Niger

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IMG20170919100500~2I arrived in Niamey, the capital of Niger at 3am after perhaps the most amusing flight of my life.

Screenshot_2017-09-15-10-12-40-72~2The fun started at the airport when my flight was called and forty people, mostly women bolted for the entry gate and were pushing and jostling to get on the plane. I waited till last and casually wandered through, only to find a bus waiting on the runway. Last on the bus, first off and first on the plane, haha. Then I watched everyone else board the plane. No line at the bottom of the stairs, just a mass of pushing and shoving to get up the stairs into the plane.

Then they all sat in the wrong seats and it took half an hour for the flight attendants to move them to their correct seats.

Then they put a two year old in the exit row in charge of the emergency door!

Once we landed the same circus occurred in reverse.

Screenshot_2017-09-19-13-42-31-43~2The customs and immigration official searched through every page of my passport and eventually looked up and said, “where’s your Visa? ” I said, ” I don’t have one.”

Some other officials arrived wanting to know why I was in Niger. “Tourism”, I said!  I could tell by the look on their faces they don’t get that answer very often.

So they confiscated my passport, gave me an address in the city and told me to be there at 9am to answer some more questions.

Passport-less I walked out to the car park and found the local fixer that I’d organised prior to leaving Morocco. That morning I slept in past 9am, had a long breakfast, enjoyed a swim in the motel pool and he returned with my passport and new Niger Visa just after lunch.

Screenshot_2017-09-15-19-06-47-35~2Niger is one of the World’s poorest countries, with an average YEARLY workers income of less than $2000.  Eighty percent is covered by the Sahara Desert and it has very few resources, poor agricultural land and suffers from poor infrastructure, over population as well as a multitude of other challenges.  I’ve been to several very poor countries in the last six months but the situation in Niger is obviously worse than in the others I’ve visited.  Niamey is more like a large country town than a city and my first outing was to the markets where I bought a couple of things and then I headed to the museum, which was fairly ordinary.

I wandered around what is surely the saddest and most pathetic zoo on the planet for an hour and decided to head back to the motel.

IMG20170916103858~2Keen to see somewhere else, I jumped on a plane and flew to Zinder near the Nigerian border and then to the desert city of Agadez.

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Zinder

IMG20170919090044~2I hit the ground running in Agadez and was straight off to the Sunday afternoon animal market on the outskirts of town.

Screenshot_2017-09-17-16-20-12-64Not long after arriving the city was engulfed in an afternoon dust storm creating some amazing light for photography.

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Screenshot_2017-09-17-17-09-38-81~2I spent the rest of the afternoon and the following day exploring the city. I’d only been in Agadez two days and it was already one of my favourite African towns.

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Screenshot_2017-09-17-18-08-27-34~2Ten years ago,  before Boko Haram, Agadez was a major tourist town with three direct flights from Paris every week.  Today the British Foreign Office warns there is a risk of arrest and deportation for even enquiring about travel to Agadez, given the security situation in the region.  Boko Haram have recently launched terrorist attacks in the city and the governor has banned travel outside the city without an army escort.  As you can well imagine the tourist infrastructure has all but disapeared.Screenshot_2017-09-18-13-51-40-59~2

Screenshot_2017-09-17-17-08-20-22~2The World Heritage listed minaret of the Agadez Mosque built in 1515 is the tallest adobe structure in the World.

IMG20170919100824.jpgBeing the only tourist in the city and probably the entire country, I was given permission to climb to the top of the minaret.  Even my guide had never been inside.

We opened the door and crawled through a hole and into darkness. Luckily I had the light on my phone. Walking and crawling higher I came to the local bat roost and they all decided to depart in my direction. After being wacked in the face by at least a dozen bats, I continued upwards, wiggling through passageways that were not much more than crevices, eventually crawling through a hole into the sunlight.  Below is the view from the top.

IMG20170919101602After three days in the city I decided I wanted to go for a drive north into the desert.  I was promptly told it was too dangerous and to forgot it but after some negotiating, hiring three armed soldiers for the day and a Touareg guide, we set off.

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IMG20170918110623~2We stopped in an area of desert north of town with about two thousand Touareg inhabitants and I was invited to meet the Chief.

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Screenshot_2017-09-18-12-53-20-38~2The Touareg Chief was Mustapha and I went to his house and we walked around his farm for a while and then sat down in the shade, drank tea and chattered for a couple of hours escaping the afternoon heat.

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Someone was watching us from above!

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Desert village

Yellow breasted Barbet

Yellow-breasted Barbet

IMG20170919085432~2After my time in Agadez I flew back to Niamey and the next day hired a car and driver.  We drove north out of the city to a small riverside village where I hired a pirogue for the day and we spent the day on the Niger River.

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Village Entrance

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Setting off

Egypt Plov

Egyptian Plover

The high light was finding an Egyptian Plover on the river bank.   One of the world’s avian oddities, it’s the only member of its family in the World and only found in the area of Africa just south of the Sahara.

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My ride

hippoThe boat driver, whose English wasn’t the best noticed I was photographing birds as we went along, so he parked the boat and wanted to take me to a spot where there were “thousands” of birds.  “OK”, I said.   We walked a kilometer across a swamp and stopped at a huge fruit bat colony! “C’est Bon” he said, “Oui,  c’est bon”

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Screenshot_2017-09-21-18-28-53-37~2After a week in Niger, this morning I flew to Casablanca, Morocco and am writing this while sitting in a street cafe drinking coffee and watching the ocean.

Tonight I’m flying to Chad for ten days, where I’ll head back into the desert and live with the intensely traditional, nomadic Wodaabe tribe for a week during their Gerewol Festival, which very few westerners are privileged to ever see.

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Final afternoon in Niger

My next post will be from N’Djamena in ten days from now.

Western Sahara and Morocco

Screenshot_2017-08-30-09-43-13-97~3I set off north from the border post into Western Sahara past countless sand dunes and through ever changing desert scenery. Most of the time the landscape was flat, sandy and devoid of life except for the odd clump of grass.

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Heat,  heat and more heat!!

Occasionally lower areas had bushes and stunted trees and apart from camels the only things that moved in the inhospitable landscape were Crested and Thekla Larks.

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Camouflage Camel 

Late in the afternoon on the second day the landscape changed to a flat rocky gibber terrain with high sandhills scattered to the horizon. We saw a large sandhill several kilometers from the road and drove across the plains for twenty minutes to camp at the base of the dune.

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Screenshot_2017-08-31-19-45-32-24After a nice night tucked in behind the dune we continued our drive north.  Conditions weren’t too bad, there was a breeze and the temperature was only about 40degrees.  The week previously it was 47.

Screenshot_2017-09-01-10-41-27-17~2Hard to believe, but Wiki tells me Western Sahara is one of the most sparsely populated places in the world.

Screenshot_2017-09-01-10-36-25-81~3On the fourth day we made it to the Atlantic coast, where the desert meets the sea.  With a cool sea breeze the temperatures dropped and we camped a night on the edge of the cliff near a small fishing village. Later that night one of the local fisherman bought three large fleshly caught fish up to our camp and gave them to us, welcoming us to the area.   We wrapped them in foil and put them on the fire……sensational.

Screenshot_2017-09-01-14-30-14-03~3Further along the coast were two ship wrecks, so we stopped and walked down the cliffs for a closer look.

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Where sand, salt and rust meet.

IMG20170901182231~4Western Sahara is unofficially part of Morocco and the next day we past two large white camels chewing on a palm tree and entered the official Morocco.

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Screenshot_2017-09-04-20-37-44-87After four months of having the continent to ourselves it was a bit of a shock to see tourists.  We drove into Agadir which was full of holidaying Europeans.  Since leaving Tanzania I’ve only met a couple travelling around Africa in a Suzuki Vitara and two guys on motor bikes near the Congo Cameroon border.  All the non-Africans we’ve met have been UN Peacekeepers or NGO workers.

Screenshot_2017-09-03-23-07-26-85~2From Agadir we headed inland through the mountains to Marrakesh.

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IMG20170905113745~2For two days I became a tourist and explored the old city, visiting palaces, soukes, tanneries and of course the Jemaa el Fna square and markets.

IMG20170905120419~4I spent hours walking the narrow streets and alleys of the medina, stopping for lunch at a terrace cafe and continuing onto the Moroccan photography museum

Screenshot_2017-09-05-12-38-09-46~2During the day the square is full of snake charmers, henna tattoo artists and musicians.

Screenshot_2017-09-05-20-33-09-05At night the UNESCO World Heritage square fills with food stalls,  traditional dances and acrobats.

Screenshot_2017-09-05-20-32-58-49From Marrakesh we continued north to the beach town of Asilah.

Screenshot_2017-09-08-12-27-06-50~2I walked down to the beach for an afternoon swim and from a distance my first impression was of a nice beach with good waves, life guards and lots of people on the beach. The reality is your typical Moroccan beach covered from the waters edge to the road in rubbish, nice body surfing sets coming in but no one in the water over their knees and three lifeguards in red and yellow lifeguard outfits siting behind the tent in the shade facing the road watching a game of beach soccer. In the two hours I was there, none of them looked at the water once. I was very tempted to run over and say, “someone’s drowning out there”, just for a laugh. They probably wouldn’t know what to do if I did.

After Asilah we hit the freeway and headed north to Tangier.

IMG20170907135642~2At Tangier I caught the ferry to Gibraltar for a day.

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Gibraltar Strait

Photo above from Gibraltar with Europe on the right and Africa on the left.

After a day in Gib I said goodbye to my travel buddies and jumped back on the ferry to Ceuta and once back on the mainland headed down to the Rif Mountain town of Chefchaouen, famous for its striking blue washed buildings.

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Screenshot_2017-09-11-01-42-34-60I booked into a small blue motel in the centre of the old town and once again spent three days exploring the back streets and lanes, managing to get lost a couple of times in the maze of alleys and narrow streets.

Screenshot_2017-09-11-01-42-50-24It was never a problem being lost as the old city is only a few hundred meters wide and you’re never far from a good cafe or helpful local.

IMG20170911121236~2I had lunch in the Uta el Hamman Square and visited the casbah and fifteenth century fort and accompanying dungeon.

Screenshot_2017-09-12-13-38-07-61~3After three days in bluetown I jumped on a local bus to Tangier.

Screenshot_2017-09-13-15-50-00-11~2Tangier is an old sea faring town on the Maghreb Coast of Northern Morocco at the western entrance to the Straits of Gibraltar.  It has been the gateway to Africa for three thousand years and the spot were Hercules stood when he separated Europe from Africa.  I would have liked to have seen that!

IMG20170913143255~2Today Tangier is a busy seaside city of three million people and where every building is painted white.

Screenshot_2017-09-13-15-49-46-94~2I’m not sure if that’s Spain on the horizon or Europe’s smog.

In Tangiers I hit the beach and spent a couple of days working on my tan and seeing the sites, like this sea cave in the shape of Africa. It even has it’s own Madagascar, although I reckon Madagascar was carved out by some bored Roman soldier back in the day.

2017-09-13_15.35.13Even more impressive is the grotto below. It might look like any other boring old grotto but it’s actually where Hercules put one of his feet when parting the continents.

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Screenshot_2017-09-13-15-49-17-79~2I’ve now been in Western Sahara and Morocco for three weeks and tomorrow night I’m flying out to country number sixteen, Niger.   I’ll wander around Niger for eight days and then fly by back into Casablanca for a day.   My next post will either be from Casablanca or Niamey in just over a week.

Bye for now.

Senegal and Mauritania

 

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Pelagic Flamingos

I crossed into Senegal on Friday the 25 August and drove to the nearest town Moussala, which looked more like a huge refugee camp than a local village. Hundreds of temporary shelters were sprawled across the countryside. We later heard that gold had been discovered in the area and they were mainly artisanal gold miners.

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Moussala

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A full day of rain

Senegal like Mali and Burkina before it is lush and green with hundreds of kilometers of green fields and totally opposite to every photo I’ve ever seen which show these countries as dry, dusty and hot. I now realise that all the tourists to these countries visit in the dry season and I’m still yet to work out why.

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Senegalese countryside

On our final morning the sun came out and we bypassed Dakar and drove through the outskirts of Saint Louis, heading to the river crossing at Rosso.

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Dawn at the The Great Mosque of Touba.

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The not so grand mosque at Nelg Yecap

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As I travelled north from Dakar the green pastures and lush forests of the last three months were replaced with sandy, arid terrain typical of the Sudan Region of North Africa.

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Senegal River, Saint Louis

The next phase of my African journey started when I crossed the Mauritanian border.  I’ll spend the next two months in the deserts of North Africa, including crossing the Sahara in summer.

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The Senegal River

Before we could head north into the desert we had to negotiate the infamous border crossing from Senegal to Mauritania which is across the Senegal River and is notorious as the most corrupt border crossing in all of Africa.

Corrupt officials, hassles, problems, bribes and chaos on both sides of the river.

All up it took about six hours to wait for the ferry and make our way through the process with the help of a local fixer and a few dollars paid to the right people.

After having crossed into Nigeria by road and been stopped sixteen times in twenty kilometers by Nigerian border officials and also having crossed the border from Angola to the DRC by road where we enjoyed the added bonus of being interviewed in a small back room by the Agence Nationale de Renseignements (ANR) , aka the Congo National Intelligence Agency, the crossing to Mauritania was just another fun day in Africa that I got a few laughs out of.

IMG20170828080945~3It was difficult to fathom the suddenness of the change in landscape.  In less than 100km we went from green fields and rice paddies to sandhills and camels.

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Camels in the desert

The following afternoon, after a scenic desert drive north we reached the capital,  Nouakchott – pronounced Nuwak-shut – where the Sahara meets the sea.

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Nouakchott a city of sand

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and traffic

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On my first afternoon we headed to the Port de Peche. The fish market is one of the busiest in West Africa and we arrived in time to watch the boats return.

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Hundreds of colourful traditional wooden pirogues lined the beach with others returning from the ocean every few minutes with their catch. Once near the shore, they battle the shore break and twenty guys drag it up the beach on rollers.

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We stopped at a cafe near the boats for local mint tea and watched the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean.

After our time in Nouakchott we headed into the desert, sand and heat, hugging the coast north towards Nouadibou. Pronounced No-waadi-boo.

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We drove up the eastern side of Star Bay and found a beachfront hotel with resident Greater Flamingos feeding in the bay, where I had a long afternoon walk around the edge of the bay.

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Star Bay Mauritania

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The following day we crossed out of Mauritania into no-man’s-land where there’s no road with a side order of land mines. The territory is disputed between two countries and two would-be-if-they-could-be countries. Mauritania, Western Sahara, The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and Morocco.

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The main track at the border crossing

After exiting Mauritania and before the five day Sahara crossing we stopped at the border for a chicken tagine lunch and cold drinks. The photo below is just after leaving the border cafe.

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Crossing the Sahara

I’ll spend a week in the Western Sahara and then a fortnight in Morocco visiting Agadir, Marrakesh, Tangier, Cueta, Casablanca and a few places in between.  From Morocco I’m flying to Niger for a week and then Chad for ten days.

My next post will be from Tangier in a fortnight.  Bye for now.

Burkina Faso & Mali

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Mali waterfall and village

Burkina Faso – Country no 10, double figures!!  In only four and a bit months.

Which I guess means I’m 20% along the way to fifty African countries.

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Madiagoune the first town entering Burkina Faso

I’ve planned my African trip around visiting in the wet season and non-tourist season and once again it’s paying dividends. The Burkina Faso countryside is lush and green.

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The guy in the truck above was carrying fuel from Nigeria to Burkina Faso with a side business of 500 pineapples on top of the tank.

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Roadside sellers

I travelled west towards the capital through more villages stopping at local markets to buy lunch which usually consists of street meat with chilli sauce on a baguette. I’ve been cautious to only buy goat and beef and to avoid bush meat. With the route I’ve taken through Africa so far and the huge number of local village markets I’ve visited, I’ve seen just about every type of African animal from giant bats and Pangolin to Antelope and monkey cooked and for sale.

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Burkina Faso might be one of the World’s poorest countries but it’s No. 1 when it comes to cool names of capital cities. On the 17 August I arrived in the capital – Ouagadougou!! Pronounced Woga-do-goo with a French accent…..easy.

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Three days prior to arriving in the capital there was a terrorist attack when four guys rode up to a restaurant visited by ex-pats and well to do locals and killed eighteen people with AK47s.  Despite that, we spent a relaxing and productive three days in the city, visiting a few landmarks and finishing with a night at a local outdoor cafe with live music.

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From Ouagadougou we headed west to Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina’s second largest city, which the locals just call Bobo.

We stayed in Bobo for just one night and continued on towards Mali and yet another “red zone”.

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Bobo accommodation

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Mali  (11)

The crossing into Mali was quick and easy and with border formalities finished we drove the Trans Sahalian Highway north to the first large town, Sikasso.

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We used our time in Sikasso to visit the Sunday markets and pick up Mali sim cards.

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From Sikasso it was still 300km to Bamako, Mali’s capital city which sits on the banks of the Niger River.  We drove through green countryside and at 5pm found a open plain which looked like a nice place to camp.  We drove across the plain and pulled in behind some trees and camped the night on a Malian meadow which felt more like New Zealand or Scotland than North Africa.

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After arriving in Bamako my first job was to organise a boat trip down the Niger River for half a day.

Unfortunately it rained for two days, so I occupied myself with a few mundane tasks like washing.

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It’s raining again.

After three days in Bamako I decided to hire a car and driver and go in search of Mali’s only endemic bird, Mali Firefinch, which fortunately lives in the rocky escarpment country only forty minutes from my accommodation.  We drove out to Kabalakoro Balancing Rocks and after a couple of hours of scrambling and jock jumping I found a few finches as well as some nice other birds.

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Kabalakoro Rocks Mali

Finally the rain stopped and I headed out on the river in a pirogue.  The river was full and flowing fairly quickly, so we headed west for a couple of hours and then slowly drifted back through the city.

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River village

Similar to the Congo River in Kinshasa there were poor settlements with families living under tarps with riverfront mansions next door.

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After four days in Bamako I headed north towards Senegal. It was our original goal to travel north from Mali into Eastern Mauritania perhaps near Ayoun el Atrous but everyone we spoke to advised us it was too dangerous to travel that way.

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Monument de la Paix

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The outer hillside suburbs.

I could have taken the Route Nationale One but we found a much more interesting looking 350km back road via Kita and Dabia, which crosses the border in Southern Senegal near Koundame. The ‘back road’ isn’t on Google Maps or our road map but we heard from locals that it’s a good quality road. We drove across Mali all day, camping that night once again in the countryside. Within a few hours we were surrounded by lightning and later that night it rained heavily.

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In the early morning light as the sun struggled to break through iron grey clouds we came across an area of magnificent jagged towering escarpment that accompanied us for twenty kilometers between Dabia and Kenieba, not far from the Senegal border.

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Along the twenty kilometers of cliff five waterfalls plunged between 80-300m to the ground below. One waterfall cascaded down, another was tiered and others plunged off the escarpment in one long drop into the fertile valley below.

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Waterfall 

Clouds shrouded the plateau and in many places the cliff face was veiled in mist.

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As we moved along the valley floor, a running battle ensued between my camera and tentacles of cloud which persisted in manoeuvering in front of the cliff face and then evaporating, only to re-appear reaching from the plateau down into the villages below.

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It was easy to believe that the mud brick and thatched roofed villages at the base of the range had been there just as long as the ancient mountains that towered above.

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Another spectacular and rarely visited part of Africa that sees virtually no international travellers.

After another hour of travel we quietly slipped into south eastern Senegal at the Koundame – Moussala crossing.

We’re planning on scooting across Senegal fairly quickly as I have a longer visit planned for another time. Hopefully after 3-4 days I’ll cross into Southern Mauritania.

Bye for now.

 

 

Nigeria and Benin

Countries number eight and nine – Nigeria and Benin.

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The Niger River full to the brim with wet season rain

Transiting north from Cameroon to Morocco.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Abuja mosque

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Abuja city

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

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Abuja craft market

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Zuma Rock 2400ft high

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

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

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Abuja’s outer suburbs

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

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

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

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

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

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The Niger River

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

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

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

Benin

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

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The road from the border

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

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

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The village well

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

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Djougou

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

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The journey north continues

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

Bye for now.

Cameroon Part 2

 

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

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Lazy Sunday with the locals

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

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

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

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Waiting for the next performance

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Waiting for the next performance

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

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Limbe coastline

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

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

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Mt Cameroon

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The trail to the top

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

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Nyaososo village

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

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

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Mt Kupe forest

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

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Immature Gabon Viper

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Cocoa tree

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

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

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The local butterflies like chocolate

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

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

Bye for now.

 

Cameroon Part 1

 

Cameroon – country number 7 of 50.

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

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

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The ferry from Congo Republic to Cameroon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The forest camp

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

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Western Lowland Gorilla

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Take off  –  Hartlaubs Duck

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

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

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

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Sitting out the rain

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

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

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

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

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The road north

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

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

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Batouri

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

 

 

The Republic of Congo

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

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

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

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The road to the border

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Departing – Frontiere Congo Belge

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Arriving – Congo Francais

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

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

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

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Grey Pratincole

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

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

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

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The Sandbar

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

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

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Leaving through the suburbs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Baby Gorilla in the forest

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

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Typical village on the way north

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The new Chinese built road through the jungle

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

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River in Odzala National Park

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

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

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Ready to go

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Riverside forest

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Baka Pygmy village

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The local transport

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Photo in a local village

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

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

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

Bye for now.

 

The DRC part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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On the way to Kisangani

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On a sandbar in the middle of the Congo River

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

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

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Deserted Congo beach

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

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Shower and massage in one

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

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

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

Bye for now…

 

Ateris Viper

Ateris Viper

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

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The road into the DRC

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

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The way they roll in the DRC

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

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My first view of the Congo River

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

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Matadi meat venders

 

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

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

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Looking across the docks to Brazzaville

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

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

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Fishing village Kinshasa

 

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Rusting barges line the river

 

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Kinshasa’s main market and ever present rubbish

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

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

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Bonobo.  Pan paniscus

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

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Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary Kinshasa DRC

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

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

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

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White-crowned Lapwing

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

 

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

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

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

Bye till then.