Nigeria and Benin

Countries number eight and nine – Nigeria and Benin.

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The Niger River full to the brim with wet season rain

Transiting north from Cameroon to Morocco.

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After leaving Limbe/Buea we headed north through Kumba and Mamfe on surprisingly good quality Chinese constructed tar roads, which are a rarity in Cameroon outside the major cities.

IMG20170807143143~2In several countries so far I’ve encountered beautiful new roads where I was expecting days of four wheel driving.  The trip from Limbe to the Nigerian border used to take seven days and was impassible in the wet season.  It took us just 7hrs!!

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Crossing the border into Nigeria was less painful than we anticipated and we were on the road again within an hour.

Between the border and Ikon, which is about 20km, we were stopped by Immigration, Customs, Police and the Army, sixteen times!! Welcome to Nigeria.

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I would have liked to go into Cross River National Park to see the World’s rarest gorillas but the roads were impassible so we continued north leaving the rainforest clad mountains that I’ve been travelling through for the last month behind.

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Nigeria is Africa’s most populated country and although the 550km road from the border to the capital  is tar sealed it was riddled with pot holes and washed away in parts. The entire route is lined with houses and small communities, making it one continuous 500km village.

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I arrived in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city on the 10 August and spent three days exploring the relatively new purpose built city.

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Abuja mosque

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Abuja city

Abuja is a planned and purpose built city similar to Brasilia and Canberra and became the capital of Nigeria in 1991. After a few days of exploring what  is probably the most character-lacking city in Africa I couldn’t find anything picturesque to photograph, not a single building or monument.

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Abuja craft market

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Zuma Rock 2400ft high

We departed Abuja and headed north towards Benin, unsure of where we are going to cross the border.

On the outskirts of Abuja we found the impressive Zuma Rock which at 2400ft is twice as high as Australia’s Ayers Rock. Not surprisingly there were no signs, places to stop and take photos or walking tracks, so we just slowed down, took a couple of quick pics and continued north west towards the border.

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Abuja’s outer suburbs

The road in parts was terrible and our progress was slow as we past through countless small villages and surprisingly lush farmland.

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After a while we began to cross several rivers and areas of floodplain converted to rice fields .

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Just up the road is the mighty Niger River, which is my fourth and final big African river of the year. It starts in Guinea only 240km from the coast and rather than flowing to the ocean it flows inland across the Sahara Desert and for an incredible 4180km before finally reaching the Atlantic Ocean in Nigeria.

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Heading into Northern Nigeria we were now in Boko Haram territory and had to remain vigilant.

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By late afternoon we turned north at Mokwa and headed for the Benin border crossing at Babana. After a while we could see a storm brewing ahead and pulled down a track next to a corn field and bush camped in the Nigerian countryside.

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The Niger River

The following morning we crossed a muddy Niger River under dark and stormy skies and looking like a scene from deepest darkest wet tropical Africa. I’d always imagined I’d see the Niger River in some scorching hot, dry and dusty Saharan or Sahalian landcape but maybe that’s still to come.

Africa’s four big Rivers – I started with a cruise on the Ugandan Nile in April, then camped on the Zambezi floodplain in June and spent a few days on the Congo River in July. I’ll have to wait until Mali before I can get my feet wet in the Niger but that’s only two weeks away.

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IMG20170814104643~2We continued on for another six hours to Babana and after clearing customs & immigration we were visited by a member of the Nigerian Intelligence Service whose first question was, “So what are you smuggling”? A bunch of humorous replies raced through my head but with the Benin border only meters in front of us I refrained and he eventually allowed us to depart Nigeria.

Benin

It was late afternoon when we crossed into my ninth African country Benin, which is one of the World’s smallest countries. We drove north for an hour without any sign of a customs or immigration outpost or anything much else, so we drove down a rough track into the forest, found a clearing and camped the night in the forest of Benin.

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The road from the border

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At 11am the next day, after four hours driving we found a small police station with a helpful policeman who stamped our passports and welcomed us to his country. We’d travelled 80km across Benin before officially arriving, which is a fair way considering the country is only 270km wide!

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We continued north to the town of Djougou where I resupplied at a couple of the local stores before continuing on.  With none of us having been to this remote part of Northern Benin previously we spent a day exploring some back roads seeing several small traditional villages.

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The village well

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After three days in Northern Benin I arrived at the Burkina Faso border which also happened to be only five kilometers from the Togo border. I could have crossed via Togo but I’m planning to visit Togo along the coast another time.

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Djougou

Benin is the fastest country so far in Africa for entering and exiting. It took them ten minutes to stamp us in and ten minutes to stamp us out. Why can’t every country be like Benin??

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The journey north continues

All up I only spent three days in Benin but it’s one of the world’s smallest countries and like Togo I’d like to come back and see the coastal strip sometime in the future.

Bye for now.

Cameroon Part 2

 

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My first day in Yaounde was a Sunday and a day of rest. We sat around on the grass at our accommodation and talked to a couple of locals, played Bocce and occasionally wandered down to the local well stocked patisserie for croissants and gateau. We finished the night at The Bunker, a local restraraunt/bar where I had a nice fish dinner cooked in banana leaves on a sidewalk stove.

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Lazy Sunday with the locals

On Monday I went to the Burkina Faso embassy and they were able to issue my visa quickly and with that done I walked next door to the Chad embassy and they were able to do the same. Incredibly, I had two new visas in three days.

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The high light of my time in Yaounde was the National Heritage Dance and Music Festival held in the grounds of the National Museum.

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Drums, drums and more drums was the sound from the festival as various tribes from Cameroon’s Sudano-sahelian north to the rainforest south and east performed various traditional songs and rhythmic dances. I stayed until late watching all the displays and the concert. One of the best days I’ve had in Africa so far.

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Waiting for the next performance

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Waiting for the next performance

We departed Yaounde and drove to the coastal town of Limbe, a full days drive west. In wet season drizzle we booked into some beachside accommodation with accompanying twin oil rigs just offshore.

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Limbe coastline

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Pool, deckchairs, umbrellas and oil rigs…welcome to West Africa!

As picturesque as it was, I departed the following morning for a visit to Mount Cameroon, West Africa’s highest peak.

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Mt Cameroon

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The trail to the top

After Mt Cameroon  we drove four hours inland to the remote mountain village of Nyasoso. My first night in the village I was invited to meet the Village Chief.

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Nyaososo village

We walked to his house and talked for a while and then he performed a welcoming ceremony, welcoming me to his village and the local area. We fired questions back and forth and had a beer together. What was supposed to be ten minutes soon became two hours. It was a very special occasion.

I headed back to my humble village abode and prepared for two days of trekking in the nearby Hills.

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Mt Kupe forest

I spent a couple of days exploring the mountains and local area, seeing some nice wildlife, lots of birds and a groovy immature Gabon Viper.

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Immature Gabon Viper

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Cocoa tree

The area surrounding the village is mainly subsistence farmland growing Theobroma cacao, the cocoa tree and various tropical fruits.

Chocolate is extracted from the cocoa bean mainly grown by thousands of small producers, who have a few trees each. It takes 1200 of these pods to make a litre of chocolate.

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The local butterflies like chocolate

We drove back to Limbe and after another early morning on Mt Cameroon it was time to head north towards the Nigerian Border.

Travel update:  I’m beginning to finalise some future travel plans through to October. After Nigeria it looks like, at this stage I’ll disapointingly not make it to Niger. Instead I’ll head west and travel through Northern Benin.  My route through Benin is through a rarely visited part of the county which should be interesting. From there I’ll travel across Burkina Faso and north into Mali. I’m planning to spent ten days or so in Mali prior to a remote border crossing into Eastern Mauritania.  If that crossing’s too dangerous  I’ll quickly travel through Senegal and then onto Western Sahara and north to Morocco. After a while in Morocco I plan to spend a week in Tunisia and then to Chad for 10 days and then another ten days in Djibouti and Somalia. I’m still deciding what comes after Somalia but at this stage I’m thinking of a week or so in nearby Eritrea.

Bye for now.

 

Cameroon Part 1

 

Cameroon – country number 7 of 50.

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At 9am on the 19th of July, after four weeks in the two Congos we drove onto a ferry, waved goodbye to the local Sangha Sangha fisherman and crossed the river into Cameroon.

Not long afterwards we pulled up at a wooden hut in the rainforest and out popped a customs official with a stamp who checked our passports and visas and gave us the green light to continue north.

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The ferry from Congo Republic to Cameroon

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After two days driving past several Ba’Aka and Bantu Villages on logging roads that aren’t on any maps we arrived at the headquarters of Lobeke National Park and started to plan the following few days expedition into the jungle. The park is still within the Congo biome and a continuation of the forest I visited in the Northern Congo as well as home to an entire different suite of animals and birds than those found in the regular tourist areas of Southern and Eastern Africa.

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We hired several porters, a guide and an armed ranger and the following morning walked 15km through picturesque equatorial jungle.

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It’s the wet season in Eastern Cameroon and the forest was lush and damp. We followed forest trails for four hours, crossing several streams and making slow progress through thick swamp forest, eventually arriving at Djangui Bai.

A Bai is a natural forest clearing where the soils are rich in minerals and salts. The local wildlife visits the bai for their daily electrolyte replacement.

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On arrival two Forest Buffalo and two Sitatunga were feeding in the clearing.

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The following morning we witnessed what must surely be one of the world’s greatest wildlife displays. At dawn while the Sitatunga fed in the Bai a thousand squawking African Grey Parrots arrived filling the sky and nearby trees with colour and noise. Large flocks of African Green Pigeons descended on the area and over the next hour their numbers grew to ten thousand birds soaring and swooping around the Bai in every direction.

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Accompanying these were several Ayres Hawk Eagles, a dozen Palmnut Vultures as well as a few species of hornbill.

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Two mongoose scurried out of the jungle and unsuccessfully tried to catch pigeons from below, while Black Sparrowhawks attacked from above.

After circling around us for two hours they noisily landed and drank before departing into the forest, leaving the area silent except for the occasional passing Black-casqued Hornbill.

After a day on the viewing platform and a good sleep in our rainforest camp we trekked 9km to Petite Savane Bai, where we spent another day and a half wildlife viewing.

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The forest camp

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That afternoon we watched a family of four Western Lowland Gorillas feed in the bai, with Sitatunga, while Dja River Warblers flittered around in the reeds and Hartlaub’s Ducks fed in the shallows.

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Western Lowland Gorilla

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Take off  –  Hartlaubs Duck

After 30km of trekking forest trails we arrived back at base, tired but very happy with what we’d seen.

The following morning I awoke to the sound of rain on my tent and after a slow start arrived at the nearest village only to find the road ahead was closed due to the wet weather. I was delayed a full day in Membele and we bush camped in the nearby forest.

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Eastern Cameroon is the first area in Africa I’ve travelled through where the villages are actually clean of rubbish. Every small village I saw in Angola and both Congos were filthy. Rubbish lined the roads, filled the water drains and covered footpaths even in the popular tourist countries of Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia. Here in Eastern Cameroon the scenery is picture perfect, mile after mile.

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Sitting out the rain

For three days we drove north towards Yokadouma the district capital. Local villages constructed of sun dried red mud bricks with thatched roofs lined the way and the contrast between the Laterite red roads and lush dark green magnificently thick rainforest was stunning.

IMG20170725105536~3Despite the poor quality roads, this area rivals the highlands of Uganda as the most picturesque part of Africa I’ve seen so far.

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I arrived in a village just south of Yokadouma on the 25th and after asking a local we camped near the school just as a soccer game was starting with the local 17-21yr olds. Three of us volunteered to play and we enjoyed a late afternoon game.

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The village ball was a tad flat so after the game we donated our pump to the referee. One of the guys bought a couple of soccer shirts in Kinshasa and after the game we handed these out to the players which caused a near riot in town, which reminded us just how poor the people in this area really are.

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The road north

We continued north for another two days on terrible roads averaging just 10-15 khr and stayed a night in Yola, a village near the Central African Republic border which has 4000 inhabitants, 3000 of those are refugees from the CAR and DRC.

IMG20170726104812~2Most days we shop at a local village market and often pick up snacks from the local street meat vendors.  These guys above were cooking sensational goat kebabs with some of the best spices I’ve ever tasted.

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Batouri

On the 29th of July I arrived at Yaounde, Cameroons capital city where I’ll stay for four nights.  I’ll  hopefully pick up my Burkina Faso visa, prior to driving to Douala and then to the Atlantic Coastal town of Limbe and Mount Cameroon.

 

 

The Republic of Congo

Beginning my fourth month in Africa with country number six.  The Republic of Congo.

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I’m no expert in Gorilla language but I’m pretty sure he was saying,                   ” Welcome to the Congo, Rich.”

I’ve just driven across the border of the Congo into the Congo. Yes there’s two Congos next door to each other. I’ve just left the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and entered the Republic of the Congo, also known as Congo-Brazzaville. The DRC is several times larger than the RC and used to be called Zaire.  Both are French speaking.

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The road to the border

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Departing – Frontiere Congo Belge

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Arriving – Congo Francais

Although I enjoyed my time in the DRC and was in no hurry to leave, it’s a pleasant change to be in Brazzaville.

In Kinshasa I was asked for money and food fifty times a day and a couple of my traveling buddies were robbed. There’s a huge obvious divide between the 1% filthy rich and the 99% desperately poor. The population is not happy, the people are all on edge and aggressive. It’s a totally dysfunctional, misgoverned and broken country that continues to slowly decompose into the rubbish ridden forest that supports it.

So far the Republic of Congo is a complete contrast. The most obvious thing is how relaxed the people are. It’s like they go out of their way to be as different to their neighbours as possible.

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Grey Pratincole

I’m spending four days in Brazzaville to organise my Nigerian Visa, which I’ll need in August and to get permits for a couple of the Northern Congo National Parks, which I’m planning to visit over the next week or so on route to Cameroon.

Brazzaville has to be the quietest capital city in Africa.  There’s not a huge amount of traffic or noise, people are friendly, there’s very little crime and with a healthy splattering of patisseries and side walk cafes it has a very French feel to it.

My day in Brazzaville.
Today I had a late breakfast, did some laundry, wandered down to the local patisserie for a cake and ice-cream morning tea. Did some research into some national parks in the Northern Congo I’ll be visiting next week and caught a taxi to Mama Wati’s cafe on the riverfront where I had a plate of Congo River Prawns in Cognac Sauce for lunch with a gin and tonic. Caught a wooden canoe to the sandbar in the middle of the river and had a couple of beers before a game of beach volleyball. Hung around on the sandbar till after sunset, watching the bridge and city light up. Taxi back into the city for dinner at a local restaurant. Finish dinner 10pm and walk home through the city.

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The Sandbar

Five days ago the above sandbar was underwater. With each dry season it’s exposed for a few months and the locals set up a beach bar on the river.

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I really enjoyed Brazzaville. It’s been my favourite African city so far and I could have stayed longer but after four days and with my newly acquired Nigerian visa it was time to head north towards the northern border town of Ouesso (pronounced way-so).

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Leaving through the suburbs

Northern Congo Republic is one of the least visited and least developed areas in all of Africa and one of the last examples of untouched wilderness left in the World. It’s home to 50,000 Gorillas, one of Africa’s largest Elephant populations, 500 bird species, remote villages and home to several pygmy tribes.

We first drove north to the Bateke Plateau, a surreal grassland landscape that’s looks more like Scotland than Africa.

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We drove across a section of the plateau and then descended towards the Lefini River and the 440km sq Lesio-louna Gorilla Sanctuary adjoining Lefini NP, which is home to between 50-60 Western Lowland Gorillas.

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I travelled two hours down the rainforest lined Lefini River, passing the occasional patches of savanna with the plateau escarpment enticingly nearby.

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On one of the river bends we found a family of Hippos with three babies. As we were in a small boat we were careful not to get too close as an angry Hippo could of easily over-turned us. White-throated Blue Swallows, Brazza’s Martin’s, Horus Swifts and Black Saw-wings accompanied us on the river as we made our way along.

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Further on we found a large male 20yr old Gorilla in the riverside rainforest. We sat and watched for a while and as he walked out onto the nearby savanna for better views. Unlike the Mountain Gorillas of East Africa, this guy wasn’t habituated to tourists and wasn’t happy with our presence, so we moved on.

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I also climbed to the top of the escarpment and did a few rainforest walks finding a colony of Veillot’s Black Weavers, a few De Brazza’s Monkeys.

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Baby Gorilla in the forest

From the Lesio-louna and Lefini area we headed north towards Ouesso, across the equator and into the wet season.

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Typical village on the way north

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The new Chinese built road through the jungle

I arrived at Ouesso on Sunday the 16th, which was the day of the National election and the town was closed. Police and army allowed no one to enter and exit the town, so we back tracked to a camp on the edge of Odzala National Park and spent the day there.  I hired a pirogue (wooden canoe) and did a trip down the local river.

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River in Odzala National Park

Ouesso sits on the Cameroon/Congo Republic border and is the southern gateway to a huge area of national park which extends across three countries, the other being the Central African Republic (CAR).

The first morning in town I went to the local jetty and hired a pirogue.  We spent the day travelling north up the river towards the CAR border and visiting two Baka Pygmy villages.

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Ready to go

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Riverside forest

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Baka Pygmy village

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The local transport

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Photo in a local village

After a day on the Sangha River it was time to depart Ouesso and the Congo across the river and into my next country….. Cameroon.

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Congo (RC) on the right,  Cameroon on the left and Central African Republic (CAR) ahead.

Over the next week I’ll spend a few days in Lobeke National Park, Cameroon’s portion of the Sangha Tri-nation National Park area.  From there I’ll head to the capital Yaounde and then onto Limbe and Mount Cameroon,  the highest mountain in West Africa.  Hopefully I’ll arrive in Limbe around the 26th July.

Bye for now.

 

The DRC part 2

I couldn’t spend a week in Kinshasa without spending time on one of the world’s great waterways. The second largest river in the world by volume discharge of water and the world’s deepest river.

We cruised east from Kinshasa past countless rusting, dilapidated barges and ferries, some still afloat but most stuck in filthy rubbish strewn mud.  It wasn’t all that long ago the river was a thriving commercial highway from the resource rich Eastern Congo to the coast but now far fewer boats undertake the hazardous month long journey. Most exports now leave on tarred roads to the coast via Zambia and Tanzania in a quarter of the time.

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Many of the barges our now homes for hundreds of poverty stricken locals surviving on the fish they catch from the river.

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Further upriver we past stilted fishing villages where men spend their days net fishing in pirogues.

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As we traveled further upriver we caught up to two crowded local ferries loaded with people and goods to be traded in riverside villages along the way to Kisangani.

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On the way to Kisangani

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On a sandbar in the middle of the Congo River

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After eight days in Kinshasa and with my freshly issued Congo Republic and Cameroon visas in hand it was time to leave the city and start making my way west.

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A few hours down the road and then another two hours of dirt road later and we arrived at Zongo Falls. It was a long weekend in the DRC and there were a several ex-pats escaping the city for a few days tranquility.

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Deserted Congo beach

I stayed a night at the falls and the next day we drove for another hour further into the interior towards a beach on one of the Congo River’s tributaries. Along the way we found a nice waterfall and swimming hole.

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Shower and massage in one

At Mbanza-Ngungi we stopped to have a look at the old rail yard, which had 20-30 disused locomotives and carriages, which like the river barges, were rusting relics of a more productive time, not that long ago.

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In trip tradition we found the remotest border crossing on the map and headed for it. The 100km drive from the tarred road took us 24hrs. We crossed the Congo River at Wombo-Luozi on a ferry that was three boats welded together and camped the night on a white sand beach.

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Tommorow after twelve days in the DRC, I’ll head towards the border and depending on road conditions, cross into the Republic of Congo on the 6th July.

Bye for now…

 

Ateris Viper

Ateris Viper

Despite finishing my Angola blog saying I’d be in the DRC the following day, the road quickly deteriorated and we averaged about 6khr for all the following day, eventually arriving the Congo border town of Matadi on the 21 June and entering country number 5 of 50, the DRC.

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The road into the DRC

With surrounding borders closed, the crossing was ‘Congolese chaotic’ with an endless line of trucks and goods crossing northward. After negotiating our way through the Congolese officials we headed downhill towards the noisy pumping bordertown of Matadi.

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The way they roll in the DRC

After a kilometer I had my first views of the brown snake that winds it’s way across the heart of Africa for 3400km and in parts is twenty kilometers wide. The Congo River is my third big African river and I’ve only now the Niger River to see but that’s still two months away.

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My first view of the Congo River

After a month of savannah it was great to finally cross into the much more vibrant Central Africa.  With two nights in Matadi we explored the port town and spent our nights at a local roadside eatery with the local street meat venders cooking us a sensational goat stew.

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Matadi meat venders

 

I arrived in the DRC capital city, Kinshasa on the 24 June.

Kinshasa is the second biggest French speaking city in the World. It’s nestled on the shores of the Congo River directly opposite Brazzaville,  the capital city of The Republic of Congo.  It’s the only location in the World where two countries capital cities look at each across a river.

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Looking across the docks to Brazzaville

When I was in Uganda I met a guy who had been working for the United Nations in Kishahsa and when I asked him what it was like, he said it was “a big nasty city that you’re best to avoid”.

I’ve read that Kinshasa defies description but my Brandt Guide describes the city as an ever-shifting huge disorderly mass of people, chaos, squalor and maddening traffic on pot-holed streets, which at night becomes a never sleeping city of lights, bars, huge evening markets with throngs of street sellers and beggers. Traffic still clogs the streets with thousands of people moving in every direction.  Despite all this I’m really enjoying my time in the city.

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Fishing village Kinshasa

 

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Rusting barges line the river

 

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Kinshasa’s main market and ever present rubbish

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On the outskirts of the city lies Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary, where young Bonobos are rescued usually from the bush meat trade and later re-released in a remote part of the northern Congo.

Bonobo’s are our nearest relatives and different to Chimps in that they have longer legs, spend more time walking upright, have pink lips and are less aggressive.  Only found in the remote swamp forests of the Northern Congo, they’re very difficult to see in the wild.

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Bonobo.  Pan paniscus

I spent a morning watching about twenty in their jungle home.

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Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary Kinshasa DRC

We also visited Serpents du Congo and spent a couple of hours watching and handling some Central African snakes, which included Green & Black Mamba and a couple of groovy vipers.

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Exploring the city we visited a couple of local markets and made our way East to Chez Tin Tin Café, which sits aside the mighty Livingstone Falls and rapids which stretch for over 300km downstream and have for centuries made the river impenetrable into the country’s centre.

We had lunch at Chez Tin Tin and stood besides the rapids where an insane amount of brown water descended over the rocks with waves as high as five meters.  Easily the most powerful rapids I’ve ever seen.

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White-crowned Lapwing

We drove to President Kabila’s Palace and managed to talk our way into an unannounced tour of the grounds as well as a visit to the former presidents mausoleum with accompanying history lesson from one of the guards.

 

A visit to the local port resulted in being detained by the local authorities for a couple of hours.  Our guide asked if we could have a look around to see the barges that depart on the month long river journey to Kisangani and our guide was arrested by the local police and army and dragged away.  While we were waiting for him to return one of the guys with me took a photo of the port area and then we were all detained and taken to an unmarked building for questioning.  After explaining we were tourists, we had to wait to see the Commander.  The Commander was busy in his office with two young ladies and had other things on his mind.  We were free to go.

So far on my African journey I’ve experienced many of the different sights and sounds of the real Africa trying to avoid the well trodden tourists routes. Over the next six weeks I’ll travel the full length of the Congo Republic and north to West Africa across Cameroon and Nigeria, along remote roads and across land few travellers have yet discovered.

….but first there’s a short Congo River cruise.

Bye till then.

Angola

Date: 19 June 2017
Location: N’zeto on the northern Angolan coast about 80km south of the DRC border.

I departed Kafue National Park, Zambia on the 7 June and in the last twelve days we’ve driven across Western Zambia and Eastern Angola. Despite trying to enter the DRCongo south of Kikwit, our attempts have been thwarted by the 1.3 million refuges fleeing the humanitarian crisis in the Congo. Angola have closed all their northern borders except the crossing at Matadi, so we’ve had to drive a few hundred kilometers further west than anticipated.

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The beginning of my third month in Africa coincided with entering my fourth African country, Angola.

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Lilac-breasted Roller

Leaving Zambia :

At the end of the main street of Mongu the road turns right onto a new $300 million bridge across the mighty Zambezi River and it’s impressive 30km wide floodplain.

As I travelled across what must be one of the world’s most impressive and surreal wetland ecosystems, it was eerily devoid of large animals, almost certainly a result of the 27year long Angolan Civil War.

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The Zambezi River full of wet season rain

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Sikongo was the last town in Zambia before entering no man’s land in between the two countries.

After leaving what was basically a lonely dusty outpost on top of a sandhill the road quickly deteriorated back into floodplain. It didn’t take long to get bogged but after a bit of shovel time and using the sand mats, we made it across the water and back onto soft sand.

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The road ahead

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The road across the Zambezi floodplain

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Saddle-billed Stork

We drove across open plain for the rest of the day before camping by the road under a full moon in the middle of nowhere.

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Camped beside the road to Angola

An early start and another full day of soft sand driving, eventually crossing into my fourth country of the trip through a wooden gate with a painted flag and another remote immigration outpost.

So rarely visited is this portion of the continent that it took us a day and a half of driving to get from the Zambian to the Angolan customs gate, compared to what is usually a few meters at most border crossings. The immigration official said we were the first tourists through the border in over two years.

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You’re a tourist….. What’s that?

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Once in Angola the deep sand continued for another day as we past through small villages of about 30 people with just about everyone speaking only Portuguese. The children from the villages ran behind us waving and smiling as we past by.

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We stopped on the outskirts of a village and were greeted by a fellow visiting from the capital, Luanda which is 1600km away and spoke English. He gave me a tour of the village where I spoke to his uncle who told me the local villages were full of people who fled the war to Zambia and were still returning.

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Angolan border village

We continued to travel north through Moxico Province (Mo-cheek-o) and after five days of bush camping we found a clear fast flowing creek with a nice swimming hole.  It was good to have a swim and wash off the sand and dirt.

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The concept of tourism hasn’t made it to Eastern Angola yet. It’s a landscape of poor villages, forests being cleared, rusting post civil war tanks, mine fields and security check points. The first two days heading to Luena our papers were checked four times and the vehicle was searched three times.

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Abandoned tank in the grass

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Anti-tank mine field. Marked but not yet cleared.

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Saurimo Markets

After another three days of driving north west past countless small villages and through dry savanna and patches of Moimbo Woodland and I arrived at the highlight of my time in Angola…. Kalandula Falls in Malanje Province.

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Calandula Falls

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Quedas de Calandula

The falls are the second biggest in Africa and certainly have to be one of Africa’s most breathtaking attractions, particularly from below with the daily accompanying rainbow.

Victoria Falls receive hundreds of thousands of international visitors a year, while these falls would attract just a handful. There’s no motels, signage, cafes, ticket offices, souvenirs or even guard rails near the edge.

From Kalandula Falls we drove west to Luanda, Angola’s coastal capital and then north along the coast to N’zeto.

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We arrived in the Atlantic Ocean coastal fishing town on a dull overcast day with accompanying grey ocean, with only the local fishing boats and nets to add colour to the beach.

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N’zeto Beach

 

From here we’ll hopefully cross into the DRC (Congo) either tomorrow or the next day and then make our way to Kinshasa, we’re I’ll spend 4-5 days exploring the city and surrounding area.

Apparently the vehicle ferry used to cross the Congo River from Kinshasa to Brazzaville is ‘out of order’,  so we’ll have to retrace our path and find another crossing further west sometime next fortnight.

Hopefully I’ll be in the DRC for about 10-14 days prior to entering the other Congo and heading north towards Cameroon.

Bye for now.

After resupplying in Lusaka I headed north west towards Kafue National Park,  pronounced ka-foo-ee.  At 22,500 sq km it’s one of Africa’s largest parks and bigger than a couple of African countries.  We found Roy’s Kafue Riverside Campsite and quickly booked a night safari through the nearby savannah and Moimbo woodland which dominates most of Zambia.

The guys from Ila Safari Lodge arrived about 4pm and we headed off under a rising full moon in search of some nocturnal critters.

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We headed off on a rather cool evening, having climbed to 1200m the prior day and soon found a group of Yellow Baboons, the leaner and less aggressive cousins of the Olive Baboon I’d seen previously.

The most common grazer in the park is Puku (Kobus vardonii) and we soon found several groups of these often feeding with Impala.

Warthogs, Zebra and Bushbuck were in small numbers and the early evening high light were two skittish but never the less impressive large male Kudu.

Water and Spotted Thickknees were common and Bronze-winged Courser was abundant. The avian high light was a Spotted Eagle Owl which gave us cracking views as it perched conveniently in a road side tree.

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Spotted Eagle Owl

For the first two hours we’d failed to find any of the much sort after big cats dispite finding some Lion tracks on the roadside and following them down some bush tracks.

Elephant and Hippos were seen feeding in the darkness and after another half hour of searching, our driver Lexon, received a radio call from Ila Safari Lodge that a pride of Lion had just made a kill about 2km from our camp.

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We dashed to the site and found seven Lions with a freshly killed Impala.  We sat nearby and watched as they began to disperse to continue their nightly hunt.

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The highlight was a lioness that walked down the side of my open sided 4×4 only one meter from me, stopping to look me over prior to casually walking off into the darkness towards where I was camped.

I arrived back at the campground in time for a quick snack and some sleep before a 6am game drive in Ila Safari Lodge’s purpose built convertible Landcruiser Troopies.

We departed the campground in the predawn in time to watch the sun rise over the Zambian Savannah.

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Yellow Baboons

 

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Impala and Puku

 

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Puku

Kudu 2

 

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Grey-crowned Crane

We stopped to watch a lone Elephant feeding in the Moimbo Forest.   It turned and charged through the trees at our vehicle so we decided to leave.

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Early morning in Kafue National Park

The Kafue River cuts through the national park meandering it’s way south and we took the opportunity to cruise the river for a few hours aboard Ila Safari Lodge’s solar powered electric boat.

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Hamakop and Nile Crocodile

Every few meters Hippos submerged as we approached or inquisitively watched us go by.

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African Fish Eagle – Kafue River

A pair of Wire-tailed Swallows followed us down river and a pair of magnificent African Fish Eagles stayed close by waiting for the boat to disturb some fish for their next meal.

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Three Hippos with two Elephants in the background

A lone Hippo under an overhanging branch allowed us to approach quite close until we realized it was dead and the surrounding water full of Nile Crocodiles.

The highlight was watching a herd of Elephant walk down from the Savannah to drink at the river.  An adolescent stopped for a quick drink and then plunged into the river, totally disappearing under the water for about ten seconds.

We watched it drink, bath and roll over before again totally submerging, providing a spectacular ending to our cruise and my stay in Zambia’s Kafue National Park.

Our two guides from Ila Lodge where two of the best I’ve had on any African day safari I’ve done.  Lexon knew the local animals and his knowledge of the park’s birds was outstanding.

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Elephant bathing

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The following morning after an early start it was back on the road and heading west towards The Zambezi River and Angola.

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Back on the road and heading west

Sent from Mongu, Western Zambia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zambia week one

Zambia – Country number 3 of 50.

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My route from Kigoma to Lusaka over the last fortnight

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Chameleon

A fairly quiet first week in Zambia.

After a day and a half drive, the Zambian border was down a remote dirt road with a small accompanying collection of thatched roofed huts. There was a steel gate, a small brick hut and a border official. I got the impression he doesn’t see many passing tourists.

I spent the following morning in Kasama picking up a Zambian MTN Phone Sim Card and buying a few supplies before continuing south to Kapishya Hot Springs where I stayed for two days.

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Local market. Drink and haircut = $3.

The springs flow into the local river and we camped on the riverbank in picturesque surroundings. The owner of the property, Mark Harvey suggested a walk along the river and up into the nearby Hills, so I spent the first morning birding and adding to my slowly growing African bird list.  Even though I’m not on a birding trip I’m still finding time to add a couple of species each day.

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Pearl-spotted Owlet

 

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Kapishya Hot Springs

 

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Munswa River

The hot springs were great and I spent a couple of hours lazing around in the water.

Even though the weather was overcast and cool we decided to go rafting on the local river. We cruised down the river for an hour and a half, only getting stuck on one rock.

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I arrived back from rafting just in time to change and dash to the local lodge for high tea at 4.30pm, with plenty of cake and slice, which was nice.

From Kapishya it was tarred road all the way into Lusaka, arriving Thursday afternoon in time for our appointment at the Angolan Embassy the following morning.

I set up my tent in the Eureka Campground on the southern outskirts of Lusaka with Zebras walking around the grounds and the following day a Giraffe wandered past. I thought that was pretty cool until they woke me up at 4am!

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The next day we caught a taxi to the Elephant Orphanage Project at Lilayi on the outskirts of Lusaka which cares for baby elephants whose mothers have been killed by poachers.

 

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Baby Elephant drinking

 

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Baby Elephant dusting

 

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Lizard Buzzard

From Lusaka the original plan was to head north into the DRC and after a month arrive in Kinshasa.  Unfortunately Kasai Province is in the grip of a violent conflict between the military and local insurgents, resulting in over 400 deaths and over a million people displaced in the last nine months.  News from people on the ground in Kananga in the last week has been of gun battles in the main streets and more mass graves being discovered.  So with that in mind, we’ve decided to detour into Moxico Province, Eastern Angola and enter the DRC (Congo) further west.

After a visit to Roy’s Kafue Campsite in Kafue National Park I’ll be heading into the remote north western corner of Zambia attempting a route that we can’t find any records of previous travellers attempting.  In places there are no roads or bridges on any map we can find and my route will probably change depending on non-existent roads,  broken bridges, river crossings etc…..  We’ll be discussing possible routes with local villages and truck drivers as we go along.

The plan is to arrive in Leuna, Angola and then head north entering the DRC under Kikwit sometime before the 26 June.

Off into the unknown I go ……….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gombe Stream National Park boat trip

After a relaxing two days in Mwanza on the shores of Lake Victoria it was time to head west on the two day drive to Kigoma, nestled on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, the world’s longest freshwater lake.

 In addition to being 660 km long it’s also the world’s second oldest, second deepest and second largest freshwater lake.

 We found the new road through Tabora and arrived at Jakobson Beach on the outskirts of Kigoma the following afternoon.

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Gombe Stream NP

I had an early start the following morning for a two-and-a-half-hour boat trip north to Gombe Stream National Park.  Gombe is where Jane Goodall conducted her Chimpanzee studies and I visited the research centre and tracked chimps through the park’s steep valleys, finishing with a refreshing visit to the local Kakombe rainforest waterfall.

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Jakobson’s Beach, Kigoma

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Watching the sunrise over the lake and spending four hours on the water passing fishing villages and rocky headlands was another African trip highlight. 

 Lake Tanganyika is one of those places I’ve been looking at on the map since I was a little kid and to   spend a few days swimming, boating, snorkelling and relaxing on its shoreline was very satisfying and enjoyable.

 

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Monkey watching me swim

After a couple of days in Kigoma I headed south towards Mpanda, the only town of any size between Kigoma and the Zambian border.

 

We resupplied in Mpanda at the local markets and continued south towards Katavi National Park, tucked away in remote Western Tanzania. Katavi receives as many visitors in a year that the Serengeti receives per day.

 

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We camped the night at Katavi Riverside Camp and spent the afternoon sitting on the banks of the river watching six partly submerged Hippos plunge, wallow and grunt their way around the pool as well as three species of kingfisher doing their thing.

 

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Nile Crocodiles

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After Katavi my trip headed west back to the shores of Lake Tanganyika, eventually arriving at Lake Shore Lodge near Kipili.  The lodge is surely one of the nicest placed to stay in all of East Africa with spectacular views across the lake to the DRC and several nearby islands.

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Early the next morning I was on the dive boat and headed to Mvuna Island 5.5km offshore to dive with the cichlids.  It was a cracking warm African morning, with accompanying cloudless sky and a calm millpond lake.  We anchored behind the island in an idyllic, tranquil bay lined with huge rock formations placed with feng-shui perfection. 

 Offshore from the main island were the two smaller rock fringed islands where I spent the morning exploring the underwater caves and grottoes.  The warm, calm, gin clear water was alive with fish.  It was like swimming in a huge tropical Tanganyika Cichlid aquarium and as good as any coral reef I’ve dived on. 

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Southern Carmine Bee-eater

 

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Fishing village whilst on the Lake Shore Lodge sunset cruise

I reluctantly departed Lake shore Lodge and Lake Tanganyika  to continue south towards the next country on my travels, Zambia, where I’ll cross the entire 2000km over the next three weeks on the way to Moxico Province, Eastern Angola.  My next post should be from Lusaka.

 

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