Malawi and Mozambique (Part 1)

Lake Malawi 2018

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Underwater in Lake Malawi

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.

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Mozambique Village

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.

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Boabab Savanna

The roadside stalls of bananas and avacodo were replaced with hundreds of bags of charcoal and large scale agriculture replaced by subsistence farming.

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Roadside markets

We also left behind the hilly granite boulder strewn topography and replaced it with parched flat sandy baobab savanna.

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Cultivation in the Mazowe River Mozambique

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.

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Sunset on the Zambezi at Tete.

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

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Screenshot_2018-08-01-16-51-46-72Malawi 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.

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First views of Lake Malawi

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.

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Kande Beach

IMG20180804075649Disapointingly 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.

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Lake Malawi cichlids

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Lake Malawi 2018 cLate 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.

IMG-20180803-WA0031~2We took the saddles off the horses and rode them down to the water for a refreshing late afternoon swim.

IMG-20180803-WA0035~2I 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.

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Chitimba Primary School message

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.

IMG20180803150820There 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.

Screenshot_2018-08-04-11-16-56-24There’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.

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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.

IMG20180804111506From 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.

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Late afternoon village soccer game

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.

 

 

Zimbabwe (Part 2)

 

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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.

IMG20180721111318In 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.

IMG20180721111344The 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.

IMG20180721114117Arriving in Bulawayo was one of those stepping back in time moments. One of my travel buddies said he felt like he was in Cuba.

Screenshot_2018-07-22-21-23-11-89We 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.

IMG20180719120549The 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.

IMG20180721145457That 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.

IMG20180722094458We 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.

IMG20180722105219After 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.

Screenshot_2018-07-28-20-34-58-97The 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.

Screenshot_2018-07-28-20-34-31-17We sat on the granite outcrop, known locally as World’s View and watched a magnificent sunset over the park.

Screenshot_2018-07-22-17-52-05-08From 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.

otterThe next day we toured some of the 3000 acre reserve watching Lions, Giraffe, Wildebeest and Zebra.

LionWe 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.

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Screenshot_2018-07-26-19-04-09-89The 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.

Screenshot_2018-07-28-20-35-13-06After 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.

Screenshot_2018-07-29-17-11-05-88It 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.

 

 

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Screenshot_2018-07-18-16-28-45-73After a night at the border we headed east on the Trans Kalahari Highway and into the largest unbroken stretch of sand in the world. The Kalahari Desert isn’t a true desert like the Namib but rather a thinly populated arid savanna which today provides Botswana with a significant income from diamonds.

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The Trans Kalahari Highway

The Kalahari is one of the great wilderness areas of Southern Africa and much of it remains intact holding large numbers of game animals and dry country birds.

Screenshot_2018-07-13-19-00-03-27After a day crossing the desert we arrived in the tourist hub of Maun, gateway to the famous, World Heritage Okavango Delta, which is the World’s largest inland delta and a stage for epic wildlife encounters.

We opted for the two day – one night Mokoro (canoe) tour of the delta, which involved an over night camp on one of the delta’s islands and a walking safari.

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Giraffes on the Okavango walking safari

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My view from the Mokoro

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Richard, Lynda, Tavi and Lucy

We traveled by canoe for two hours and then walked until just before dusk, seeing Giraffe, Wildebeest, Elephant and Zebra.

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Sunset on the Okavango

As the sun began to set we cruised back along the myriad of channels with the highlight being four Hippos in the reeds not far from our camp.

We sat in our canoes with the Hippos nearby and watched a great sunset over the delta.

The following day we returned to shore just before lunch. As we were getting off the canoes I noticed a local guy with a aluminum dinghy and after a bit of negotiating we were off on an afternoon cruise, north deep into the delta.

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Nile Crocodile

We motored twenty kilometers into the delta passing herds of Reedbuck and Red Lechwe. The occasional Hippo dived underwater as we approached and African Fish Eagles worked their way along the channels searching for a feed. We past a few Crocs and a couple of local village fisherman who’d had a successful afternoon with their wooden canoe full of fish.

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Local Fisherman

All along the route Elephants browsed in the shallows, standing waste deep in the water wrapping their trunks around the reeds and ripping them out by the roots. We watched as they then washed the mud off before chewing and then repeating the process, creating channels through the reeds as they moved along.

Screenshot_2018-07-17-02-13-38-74From the Okavango we drove north, spending a night at Elephant Sands Lodge and then headed to Chobe NP where the highlight was an afternoon sunset cruise along the Chobe River which forms the border with Namibia at the end of the Caprivi Strip.

Chobe is famous for its huge Elephant population and it upheld it’s reputation for us as we cruised the main channel and nearby waterways, quickly loosing count of the number we saw. The trip started with two males feeding in the reeds, then another two fighting, a lone adult swimming across the river, then three more taking a late afternoon mud bath to keep the mozzies at bay during the night.

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Getting deeper crossing the Chobe River

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Afternoon mud bath

After the Okavango we crossed the border into Zimbabwe and we’re soon at Victoria Falls, one of Africa’s greatest sights.

Screenshot_2018-07-20-10-36-47-86The Zambezi River meanders it’s way across the tropical savanna south from Zambia, then flows through an area locally known as Hippo Pools then plunges off a 1.7km wide cliff into a spectacular transverse chasm creating a permanent cloud of spray that can be seen thirty kilometers away.

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Vic Falls Zimbabwe

Victoria Falls is the World’s largest waterfall and is most spectacular from the air. Many others are higher and Iguazu Falls has a greater volume but for one long continuous massive falling sheet of water, Vic Falls is No. 1.

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View from the helicopter

From the air we had great views of the seven deep gorges further downstream and the surrounding basalt plateau.

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David Livingston memorial

I’ve been at Victoria Falls for four days and this afternoon am boarding the train to Bulawayo, where we’ll spend a couple of days before making our way to Harare.  All up, we’ll be in Zimbabwe for nearly two weeks and have lots to see and do before departing.

My next post will probably be from Malawi in a fortnight.

Bye for now.

Private: Namibia

leopardThere hasn’t been a country anywhere in Africa that has been more recommended to me than Namibia.  When I was back home over Christmas, I lost count of the number of people that said I should go there.  After all those recommendations and spending another night in the vineyards north of Cape Town we arrived at the border late in the afternoon looking forward to the exploring the countryside over the next fortnight.

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cheetahs fourThe trip through the SA/Namibia border on the Oasis Overland truck was hassle free and we were on the road again within half an hour.  It was already 4pm so we drove 10km down the road and spent the first night at Felix Unite Lodge on the shores of the Orange River.

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Screenshot_2018-06-29-09-01-01-79Our first stop on the Namibia tourist trail was Fish River Canyon, which is advertised as the world’s second largest canyon behind the Grand Canyon in the USA, although neither of them are actually even close to being the largest canyons in the World. Nevertheless, it was a nice to have lunch on the rim while enjoying the views.

Screenshot_2018-06-29-16-12-55-20We continued north until late afternoon, then pulled off the road and camped on an open clearing under a full moon in the middle of the desert.

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mountain zebraThe days in the desert are warm but the nights have been cold and I’m glad I upgraded my sleeping bag in Cape Town.

Sossavlei 3Although virtually the entire country is desert it reminds me most of Iceland, where I was earlier this year. The scenery and habitats are obviously poles apart but both countries have the same ‘feel’ when driving long gravel roads from one scenic natural feature to the next. Vast open plains, rugged mountain ranges, inhospitable coastlines and incredible photo opportunities around every corner….same but different.

Sossavlei 6After a day of gravel roads, which compared to the rest of Africa are actually very good, we arrived in Soussavlei and the Namib-Naukluft National Park, containing the Namib Desert, which is possibly the World’s oldest desert with only the Atacama Desert being slightly drier.

Sossavlei 5Soussavlei is home to a sea of huge spectacular burnt orange rolling sand dunes that stretch unbroken for hundreds of kilometers. Amongst these are the World’s tallest dunes with several over three hundred meters high.

After an early morning start we drove to the nearby Deadvlei, ‘dead marsh’ which is a white clay pan with several dead Camel Thorn Trees over eight hundred years old, suspended in time and surrounded by the World’s tallest sand dunes. The image is synonymous with Namibia.

Screenshot_2018-07-01-09-50-36-61From Deadvlei we headed north leaving behind the sea of dunes and travelling across vast open plains and the Tropic of Capricorn only stopping for apple pies at the Solitaire Roadhouse, until we arrived in the coastal town of Swakomond.

Swakomond is a modern seaside town with palm tree lined streets, shopping malls, ATM’s that work, good restaurants, clean streets, coffee shops and everything you might need while traveling through Namibia.

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Sossavlei 8After a few days in Swakomond we drove north towards the infamous Skeleton Coast, an area so inhospitable that no one lives along the 250km coastline which is where the cold Benguela Current meets the hot Namib Desert, resulting in an almost daily sea fog that envelops the desert and is the only source of water for the few plants that struggle to survive there.

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whaleboneThe fog causes a major shipping hazard, hence it’s called the Skeleton Coast because there’s over one thousand ship wrecks lining the coast. Well, that’s what the old TV documentaries and the media had me wanting to see but these days things are different. Unfortunately the ship wrecks have been cut up for scrap and are no longer there and to make it worse we visited on a gloriously sunny fog-less day!

The highlight of the coast was visiting the Cape Cross seal colony, which is home to two hundred thousand Cape Fur Seals.

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Jackel sealsAfter driving the length of the coast we headed inland to the Otjitotongwe Cheetah Park where orphaned Cheetahs are prepared for release back into the wild.

Cheetahs

cheetah 2At Spitzkoppe we camped under the boulder strewn mountains and walked to the summit, finishing the day watching the sun set over the savanna and mountains.

IMG20180705151912The Himba are an indigenous people, from Northern Namibia, who are famous for covering their skins in a mixture of butterfat and ochre.

Himba 1

himba 2We continued north arriving at Etosha National Park.  ‘The Great White Place’, the Etosha Pan, covers a quarter of the entire 20,000km park and during the dry season when the animals congregate at the waterholes, offers perhaps Africa’s best game viewing around its water-holes.

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Hartebest

pan 2After dinner on our first night in the park we ventured down to a floodlit waterhole near our accommodation and watched Rhino and Hyena come in to drink.

rhino nightThe highlight was on our second day in the park when I spotted a Leopard crouched behind roadside bushes watching a heard of Springbok fifty meters away.   We watched it stalk it’s prey for nearly an hour before it disappeared off into the bush.

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Oryx

etosha panFrom Etosha we drove south to Namibia’s capital city, Windhoek where I’m finishing this post.  It’s been a great two weeks and tomorrow we head east to the Botswana border and then drive across the Kalahari Desert, arriving at the Okavango Delta in about four days.  Life on the truck has been good and Namibia has been a very easy country to travel through, undoubtedly  the easiest African country to visit.  A land of good roads, friendly people, mountains, desert, wildlife and unspoiled beauty.

truckWe’ll be spending a week in Botswana and then a fortnight in Zimbabwe prior to a brief visit to Mozambique.  My next post should be from Zimbabwe.

Bye for now.

South Africa

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Southern Ground Hornbill

It’s taken a year and a half to reach the halfway mark of twenty-five African countries and even though I’ve travelled fairly slowly through most of them and seen endless  incredible sights and had countless  amazing experiences I sometimes feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of this huge and amazing continent.

After three weeks in South Africa I feel the same way.  I’ve covered over 2000km by road and the more I stare at the map, read the guide books and talk to other travellers, the more I realise you could easily spend six months here.

I’m writing this in Stellenbosch, the South African wine region not all that far from Cape Town and tomorrow we head north and cross into Namibia.

My time in South Africa started in Johannesburg on a cold wet winters day where the temperature at noon was about twelve degrees Celsius.

IMG20180601090229Johannesburg is the big bad city of South Africa that many travelers think they should avoid but it’s central to several areas of the country I wanted to visit, so I based myself there for two weeks. It’s a big city with perhaps the best system of freeways, overpasses and link roads I’ve ever encountered, which made getting around for a first timer like me, very easy.

Screenshot_2018-06-01-14-11-54-33Prior to my visit I’d been talking to Ken Logan, who is one of South Africa’s best wildlife and bird photographers and he offered to show me around his part of the county for a few days.

Jo’burg is at about 1500m and a tad chilly in winter, so I was keen to get down to sea-level and some nicer weather.

The World famous Kruger National Park was my next stop where we spent three days at Skukuza Camp, in the southern portion of the park.

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Cape Buffalo Kruger

Elephants SAKruger is a huge, well maintained park which contains numerous accommodation options from insanely expensive safari lodges to well priced bungalows and camping. There are several very nice restaurants and all the main roads are tarred, from which you can see just about all of Southern Africa’s game animals.

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Sabie River, Kruger

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The old rail bridge, Kruger NP

Although the park is full of tourists in game vehicles, most of the locals just drive around in their SUV’s and pull up at a waterhole and have sandwiches in their cars for lunch while watching Lions, Elephant, Gnu, Crocs and Impala do their thing.

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Gnu (Wildebeest)

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Kudu

What did the Gnu say to the Kudu?
If you Gnu what I Gnu, then you Kudu what I Kudu !!

I was really impressed with Kruger, it’s a park that really needs two weeks to see it all and can be done easily and cheaply from Jo’burg.

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Hooded and White backed SAFrom Kruger we dove into Natal Province. The ANC government has been changing many of the Afrikaan names to local names in recent years and Natal is now called, Kwazulu Natal or KZN by the locals. KZN includes the traditional Zulu land.

I spent three days in iSimangaliso Wetland Park which is a UNESCO World Heritage site that stretches for 200km south from the Mozambique border and has a small population of White Rhino and a big population of Giraffe, as well as South Africa’s largest Croc and Hippo populations.

White RhinoI stayed in the beach side town St Lucia, which is the only town in South Africa completely surrounded by a World Heritage Site and was freakishly similar to my home town.  From St Lucia we drove to Imfolozi Nature Reserve, which is South Africa’s oldest game reserve and then continued to Mtunzini and the Umlalazi Nature Reserve.  Traveling through these areas I was disappointed to find that every river mouth, every forest and every beach has been turned into some kind of reserve with an entrance gate, a fee and countless forms to fill out.  Its bureaucracy gone mad. I guess it keeps the country’s unemployment statistics down but its bloody frustrating.   IMG20180521082419

Screenshot_2018-05-20-12-56-46-42One afternoon we decided to drive down to the beach for lunch.  Just as we started to have lunch a Hippo wandered up from the beach and started walking around the carpark.  Only in Africa!

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The coast looking south towards Durban

While near Durban I was reading my Coast to Coast Guide Book which described the Drakensberg Mountains as, “gob-smacking, lip-licking, eye-bulging countryside with shades and palettes that’ll thrill even the colour blind!” So we decided to head north to The Berg, spending two nights at the tranquil KarMichael Farm at Himeville.

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Halfway up the infamous Sani Pass

The Drakensberg Mountains in Northern South Africa run for over a hundred kilometres and are a popular tourist attraction particularly for locals.  We drove to the top of the infamous Sani Pass with the final ten kilometers of hairpin bends and sheer drops reminding me of roads in the Himalayas.

Drak

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Small Village in the foothills of the Berg

Screenshot_2018-05-25-11-44-31-47After a couple of days in the Drakensberg area we returned to Jo’burg where I had dinner with Ken and his wife before spending two days exploring the city.  After that I wandered down to the local Thrifty Car Rental shop and hired an SUV.  The only advice the guy at the counter gave me was, when you hear someone yell out to you, “Hi Jack”, floor it and make a fast getaway! Apparently South Africa has a car-jacking problem with 16,700 car-jacking incidents in 2017, which is not to be confused with the 53,300 cars stolen that year! Who Knew!

With my ears primed and my right foot ready for a bit of action I headed through town and up into the mountains to the picturesque town of  Wakkerstroom which is surrounded by high altitude grasslands and large wetlands.  I hired Lucky the local birding guide for two days and saw all but one of the local species as well as nice views of Meerkats and Otters both of which are locally common, not to mention exceedingly cool.

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Blue Crane

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Wattled Crane

On my final day in Johannesburg I needed a haircut so I jumped in a taxi and went out to Soweto and found a Barber shop.  My haircut attracted quite a crowd, kids, housewives and passers by all enjoyed the spectacle. After that I visited Nelson Mandela’s house and then the confronting Apartheid Museum.  Soweto is a creature born from apartheid, the name given to Southwest Townships built in the 60’s & 70’s by the white South African government outside Johannesburg.  Thirty thousand houses were built for, “thoroughly urbanised and economically advanced natives.”   On the 16 June 1976 the Soweto Uprising began when 10,000 students began their protests with 23 killed on the first day.  After that Soweto became the stage for violent state repression and things went downhill from there.

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Screenshot_2018-06-01-14-11-01-92Today Soweto doesn’t look any different to any other South African suburb and significantly better than most large towns I’ve seen throughout Africa.

Screenshot_2018-06-01-14-10-35-97Not long after leaving Jozie I arrived in Cape Town, which is often called the most beautiful city in the World.

We checked into our accommodation on a clear sunny winters day with a halo of cloud around the summit of Table Mountain.

IMG20180622162811By the time we walked to the beach the sky was looking ominous and a blanket of grey clouds were descending on the mountain.

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Cable Cars Cape TownThe next day we caught an Uber to the cable car station and after watching the cars ascend into the clouds, we decided that lunch at the Waterfront was a better option.

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IMG20180622181603The Cape Town waterfront has a great atmosphere and the food is outstanding, although I must admit I could easily become addicted to Chocolate, Beetroot and Ginger Sorbets. Whoever thought of that combination is a genius.

African PenguinFrom the city we drove out to Stony Point to the African Penguin colony and then spent some time at Camps Bay and Clifton Bay Beaches.

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IMG20180626115534After three weeks it was time to rendezvous with the expedition truck and begin the four month trip north to Cairo, Egypt.

The day after tomorrow, I’ll be in Namibia and I’ll have pics of the truck in my next post.  We plan to spend fourteen days in Namibia before crossing into Botswana at Gobabis and then driving across the Kalahari Desert, arriving at Victoria Falls about a week later.

My next post (Namibia) will be in about two weeks.

Bye for now.

 

Lesotho and Swaziland

I was really looking forward to getting to Southern Africa.  I’m now into my second year of traveling the continent and so far I haven’t been any further south than Lusaka, Zambia.

Zebra SABoth these small countries are somewhat out of the way but fortunately they’re situated only a few hours drive from each other.  I plan to spent some time in both countries prior to spending about three weeks exploring South Africa, eventually ending up in Cape Town, where I’ll start one of the World’s great drives from Cape Town to Alexandria, Egypt.   The twelve thousand kilometer journey north to the Mediterranean travelling the full length of the continent by road should take about six months.

IMG20180524103754In many ways Swazi and Lesotho are very similar. Both are ruled by a king and have South Africa as their main trading partner.  Unfortunately both countries suffer from extreme poverty, extremely high levels of HIV and an average life expectancy of just 50 years. Crime rates are also high, as is their uncontrollable murder rate, which places both countries as no. 7 and No. 8 in the world for homicides per head of population.

IMG20180524110718Geographically they’re completely different. The Kingdom of Swaziland is at sea level with a subtropical climate and covered in horizon to horizon sugarcane, with some smallish mountains and some good game reserves.  Lesotho is known as ‘The Mountain Kingdom.”

Lesotho: Pronounced  La-soo-too

IMG_1619 (2)There is one word that sums up Lesotho ……. Spectacular!

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I arrived in Lesotho on a clear crisp sunny Autumn day and immediately thought I’d taken a wrong turn and arrived in Tibet.

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IMG_1574Snow covered hills, high altitude plateaus, deep valleys and breath taking mountain scenery is what Lesotho is all about. The entire country sits on top of a plateau and is the only independent country in the world that lies entirely above 1,000 metres (3,281 ft) in elevation, with an average height of 2,161m.

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Drakensberg Rockjumper

After a quick stop at the highest pub in Africa we continued across the countryside on a amazing new Chinese built road, which every African country seems to have one of these days.  The new tarred highway continued even higher until we reached over 3200m at Black Mountain.  Which I think is the highest tarred road in Africa.

Screenshot_2018-05-24-16-38-19-54My obvious question was why would China want to spend ten’s of millions of dollars on a highway to know where, across a plateau sparsely inhabited by a few traditional nomadic Basotho shepherds?  The answer: The Chinese had recently discovered large deposits of Cobalt in the area which is used in high tech products.

IMG_1558There were more things to see and do in Lesotho, such as their ski resort which is one of only two in Africa. There are also some nice forests and waterfalls but like the skiing, I was there at the wrong time of year.

lesotho creekI drove out of Lesotho with one thing on my mind, “I should have stayed longer.”

Swaziland: Pronounced eSwatini

Screenshot_2018-05-29-21-36-01-69Recently King Mswati III rocked up to the country’s Independence Day celebrations, which was also his birthday,  in his new top of the line BMW with his thirteen wives in tow and announced he was changing the name of the country to eSwatini, which means, ‘land of the Swazis’.  Which is kinda like Swaziland but different ??

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Impala with Oxpeckers

Lilac Breasted Roller SAI crossed into Swaziland through the Mananga border crossing in the north of the country through what, after twenty two African countries, fourteen of which have been road borders, was the smoothest border crossing thus far. There was none of the usual lazy, corrupt, incompetence, no fixers necessary, no bribes or endless waiting and no vehicle searches. Just polite, professional, friendly and efficient staff.

Compared to entering Nigeria by road or five hours crossing from Angola to the DRC (Congo) and six hours from Senegal to Mauritania, it was a breeze. Congratulations eSwatini and Lesotho borders. Why can’t every African country be this efficient?

Zebra SA3Maybe my view of African road borders is a bit skewed as I haven’t been to the tourist countries, like South Africa, Namibia, Botswana or Zimbabwe yet.

Screenshot_2018-05-19-11-03-26-84Heading south through miles of sugarcane fields, some of which were being harvested by hand, we reached the Mbuluzi Private Game Reserve and booked in for a two night stay. Mbuluzi’s game is Giraffe, Impala, Wildebeest (Gnu), Kudu, Nyala and a few others that are equally not likely to want to eat you. It’s a relief to stay in a game reserve in Africa without, Lions, Hyenas, Leopards or Elephants and a real pleasure to walk or mountain bike around without and armed guard.

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Vervet Monkey

Impala KrugerI spent the next couple of days in the reserve, doing a couple of walks and sitting out half a day of rain.

Baboon SA2After a couple of days it was time to head across the border to my next country, South Africa.

Bye for now.

Red Duiker Sa

 

Tunisia

Screenshot_2018-05-07-15-14-45-21Tunisia is a small diverse North African country tucked between Libya and Algeria, bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north and in the south the semi-arid interior merges into the Sahara.

In the north of the country not far from the eastern end of the Atlas Mountains lies the African mainland’s second nearest points to Europe after Gibraltar.

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The arid central hinterland is among the world’s premier areas of olive cultivation and Tunisia’s eastern Mediterranean coast is home to long white sandy beaches lined with five star resorts.

IMG20180511120325The first job after arriving was to check into the Marina Cap Resort and find a car and driver and then see as much of the country as reasonably possible in a week.

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IMG_9383Several years ago Tunisia was a popular holiday destination for sunseekers from the UK and Europe with about five million visitors annually, mostly to several coastal resort towns, like Sousse and Monastir.  Then in early 2015 three terrorists with guns killed twenty-two people in a local Museum.

IMG20180507135856The nail in the coffin for tourism occurred a few months later when a lone terrorist walked along the beach near Sousse with an AK47 assault rifle and shot seventy six tourists, killing 38, mostly British.

My guide/driver in Monastir tells me the only tourists that kept coming were Russian and Ukrainian. Walking through the Monastir medina I was not surprised to hear the local shop keepers now speaking Russian.

IMG20180507135311I was most keen to visit the Roman Amphitheater/Colliseum at El Jem. Built in 237AD and with a 35,000 seat capacity, it’s one of the most accomplished examples of Roman architecture still standing, with the added bonus of no other visitors.

IMG20180508125118The walls of the main arena and the underground passages and rooms are practically intact.  The entire amphitheater has a whole other level underground and it was eerie walking around under the main arena past the Lion pens and holding cells where gladiators and slaves waited to die in front of 35,000 cheering onlookers.

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IMG20180508122908After El Jem we drove to the town of Kairouan and visited the oldest mosque in Africa with the World’s oldest minaret.

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We stopped at the impressive Roman Mosaic Museum where I photographed the Little Owl mosaic below, created in the third century AD.   Not long after leaving the museum I found a real Little Owl at roadside stop.

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IMG_9515We continued our journey south through the coastal towns of Sfax and Gabes, with olive fields stretching to the horizon for over two hundred kilometers.

Screenshot_2018-05-09-11-32-29-03At Gabes we turned right and headed into the mountains and towards the Berber town of Matmata. As we approached I saw the first doorway on the side of the hill and no other sign of habitation. I thought some crazy hermit probably lives in that cave but as we drove further west the caves entrances became more common.

We eventually stopped and visited a Berber house dug into the soft sandstone cliffs to escape to soaring summer temperatures. The local tribes have been digging out their homes and living underground for over a thousand years.

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Screenshot_2018-05-09-16-32-18-46We drove hundreds of kilometers past large date plantations,  crossed the huge Chott el Djerid Salt Lake and skirted around two mountain ranges, travelling west to within a few kilometers of the Algerian border.

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Screenshot_2018-05-10-18-20-41-19Before long I was once again in the Sahara Desert but this time only for one day.

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IMG_9631On the way back east we drove through the mountains and stopped at an oasis fed by a mountain spring with accompanying palm grove.   It was a welcome break from the travelling and heat.

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Screenshot_2018-05-11-22-53-30-64No trip to Tunisia is complete without a visit to the ancient city of Carthage, which was one of the oldest, largest and most prosperous cities in the Mediterranean.

IMG20180512114407That was until the Roman Empire commanded by Scipio arrived in 146BC and subsequently captured the city, towed all the Phoenician ships into the harbour, burnt them, then went house-to-house and captured 50,000 inhabitants and sent them into slavery and as a final encore, burnt the entire city to the ground.

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Screenshot_2018-05-12-14-22-58-45Our final stop in Tunisia was the coastal town of Sidi Bou Said, which sits atop a steep cliff overlooking the Med. The buildings are white-washed with blue doors and windows and the streets are cobble-stoned and fringed by Bougainvillea and Date Palms, reminiscent of Greece or Morocco.

IMG20180512122047Tomorrow I fly south to more adventures in the two small African nations of Lesotho and Swaziland or as its now called,  ‘The Kingdom of eSwatini’.

Bye for now.

Egypt – Sinai Peninsular

Screenshot_2017-10-16-09-37-46-33~2After three months in the Sahal, Sudan and Sahara I decided to finish this stint in Africa with an underwater week at Sharm El Sheikh on the southern tip of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsular.  

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Screenshot_2017-10-16-10-43-36-21~2I flew from Hargesia to Cairo and then onto Sharm via a one hour Nile Air flight.  I booked into the Movenpick Resort,  which I mainly chose as it has four private beaches, two of which have nice reef. 

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An early morning start at the jetty

 

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DCIM101GOPROGOPR4578.JPGThe area has an enormous list of spectacular dive sites ranging from some of the world’s best wrecks to drift dives and an endless list of reefs.  I spent most of my dive time at Tiran Island and Ras Mohammad NP.

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365 sunny days a year and crystal clear waters of the Red Sea

 

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Where the desert meets the reef

My routine was basically, rise early,  eat too much at the breakfast buffet, jump on the dive boat,  do three dives,  go back to resort and eat too much at the dinner buffet …….. repeat X 4.

 

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Screenshot_2017-10-20-14-30-57-13~2I could have flown home via Mauritius or Reunion and spent a week diving there but I wanted to visit Ras Mohammed National Park.

When I was a youngster I spent countless hours watching Jacques Cousteau documentaries and Ras Mohammed was one of the Calypso’s regular haunts.  I’ve always wanted to dive there.

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Anchored off Shark & Yolanda Reef

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I’ll be flying home later today and have some planning to do for my next stint in Africa. Throughout the year my blog was viewed well over two thousand times and I hope you enjoyed following my travels.  Merry Xmas and all the best wherever your journeys may take you to all those people I met in Africa this year still following and I’m looking forward to catching up with friends and relatives back home in coming weeks.

Bye for now.

 

 

Djibouti & Somalia

Screenshot_2017-10-06-09-32-57-96~2I left my inner city hotel on the Chinese constructed road, past the Italian Army Base and the French Foreign Legion base, adjacent to the new $4 billion Chinese built railway, which is opposite the American Base, which is next-door to the new Chinese military base, just down the road from the new Chinese container terminal.

After all that, I eventually left Djibouti City on a new Chinese constructed highway to Ethiopia. Several miles down the road we turned right and headed into one of the world’s greatest geological sites.

Screenshot_2017-10-06-19-22-30-64~2Djibouti is the place where Africa’s Great Rift Valley meets the ocean and the area is known as the Afar Depression, with the far northern section known as the Danakil Depression.

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Screenshot_2017-10-06-08-45-19-95~2The Afar Depression is one of two places on Earth where a mid-ocean ridge can be studied on land, the other being Iceland.

Screenshot_2017-10-06-19-26-09-58~2The area contains the hottest places (year-round average temperatures) of anywhere on Earth and is a barron, scorched and in-hospitable landscape of horizon to horizon black lava fields and precipitous weathered lava flows, many over hundreds of meters deep.

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Screenshot_2017-10-07-09-44-19-05~2I stayed the night in a hut at a tourist camp in the mountains and spent the afternoon watching Djbouti’s only endemic bird Djibouti Francolin, as well as other species such as Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse and Hemprich’s Hornbill.

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lich 1I continued on past several Afar villages, eventfully descending into a huge culdara reaching the lowest point in Africa, Lake Asal, at 155 m (or 509 ft) below sea level.

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Africa’s lowest point Lake Asal

The Rift Valley runs north from Mozambique for 6000km creating some of Africa’s most spectacular scenery and continues to widen about 2cm a year.

Some time in the next million or so years, as the rift continues to open and the depression continues to sink, the Red Sea will flood the valley in a prelude to when Africa eventually splits in two along the entire 6000km rift forming a new Ocean basin.

On my forth day in Djibouti I jumped in a taxi. “where to sir? ”
“Take me to Somalia.” and so he did.

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Screenshot_2017-10-09-22-37-01-83~2I crossed into Somalia through typical corrupt African unorganized incompetence and eventually made my way to the customs official with my entry stamp. He took a bit of finding but I was eventually taken down to the beach where we found him relaxing on a daybed under a tree in the shade in his orange Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses.

Screenshot_2017-10-09-22-37-22-51~2It took a while to get him to move from his main office and walk to his secondary office in the immigration building where he kept his stamps. With a stamp in my passport I walked towards the road and happened to notice he’d given me an exit stamp instead of an entry stamp. By then, of course he was back under his tree in the shade, so we went through the process all over again.

From there we drove to the nearest service Station where it took forty minutes and eight people to fill our landcruiser with diesel.

Screenshot_2017-10-09-22-37-40-42~2I now had a my guide and a local Somali driver, what could possibly go wrong!  Off into the desert we drove and after half an hour my local driver got us bogged.  Some digging, moving sand mats around and we were off again. Ten minutes later,  bogged again, more digging and then for something different, he got us lost.  Somewhere along the way he took the wrong track and I spent my first night camped under the stars in the Somali desert being serenaded to sleep by the local pack of Golden Jackels.

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gazelle coast

Screenshot_2017-10-09-22-39-20-79~2We found a village, asked directions, drove across country for a while and found the right track and got bogged again.

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“Hello,  any idea where the road is? “

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Screenshot_2017-10-09-22-41-29-80~2The next day we drove twenty two kilometers down a picturesque dry river bed as we began to climb out of the flat coastal plain.

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After a couple of river crossings and a stop for lunch I arrived in Hargeisa just after dark on day two.

After a night in Hargeisa we headed east to the coastal town of Berbera, where I had a great meal of local fish and freshly squeezed lemon juice drink, before climbing the escarpment during a thunderstorm.

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Screenshot_2017-10-10-15-09-45-05~3Before venturing to Somalia I thought the entire country was flat uninspiring desert but was surprised to find Somaliland a state of rugged mountains and steep spectacular escarpments.

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Screenshot_2017-10-10-17-52-25-27~3The temperature dropped rapidly as we approached the town of Sheikh where the British previously had a hill station and guest house to escape the coastal heat.

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Hama baboonWe continued east across vast dry open plains scattered with some of Africa’s scarcest wildlife such as Desert Warthog, Hamadryas Baboon, Klipspringer, Speke’s Pectinator, Salt’s Dikdik as well as Dorcas, Spekes and Soemmering’s Gazelle.

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Warthog

After a few days of camping on the plains I arrived in Eregavo and was promptly stopped by the local authorities and detained for four hours while we went through the Somali shake down from corrupt officials, which is the norm once you leave the tourist trail in Africa.

The immigration official started first.

“That’s not the correct visa.” “That’s not the correct stamp.” “If you get your visa in Addis, you have to fly in,  you’ve entered illegally.” blah, blah, blah. Funniest thing was when he demanded to photograph my visa stamp.   He took a photo of my Chad visa!

After four hours the local Police Commander told us we couldn’t travel any further east, so we went to plan B.   We found the local clan cheif and explained where we wanted to go.  He told the police it was OK with him for us to continue and off we went.

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Screenshot_2017-10-12-18-16-44-35~2We drove higher eventually entering the Daallo Mountains where at over 2000m, the temperature plummeted and I found myself in an incredible moss covered forest of thousand year old Juniper and Cedar trees with spectacular views from the escarpment to Gulf of Aden.  With alpine meadows and cool, crisp mountain air it was hard to believe I was in Somalia.

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Hornbill yellowScreenshot_2017-10-15-06-37-49-67~3I spent two days exploring the forest and could have easily spent a week there but it was soon time to head back to Hargesia and my flight to Egypt.

For my ten days in the two countries I used Abdi Jama who owns Nature Somaliland, as my guide.  He’s a local from Somaliland who has lived in the USA for twenty years, has a graduate degree from Colarodo State University and has returned home to run his guiding/tour business.  When it comes to this part of the world, he’s the go-to guy.

Screenshot_2017-10-16-08-16-09-86~2Above: flying over the Sinai Mountains.

I’m now in Sharm el Sheikh on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsular where I’m diving for a week and hopefully will have mostly underwater photos in my next blog.

Bye for now.

 

 

 

Chad

Screenshot_2017-10-01-09-03-53-22~3My purpose of visiting Chad was to attend the Gerewol Festival held by the nomadic Wadaabe people each year at the end of the wet season.

Each year they migrate with their livestock in response to the seasons and rainfall, as they’ve done for thousands of years.

Screenshot_2017-10-01-09-04-55-35~3Their homeland was divided by national boundaries over a century ago and I could have stayed in Niger last week and seen the festival there but like other African tribes such as the Massai, Himba and tribes of the Omo Valley, they’ve become a tourist attraction, which is what I didn’t want to see.

So I flew to Chad and then drove two hundred kilometers into the Sahal to find the two clans I spent time with, the Sudosukai and the Njapto who have no written language and spend their days tending to their long horned Zebu cattle.

Screenshot_2017-09-28-17-58-30-10~6The only contact they have with tourists each year is for one week at the end of September. The festival and their culture has been maintained largely intact, and they makes no concessions to the outside world with their traditions unchanged for centuries.

IMG20170929161756~3The origins of the Wodaabe are shrouded in mystery but it is thought that they first arrived in the region from the north over a thousand years ago, moving south as the Sahara Desert expanded into their tribal territory.

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migrationScreenshot_2017-10-01-09-03-47-47~2After arriving at the festival I met the sultan and clan leaders and was welcomed as a guest amongst incredibly friendly people who were genuinely honoured that I had travelled from the other side of the world to meet them and see their festival.

Screenshot_2017-09-26-09-11-08-78~3The Gerewol is an elaborate mass courtship ritual and one of the most fascinating ceremonies you can see in all of Africa.

Screenshot_2017-09-27-16-49-41-86Their emphasis is on male beauty and the young Wodaabe men decorate themselves with extravagant and colourful make up, feathers and traditional jewellery to ‘display’ to young women in search of a partner.

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sudo night 1The dancing involves the young men standing in a line, singing traditional rhythmic songs and chants while doing their best to show the whites of their eyes and baring their teeth, two symbols of male beauty.

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njapta day 3

njapta day 1

njapta day 4After a day of dancing the women step forward from the crowd and choose a potential husband.

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woman wadaabeThe older married men who have been through the ceremony previously are allowed to line up again and try for a second wife but most preferred to tend to their cattle, coach the younger men and race their horses.

horse raceThe Wadaabe people’s homeland, like other nomadic tribes in Africa, is quickly diminishing. Their northern land is becoming drier and the expanding Chadian population and farmland encroaches from the south.

IMG20171001081104~2Their future is also not assured because in Chad they hold one of the lower rungs of society. Their nomadic lifestyle and ancient animistic believes are often fround upon in modern day Chad.

IMG20170926151612~2After an incredible week with the Wadaabe and ten days in Chad it was time to continue my travels.  Both Chad and Niger are difficult countries to access and for my on ground logistics in Chad I used S.V.S an Italian based company who have been working in Chad for over twenty years and were excellent.  In Niger I used Zenith Tours, a local Niamey based company who were also excellent.

From Chad I’ve flown to Addis in Ethiopia where I’m spending a couple of days getting my Somaliland and Djibouti visas, as well as finally taking some time to sort through thousands of photos.

After Somalia I’ll fly to Sharm el Sheikh and Dahab on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsular for a week of diving the Red Sea.

Bye for now.