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.
From the Tanzanian border we headed directly to Nairobi or as its called these days, NaiRobbery, due to the high incidence of robberies. Hence, although we spent an enjoyable two days in the city we regularly used taxis to get around rather than walk.
From the capital we drove out to Lake Naivasha and camped on the shore behind the Hippo proof electric fence, occupying ourselves at night spotting Hippos with our head torches.
Lake Naivasha is the highest of the rift lakes at over 1800m but with an average depth of only 6m.
On the way we travelled along the rim of the Gregory Rift and past hundreds of nurseries growing flowers. Kenya is now the EU’s biggest source of fresh cut flower imports, principally roses and carnations. Flowers have now surpassed tourism and coffee as a major source of income. Who knew?
On the first full day at the lake we visited the Crater Lake and did a walking safari, our third one in Africa this year.
We got dropped off in the lakeside savanna which was dotted with Fever Trees and a good number of animals. During the walk we had close encounters with Giraffes, Zebra, Buffalo, Elan, Warthogs and Impala.
After the walk we climbed to the rim of Crater Lake and then had lunch on the shore while watching a troop of Black and White Colobus Monkeys lazing about.
We caught a boat to Elsamere the house of Joy and George Adamson of Born Free fame and had afternoon tea on their front lawn after a tour of the house which included an old video about Elsa the Lion.
The next two weeks we spent in Uganda and Rwanda, returning to Kenya on the 7th of September.
After spending the first night back in Kenya at Kisumu on the shores of Lake Victoria we continued along back roads enjoying some nice mountain scenery and onto a farm-stay near Nakuru, where we stayed for two nights.
An early start in our safari vehicle and we headed off to Lake Nakuru National Park which would be our last safari for this year.
Lake Nakuru NP, famous for its enormous Flamingo population has sadly declined in recent years. The roads are poor, the roadsides and creeks are covered in rubbish, the park is full of weeds, high voltage power lines run through the park and local villages/towns with high-rise apartment blocks encroach right up to park boundary.
With Kenya’s growing population, the entire park boundary is now fenced, giving the feeling of driving around a poorly kept open plain zoo and to make it worse the water level has risen in recent years and the millions of flamingo that the park is famous for have all just about left.
Despite the park not being as good as many others I’ve previously visited we still made the most of the day and saw several Rhino and three Lions. The park has hundreds of Buffalo, Impala, Warthogs and Zebra which kept us occupied for a full day.
From Nakuru we’ve driven to Nairobi, which is where I am now. After two days in the city I have to fly to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, followed by a connecting flight to Jinka in the south of the country. Last year I flew into Addis and picked up a visa on arrival. This year we planned to drive across the border and had to get a visa prior to leaving home. Since I’ve been travelling since early April I couldn’t get a visa, so have no other option than to fly over Northern Kenya.
I’ll be spending the next month in Ethiopia and Sudan, bye for now.
Part 1 – Ngorongoro & Serengeti
Part 2 – Lake Tanganyika
Last year I flew into Kilimanjaro Airport and we drove through the Serengeti across to Kigoma, eventually following Lake Tanganyika all the way to Zambia. This year’s visit to Tanzania I’ve entered from the south and am traveling across to Dar es Salaam, then catching the ferry to Zanzibar for a few days.
After Zanzibar we’re heading north to the Usambara Mountains, followed by Arusha and then across into Kenya.
After crossing the border from Malawi we climbed out of the Great Rift Valley to find a lush mountainous landscape of tea plantations and bananas. Along with the rise in altitude came a drop in temperature and I was soon searching for my jacket that I’d packed away during the last week on the beach.
The following day we started the 1000km crossing of Tanzania and were soon back into typical East African habitat of dry thorn bush, acacia savanna.
We arrived in Dar es Salaam early afternoon and after a brief stop at the mall we drove for two hours through the city to our ocean front accommodation on the south coast.
The next morning we caught the ferry to Zanzibar.
Zanzibar is one of those places I’ve always heard about. Exotic and on the other side of the world, like Timbuktu and Kathmandu etc. I’d always imaged an idyllic tropical island with a coastline of palm trees, white sandy beaches lined with thatched roofed resorts and private estates. A peaceful island with dhows sailing along the coast and local markets full of spices and tropical fruits.
Unfortunately the reality these days is somewhat different. Perhaps Zanzibar was like that fifty years ago but now it’s overcrowded, dirty and rundown. The beaches are only average and they’re crowded with hassling beach boys and locals trying to sell you everything from coconuts to cheap tours. The infrastructure is poor, rubbish lines every street and virtually the entire island has been cleared of native forest.
Perhaps I’ve been to too many other idyllic tropical islands.
Our first stop was for lunch at a local guys house and then a tour of the local spice farm.
After a few days at the beach we headed to Stonetown which used to be the trading capital of the area. With high walled alleyways, cobbled streets and old forts there’s plenty to see and do for a couple of days.
I visited the old slave fort where thousands of slaves were sorted and priced by category according to their intended purpose. Harem slaves received the highest price for females and middle aged slaves were of least value because they weren’t expected to live long.
From Zanzibar we drove to the small coastal fishing village of Bagamoyo and from there north to Mombo where we jumped in a taxi for a three hour drive to Mambo Point View Lodge which sits on the edge of the West Usambara Mountains escarpment looking down over the Masai Plains.
From Mombo we climbed for the first hour through Loshoto and then across several mountain valleys and small villages. The mountains were obviously more fertile and receive more rainfall than the surrounding plains.
Every valley is cropped with vegetables which supplies Dar es Salaam. Tons of potatoes and carrots were being harvested and we saw tomato, cabbage, peppers, onions and lettuce in the fields.
The Usambara Mountains rise steeply from the plains below and our lodge was nestled on a cliff side looking west giving us spectacular sunset views.
Sadly virtually the entire mountain range has been cleared for agriculture or plantations with only two small patches of rainforest remaining.
We visited the largest patch of forest which still holds Blue Monkeys and Black & White Colobus Monkeys but no large game animals. It took two days to locate the endemic birds and we also hiked to several cliff top villages.
After a week in the mountains we caught a taxi to Arusha and rejoined the truck for the next leg of the trip.
With last year’s visit I’ve now spent a month in Tanzania. I’m undecided whether I need to come back. There’s several other national parks that would be good see and I haven’t climbed Kilimanjaro yet.
Tomorrow the journey north continues into Kenya and then across into Uganda and Rwanda before driving back into Kenya for a second visit until mid September.
Bye for now.
The crossing from Harare to the border was uneventful and we were stamped out of Zimbabwe by 11am. Three hours later we cleared Mozambique Immigration and continued our journey north on good tarred road with warm sunny Dry Season weather.
The differences in both countries both geographically and economically was obvious as soon as we crossed the border.
The living standards are significantly lower in this part of Mozambique compared to rural Zim with thatched roofed villages dotting the landscape and long lines of people carrying water from the local well in the midday heat.
The roadside stalls of bananas and avacodo were replaced with hundreds of bags of charcoal and large scale agriculture replaced by subsistence farming.
We also left behind the hilly granite boulder strewn topography and replaced it with parched flat sandy baobab savanna.
Our first night in Mozambique was in Tete on the banks of the Zambezi. The infamous Tete Corridor is the narrowest point to cross the country and on this visit that’s all we’ll be doing. A short two day crossing and on to Malawi.
Mozambique is a large country with a 1800km coastline, some great mountains, spectacular beaches and stunning offshore Islands. I’ve planned a multi week visit for next year.
Country no. 30 Malawi
Malawi sits on the western edge of the Great Rift Valley and straddles three quarters of Lake Malawi. It’s a long thin, poor and densly populated mountainous country with lush green plateaus and a thin coastal strip of land, much of which has been cleared for subsistence farming.
After a day in the capital Lilongwe we traveled north through predominantly agricultural land and countless small villages with less vehicles the further north we drove. Between the villages was a constant stream of people on foot and the occasional bicycle. Malawi is a country where everyone walks.
Our next destination was Kande Beach where we stayed in the local resort which is a campground with a bar and a few chalets spread out over an idyllic stretch of lakeside property looking out to a small island 800m offshore.
Disapointingly the dive shop was closed and I couldn’t organise a SCUBA dive during our two day visit.
I hired a set of mask, snorkel and fins off a local guy and swam out to the island myself. Once there I spent a couple of hours snorkeling and jumping off the cliff with a few of my travel buddies who rowed across.
After diving with the Cichlids in Lake Tanganyika last year I was really looking forward to getting back in the water with them again this year. Lake Malawi has over a thousand species of Cichlids, more than any other lake in the World. The disappointment quickly vanished when I was back in the warm gin clear fresh water with thousands and colourful fish.
Late that afternoon we jumped on a couple of horses and rode for three hours through the local forest and past several villages, eventfully finishing on the shore of Lake Malawi.
We took the saddles off the horses and rode them down to the water for a refreshing late afternoon swim.
I really enjoyed Kande Beach and while I was there found out about a couple of lakeside lodges only accessible by boat which look really nice. Needless to say I’m already planning on coming back next year.
From Kande we drove North to Mzuzu, had lunch and travelled back down to the coast, arriving in the small village of Chitimba mid afternoon.
Chitimba Camp was very similar to Kande with a long white sandy beach, several chalets surrounding a bar restraraunt area with a beach volleyball court and campground on the side.
There were no offshore Islands or rocky headlands so the diving wasn’t as good as Kande. Rather than spend time in the water we opted to visit the local village, primary school and orphanage.
There’s one thing that Chitimba has in abundance and that’s children. The school was a collection of old rundown concrete buildings without desks and chairs and only a blackboard to indicate it was a classroom. The teacher told us the school had over one thousand children and sometimes had 150 in a classroom.
We walked through the village to the orphanage which was the size of a small house. They have seventy nine orphans registered with most staying with extended family or carers in the community. The others sleep in the orphanage with ten children under a single mozzie net. Most of the children have lost their parents to AIDS, with a small percentage to malaria and road accidents.
From the orphanage we visited the local Witch Doctor or Traditional Healer. He put on a good show for us with a dance and a private fortune telling session.
“You’ve traveled a great distance to get here.” Yep!
“You’re on a long journey.” Yep.
“You’ll come back to Africa one day. ” Cool!
“You’re very healthy and will live to be very old.” Cool!
With my health sorted I hired one of the local trekking guides and spent the afternoon following the river up into the mountains, stopping to watch a late afternoon local village game of soccer. The men played soccer, the women played netball and the rest of the village watched from the sidelines.
From Chitimba we continued north and after a week in Malawi we crossed the border into Tanzania.
I really enjoyed Malawi. The lake is beautiful, the beaches are clean and the diving is fantastic. The resorts are all medium standard with cheap meals, drinks and activities. For example, a SCUBA dive is $35.
It was good to see there were no huge four star resorts along the coast and only a few tourists where we travelled. Having said that, Malawi is one of Africa’s poorest countries and tourism has the potential to be a huge source of income and employment. I certainly want to go back one day.
I’ll be in Tanzania for two weeks visiting places I didn’t see last year. First on the agenda, after driving to the coast is the island of Zanzibar.
Bye for now.
We boarded the Vic Falls to Bulawayo train after a nice buffet lunch at the iconic Victoria Falls Hotel in company with a few Baboons and three grazing Warthogs.
The old train rattled off down the track and as I sat in my sleeper compartment and began to think of where we were headed and what I’d see over the next week or so, I realised I didn’t really have any idea what to expect.
In every one of the African countries I’ve visited I’ve done my research before arriving. I’ve read the travel guides, Googled the places I wanted to see and listened to travel advice from people I’ve met along the way but with Zimbabwe I did none of that.
I know about Mugabe and his devastating thirty year rein and have been told by a few people that Zimbabweans are the friendliest and most peaceful people in all of Africa but further than that I have no idea what to expect.
The train ride was enjoyable and exactly what I had hoped for. Carriages that had seen better times with cracked leather seats, wash basins that have long since stopped working, worn signage and plenty and rattle and shake as we chugged along across the state of Matabeleland North.
Arriving in Bulawayo was one of those stepping back in time moments. One of my travel buddies said he felt like he was in Cuba.
We made our way to the Bulawayo Train Museum which is just about the only tourist attraction in town and well worth a visit. With my $2 entry fee I received an original train ticket from the 1970’s, a first day cover with some old stamps and a map.
The museum is packed full of old trains dating from the 1840’s to the 1970’s and its impossible for anyone not to have fun exploring and climbing through the old loco’s and carriages.
That night was the coldest I’ve had in Africa so far and I was in bed early in preparation for the big day ahead…. Rhino tracking on foot through Matobo National Park.
We started with a safety briefing which included topics like:
• How dangerous can a 2500kg Rhinoceros be?
• How to sneak up on a crash (herd) of Rhino.
• What to do if you get charged by a Rhino.
• Other things in the park we might come across that can kill you.
Full of knowledge we jumped in the safari vehicles and headed cross country, soon finding an armed ranger on the side of the road ready to take us on foot.
After a while we could see our targets up ahead and we slowly crept closer careful not to spook them. We moved slowly through the bush until we were only several meters away.
After our exhilarating close encounter with the Rhinos we walked to a World Heritage archeological rock art site in a cave amongst granite boulders overlooking the park. The art was painted by the Bushmen who inhabited the area between 9-13,000yrs ago, before they were forced out of their land and south to the Kalahari by the current occupants.
The park also contains the grave of Cecil Rhodes, who Rhodesia was named after. As the sun was setting over the granite landscape I visited his grave and read his long list of achievements, amazed how someone could acheive so much in a single lifetime.
We sat on the granite outcrop, known locally as World’s View and watched a magnificent sunset over the park.
From Matobo we drove to a private game reserve further north called Antelope Park. Even though the nights were cold , the days were sunny and we spent a couple of days relaxing in the sun and doing a few short local walks.
On the first morning I walked down to the local river and watched a family of African Clawless Otters feeding in the shallows.
The next day we toured some of the 3000 acre reserve watching Lions, Giraffe, Wildebeest and Zebra.
We continued east to the Great Zimbabwe World Heritage site, which is a part of a complex of architecturally impressive pre-colonial structures which covered a vast area of southern Africa and gave it’s name to the country.
The civilisation was the greatest in Southern Africa covering a huge area across modern day Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana and part of South Africa. It’s central to Zimbabwe’s identity as a nation.
After a month of desert and savanna we continued east towards the Mozambique border and climbed into the Chimanimani Mountains for a dose of rainforest and waterfalls.
The mountains, prior to Mugabe were a popular hiking destination and home to Africa’s southernmost tropical rainforest.
It was good to spend a couple of days in the mountains. It made me want to get to Malawi and Rwanda quicker. Both those countries are the two I’m most looking forward to seeing this year. I won’t have to wait long for Malawi, as I’ll be there next week.
For now I’m in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe and getting ready for another border crossing into Mozambique tommorow.
Tommorow is also national election day here and it’s the first election without Robert Mugabe in thirty years. From what I’ve seen so far, I’m not a hundred percent sure it’ll be free and fair but you can only hope there’s a brighter future for the people of Zimbabwe somewhere down the track.
My next post will be in a fortnight after we’ve traveled the full length of Malawi and I’ve hopefully spent a considerable amount of time underwater.
Bye for now.