. Washout!
Day two dawned fine and sunny and I walked into the mountains behind my accommodation. One of the things I wanted to see was Livingston’s Fruit Bat, which is just about the World’s biggest bat with a wingspan of nearly 5ft!
Seychelles Fruit Bat is common along the coast and even seen flying out over the ocean in front of Laka Lodge but the huge Livingstone’s is now restricted to the highest ridge lines of the island`s central mountains and involves a 4-5hr hike up slippery rainforest trails just to get a short glimpse of one and when you do, they’re certainly impressive. The future for this species looks bleak.
In the photo above, I climbed to the horizontal ridge on the right just below the clouds and saw three LFB’s flying along the ridge.
After two days of walking I spent the rest of the time at the beach doing some snorkeling. The star attraction in these parts is Coelocanth but despite trying I wasn’t able to get down deep enough.
After Mohéli I boarded the Inter Isle Air flight to Anjouan. The plane was a little smaller than I expected but we quickly island hopped to the capital city, Matsamudu where I spent a night. Once again the entire coastline near the capital was one long rubbish dump.
The next morning my taxi driver arrived 30min late, then spent an hour shopping, then drove like a maniac for two hours on atrocious roads only to run out of petrol 3km from our destination and then he had to hitch a ride into Moya to buy fuel while I waited. I might be on a tropical island in the Indian Ocean but its still Africa!!
I booked into the beach front Le Sultan Hotel in Moya where I had spectacular coastal views and the local specialty for lunch, Vanilla Sauce Lobster.
I sat on the veranda with rainforest clad mountains behind me and watched the sun set over the ocean.
From Anjouan my next flight took me back to France, which was only a 30min flight to the French island of Mayotte.
I only spent a couple of days on Mayotte and it rained most of time, so i didn’t get to see the island’s beautiful and World’s second largest lagoon but I did manage to sit out the rain in a couple of nice cafes and enjoy some French food.
The French President E. Macron arrived from la metropole just before me, which also kept me entertained as his entourage travelled around and people sported the tri-colour on their cars and houses.
From the colony I transited quickly back to Moroni where I spent my last full day in The Comoros hiking up Mount Karthala.
Mt Karthala has the largest caldera of any of the World’s active volcanoes and dominates the Grand Comore skyline, although most days it’s summit is obscured by cloud. It also has several endemic birds, which kept me occupied on the hike.
The two mobile phone pictures below are Grand Comore Brush Warbler and Lesser Vasa Parrot.
Above rear: The lower slopes of Mount Karthala.
From Moroni I’m flying to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, from where I’ll make my way to country number 50, Burundi.
Bye for now….
I’d seen many documentaries over the years on the Spiny Forest and its suite of unusual wildlife that has adapted to not only a semi-desert environment but also life in a world of ubiquitous thorns and spikes.
I wasn’t disappointed, the forest is an amazing sight with gnarly boabab trees towering above the thorny understory.
We spent three days in the Ifaty area, enjoying the forest, seeing Sportive Lemur and representatives of some of Madagascar’s endemic bird families like couas and ground rollers and of course partaking in the local seafood.
With our time over in Ifaty we drove north to the sleepy beachside town of Morondava.
After a three day drive we cruised into Morondava right on sunset.
Morondava sits on the coast overlooking the Mozambique Channel and is visited by tourists on route to Tsingy NP and the iconic Avenue of Boababs.
We didn’t venture north to Tsingy NP but I did partake in the third thing that Morondava is famous for…. seafood!
I could have easily booked into the motel across the road from the two main seafood restaurants for a month and spent lunch and dinner everyday at either establishment. The $7US seafood platter was amazing.
The main target in this area is Madagascar’s largest predator, the elusive Fossa. Its an incredible animal which looks like its half cat and half dog and some weasel thrown in.
Its equally agile high up in the trees chasing lemurs as it is on the ground thanks to retractable claws and a long tail for balance. Its total length including tail is 6ft.
I managed to get a few phone pics of what really is an extraordinary animal and then explored the nearby countryside, mainly taking photos of the local boabab trees.
The 2,000 year old, 30m tall boababs stand out above the surrounding vegetation and farmland and really do look magnificent either singularly or in strands.
Unfortunately slash and burn is still being conducted and we found a few strands which had been burnt. The locals don’t burn the boababs intentionally, rather their grass fires become uncontrolled and the trees suffer the consequences.
The plan was to drive north for two days and back through the capital, Antananarivo on route to Andranofasika and Ampijora NP, our first foray into the North of Madagascar.
After a couple of days in Morondava we were in the car at 6.30am to start the 2.5 days drive north. We made it 2km into town where the service station didn’t have any fuel. Five service stations later and no diesel anywhere.
They suggested the fuel truck would arrive later that afternoon which would put us several hours behind schedule and require a night drive, which would have to be in convey due to bandits.
Usually I would have jumped at the night drive and bandit option but with Lynda here with me and the thought that an extra two days in Morondava equates to another four seafood platters, we stayed in our beach bungalow for another two days and spent a nice sunset out amongst the boababs.
Our month on the red island was nearly over with just a drive back to the capital remaining. The drive would take two full days as our progress was delayed by two flat tyres and subsequent repairs in a small village along the way.
Madagascar is a large island and in a month we saw about 50% of what I’d like to see. The great thing about Madagascar is its diversity with amazing beaches, offshore islands, primary rainforest and semi desert, all packed with endemic mammals, birds and plants and surprisingly few tourists even though we were here in the busy season.
I could certainly come back for another month and visit a whole bunch of places we missed this time. Its one of the easiest African countries to travel around and once you’re hear everything is cheap.
We spent a free day in Antananarivo and then Lynda headed back to Australia while I’m waiting an extra day to fly to The Comoros.
I’ll be in The Comoros for three weeks hopefully visiting the three main islands, Grand Comore, Mohéli and Anjouan, with maybe a couple of days at the end on the French island of Mayotte.
Bye for now….
After thirteen days on the Seychelles we boarded the Air Seychelles “Paradise-Flycatcher” A320 and flew south to Africa’s largest island, Madagascar.
Madagascar is the World’s fourth largest island and has been separated from Africa for 80 million years and now posseses some of the most unique and spectacular fauna and flora on Earth.
Prior to spending a month on the big island we had to decide whether we would do the standard tourist thing and race around to all points spending only 1-2 nights in each location OR see only half the island and spend more time at each spot. We decided to take our time and get to know each location more intimately. With that decision made, we headed off for seven nights in Andasibe/Mantadia National Park.
Any chance of a cruisey Sunday drive to Andasibe was thwarted by the arrival of the Pope and millions of people pouring into the city that day.
We were on the road early and soon out of the city, arriving at Andasibe just in time for lunch.
It rained the entire first day so we spent the day hiking through the nearby hills.
Vakona Lodge is comfortable and has a open fire each evening. Perfect for drying out and late afternoon hot chocolates.
We wandered the local rainforest trails around the Vakona Reserve and had the place to ourselves, seeing lots of endemic birds and a group of Diademed Sifaka, which were no.1 on my wish list of Madagascan lemurs.
Seeing Blue Vanga, which has to be one of the World’s nicest birds and Diademed Sifakas on one day was awesome.
We hired local guide, Luc and headed north to Mantadia NP, which is the largest tract of primary forest in the region. Eight hours of rainforest trails, slippery slopes, log crossings and great wildlife made for another sensational day.
After four days we moved to a lodge called Feon’ny Ala which in Malagasy means ‘voice of the forest’. The nearby hills are home to Madagascar’s largest Lemur, the Indri. The lodge was only meters from the national park and Indri could be heard calling all day.
We spent four exhausting days with Luc chasing lemurs and a multitude of endemic birds around the national park and the nearby Laroka Community Reserve.
After a week, our driver Deric drove us south for two days to Ranomafana National Park, which is more rainforest.
For years I’d heard stories about the terrible deforestation that has occurred in Madagascar but driving through the countryside I saw spectacular scenery of terraced rice paddies, mud brick and thatched roofed houses spanning river valleys and every available flat area of ground.
Yes, the native forest has been cut down and replaced with Australian eucalyptus trees but its not as confronting as the horrible slash and burn occurring across Sierra Leone or the Congo or Angola. Perhaps it all happened years ago and it was once like those other African nations.
Today the primary forests are still under threat but there are also numerous organisations and community groups planting hundreds of thousands of trees across the country.
After another three days in the rainforest we decided to leave two days early and head into the dry Southern half of Madagascar.
Heading south the rampant deforestation that has turned this wonderfully unique green island into a great red island becomes more obvious, with forest eventually being replaced with hour after hour of grassland and red soil.
The first stop was Isalo NP where we stayed for two nights. The further south we travelled, the poorer the villages became and before long I felt like I was in any of the Sahalian African nations like Chad, Niger or Mali.
The area around Isalo is open grassland dotted with isolated mountains of granite and sandstone ranges that travel off in all directions.
I didn’t really know what to expect at Isalo NP, as it’s surrounded by much more famous parks and I’d done my pre trip reading on those more famous parks. To my surprise, Isola was either better or just as good as the others. We did a couple of sunset drives, a hike through the canyons and stopped off at some incredible swimming holes.
We also had a great morning watching Ring-tailed Lemurs and found a roosting Torotoroka Scops Owl.
The road (RN7) is the best Madagascar has to offer and conducive to long day drives. Below are some road pictures on the journey South to Tulear and Ifaty.
Ifaty is a small coastal village nestled beside the Mozambique Channel on a dry coastal strip reminiscent of the Casamance Region of Southern Senegal.
We Checked into our beach bungalow and immediately found a local guy on the beach who could do us a fresh seafood lunch.
Despite there being plenty of beach focused activities in the area, our main focus was the unique Spiny Forest only found in Southern Madagascar, a mega Botanical highlight.
Over the next couple of days we’ll explore the forest and then head north to the coastal village of Morondava and the ‘Avenue of the Boababs’. After that we’re going searching for Madagascar’s largest predator, the Lemur hunting Fossa.
Bye for now….
Departing Réunion we drove north to the airport along the freeway adjacent to the new, over the ocean Réunion Viaduct, which at €1.8billion is the World’s most expensive road per kilometre and is certainly impressive.
We flew due north for 2.5 hours to Mahe, the largest island in the Seychelles and home to the country’s capital city Victoria, which is the smallest capital in the World and not surprising, as the Seychelles is Africa’s smallest country by land area and has Africa’s smallest population of only 95,000 people.
For me it’s African country number 47 and after only two days I’ve voted it no. 1 for beaches. Certainly assessable beaches anyway. Kenya, Somalia and the Egyptian Mediterranean have equally as good beaches but are hard work.
The Seychelles are divided into two types of islands. The northern islands where we’re staying and where all the tourists visit are unique in that they are the only oceanic granite islands in the world. The outer islands are spread over 1500 km and are your typical coral islands.
I’m not a big fan of moving accommodation too often but to see these islands we decided to spend four days on each of the main three, Mahe, Praslin (pronounced prar-lay) and La Digue. A total of 13 days.
All three main islands have boulder-dotted coastlines with perfect white sand beaches and a rocky rainforest clad interior.
Mahe itself has 65 beaches but we only spent time on two or three of them. We visited the mountains every day and also visited the capital.
We caught the ferry to Praslin and booked into an Airbnb in Grand Anse owned by an Aussie couple who spend half their year in Perth and the other half in the Seychelles. They cooked us a delicious Creole dinner on our first night.
Wth the next day overcast we visited the Valley de Mai where the Coco de Mer Palm grows, which has the largest nut/seed of any plant in the World. A single nut can weight 30kg.
For centuries their seeds would wash up on foreign beaches, often thousands of kilometres away and no one knew what tree they were from or where they were from. People assumed they were from the sea and grew in underwater forests, hence the name Coco de Mer. It wasn’t until 1768 that Dufrense discovered them on the uninhabited island of Praslin.
The rest of our time was spent at a beach called Anse Lazio, which has been voted the world’s most beautiful beach several times.
I knew that fact before arriving so was a tad sceptical but after only five minutes on the beach, I could see why it would win that title. 500m long, powder white sand, clear warm water, shady trees and granite boulders for a bit of character. We spent two days there before catching the ferry to our final island.
Our final island was the smallest and also home to beaches that are often ranked in the World’s top 10.
La Digue is small with very few cars and a thriving bike hire business. You either walk or pedal, reminiscent of Lord Howe Island except with better beaches.
Before getting too excited about beaches we had to first head into the rainforest to see Seychelles Black Paradise-Flycatcher, La Digue being the only island in the World were its found!
The following day it rained pretty much all day, which gave me the opportunity to do eight hours of Madagascar planning. I’ve been in Africa since February and can count on one hand the day’s I’ve lost due to rain, I can’t complain.
The following day the sun came back out and we headed to a secluded beach near our villa. With all the other tourists flocking to the famous name beaches, we had this beach to ourselves all morning.
At this time of year with trade winds blowing constantly the beaches on the southern side of the island are terrible, so we kept to the protected side and tried to avoid the hundreds of day trippers that pour into the island each day.
The best beach on the island is called Anse Source d’Argent and when I say ‘best’ it’s stunningly beautiful but hopeless for swimming or body surfing but neither of those seem to matter as the main thing that people do on the beach is take selfies of themselves. Which I think is the main reason most people come to the Seychelles.
To get to Anse Source d’Argent we rode through a Vanilla plantation and past several Aldabra Tortoises, which seem to be on just about every Indian Ocean Island we’ve been to.
We spent our final afternoon on the beach and then rode into town, bought takeaway and sat on the coast watching the sunset over Praslin. Tomorrow we catch the ferry back to Mahe and the next day fly to Madagascar where we’ll spend a month.
Bye for now…
After three weeks we said goodbye to the main island and flew 560km to Mauritius’ other, much smaller island, Rodrigues. Below: the last view of Mauritius.
Above: The first view of the Rodrigues Lagoon and two of their small coral islands.
Rodrigues is only 18km long and 8km wide and much more laid back, with an authentic charm reminiscent of the 1970’s or 80’s. Its certainly feels like you’ve travelled back 30yrs, with the only reminder that it’s not 1980 being the modern cars on the road.
The island isn’t quite as lush as Mauritius, with most of the forest cleared for agriculture. There are also very few tourists.
With overcast weather predicted in a couple of days we headed directly to the beach.
In our hire car, which is an old utility, we headed for the small coastal town of Saint Francois and there set off on foot along the coast.
We walked 50m through the park to our first view of a Rodrigues beach, which was postcard perfect and better than every beach on Mauritius.
Soon we found our second beach which was also great.
Then a third..
And a fourth..
And so on. Each beach was really nice and all of them out doing the best we’d seen on the main island.
There’s only three resorts on the island and non of them are large. Restaurants are few and far between, so we ate several meals at small local beachside cafes where the food was being cooked on home made BBQs and all of them only had chicken, fish, pork and octopus.
By the end of the week I’d had every variety of octopus on offer, grilled octopus, octopus stew, octopus salad etc.
We spent a couple of days relaxing at the local kite surfing beach and also drove the circumference of the island on one day.
On the overcast and rainy day we walked through Grande Montagne Nature Reserve and saw the island’s only two endemic birds and the Rodrigues Fruit Bat.
Life is slow on the island and our biggest concern each day was getting to the boulangerie to pick up our daily baguette before they sold out.
Eight days is a good amount of time to experience the island. Just about every blog I’ve read on Rodrigues is written by someone that’s spends just one night here, visits a beach, walks through the market and gets on the next plane, usually with a statement like, ‘two days was enough time to explore the island and enjoy the local culture’. Seriously!!!
After eight days of deserted beaches it was time for the once a week direct flight to Réunion. We said goodbye to our hosts and snuck though customs and immigration after overstaying our visa by four days and were soon approaching the French territory of La Réunion.
Île de la Réunion
The above map shows the Indian Ocean islands scheduled for three months this year. Réunion, although geographically part of Africa is part of France. After The Seychelles, Madagascar and The Comoros, I’ll be finishing on the other French territory, Mayotte, before heading back into the interior.
We booked a two night stay in the capital Saint Denis to start with, so we could do a walk to a nearby peak. We started early and walked uphill for six hours and then downhill for three. After nine hours on the mountain we arrived home a tad sore. No more hikes for a few days.
Our next stop was the island’s volcano, at the southern end of the island. Fortunately you can drive to the crater rim and walk from there.
We drove through a ‘Martian like’ landscape as the clouds descended.
We drove hundreds of kilometers around and across the island during the following week, visiting waterfalls, coasts, mountains, markets and precipitous valleys. Having just spent a week at the beach and next fortnight on the Seychelles, we decided to skip the beaches and from what we did see, they weren’t very good anyway.
The drive up the mountain to Cilaos was one of the highlights, with 400 bends, steep drops, rock walls, blind corners and one way tunnels. It was straight out of an eposide of Top Gear but unfortunately we had a very underpowered VW Polo which required a good ‘work out’ getting up and back down the mountain. Close to the most fun you can have on the island.
We spent the entire day in Cilaos, wandering the streets, doing a bit of shopping and visiting the odd patisserie. Surrounded by mountains on all sides it’s one of the nicest towns I’ve ever visited.
The most scenic drive we did was on our second last day when we drove to the Cirque of Salazie, once again on winding roads, this time with waterfalls around every corner, including one you have to drive under!
We enjoyed our week, the only disappointing thing is there are just too many people (900,000) and too many cars on a small island.
Tomorrow we head to the Seychelles for two weeks.
Bye for now…
The African nation of Mauritius is made up of two main islands, Mauritius and Rodrigues. They’re 560km apart and make up two thirds of the Mascerene Islands. The other island is île de La Réunion which lies 175km South West of Mauritius and is a territory of France.
Although politically and financially part of the Eurozone, geographically Réunion is part of Africa and since I’m nearby I’m not going to miss the opportunity to visit one of the World’s most spectacular islands.
Our arrival in Mauritius was delayed by two days after spending the time in Johannesburg Airport Departures. I’d decided to take the risk of flying with only one page remaining in my passport and it back-fired. I had hoped to get more than eighteen months out of my latest passport but it was not to be either.
When we went to check in they wouldn’t let me board the flight despite showing them that I had an appointment at the Embassy in three days time to renew my passport.
“Get something from Mauritius Customs and Immigration saying they’ll let you enter their country and we’ll let you on the plane” “How am I supposed to do that at 7am on a Sunday morning?” was my reply.
On Monday I received a reply from Mauritius Immigration, which pretty much said, “of course we’ll let you in with only one page, come on over.”
At 7pm that night we finally landed in Mauritius.
With a three week wait for my new passport we decided to spend each week at a different part of the island starting with Blue Bay in the South.
We stayed in a guesthouse and the above photo is from our veranda. We hired a car and buzzed around the bottom half of the island visiting just about all of the attractions, as well as doing a couple of hikes in the national park to see the few endemic birds that are not yet extinct.
Mauritius has an horrendous history of habitat destruction and driving its wildlife to extinction, the most famous of which was the Dodo, which they wiped out within five minutes of discovering the islands.
Not long after that just about everything else was finished off by the usual offenders, rats, mongoose, cats and a lack of any remaining forest.
We visited Black River National Park and Ferney Valley where we saw wild Mauritian Kestrel which was once the rarest raptor in the World with only FOUR birds remaining.
As a last ditch effort to save the species, all four birds were caught and a captive breeding program initiated. Incredibly all four remaining birds were unrelated. Today there are 500 in the wild.
After a week in Blue Bay we moved to Flic en Flac on the Western Side of the island with the intention of having a week at the beach but we were beaten by the weather. Every one of our seven days was overcast. (Below: Telfair’s Skink)
The poor weather gave me time to do some more trip planning for the next few months and time to delete a few thousand photos.
From Flic en Flac we moved to the North Coast town of Pereybere for nine days, where finally the sun came out and we spent long days on the beach and of course continued exploring the island.
One of the best days was when we joined up with an Italian couple and went hiking to a waterfall. We descended down a steep muddy rainforest track for an hour, finally reaching a 30m waterfall.
On my second last day I took a dive trip to Round Island which is 30+km north of Mauritius. About all I have to say about that dive is, it was the worst dive I’ve EVER paid to do anywhere in the World.
Mauritius is certainly an easy to do, comfortable tropical paradise that is nothing even remotely like mainland Africa. The people were warm and welcoming. The maximum temperature typically hovers around 25 and the water roughly the same.
Around every corner is another perfect picture postcard view but dig a little deeper and its not as good as it first appears. I’m not saying it’s not good, just not as great as the magazines and paid bloggers make it out to be.
We’ve enjoyed our stay in this tropical paradise but its a long way from being perfect. People rave about the beaches but they’re only average. I’ve probably seen 500 beaches around the World nicer than the best beach in Mauritius. Australia alone has 500 nicer beaches.
Very few are any good for swimming. Most are shallow and lined with dead broken coral. The only good swimming beach we found was at Pereybere.(below).
The reef anywhere near beaches is dead and has been destroyed. Not that you can snorkel. Despite the water being tourqoise, once you’re underwater it’s that milky blue and you can’t see anymore than a meter or two.
Just about all the island has been de forested, the native wildlife exterminated and most of the island is carpeted in sugarcane.
After being on Mauritius for 25 days you get to know the place fairly well. We’ve driven just about ever road on the island, visited the best beaches, visited all the major attractions apart from the zoo and made friends with a few locals.
We know the best patisseries, the bus routes, how much a taxi fare should be, where the markets are, how much to pay for things and where to buy a good meal. It kinda feels like home but before I got too comfortable, my new passport arrived and now we’re off to Rodrigues.
Bye for now…
In the weeks prior to Gabon a search of the usual flight websites failed to find any reasonable flights from São Tomé to Gabon. I was pretty much resolved to catching an expensive flight with 2-3 stops, bouncing around a couple of West African airports, until in Cape Verde I noticed a billboard advertising CEIBA, the national airline of Equatorial Guinea. I’d never heard of them!
They fly only on Fridays and don’t have a normal website, so we found their office in SãoTomé and went to book our seats. “Sorry it’s full”, was the answer!!
Then we found out about another airline I’d never heard of, called Afrijet, which also flys the route. To cut a long story short we arrived at the airport to catch our Afrijet flight only to find our jet had propellers.
Before long we’d made the short hop back to mainland Africa and had landed in Libreville, the capital of Gabon.
Apparently the 500km stretch of road to Lopé is pretty bad and just about everyone catches the train.
After two days in Libreville we boarded the train to Lopé, which is a small town dead smack in the middle of Gabon sitting on the edge of Lopé National Park our destination for the next few days.
The Trans Gabon Railway is a single track line that runs from Libreville’s Owendo station in the West to Franceville in the East. Covering 669km, the route crosses the equator, runs through dense jungle, remote villages and follows the impressive Ogooué river for large sections.
There are some cool warnings about the train like, ‘the exit doors are not locked and can slide open of their own accord. Depending on the speed, if you survive a fall from the train, you would likely be in incredibly remote and inhospitable jungle surrounds, so be careful!’
Our short trip to Gabon is primarily to see Mandrills. Gabon is the best place in the World to see them and July is the month they come together into large groups of 500 individuals to breed. It’s also the time the large males come into their breeding colours.
French researcher David Lehmann has been working with the Mandrills for four years and has a couple of them radio tracked.
We joined David and his assistant Leeza and headed out across the savanna to a section of rainforest where a group of 500 were last seen the day before.
We were lucky. The group were only 100m from the road and after a walk through the forest we soon found them and had nice views of a couple of big males. David noticed they were heading for the road, so we quickly made our way out of the forest and back to the road where we waited.
The binocular views were excellent but I was regretting leaving my camera at home this year and only travelling with my phone and Gopro, neither of which are any good for photographing wildlife.
After five minutes the first male crossed the road and then over the next twenty minutes 300 Mandrill, including twenty brightly coloured males, crossed in front of us. It was incredible to watch.
David said it was the best views he’d had of the big group in a year.
We relaxed and did a couple of walks around Lopé finishing the visit on a day tour with a guy called Ghislain from a business called Mikongo Vision. I reckon I’ve had a pretty good record of avoiding dodgy tour guides in Africa over the years but got conned by this unscrupulous thief.
Unfortunately he came recommended by some people that have used him in the past. We paid him for a full day and he drove us around doing other things all day and then dropped us off at the motel in the afternoon.
After complaining, he said we could do some activities the next day. He then jumped on the midnight train to Libreville and disappeared.
After another night in Libreville we boarded the plane for a cross continental flight and after five months, I said goodbye to West Africa.
Gabon is a spectacular country jammed packed full of great wildlife and things to do. They have habituated Gorillas for half the price of Uganda and Rwanda as well as good beaches and if you’re lucky even surfing Hippos. For our Gabon logistics we used Fameli at Gabon Adventures and he was excellent and professional.
I really only stayed eight days because I’ve been to all the countries surrounding Gabon except Equatorial Guinea and seen all the wildlife in those other countries. If I’d come to Gabon first I probably would have stayed for 3-4 weeks.
Which is exactly how long we’re staying in African country no. 46, Mauritius and Rodrigues, with maybe an extra week on Réunion since we’re so close.
Bye for now..
São Tomé and Prìncipe is an isolated speck in the equatorial Atlantic and Africa’s second smallest country.
We flew from the island nation of Cape Verde direct to the island nation of São Tomé and Prìncipe with TAAG, the national airline of Angola.São Tomé and Prìncipe is a country made up of two equatorial tropical islands sitting in the Gulf of Guinea about 250km off the coast of Gabon.
The equator crosses through the country and the best way to describe it is, lush, green and overcast. The adjacent island of Annabon has NEVER recorded a cloudless day of clear skies.!!
Prior to 1975 they were a colony of Portugal and since independence has been one of Africa’s most stable and democratic countries.
At one time the country was the World’s largest producer of Cocoa and it’s still the country’s main crop.
The main island is made up of three distinct areas. The dry North, the lush South and the rainforest clad mountainous interior.
I came to these islands for the rainforest and mountains, so we hired a car with a driver on day one and spent the day in the dry North to see it before spending the rest of the fortnight in greener surrounds.
We visited Tamarindos Beach and Azul Lagoon, both nice but nothing to write home about. There was so much rubbish on the shore of the lagoon that I decided to jump off the rocks and swim in the nearby ocean instead.
The highlight of the north coast was the Spider Crab Restaurant in Neves where we had a sensational seafood lunch.
On day two we headed south and could see why so many call these islands a tropical eco-paradise and why the whole island was named a UNESCO Bio Reserve in 2012.
We drove the full length of the island to the remote Jalé Beach, along the way stopping at the old abandoned hospital of Roca Agua Ize which was once part of a large cocoa plantations but today is in ruins like just about all the other colonial buildings throughout the island, which is the same scenario repeated throughout all of Africa.
The drive along the East coast is lined with lush tropical rainforest on one side and empty beaches on the other. Small fishing villages, usually next to creeks that flow down from the mountains and into the sea, where women and children do their washing and bathe, line the coast.
Nearing the bottom of the island we found three interesting beaches. Firstly N’guembu Beach is a copy of Dolly Beach and further down the road Cabana Beach looks just like Trannies Beach. These are two beaches that several people reading this blog will know.
The highlight of the day for me was finding perhaps the most incredible tropical beach I’ve ever seen, which is called Praia Piscina.
There’s no pure white sand or azure blue water like The Seychelles or Cocos-keeling, this beach is far more rugged and spectacular.
Under tropical grey skies the rainforest extends to the beach where rugged black lava cliffs meet a warm crystal clear emerald green ocean.
At the other end of the beach five waterfalls pour into a 7ft deep pool and at the top of the beach a local women will cook you local fish for lunch on a home made BBQ.
We found a resort only three kilometres away and booked in for three days.
The further south you travel, the more ‘lost world’ the island becomes, with rugged jungle clad valleys and sheer volcanic peaks with their summits hidden in the clouds.
The breathtaking 663m natural skyscraper Pico Cão Grande is near the southern end of the island and is the World’s tallest volcanic plug, sitting dramatically above a jurrasic like landscape.
Often shrouded in mist it has a foreboding presence over the southern interior.
Later on in the week I left Lynda in a beachfront lodge for two days and went climbing mountains in search of some of the island’s rarest birds which are only found near the summit of several mountains. São Tomé and Prìncipe has never been attached to Africa and has the highest number of endemic species per Km than anywhere else in the World, outdoing more famous locations such as the Galápagos.
We camped overnight in the forest next to an abandoned colonial building and thanks to my guide Antonio, had a 100% success rate with the birds I wanted to see, which included the World’s largest Sunbird called Giant Sunbird and the World’s largest Weaver, called Giant Weaver.
We spent the next three days at Miongo Lodge on the edge of São João dos Angalares. The lodge sits on the side of a lagoon opposite the ocean and we spent lots of time watching local village life go by.
From there we headed into the city to pick up our Gabon visas and then into the mountainous interior.
In the mountains the temperature was cooler but the hikes were harder. We did an 11km walk to a nearby waterfall and both had sore legs afterwards. It was uphill to the falls and all downhill on the way home. The older I get the more I dislike long downhills.
After two weeks on São Tomé it was time to depart for Gabon. We unfortunately never got to Prìncipe but will have to return for that one day.
After two weeks in the C. A. R and three weeks in Cape Verde, as well as two weeks here, the next country Gabon is only going to be a relatively short eight day visit. After Gabon, it’ll be back to longer stays with three weeks on Mauritius.
Bye for now.
The nation of Cape Verde consists of ten islands situated 500km off the coast of Senegal and is a former colony of Portugal.
The islands are unlike anywhere else I’ve been in Africa. In fact it’s very non-African, more a mix of 60% Africa and 40% Europe with a quiet laid back Portuguese influence.
I arrived in the capital Praia early in the morning and later that night Lynda flew in from Christmas Island. We spent the first couple of days on the main island visiting a few of the local sights including Cidade Velha, the oldest European town in Africa. The town also has the oldest colonial church in the world and an accompanying fort on the cliff above providing nice views along the coast.
The port was a key Portuguese settlement and a stopping place for Vasco de Gama, Ferdinand Magellen, Christopher Columbus and Francis Drake on their epic journeys of discovery. My journey was slightly less epic but I did discover a place in the shade selling freshly squeezed orange juice before continuing on down the oldest European street in the tropics.
After a day at the beach we headed inland to the rugged mountains around Pico d’Antonia where traditional villages sit on the side of dry hillsides and the locals talk of the on going three year drought which has left all but one dam dry.
After four days in the capital we caught a local flight to the resort island of Sal. Sal is a dry, flat and barren lump of rock fringed with white sand beaches and surrounded by azure blue warm water.
We based ourselves in the sprawling southern town of Santa Maria and spent a week at the beach.
The European summer holidays are yet to begin so the place was quiet. Being an ex Portuguese colony and a Portuguese speaking nation it wasn’t surprising to see mostly Brazilian and Portuguese tourists on the island.
We found a Brazilian bar/cafe on the beach and spent a couple of afternoons drinking caipirinhas and watching the beach volleyball.
Cape Verde is a poor country doing its best to create an income through tourism and trying to attract Europeans to their sun drenched islands but I was disappointed to find the price of meals and drinks at all the cafes and restaurants more expensive than in Europe. Its easy to see why tens of millions of European holidaymakers head to Asia these days where meals are a third the price.
From Sal we flew to Mindelo on Sao Vicente for two nights and then caught the ferry to Santo Antao, my target destination and the main reason for visiting these islands in June. Below is Mindalo harbour.
Mindelo has a great seafood restaurant and women that dress rather strangely.
In many ways the Cape Verde archipelago is similar to the Azores where we spent two weeks last year. On the Azores the most spectacular island, Flores is the most westerly and remotest and the same applies here with Santo Antao.
From the ferry we caught a taxi across the island on the old winding cobblestoned road through the mountains, many over a 1000m high.
The road follows several knife-edge ridges along isolated and dizzying mountain sides that plummet into verdant valleys far below.
We stopped at Cova Caldera for a quick photo or two and continued across the island pausing at one stunning view after another.
We based ourselves at the Tiduca Hotel in the small fishing village of Ponta do Sol on the far side of the island, which is the final village along the north-eastern coast and what the Bradt guide describes as “the end of the world”.
Ponta do Sol, although remote, is perfectly situated at the start of the coastal walk to the cliffside village of Fontainhas.
Initially we planned to walk to the village and return but it was a shorter walk than we thought so we continued on to Corvo, where we met a couple from Belgium who were walking another eight kilometers to Cruzinha. We joined them and caught a taxi back to the hotel after eight hours of walking, virtually none of it was flat.
Santo Antao is real haven for hikers with countless hiking trails through rugged, mountainous and imposing green and brown scenery usually with an accompanying precipitous virtigo inducing canyon a few steps away.
After a day of rest and still feeling a tad sore we opted for an easier walk up the Ribeira Torre. The route was lined with tropical fruit plantations and finished with a lonely pinnacle of rock jutting out of the hillside.
The final three days were spent in the scenic Vale do Paúl (Paúl Valley) where we stayed in a wonderful family run guest called Chez Sandro at the end of the valley. We were surrounded by precipitous cliffs and lush fertile farmland with plenty of long hikes, all with spectacular views down the valley.
Not only was the scenery great but the local food at Chez Sandro was superb and their home made ice cream was sensational.
After three weeks in Cape Verde it was time to start thinking about the next destination.
Our last two days were spent Island hoping back to Sal for the flight to Sao Tome and Principe.
Bye for now…