Unlike Liberia, Sierra Leone was the country in West Africa that I knew the least about. I knew the capital was Freetown, English is the national language and the country was declared ebola free in 2016. Apart from that my knowledge of Sierra Leone was from the movie Blood Diamond.
Things move slowly at the Sierra Leone border. Passport details are hand written into a large book in red pen, blue pen and green pen, then the Yellow Fever health inspector writes it all out again in another large book and somehow managers to write my ‘date of validity’ as the 29/2/2017!
From the slow pace of the immigration post, things turned even slower past the border as the road quickly deteriorated into a 4×4 track, complete with broken down trucks and deep pools of water which we had to walk through before driving to check the depth and for hidden objects on the bottom, like motor bikes!
From the border we headed to Keneme, where the Gola National Park Headquarters are situated. Keneme in the past has been a centre for diamond mining and despite things being slower these days, there’s a still a few diamond traders and dealers in town. Tony, Thijs and I hired a guide for four days, then hired a 4×4 and driver. Once that was sorted we hired a heap of equipment, a cook, a compulsory local guide and finally a few porters to carry everything into the North Gola Forest.
After buying food at the local market we spent the next couple of hours bouncing along a rough rainforest track eventually arriving in the small village of Lalehun.
We spent the night at the national park lodge which was comfortable and our guides prepared a meal of fish stew and rice while we sat on the veranda and enjoyed a torrential tropical downpour.
The following morning we walked 12km through pristine rainforest to our camp where our porters had set up our tents and our chicken and rice dinner was waiting. We stayed the night and spent the next morning watching a pair of Gola Malimbe build a nest.
After another 12km hike through the forest we drove to Kambama Village. The village today is a hive of activity servicing the nearby Tiwai Island but three years ago it was decimated by Ebola. The village was hit hard and there were only a few people remaining in the village.
Tiwai Island is a incredible oasis in the middle of a deforested country. The Moa River splits in two forming the twelve kilometre rainforest covered Tiwai Island which is perhaps best known for having the highest concentration and diversity of primates in the World.
I did several walks and a couple of boat trips along the river. The best fun we had was a boat trip that started at 10pm. The trip was in a canoe so we could navigate the smaller inter island channels. We crept through the dark jungle along shallow creeks and bounced though several sets of rapids. Several times we got stuck on invisible underwater boulders and despite our skipper’s best efforts with his pole, on one occasion the water level was too low to navigate some rapids, so at midnight we climbed out of the canoe and clamped over a few boulders pulling the canoe along in the dark. We had nice views of African Palm Civit and Rufous Fishing Owl and it was one of the best things I’ve done in Africa.
After Tiwai Island I traveled back to the coast and a few days on the Freetown Peninsula. After a week in spectacular rainforest it didn’t take long for the stark reality of rural Sierra Leone to set in. Sadly, virtually the entire country has been torched. There was no time on our 200km journey where smoke didn’t fill the air. Horizon to horizon slash and burn.
My travel buddies all went into Freetown while I enjoyed Bureh Beach on my own for three days.
An entire lobster was $10, so I had seafood for lunch and dinner every day and spent most the remaining time swimming.
My taxi trip into Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone took two hours. Freetown also overlooks the ocean and reminds me of Monrovia but even though its safe and the people are friendly its just another crowded West African city and I chose to spent my one night in the motel making the most of the fast internet and replying to emails etc.
Tomorrow we’ll drive back into Guinea where I need to spend two days in the capital city Conakry to get my visa for Guinea-Bissau.
After leaving Conakry we’re heading up into the mountains and the Fouta Djallon region for about nine days.
Bye for now . .
Liberia is a country with an incredible and tumultuous history. The small coastal, predominantly Christian and English speaking West African nation was formed in the 1840’s by over 18,000 freed American and Caribbean slaves who returned to Africa.
Their flag is modelled on the US flag and the nation was the first African state to declare its independence. It is also Africa’s first and oldest modern republic and was a founding member of the United Nations.
Unfortunately in recent times it’s people have had to endure milatary coups, two civil wars and an Ebola outbreak.
From the border crossing we drove only a few kilometres before turning down a jungle track which after twenty minutes ended at a long disused quarry which is locally known as Blue Lake.
The water was fresh and clear and a perfect temperature for swimming. I set up my tent on the waters edge and spent the afternoon relaxing.
The area near the border is dominated by Mt Nimba and a huge area of rainforest. We explored the rainforest and then began the trip towards the capital Monrovia. With poor roads and lots of delays from roadworks we stopped halfway at Kpatawe Waterfalls where I climbed up the cascade and spent an hour laying in the current and sprawled out on the rocks. Very refreshing in the humidity.
The area was at one stage a RAMSAR site but unfortunately the wetlands have all been replaced with rice fields and rubber plantations.
My next stop was a couple of days at the beach and Libassa Eco Lodge, which is about 30km east of Monrovia.
There isn’t much to say about Libassa except, ‘swim, eat, swim, drink, swim, sleep X 3’
Before long I arrived on `planet Monrovia`the capital of Liberia.
I caught a taxi up to the Ducor Hotel, which a few years ago was one of Africa’s few five star hotels and where numerous dignitaries stayed from African despots to UN staff. Amongst those was Idi Amin who famously swam in the hotel pool and refused to take his gun off because he didn’t trust everyone around him.
The Ducor, is just one of hundreds of old ‘colonial type’ buildings throughout the country that were destroyed by worlord Charles Taylor and his murdering band of rebels and child soldiers that terrorised the region causing three civil wars in two countries. When his war crimes trial concluded in The Hague in 2012, the judge in summing up stated, “The accused has been found responsible for……… some of the most heinous and brutal crimes in recorded human history.”
I travelled around parts of Monrovia by motorbike taxi and chattered to locals, all of whom seemed optimistic about their nation’s road to recovery from wars and Ebola.
Nestled on a remote part of the Liberian west coast, near the Sierra Leone border is one of Africa’s gems. The quiet town of Robertsport, which is well known today as one of Africa’s best surfing spots.
The main surfing season is during the wet season and the waves were only small when I visited but the occasional larger set came through and the local village kids were out there carving up the left hand point break on donated boards.
The beaches are clean, the water clear, the locals are friendly and there are no crowds or beach boys or venders to be seen anywhere. Idyllic, pretty much sums it up. It’s certainly one of the three nicest beach locations I’ve visited in Africa.
I went for a walk along the coast to a shipwreck that mysteriously appeared one night during a storm two years ago.
I met the local fisherman on the beach one morning and bought a large fish off him. I took it to the beach cafe near where I was staying and they smothered it in limes and spices, wrapped it in foil and three hours later we had a sensational lunchtime feast.
From Robertsport it was only a couple of hours drive to the Sierra Leone border on the Mano River at Bo Waterside.
I was stamped out of Liberia relatively smoothly and pointed in the direction of the bridge and river below. On the other side of that river is Sierra Leone.
Bye for now….
After two weeks in Ghana I’ve crossed into French speaking Cote d’Iviore Aka the Ivory Coast and my 35th African country.
I crossed into the IC at a remote border crossing between Sampa and Soko. The IC officials were initially not pleased to see us but after a while we got our passports stamped and they mellowed. We were the first tourists they’d seen in a long time and a bit of a novelty for them. By the time we were leaving, all the customs, immigration and police officials wanted their photos taken with us in front of their building.
We drove for another two days, eventually arriving at Comoé National Park.
Comoé National Park is the largest protected area in West Africa and in 1983 the park was pronounced a biosphere reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage site, due to its unique biodiversity. The park out ranks the more famous East African parks like the Serengeti, in supposedly having the most biodiverse savanna in the world.
It took two days of forest roads which weren’t all that bad to reach the ranger station and then an hour of rough national park roads to get to the research station where we spent two nights. Our only real obstacle was a bridge we couldn’t drive across so we drove down the bank and across the creek bed.
The research station is on the banks of the Comoé River where I spent a few hours sitting on the rocks, having a swim and watching the world go by while keeping a watchful eye out for hippos and crocs.
I did a couple of walks exploring the gallery forest and adjacent savanna but disappointingly wildlife was thin on the ground and was probably all killed for food during the recent civil war.
From Comoé we drove west towards Kong and Korhogo for two days which I didn’t enjoy after being bitten by a spider in the park. To add to the fun we drove for long days on rough roads, through hot, dry, dusty and burnt savanna to get to Korhogo, which was pretty much the worst landscape I’ve come across on the continent so far.
After a quick look at the adobe mosque in Kong we continued west and occasionally we’d come across small villages with hundreds of Cashew Trees in nearby plantations. We stopped a couple of times to fill up our water bottles from the village well and crossed a river by a hand operated ferry.
It was washing day when we arrived at the river.
Korhogo was a good two day break from the dusty roads and gave me a chance to pick up a few items from the shops, do some laundry and have a look around town. I left the motel and walked past the ‘Ministry of Professional Techniques’ building (not sure what that’s all about) before checking out a couple of artisan markets and then found myself out of town at a women only granite quarry.
It’s a common sight in Africa to see people on the side of the road breaking rocks but this was the first actual large mine I’d visited. When I walked up to the edge I had trouble comprehending what I was seeing. The hillside mine was uniformly grey granite and there were women in brightly coloured clothes in the mine. I soon realised they were carry bags of rock and most were swinging large hammers in the heat. The photos above and below haven’t been photoshopped. These are the actual colours.
On the last afternoon I joined a local tour operator and we visited a nearby village for some traditional dancing and drumming.
Many countries in Africa have local tribal displays and I always have in the back of mind that they’re going to be contrived and touristy but generally they turn out to be pretty good. I had no hesitation going along to this one because one thing West Africans can do exceedingly well is drum and dance. Most of the village showed up and the dances put on an acrobatic display to sensational drumming. It was a really good afternoon.
My next stop was in whats most likely the World’s strangest and most bizarre capital cities… Yamoussoukro.
Built by the previous president, who like many of his African counterparts ruled the country for thirty years, convincingly winning every election. He was born in the small village of Yamoussoukro and decided he’d turn his village into the capital city, as you do! He spent billions on six lane freeways, grand hotels, government buildings and a huge presidential Palace with a moat full of crocodiles. African nations might struggle when it comes to education, health care and democracy but they’re gold medalists when it comes to building presidential palaces.
If you thought the World’s largest Christian church was in Rome or Europe, you’d be wrong. It’s here in Yamoussoukro. After the ex-pres finished his palace he decided to build a church and built the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Paix. He even convinced the Pope to pop down to Cote d’Iviore to officially open it.
The drive to Abidjan was quick and smooth along the freeway and being Saturday, the run through the city was relatively quick.
Before long I was back on the coast and at the resort town of Grand Bassam which reminds me of Zanzibar, with local artisans, hectic traffic, overcrowding, beach boys and a constant stream of people walking the beach selling everything imaginable, all in an atmosphere of dripping humidity.
Forty kilometers East along the coast is the much smaller town of Assinie-Mafia, so the three of us got in a taxi the next morning and went exploring the coast.
The area is basically a long sand spit of humid palm lined beaches backed by a blue/green lagoon and tempered by a warm breeze from the Gulf of Guinea. We found a guy with a pirogue and set off to explore the lagoon which winds its way behind town through several channels, many of which are lined with large beach houses with private jettys, owned by rich Ivorians from Abidjan.
Joseph Conrad in his famous book, ‘Heart of Darkness’ described the area as, ‘uniform sobreness’, which is a pretty accurate description even today.
Lunch and dinner everyday was deliciously the same. The local barbecued whole fish (poisson braise) with spices is excellent and one of the things I was looking forward to most in West Africa. With the occasional ‘pain au chocolate’ and Bordeaux red, the French influence was much appreciated.
After two weeks I’d covered a good portion of Cote d’Iviore with only the highlands near the Guinea border remaining. We couldn’t visit the IC without visiting the remote mountain tribes which are famous for their Stilt Dancing ceremony.
We drove north towards a town called Man and stayed a night in the village Silakoro, a further 110km through the mountains, where we spent the afternoon watching Stilt Dancing.
The villages sang and danced and drummed for over an hour and then the spirits appeared from the forest on their stilts and spun and danced until dusk when a tropical thunderstorm descended on the village. Another great day in Africa
After four days we crossed the border into Guinea. I’ll be only spending a couple of days in Guinea before heading to Mt Nimba in Liberia. We’ll make our way through Liberia and then Sierra Leone, eventually crossing back into Guinea again sometime in mid-April.
Bye for now.
I’ve arrived in tropical West Africa where I’ll spend most of the next four months traveling north to Senegal and then south to Togo, Gabon and Sao Tome. Apart from a couple of inland national parks I’ll be traveling the coastal route north to Dakar.
This vibrant part of Africa is best described as, ‘where rainforest meets the ocean’, for literally thousands of kilometers but for many people this part of the world is all about military coups, dictators, over zealous warlords, rampant malaria, aids, blood diamonds, ebola outbreaks and civil wars. For me it’ll be all about beaches, culture and national parks. We’ll that’s the plan at this stage anyway.
Two years ago when I was in Cameroon, we couldn’t travel north through the Gulf of Guinea due to hundreds of kilometres of impassible wet season roads, so we headed inland through Northern Benin, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Mali. Since that time, I’ve been itching to get back to the West African coast in the dry season.
Africa has many different ecological zones from the East African savanna to the Congo Basin, the Sahal, Sudan, Sahara and the Horn of Africa all of which I’ve now explored. The Upper Guinea Forests between the Dohomey Gap and Guinea Bissau form the last mainland ecozone of Africa for me to visit and I’m looking forward to some diffent birds and animals found no where else in Africa.
Because I was planning to cross land borders between countries I needed to obtain five visas prior to landing in Accra, Ghana. I managed to get two at home and then spent a fortnight in London organising the final three visas and doing some travel around England, Wales and Scotland in between embassy visits.
With five visas in my passport I flew south and made myself at home in Accra. My first four days were then spent getting my sixth visa, this time for Cote d’Ivoire.
Finally I waved goodbye to Accra and headed to Cape Coast and Elmina. The coastline is dotted with castles or slave forts, where thousands of slaves were shipped off to Europe and the Americas by English, Dutch and Portuguese slave traders for a couple of centuries.
The biggest fort is Elmina which is situated on a river mouth which today is cramed with wooded fishing boats.
Next stop along the coast was Brenu Beach, which is a quiet palm tree lined beach with a small cafe and beach bar.
I spent the afternoon on a deck chair looking out across the Atlantic under grey clouds and enjoying a cold beer in the humidity.
After a walk along the beach the next morning I jumped in a taxi with my two birding buddies, Tony (UK) and Thijs (Holland) and travelled inland to Kakum NP, which is famous for its rainforest canopy walk.
Over the next three days we spent about six hours on the canopy walk, ensuring we were off by the time the first school group arrived about 9.30am. The suspended walk is very unstable at the best of times and for the local school kids it’s the closest thing to an amusement park ride they have in Ghana.
Sadly the rainforest near Kakum is being cut down for timber and Oil Palm plantations. Mile after mile has been cleared and there is a constant stream of logging trucks coming out of the forest. We stopped at a river and along the river bank found a small palm oil processing plant using equipment which looked like it was from the first few years of the industrial revolution.
From Kakum NP our driver Michael hired a friend’s car and we set off in search of, one of Africa’s most incredible and iconic birds…….. Picathartes.
In 1955 David Attenborough first came to Africa with his new New TV series called Zoo Quest. He came in search of a creature that no one had seen before.
Believed to have remained hidden and unchanged in the remote rainforests of Western and Central Africa for 44 million years, Picathartes is one of the World’s most spectacular and amazing birds.
We arrived in the small village of Bonkro and hired two local guides. Seems you can’t just hire one guide, they come in pairs. A twenty minute walk through the forest bought us to an area of large rocky overhangs and several nests. We waited for an hour and then over the next hour we had five Picathartes hoping and flying around us. It was an incredible wildlife experience.
From Kakum we drove north along quiet highways, past the occasional truck crash which are ubiquitous across all of Africa, into tropical savanna and days where the temperature was now over forty degrees.
Fuller Falls was the next stop where there’s a small waterfall and a campground. I wandered down to the falls and stood under the waterfall for half an hour. It was a welcome relief from the heat.
Mole NP is Ghana’s largest and most popular national park. Situated in northern Ghana its primarily savanna and well known for its large population of elephants.
We did a walking safari and a night drive through the park. Compared to the savanna parks of East Africa, Mole NP was fairly ordinary. We spent the remaining hours of the day hanging out at the lodge pool and bar, which sat on the cliff above the main watering hole for the park’s Elephants.
I was glad to leave to head back to the coast but its going to take a week of exploring the remote North Eastern corner of the Ivory Coast before I get anyway near the Atlantic again.
After leaving Mole NP I briefly stopped in Larabanga and had a look at the white mosque but didn’t do a tour, rather just walked around to stretch my legs.
Driving towards the border, we ran out of daylight and took a turn down towards the Bui Reservoir where we gave the local village elder a couple of dollars and some food and they were happy for us to camp near the water near the village.
I sat and watched the sun set over the lake and nearby mountains while the local fisherman returned from a day’s fishing in their pirogues.
Four years ago the area was several square kilometers of cattle pasture, then they built the dam and many of the villages have turned their hands to fishing.
We’re planning to cross the Cote d’Iviore border at Sampa and head towards Camoe National Park. There’s virtually no information about the park and we have no idea what the roads and bridges are like. We’re winging it, exploring the area and should get to a village called Kong in about a week.
Bye for now.
After the Luxor Museum we hopped on a couple of donkey carts and went for a ride. We headed into the nearby suburbs and explored back alleys and side streets meeting lots of locals. It was a fun afternoon out.
We finished the day with dinner at a roof top restaraunt over looking the Nile.
From Luxor we drove to the Red Sea Coast which is littered with the entire range of resorts from huge sprawling five star palaces to spartan seaside shacks, all of them have coral reef at the front door and clear Red Sea waters, great for diving.
We started at the spartan end of the scale, spending a night at the Rocky Valley Camp, which is a few wooded huts on the beach with an attached restraraunt and bar.
I was promptly in the water exploring the nearby reef and finished the day with great meal of freshly caught tuna.
From Rocky Valley we made the short trip to the resort town Hergharda and upgraded to the sprawling Arabia Azure Resort.
I spent the afternoon exploring the resort and decided, since food and drinks were free, to swim, eat and drink my way around all the beaches and pools. I failed miserably and after three hours had only managed half the resort.
The following day I spent on a dive boat anchored off the Giftun Islands. I did two nice dives with White Dolphin Divers. The fish life was excellent and we found a cave to explore at 30m.
The next stop after Hergharda was our penultimate destination, Cairo. We drove the 500km to our inner city hotel and unpacked our gear from the truck which had been our base for the previous four months.
It took over an hour to clear all our gear off the truck. Many of our travel items and clothes we had no further need for and as the truck was going south through Uganda and Malawi at Christmas time, our driver, Talbot was planning to donate it to a couple of villages along the way. I’d already sent home a bag of warm clothes I used in Iceland, Denmark and Sweden earlier in the year and after sorting out gear, still had to buy another two suitcases to get all the stuff home! I’m still not sure how we accumulated an EXTRA forty kilos of luggage in six months!
The following morning five of us jumped in a mini van with our guide and headed to the pyramids.
The pyramids were as incredible as I’d expected. I walked/crawled inside one of the narrow chambers and then we did a short Camel ride across the sand to take some photos without tourist coaches in the background. They still let you climb five or six levels up the pyramid but you’re no longer allowed to climb to the top and in a couple of months, when the tram line opens, the entire area will be fenced off and you’ll no longer be able to go within 50m of them.
From the pyramids we visited the sphinx and then drove across the city to the Cairo Museum which houses the world’s largest collection of ancient Egyptian antiquities. We spent two hours wandering the corridors and viewing some of the incredible 120,000 artifacts on display.
In five months the new Egyptian Museum opens in Giza next to the pyramids and my guide tells me it will be the world’s largest archeological museum.
The following morning I was off to the Algerian Embassy where I was promptly told, “We only issue visas to Egyptian citizens”.
That was the end of my plans to visit Algeria next week. I’ll have to move onto Plan C and delay Algeria for a few weeks.
I said goodbye to Lynda, Dan, Nick and Sam and was once again traveling on my own.
With time to spare I decided to spend some more time in Alexandria and the Mediterranean Coast. The following morning I jumped in a taxi to the Ramesis Train Station and caught a train 220km to the city of Alexandria on the Mediterranean, where my coast to coast journey South to North, 23,000km across Africa was finally completed.
I could have just done Cape Town to Cairo but I wanted to stand on the beach in Cape Town looking out into the Southern Ocean and then swim in the Mediterranean at the other end of the continent, although my swim would have to wait a bit longer.
After Alexandria I caught the bus to Marsa Matruh, 300km further west along the north coast.
The next day my taxi driver took me to Cleopatra’s Beach about 5km from town. It was nice but nothing special. Apparently Cleopatra swam there once.
We continued west for another twenty kilometers to Agida Beach, this time for a swim. We were closer to the Libyan border and the increased army presence was obvious, as were the fighter jets overhead and surface to air missile launchers.
Agiba has to be close to the nicest coastline on the planet and the bay is incredibly beautiful with gin clear water, white sand and calm water thats perfect for swimming. I had the place to myself! The only negative is the rubbish, which you can’t escape anywhere in Egypt.
I arrived back to the motel mid afternoon and realised I should have opened the curtains in my room before now. I arrived in the dark the night before and didn’t realise the motel had it’s own beautiful private beach only ten meters from my room!! Guess where I spent the rest of the day?
After a relaxing stay at Marsa Matruh I headed to El Alemein where I visited the Commonwealth War Cemetery and the El Alemein War Museum.
The rows and rows of headstones are a stark and sombre reminder of those 7300 Commonwealth soldiers that lost their lives fighting for freedom against the nazi war machine in North Africa.
The entire El Alemein waterfront for several kilometers is a huge construction project. The Egyptians are building their own version of Dubai on their Mediterranean Coast or as the advertising brochure says, ‘the Egyptian Riviera’.
My next journey was across Egypt’s Western Desert and back to Cairo, which was uneventful apart from one incident when we were stopped at a roadhouse in the middle of nowhere and another bus left heading in the opposite direction to us.
When it was 50m down the road a young guy came running and yelling out of the toilets, spinted across the car park waving and yelling in hot pursuit of the bus. He was certainly fast but the coach kept going around the bend and he kept running into the desert. He never came back while I was there! Kept me entertained for a few minutes.
I arrived in Cairo at 5.30pm in peak hour traffic and jumped in a taxi to travel across the city to my hotel.
Typical of Egyptian taxi drivers, he did the entire one hour trip across the city, in the dark without turning his headlights on!
The next morning I went to the airport and left Egypt.
Over the next few weeks I’ll have to focus on obtaining five visas for Algeria, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Until that’s all sorted, bye for now.
The Lake Nasser Ferry pulled into the quickly expanding town of Abu Simbel. Fifteen years ago there was nothing here but a car park and a bus stop, now there’s a small town of ten thousand people. We made our way to a comfortable hotel and the first shower in five days, followed by a 4am alarm to watch the sun rise on Abu Simbel, one of Egypt’s most incredible sights.
Ramesses II or as he liked to be called, Ramesses the Great or what most Egyptians probably called him back then, Ramesses the Egotist, had the entire complex carved directly from the rock with the purpose of impressing his southern neighbours. The four main colossal statues are all of himself, of course and the smaller statues are of a couple of his favorite wives, with Nefertari near the center.
Inside are eight huge columns depicting, guess who, Ramesses the Great. Further inside is another large room adorned with statues of three god’s and who else but Ramesses the Great.
And if a dozen huge statues of himself is not enough, on the 22 Oct every year on his birthday, the sun shines through the temple entrance, travels 80m down the hall and lights up a statue of none other than Ramesses the Great.
He had the temple next door constructed to honor the favourite of his thirty four wives, Nefertari. It’s of course smaller than his temple but most of the statues inside his wife’s temple are of himself!
Ramesses the Great constructed more statues of himself than any other pharaoh.
After Abu Simbel we drove north to Aswan on the banks of the Nile just north of the Aswan Dam.
We jumped in a boat on the first morning and cruised up to Philae Temple which sits on an island in the middle of the Nile.
After a day in Aswan we opted for a three day felucca cruise down the Nile with three of our travel buddies, Dan, Nick and Sam.
The felucca trip was fantastic. Great weather, great hosts and a comfortable boat with plenty of nice food. Our time on the felucca consisted of swimming, sleeping, listening to music and drifting around in the inflatable dinghy we bought the day before.
The next stop after Aswan was Luxor.
The sound and light show was on at the Karnak Temple only two hours after arriving in Luxor so we walked down to the river and caught a water taxi to the other side, had a quick meal and jumped in a couple of carriages and trotted off to Karnak, arriving just as the show began. The show was pretty ordinary and outdated but the temple was amazing, particularly the Hypostyle Hall with its 134 huge pillars, several of which are over 20m tall, with a 10m circumference. I definitely wanted to come back during the day.
The following day we arrived at the Valley of the Kings where 63 tombs have been cut into the limestone hillside.
Visiting the tombs was one of my African highlights. Several tombs are over 150m long, with the longest at 300m. Ramesses II has 74 rooms in his tomb and another has 120 rooms.
We visited Ramesses IV, Ramesses III and Merenptah. Tutankhamen’s tomb is also in the valley but it’s only small with three rooms. When it was discovered in 1922, the three rooms were full of treasures and he was a young minor pharaoh.
One can only imagine what treasures must have been in the tombs of the great pharaohs like Ramesses II, who ruled for over sixty years.
To this day all the treasure that was in the pharaoh’s tombs, has never been found. Sometime during antiquity most of the mummies were taken out and placed in a hidden tomb several kilometers away to protect them from looters. Egyptologists believe that all the tomb’s treasures were also hidden in a secret location that has been lost in time.
The impressive Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut. Hatshepsut was the second female Pharaoh and came to power in 1478BC.
The next morning we headed back to Karnak Temple to see the Hypostyle Hall in daylight. The columns were even more impressive during the day and definitely one of the most incredible things I’ve seen in my two years in Africa.
From Karnak I wandered along the Luxor Corniche to the Luxor museum.
Although only small it has some impressive artifacts, mummies, and statues. One of the main attractions is the mummy of Pharaoh Ramesses III.
I hope I look that good when I’m 3,000 years old !
Over the next few days we’ll have a break from the Nile and tombs and temples and spend three days on the Red Sea Coast and hopefully I’ll have time for a dive while I’m there.
After Hergharda well drive to Cairo.
Bye for now.
After descending from the highlands of Ethiopia the temperature increased and we traveled through 200km of undulating farmland until reaching the Sudanese border. I was happily once again to be off the tourist trail, if only for a week or so.
After a four hour border crossing we headed north into a flat green landscape of acacia savanna, reminiscent of further south in East Africa.
The roads were more reminiscent of Burkina Faso in West Africa, riddled with car sized potholes, which reduced our speed to not much more than a crawl.
With our slow progress we drove down a dirt road and camped under the stars on what was our first Sudanese Bush camp.
After a long drive day we arrived in the capital of Sudan, Khartoum. The legendary ancient desert town has sat for thousands of years at the point where the Blue Nile and the White Nile join to form the one river that flows north to Egypt.
Photo above: where the two Niles merge. White Nile on right and Blue Nile on the left.
No longer a large town, Khartoum is a bustling city at the heart of a country struggling economically and politically.
In the forty plus degree heat I struggled across the road to the juice bar and ordered an ice cold mango juice ($1). There’s two things the Sudanese do exceptionally well and they are fresh ice cold juice and chicken shawarma.
We stayed at the Blue Nile Sailing Club on the shores of the Nile River where I found myself a comfy chair in the shade, kept the juice guy in business and watched the world go by up and down the river. If only it wasn’t a dry Islamic country and I could have ordered a beer and a G&T, I would have stayed longer.
Rather than wait till Cairo I decided to jump in a taxi and head across the city to the Algerian Embassy to get myself a visa. Despite saying to the driver several times, “No, not Nigerian, the ALgerian Embassy”, he took me straight to the Nigerian Embassy.
So we set off in the other direction and arrived at the Libyan Embassy! Close, but not close enough. After a brief stop at the Kuwait Embassy we finally found the spot, which turned out to be a vacant block with a big pile of rocks in the middle.
Despite giving Google a good workout and asking several locals, no-one knew where the Algerian Embassy had disappeared to. Three hours later, after criss crossing the city I paid my driver $10 and returned to the juice bar and the shady banks of the Nile.
The following day I caught a taxi to Tuti Island and hired a boat. The boat cost $25 and I had it to myself for two hours. We cruised down to where the White Nile and the Blue Nile come together and then continued around the island and up and down the river until he ran us onto a sandbank, invisible in the muddy water. We managed to free ourselves and soon after, managed to repeat the process.
The next morning we headed to the outskirts of town and visited the weekly Camel Market. Hundreds of camels stood around in the heat and dust and the auctioneer came over with his order book and asked how many we wanted to buy. The Sudanese continue to be friendly and welcoming and the camel traders all wanted their photos taken next to their livestock.
After three days we drove north out of Khartoum towards the Sahara. Khartoum is just like the other three Sahalian cities I’ve been to in the last two years, Bamako, Niamey and N’Djamena. All are on the banks of a huge river and are hot, dry, dusty and dirty but Khartoum is definitely the safest and the people are definitely the friendliest.
From Khartoum we drove 200km north to the Meroe Pyramids. We arrived as the setting sun bathed the pyramids in a golden light and turned the surrounding sand dunes apricot. The pyramids were built around 500BC by the Nubian Kings or Black Pharaoh’s, who ruled the Kingdom of Kush.
The World Heritage site which contains some pyramids over 30m high are one of the greatest sights in East Africa and well off the tourist trail. We wandered around the complex on our own and camped in the dunes next to the pyramids.
In the 1800’s an Italian treasure hunter arrived at the site and dynamited the top off the pyramids looking for treasure, which he found but in the process partly destroyed most of the pyramids.
We visited the pyramids again at dawn and then headed north to Atbura, where we bought supplies for the three day desert crossing.
We turned off the tar and did 100km of dirt road, which eventually ended with only tyre tracks in the sand ahead.
Our next two days were across the Sahara Desert where there are no roads and temperatures were in the mid forties.
We followed some vehicle tracks until they were sand blown away and then continued in roughly the same direction as the train line.
Most of the surface was fairly hard and we made good progress despite becoming bogged six times on the first day. A bit of shovel work and sand mats in front of each wheel soon had us on the way again each time.
We crossed countless sand dunes and travelled next to weathered mountain ranges for hours, eventually arriving at Train Station No. 6, a desolate and remote outpost in the middle of an ocean of white sand.
We once again camped under the stars with a nice breeze giving some overnight relief from the scorching heat.
On our final day we drove across a huge open plain of white sand which went on and on for five hours. We were briefly bogged another four times on sand drifts but after a long day we arrived in Wadi Halfa on the southern shores of Lake Nassa.
Lake Nasser was formed when the Egyptians built the Aswan Dam across the Nile River and the Sudanese border runs through the middle of the lake.
It only took 5.5hrs to cross through customs and from there we boarded the ferry and cruised north across Lake Nasser and began the journey through Egypt.
The next two weeks will be crossing Egypt, South to North, eventually finishing our 21,000km transverse of the continent in Alexandria.
Bye for now.
After a night in a cheap hotel we headed north on a rainy, misty morning and began a spectacular climb through the mountains. Precipitous cliffs, fertile valleys, lush mountains and small villages made for a great mornings drive.
We eventually reached the highlands where moors replaced forests and shepherds tended their sheep in rolling pastures that stretched to the horizon, dotted with stone houses, creating an amazing medieval scenery. It was one of the top three drives I’ve done in Africa.
The scenery in Northern Ethiopia continues to surprise. I knew it was going to be good but around every corner is another great photographic opportunity and we’re not in the Simiens yet!
After a stay in Bahir Dar, our next stop were the rock churches of Lalibela. Despite the three hour ‘African massage’ on the goat track in, the scenery was once again worth the bumps, as we enjoyed incredible vistas across endless lush cultivated valleys, plateaus and rolling hills.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect at Lalibela. The Lonely Planet guide sums it up pretty well when it says, ‘No matter what you’ve heard about Lalibela, no matter how many pictures you’ve seen, nothing can prepare you for the reality of seeing it for yourself.’ The World Heritage Site is actually really impressive and the only one of its kind in the world.
The churches are not only built into the ground but chiseled by 40,000 people out of a single rock!
From Lalibela we headed cross country to the ancient city of Gondar, aka the Camelot of Africa and then the Simien Mountains.
The Simiens has been one of the locations in Africa I’ve most wanted to visit. I remember sitting on my lounge at home ten years ago and watching a documentary on the mountains and saying, “I’m definitely going there! ”
We hired guides and porters and cook’s and the mandatory guard to tag along with us carrying his two thousand year old AK47. There’s no need for an armed guard in the Simiens but it keeps several locals employed. At the end of the hike, I gave him my warm pants and a warm top.
The park is one of the most spectacular places on the planet and like the rest of Ethiopia it suffers from over population. Ethiopia on a world scale is only a relatively small country but they manage to jam 110 million people into it and the Simien Mountain National Park has 10,000 people living within the park boundaries. With the people come poaching, diseases, cattle, sheep, goats, horses and dogs and hundreds of square kilometers of agriculture. The Ethiopian Wolf is bordering on extinction in the park and the Walia Ibex has been pushed to the highest of most extreme corners of the park.
It didn’t take long to find our first group of Gelada Monkeys, which look a lot like baboons and live on the edges of the escarpment, feeding on grasses, leaves and roots on the plateau during the day prior to retreating to the cliffs at night for safety.
We walked along precipitous cliffs, visited waterfalls and had lunch at lookouts with stunning views.
Our final night was at Chennek Camp where the temperature dropped down near zero and we spent the afternoon watching the world go by from a nearby lookout. Gelada Monkeys descended the cliffs at the end of the day and a lone Lammergeier searched for something to eat overhead, while our cooks prepared a delicious evening meal of goat and vegetables.
On our final morning we climbed up to 4400m to see the endangered Walia Ibex which only live on the highest cliffs.
From the Simiens we returned to Gondar where I spent two days sorting photos. My Canon DO camera lens broke in Portugal prior to flying to South Africa back in May so most of the photos on my blog this year have been taken with my phone.
Tomorrow we leave Ethiopia and cross the border into Sudan. From all reports the Sudanese are extremely friendly, which should be a real change from Ethiopia.
We’ve been above 2000m for most of the last month and the temperatures have been mild. Tomorrow we descent back to sea level where the temperature will hit 40 degrees everyday for the next two weeks and I’ll drive across the Sahara for the second time in two years.
Bye for now.
Ethiopia is a comparatively large country by African standards and with a diverse range of habitats and cultures it’s easy to spend six to eight weeks here as there’s so much to see and do.
We started in the southern town of Jinka which is near Mago National Park and close to the Omo Valley, the tribes of which are increasingly becoming a popular tourist attraction.
After jumping in a local van we headed off to a Mursi tribe about 50km out of town. After a tour of the village we spent half a day with the tribe sitting in the shade under trees and drinking local tea.
The Mursi are agro-pastoralists and live in circular thatched roofed huts usually close to a river so they can collect water and their cattle and goats can drink.
The older Mursi woman wear wooden circular lip plates which they started doing two hundred years ago during the slave trade to make themselves unattractive to the slave traders.
The men take part in the local custom of stick fighting which is called Dongo. The fight is symbolic and the adversary has to be defeated without being killed.
While I was there the Chief offered me two young brides dressed in blue. I had to pay 38 cows and two AK-47’s for each. Then he explained they came as a set and I had to take them both. Two wives for seventy six cows and four Kalashnikovs !!
The following day it was ‘Hammer Time’ and we drove further south to within a few miles of the South Sudan border to a village of the Hammer Tribe. The Chief allowed us to camp inside the village and we put up the tent with the help of the local kids next to the goat compound.
We spent the afternoon at a local coffee ceremony which tasted more like tea than coffee and then checked out the local river and played soccer with the kids.
After another half day with the tribe we began the two day drive to Addis. The entire route was lined with fields and various types of agriculture and scattered villages.
The plan was to spend four days in Addis to apply for our Sudanese visa. After a week of injera for lunch amd dinner we opted for pizza on our first night in Addis. The following morning, the visa applications were submitted and rather than sit around in Addis, which isn’t the most inspiring of cities, we hired a van and headed six hundred kilometers east towards Somalia, to the old walled city of Harar.
Harar sits about 130km from the Somali border and I thought we’d be driving across miles of semi desert to a old walled city similar to those I’d visited in Chad and Niger last year. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
After exiting Awash NP we started to climb through fertile hills, lush plantations and countless small villages. The entire route was awash with wet season rain as people in local villages ran for cover and torrents of water ran down the gutterless streets.
The last two hours of our drive was at night dodging cattle, pedestrians, cyclists, potholes and broken down vehicles without a street light in sight.
We spent our first day entirely within the thousand year old walled city, walking the maze of colorful alleyways and back streets.
Before long we were totally lost but the city is only small and our local guide took us to the museum and Cultural Centre and one of our group, Sam even had a dress made while we had lunch.
We visited the coffee processing plant where I stocked up on local Harar coffee for the remaining six weeks of the trip north to Alexandria. I’ve sampled local coffee in Uganda, Cameroon, Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania but Ethiopian Coffee is definitely the best. Unfortunately coffee plantations are being dug up and replaced with the native plant, Khat, an addictive stimulant which is chewed like Coca leaves in South America.
The next two nights we drove down to the city wall to where the Hyena Man has been feeding some of the local Hyenas for the last thirty years.
The Spotted Hyena have been living in harmony with the locals for at least 500yrs but things went a bit awry during a famine in the 1960’s when the hyena began taking livestock and the odd child. A village elder started feeding the hyenas regularly and since then they have stopped attacking livestock. Yusuf Mume Saleh has been the ‘Hyena Man’ for decades but now his son Abbas does the job.
In the headlights of our van we waited and slowly out of the darkness fifteen wild Spotted Hyena emerged from the surrounding bush. Abbas started throwing some meat around and called them in. The larger matriarchal female fed first and not long after it was my turn to sit on a nearby rock and join the feeding. I firstly hand fed them and then put the stick in my mouth with some meat on it and it took the meat in one quick bite.
The next time I did it, another hyena jumped on my back and another few came in closer. It was an amazing experience.
Not long afterwards, after some laughing and yelping and a few squabbles among the younger hyenas, they all slipped away into the night.
Rather than the unattractive vicious powerful predators I’d seen in East African game parks, these animals were clean, friendly, intelligent and had personality. It was easy to see, especially when one jumps on your back, just how big and strong they are and how they’re capable of taking on lions.
From Harar we drove back onto the hot plains of the Afar Region, not all that far from where I was in Djbouti last year. After half a day we arrived at the Doho Lodge and hot springs. It was about 35 degrees and a swim in a hot thermal pool wasn’t what I really wanted to do but it washed the dust off and was refreshing standing around in the breeze after I got out.
After a lunch of Injera we headed back north towards Weldiya.
I’m only halfway through my time in Ethiopia and its certainly one of Africa’s most beautiful and spectacular countries and like many other countries on the continent, it’s poor and grossly over populated. Unlike most poor African countries where the people are happy, inviting, smiling and friendly, Ethiopians are an unfriendly, suspicious bunch more interested in trying to scam, steal or con money out of you than genuinely and warmly welcoming you to their country. The food is also the worst I’ve had in any of the thirty-two African countries I’ve visited. Apart from the traditional meal Injera just about everything else served up is usually bland, processed and un-nutritious. Ten days in Ethiopia and I’m yearning and planning to return to West Africa ASAP.
Over the next fortnight we’ll head up to Lalibela and Gondar and trek the Simien Mountains before crossing into Sudan.
Bye for now .
Uganda Parts 1-3 last year
Last year I spent three weeks criss crossing Uganda and visiting several national parks. Even though it’s a small country I still have several places to visit and this year’s trip is mainly focused around re-visiting Bwindi to see the gorillas and then crossing the nearby border into Rwanda.
We crossed the border from Kenya and after fairly quick border formalities continued to Jinja, a touristy backpacker town on the banks of the Nile River where rafting is the main activity and activities are ridiculously overpriced for Africa.
Having done every activity on the program many times before elsewhere in the world we decided to catch a local taxi to the nearby Mabira Forest which is the second largest patch of original rainforest remaining in Uganda.
Our morning didn’t exactly go as planned. We jumped in our taxi for the 1.5hr drive and after an hour we were stopped by the local police. There were three different police forces involved. The regular police did the stopping, the traffic police did the talking and the other guy watched with his AK47 ready for action. As it turned out, our driver didn’t have a licence, so he was dragged off into a nearby building. Our guide didn’t have one either, so we were stuck in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately the local police sergeant provided us with a police vehicle and a driver to take us on the rest of our trip and we arrived at The Rainforest Lodge, deep in the forest shortly after.
We hadn’t booked a room, having decided to check it out first. The lodge was listed as one of the “1000 places to stay before you die” and once there we could see why.
We spent the next two days with local guide Herman exploring the dense rainforest seeing Red-tailed Monkeys and a good number of the local birds as well as a Forest Cobra.
The next stop was Lake Bunyonyi which means ‘place of many little birds’. Its nestled close to the Rwandan border, twenty five kilometers long and an incredible 900m deep.
The small island in the photo below is called Punishment Island where unmarried pregnant women were sent to starve to death or die trying to swim back. Fortunately many were rescued by poor local farmers who didn’t have enough cows to otherwise secure a wife.
The Rushaga section of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is in the southern section of the park and is the best section to see Gorillas as well as a good number of Albertine Rift endemic birds. We arrived a day before the rest of our trekking group and spent a good day birding in the mountains.
The next morning we met at the park HQ for our gorilla trekking briefing where we heard how not to get on the wrong side of the big guy with the silver back.
Having met the guides the day previously on our birding trip we managed to secure the head guide as well as the largest and best gorilla family. The only downside was that it meant we’d be out walking all day. The biggest of the Mountain Gorilla families was a forty-five minute drive away from park HQ, followed by a two hour mountainous trek to their jungle home.
We walked over hills and along valleys, crossed creeks and then ascended an overgrown slippery jungle track until we reached a clearing where two female gorillas were feeding.
As we watched them, the silverback walked straight down the track towards us, stopped only meters away and posed for photos before disappearing into the jungle.
Over there next hour we watched four different silverbacks, two babies and twenty members of the family in total. Our guide said it was one of the best gorilla encounters he’d every had.
After a successful Gorilla trek we returned to our safari vehicle, which this time was a 1998 Land Rover and drove two hours south to the Rwandan border.
After two hours of bouncing across potholes, it was a relief to reach good smooth tarred Rwandan roads. An hour later and we reached Masanze and once again changed transport to motor bike taxis for a quick blast across town where we hired a local taxi to take us to Kigali, the capital city, which is two hours away.
Rwanda is a country that jams one thousand Hills and twelve million people into only 26,000 square kilometers.
We arrived at the Hotel des Milles Collines, which in French is 1000 Hills, AKA Hotel Rwanda, where during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, the manager Paul Rusesabagina hid 1268 people inside the hotel’s 112 rooms.
We were picked up at 7am by our guide and driver and headed south to Nungwe National Park, situated on the Albertine Rift and adjacent to the Virunga Massif, where we spent the next three days hiking, birding and Chimp tracking.
On the way back to Kigali we past the huge UNHCR Kigeme Refugee Camp which holds over 20,000 refugees from the Eastern DRC.
Our final day in Rwanda was spent in the capital, Kigali where we visted the Genocide Memorial and did some shopping.
Rwanda has certainly achieved a lot since the badness of the 1990’s and it’s a pleasure to travel through a clean African country on good roads where the people are friendly and the scenery beautiful.
To catch up with our Oasis Overland truck we have to fly back to Entebbe, Uganda and from there we’re driving back into Kenya.
Bye for now.