Aug 27 2010

Mozambique – diary 2010-08-01 to 2010-08-21

2010-08-01 to 2010-08-21

We left Masasi in Tanzania at 7:30am after a good night’s sleeps and a wholesome breakfast. The road was going to be long and hard and we wanted to get an early start in the hope of reaching Pemba on the Mozambique coastline before the end of the day. Unity Bridge, a brand new bridge joining Tanzania and Mozambique was officially open and that was precisely where we were headed for. The road in Tanzania as superb; we could hear the purr of the BF Goodrich tyres on the smooth tarmac which made the 1st hours driving magical. Customs and immigration was efficient and we had been processed in a matter of minutes. We drove over the tusk adorned bridge and arrived on the Mozambique side and entered their shiny new offices. The immigration officer didn’t bother asking us for a visa as we were travelling on our South African passports which surprised us as we had received news that the Mozambique visa was now costing South Africans R575. We paid nothing. They signed and stamped our carnet and after a brief search of the vehicles we were o our way. The road was tarred for about 10 kilometres and then suddenly stopped; it came to a dead end and we had to search for the road. It was 500 meters back and so we navigated our way to the red dirt track and started our 350km journey to paradise. The landscapes were beautiful with the mighty, leafless Baobab trees forming the backdrop our scenic route. The roadside settlements bore an uncanny resemblance to those of the Angolan villages we passed through 4 months previously where houses were made from reeds and thatched with palm fronds. The Mozambique people waved, making us feel welcome in their country.

The road challenged us with thick soft sand that clung to every conceivable part of the car, making its way in through any nook and cranny. The dashboard gave off a glow of red dust in the sunlight and our skin felt grimy and dusty. The going was tedious and slow with an unsung wish for beautiful tarmac and our destination to appear before us but alas the GPS was our reality check. Our predicted time of arrival was 9:30pm which at 3:00pm was enough to make any person feel despondent. We persevered and our spirits were renewed when we reached a brand new tar road where it was supposed to be gravel. We gained some time and relished in the dust free road that lay ahead but this was unfortunately not to be the case for the remainder of the journey. When we reached the intersection at Montepuez; what was supposed to be tarmac was nothing but potholed blacktop where we had to reduce our speed and negotiate the obstacles with care. As we progressed further the holes appeared to have been filled to a certain decree and we were able to drive over them without feeling that spine rattling thud every time we hit a bad hole.

Our spirits were lifted yet again when we reached Metuge where we were treated to an amazing road for the last 120km. The sun had set at 6:15pm and we arrived at Russell’s Place in Pemba just after 8pm. I was fortunate to be driving Mvubu, our trusty Land Cruiser that has a comfortable suspension; Kirk on the other hand was driving Kobe, a bone shaking hard suspension vehicle. I was absolutely shattered so I could only imagine how poor Kirk must have been feeling. He confirmed my suspicions. He was aching in every conceivable place and promised me that the worst was now over and that 12 hour driving days were a thing of the past. My relief was overwhelming.

Pemba was a little gem. It surprised all of us in that we were expecting a rural seaside location with nothing to offer in terms of food or supplies. We were wrong on all accounts. It was a bustling little town that had everything we could ever need. The seaside apartments were traditionally colonial and well preserved offering a little bit of insight as to what Pemba would have been like in the 60’s. The traditional African charm in terms of rubbish and informal market settings filled every other available space.

We had arranged to meet up with Kristina and Andrew, a couple we had met in Ghana, at Russell’s Place. We had not seen them since Libreville, Gabon and were excited to catch up and share tales of the past 3 months. After a good dinner and well deserved beer we set off in our vehicles to bushcamp 10 km south of the town. It was a gorgeous spot and with fatigue clasping us tightly in its jaws, we retired to bed and enjoyed a sound sleep.

The sunrise was spectacular the following morning with an array of colours splashing themselves across the illuminated sky. The turquoise ocean was the picture of brilliance and we enjoyed our first relaxing morning cup of coffee in a long time.

We headed into town to sort our insurance and foreign exchange as well as a few food essentials. We decided to have a crayfish braai that evening and visited the local fishmonger who had 2 huge crays, each weighing 1kg each. We made our way back to Russell’s place where we checked our e-mails, enjoyed some lunch and awaited the arrival of Stephanie and Riaan, a couple we had met in Nairobi, Kenya. With everyone in tow, we headed to our bushcamp where we proceeded to prepare the fire for the evenings feast and relax overlooking the Indian Ocean. The fillet steak was prepared and as a final preparation for the crashfish, Andrew was sent to wash them in the sea. Upon doing so one of the monsters was washed out of the container never to be found again. We were all out in force scouring the shoreline in search of our dinner but to no avail, he was long gone and soon to be the feast for many other sea faring creatures. We did however enjoy the one that remained and gorged ourselves on fillet steak, crayfish tail, salads and savoury rice.

The tide subsided quite significantly that night and at midnight we found ourselves exploring the rocky shores observing the nocturnal sea creatures that provided much entertainment. The number of sea cucumbers and nudibranchs in the little pools was impressive and we even spotted a baby moray eel and a peppered eel.

The weather the following morning was grim with a strong onshore wind blowing and thick grey clouds threatening over head. The boys all headed into town to sort our car maintenance; Kobe’s front differentials were not engaging and in order for us to discover off the beaten track destinations it was imperative to have them seen to to avoid the winch on Mvubu working over time. I took the opportunity to relax with a book which seemed to be the days to follow routine as well. The sun did grace us with its presence in the days to follow and all 3 girls were looking rather tanned and sun touched at the end of the 3 days we were camped just south of Pemba.

The plan was to drive south along the coast for as much of the time as possible, so with copious amounts of route planning and enquiring from the locals we set our noses south and headed along the road less travelled. The main obstacle that had the large majority of our concerns was the Rio Lurio. The track on Tracks for Africa said that this route was within our capabilities but at ones own risk. Being the dry season we figured t was worth a try and we were happy with our decision when we reached the last village before the sandy banks of the river. We had about 15 local guys eager to help us with the crossing but this was unnecessary as sand was coarse and allowed us to cross with ease. All 4 vehicles made it through without a problem and my first experience of proper off roading was exhilarating and had Christina, who had decided to ride with me all day, and me in high spirits with whooping and clapping for joy when we crossed the main channel. The rest of the road was dusty gravel and the decision to bush camp 13km outside of Nacala was made 20 minutes before sunset. A beef stew was prepared and thoroughly enjoyed after an exciting day of driving. Bush showers were imperative as the dust had once again coated every inch of our bodies as well as everything in the car. Sleep came easily although it was disturbed by creepy cretins that we suspected to be mice as Riaan and Stephanie noticed the following morning that one had found its way into their Land Cruiser and had feasted on their potatoes.

The following morning saw a short drive to Nacala, a Peninsular that is renowned for its diving and pretty white coral sand beaches. The bay at Fernao Veloso was the epitome of what one would expect a paradise beach to look like. The sea was crystal clear and consisted of various shades of sapphire, indigo, turquoise and azure. It was spectacular and we were eager to find ourselves a suitable bushcamp along the coast so that we could enjoy every possible moment of this luxury. We quickly stopped to buy some squid for dinner and a few curios before setting off along the coast where we found a very generous Senegalese man who owned some prime property 2 coves south of Fernao Veloso. We set up camp right under a giant Baobab tree and spent the afternoon snorkelling and swimming and ended the fine day with a delicious meal that was of restaurant standards.  

The temptation to stay one more day at paradise was a mutual feeling and so without much debate we set off to find another snorkelling haven where the visibility was excellent and we saw wonderful sea creatures. The weather was slightly overcast so after a good hour of snorkelling we were chilled to the bone and decided that we were in desperate need of a warming coffee. That evening was our last night in Nacala and we had thoroughly enjoyed our stay. The location was superb and we had feasted like kings fo next to nothing. Our next stop was Ilha de Mozambique.

We wanted to get an early start in order for us to get to Ilha de Mozambique relatively early so that we could spend the entire day exploring the old capital of the Portuguese East Africa. The drive in took us over a 3½ km bridge that was a challenge for any driver. It was wide enough to fit only one vehicle and to make it more challenging, the road maintenance that was taking place meant that huge oil drums had been placed on either side of the already narrow bridge to force cars to drive slowly. Squeezing Mvubu through the narrow spaces was interesting! At the other end of the bridge lay a town that was occupied by decaying pastel coloured colonial mansions that rubbed shoulders with the traditional reed huts amongst the palm trees on this tiny island of Mozambique. It has been classified as a UNESCO world heritage site which usually results in massive tourist prices and precocious local people but we were pleasantly surprised. The local people continued as they would normally live and we were not hassled by any touts that so usually come hand in hand with such attractions. We submerged ourselves into the island and dreamt about what it must have been like in its heyday with the hustle and bustle of trading and the colonial building in their prime. The children were delightful. They all loved having their photographs taken and would squeal with delight when they were shown the picture on the playback screen on the camera. We felt like the Pied Piper of Hamlet at one stage with a string of children following us to interact with the tourists and have their picture taken. It was a delightful experience that took us to lunchtime. We enjoyed a cold drink and light lunch at a little cafe’ that occupied one of the renovated colonial mansions. Next on our agenda was to find suitable accommodation for the night. We knew there was not camping facilities on the island itself but we thought we would chance it and see if perhaps one of the guest houses or restaurants would allow us to camp in their driveway or front garden but this was to no avail, either the space wasn’t large enough to fit 4 vehicles in or the entrance was too low. We were in a pickle and were desperate to find somewhere as we really wanted to enjoy the night atmosphere the island had to offer and didn’t want to drive across that daunting 3.5km bridge. As a last resort we went to see the curator of the museums on the island. He told us that we were allowed to camp anywhere on the island and so with that news picked our spot right next to the islands main feature, the Fort of Sao Sebastian, where a nice grassy spot provided us with ample space to park for the evening. We enjoyed a seafood feat that evening at one of the restaurants where traditional Mozambique cuisine was served to us by a delightful waitress. In an idyllic setting.

We were woken the following morning by a motor bike that drove past us at least 4 times. I suppose they had never seen tourist pitch a tent right outside the main fort before and of course we provide great entertainment for them. We packed up when the guards changed shift and made our way to the southern part of the island passing the white washed Church of Santo Antonio overlooking the turquoise seas and fishing boats. We walked across the sand bank to a smaller fort that was separate from the main island. The rocky pools surrounding the fort were full of amazing sea creatures and had us busy for over an hour exploring this sensitive ecosystem. The fort itself was beautiful and amazingly sound. The rusty old cannons were still perched on the top of the fort and we afforded beautiful views right across the island.

We needed to head south again and so left Ilha de Mozambique and made our way to Angoche where we camped right on top of a sand dune overlooking the dark blue Indian Ocean. After a quick bath in the sea and rinse off with fresh water we were ready to settle down for the evening. We enjoyed a braai and started to watch a movie but had to stop mid way as the wind had picked up quite severely and was relentless. We all scurried into our tents to hide from the sand that was coming from all directions. Needless to say, we didn’t get much sleep that night; the car was rocking to and fro and the tents fly sheet was flapping wildly. How it managed to stay in one piece is beyond me but at 4am the following morning we were ready to pack it all in. As soon as the sun came over the horizon we were  out of the tent, trying to remove the huge amount of sand that had found its way through the mosquito mesh but this all proved futile. The sand we removed was replaced by more sand blowing in. We made a hasty retreat to the square in Angoche where we opened up the tent again and tried to remove the beach that had made its home in our tent. Everyone was tired and we faced a long day of driving. Our desire to get to Vilankulos was growing stronger and stronger each day and the next 3 days saw us doing just that. The beauty of Mozambique is that the locals are so friendly that bush camping is a feasible option and we saw ourselves doing this most nights. We were woken each morning by the inquisitive villagers who game to wish us a good morning and see how we live. One particular encounter with these kind people made my heart drop…we had pulled off the road along a side track to find a suitable bush camp which was easily done. Whilst setting up camp, 3 gentlemen who had seen us go off the main track came to visit us. They thought we were working for a mining company and wanted to be the first in line to get jobs that may be available. This really blew us all away and we were amazed at their eagerness to find work to improve their quality of life rather than just ask for money. The feeling of helplessness filled me as I would have loved to have been in a position where I could have offered these men the jobs that they were so eager to find.

We arrived in Vilankulos on the 14th August and were welcomed into the Baobab camp by Henk, Maureen, Borris and Rene, travellers we had met in West Africa. It was great to see them all again and we enjoyed a wonderful fish braai that went on into the wee hours of the morning. Vilankulos was certainly very different to Northern Mozambique. It was very commercial in comparison and their pricing is definitely aimed at the European traveller who has plenty of money to spend. Diving was out of the question as it was way over $100 for a dive and so we settled for a Dhow trip, with Dolphin Dhow, to the Bazaruto Archipelago. The weather was gorgeous and the clarity of the water meant that we would be able to snorkel and see loads of colourful fish and sea creatures. The island was paradise, white squeaky clean sand that was unspoilt and unpopulated. The water temperature was freezing and after an hour of snorkelling we decided to pack it in to prevent hyperthermia and instead basked in the sun to warm our very cold bodies. Lunch was a seafood feast of calamari, crab and salads which was prepared by the boatmen. The afternoon was spent frolicking in the shallow water and soaking up as much of the island sun as possible.

When we left Vilankulos it became common territory for Kirk and me. We had ventured into the southern parts of Mozambique before and a sense of ‘home’ was becoming stronger and stronger. Inhambane was a lovely spot to spend a morning where we lounged on the sun loungers at Bara lodge that overlooked a large stretch of white beach sand and an ocean full of traditional fishing dhows. Xai Xai was next on the itinerary where Kirk has a house in a development. Unfortunately the house is incomplete so the desire to stay in the comfort of a home for a week or so was not to be. The purpose of our visit was to establish just how much work needed to be done in order for the house to become fit for human habitation and we were prepared to camp at the base of the dune if we had to. Luckily, the managers of the development were kind enough to put us up in a lovely 6 sleeper cottage for 2 nights.

The further south we ventured, the colder and windier it became. Our final stop before entering South Africa was Ponta d’ Oura, a familiar place for both Kirk and me as we had been to this part of Mozambique numerous times before. The rustic old town is no longer there, it is now a bustling tourist haven that charges everything in South African Rands. The prices are inflated and it really detracted from being in Mozambique. None the less, it is still a beautiful part of Africa with crystal clear waters, white coral sand and exceptionally hospitable people. We arranged to do 2 dives with Phambuka, a local dive charter company owned by Mike and his wife Leanne. The first dive was a good reintroduction into the diving world. It took a while for me to become familiar with the skills and rules of diving again but once Kirk had  refreshed my memory we where good to go on another dive the following morning. The wind had however blown all night and the conditions were ‘blustery’ with an enormous swell. The launch on the dive boat was eventful with Mike doing many loops in the bay before spotting a break between the swells and making a b- line for backline. The swells came out of nowhere and it was almost like being on an enormous rollercoaster ride. We made it out to doodles successfully and were in the water as quickly as possible to avoid sea sickness. The reef was teeming with shoals and shoals of reef fish, Potato Bass, Lion Fish, Turtles, Rays and one lucky diver even got a glimpse of a whale. It was spectacular. I was feeling a lot more comfortable in the water and after 50 minutes the DM called a time out as the swell was big on the surface and our lips were all resembling a shade of blue as the water temperature was quite chilly. We were back in the camp at 9am and were on the road by 11am. We were homeward bound and desperate to reach Westbrook before nightfall.

 Mozambique was one of my favourite countries. It is everything I love, sun, beach and sea along with all the activities that one can do on the rocky shore. The people were amazing and the food a treat. It was our 24th African country and a significant part of our travels as we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn on the anniversary of our 10 month of our African adventure. Our travels are far from over but we were desperate to pop into SA to visit our families, who we had not seen since April 2009, and drop off Kobe who had excelled for the duration of his trip through East Africa. Our trip resumes again on Monday the 30th August as we head north to explore Botswana and the southern parts of Namibia.

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Aug 26 2010

Tanzania – diary 2010-06-29 to 2010-08-01

After our rapid escape from Kenya we arrived back in Tanzania via the Lunga Lunga border post. We were relieved to find that our visas seemed to still be valid even after we went to Rwanda from Tanzania in May which was supposed to result in the Tanzanian visa becoming null in void. With a saving of $100 we headed south, on an awful gravel road, towards Peponi Beach, a camp site and lodge that was set along the idyllic Tanzanian North Coast. We settled into our beachside campsite comfortably and enjoyed the views of the Indian Ocean with the fishing dhows sailing in with the day’s catch.

We spent the next 5 days at Peponi Beach where we made friends with fellow campers and enjoyed many meals together, a highlight being a fresh fish braai where we procured the fish ourselves straight from the fishermen who had literally just stepped off the boat. It must have been their easiest sale in months! Peponi was like a breath of fresh air in comparison to the very commercial Kenyan coastline. We truly enjoyed the serenity that the owners have created and will recommend it to many other overlanders in the future. We were still able to walk into the local village and not be harassed by the village folk but rather interact with them and shop at their little stores. We were also fortunate enough to be invited on a dhow ride with some fellow South Africans who we had originally met at Twiga Beach in Kenya. This was an authentic experience but left many of us feeling queasy and looking rather green.

With 2 weeks to go until we were to attempt to summit Kilimanjaro, Kirk and I were getting anxious about being at sea level and felt the need to get to higher altitude, to acclimatise and so decided to head to Arusha and suss out its surroundings. We made the journey through some valleys and across some plains where signs for strong winds appeared very frequently. The wind swept across the flat plains and hit Mvubu with a vengeance. Kirk had a tough time counteracting the short sharp bursts. The terrain changed drastically from lush tropical palms trees and sisal plantations to dry desolate overgrazed land. As the altitude increased so did our hopes of catching our first glimpse of the challenge that we were to embark on in 2 weeks time. She appeared out of nowhere…Kirk spotted her first and I was still uncertain if we were facing Mt Kilimanjaro as there was a haze that was obscuring the outline of the slopes. The only thing that was convincing was the white snow capped top that was peeping out beyond some clouds. As we neared closer it became apparent that we were in fact face to face with the highest mountain in Africa. It was quite a chilling moment and both Kirk and I were ecstatic.

We made our way towards Arusha where the backdrop of Kilimanjaro changed to her older sister Mt Meru, which was equally spectacular although it was lacking the brilliant white snow. We made our way to Shoprite where we bought a few luxuries (Romany Creams and Ouma Rusks) and headed towards the Snake Park Campsite. En-route Kirk spotted a recently refurbished short wheel base 1981 HJ42 Toyota Land Cruiser which made up his mind…we were returning to Nairobi to purchase the green double cab equivalent the following day. He had been deliberating over this for the last 2 weeks whilst chilling on the beach at Twiga and Peopni and had made the decision to buy! This now meant that out trip would have a completely different element to it and I would be allowed to drive Mvubu for the remainder of the trip. For the last 8 and a half moths I had been forbidden to drive but now his affection for Mvubu had been replaced with the love for his new green Land Cruiser, Kobe.

After a good night’s rest we embarked on our journey back o Nairobi. The road was under construction and the dust from the road works added to the dust of the extremely dry plains – the effects of years and years of overgrazing. It was quite a cultural experience driving through Maasai country as the herders were in abundance dressed in their colourful shukas and elaborate jewels.

The border crossing back into Kenya was mayhem; it was the most commercial border crossing between Tanzania and Kenya and every tour guide and his European contingency was out in force. We managed to get through fairly quickly and made the journey back to Jungle Junction where we were to spend the next few days sorting out the admin for the ‘new’ car.

 Jungle Junction – Nairobi

Our time at Jungle Junction was enjoyable. It seemed to be quite a difficult place to tear one self away from as was evident from the number of people who were camped up in the front garden and had been there for more than a week. It became a little community whereby we shared gourmet meals – roast lamb and Mexican being some of our favourites as well as amazing BBQ’s and enjoyed watching the build up to the Football World Cup Final and eventually the final where our Dutch friends were enthusiastically blowing a vuvuzella and cheering for their team. It was nice to be in a city where everything is so accessible and they have amazing shopping malls where one can almost feel like they are shopping in London or South Africa. Nairobi is set at 1800m so we were getting the much needed acclimatisation without even doing anything in preparation for our climb up Kili. After 10 days of eating, socialising and internetting we were able to leave Nairobi and head back to Moshi to meet friends who were flying out from London and to prepare for our trek up Kilimanjaro. The traffic leaving the city on Thursday morning was a nightmare. With Kirk leading the way in Kobe, and me following closely behind in Mvubu, I was forced into a world of African city driving which was enough to give me sweaty palms and tense shoulders immediately. At one stage, it took us an hour to cover 300 meters. We stopped off at Nairobi International Airport to fetch Nils, a fellow South African and made our way back to the Tanzanian border. It was great to have Nils with us as he was given the opportunity to gain insight into just how interesting our lives have been for the last 9 months.

We arrived in Moshi at the Honey Badger Lodge after an arduous 7 hours of driving that challenged me with sand driving, gravel driving and beautiful tar driving. I won’t give prizes to those who can guess which one I enjoyed the most. We met with John, our guide for the Kilimanjaro expedition and finalised all plans as we were meeting the rest of the London crew the following day.

Mt Kilimanjaro – The expedition 

Saturday, the starting day for our trek, finally arrived. Nils, Paul, Kirk and I waited anxiously for John and his team of porters to fetch us from the Honey Badger Lodge. His punctuality meant that we were on schedule and proceeded to fetch Cathy, Laura and Esperanza from the Protea Hotel which was close to the Machame Gate at Kilimanjaro National Park, the starting point for our 7 day trek. It took some time for the porters to assemble our belongings and their belongings and arrange them into 17kg parcels. Whilst waiting we were astounded at the number of busses that were dropping off tourists and fellow trekkers; there must have been close to 200 trekkers that day who, like us, we hoping to summit Kibo peak. We eventually set off after 11am and enjoyed the 1st day of walking which took us through lush tropical vegetation similar to that of the Rwenzori Mountains. When we reached Machame Hut, at 3000m, we were welcomed by our porters who had already started pitching our tents and preparing hot drinks and popcorn for us. This was the 1st experience of the wonderful hospitality that was to follow for the remaining 6 days.

The days to follow were much of the same with us getting woken up by Lucas, our wonderful waiter/host who arrived at our tent with a hot water basin and a cheery good morning every morning, followed by an enormous breakfasts of porridge, pancakes, omelettes, sausages, tomatoes and toast with the occasional treat of fried pork. This hearty meal was enough to get anyone out of bed regardless of how cold it was. Lunches were prepared in the morning and arranged in a lunch box or on every alternate day we would arrive at our camp by lunchtime where we were treated to a 3 course hot lunch. At one stage we were concerned that we were going to be gaining weight rather than burning off the calories that we were supposed to after a long day of walking.

 The 5 days of walking that preceded summit night were delightful in that they took us through some beautiful scenery as well as altering terrain that consisted of valleys and spurs. We rose above the clouds after day 2 where we settled at Shira Camp for the evening and woke, on day 3, to the most beautiful sight – the valley below us was completely engulfed by tick cumulus clouds that resembled an enormous soft, fluffy white feather down duvet. It was simply stunning. On our 4th day we reached Lava Tower, 4600m, where several of our party started to feel the effects of altitude sickness. The most severe symptom was a headache which was easily treated with Paracetamol or Ibruprofen. After lunch at altitude we descended to 3900 where camp was already set up and many of us collapsed into our tents to rest before taking a slow stroll up to 4200m that afternoon where we would get our 1st glimpse of base camp to the summit. The nerves at dinner that night could be cut with a knife and it was quite unnerving to know that in 24 hours we would be summiting the highest free standing mountain in the world as well as Africa’s highest peak.

 The sun was bright and warming the following morning and Kibo Peak was peering over us with her beautiful snow caped crags. We set off for a 3 hour walk to Barafu camp, 4600m, where again we were treated to a hot lunch and afterwards took a slow walk to 4800m that afternoon all in the name of acclimatisation. After dinner we were sent to bed only to be woken at 11pm to prepare for the ascent. Not much sleep was actually achieved due to the cold temperatures and low levels of oxygen but the adrenaline seemed to kick in and motivated us to get out of our cosy sleeping bags and meet in the mess tent for a cup of tea or Milo before suiting up in our warmest gear and making our way to the summit.

 We started the summit at midnight when the stars were out and the ¾ moon was shining its light upon us. The long trail of headlamps lighting the way up the mountain side was encouraging but also unnerving as it highlighted the trail that we too would be ascending. We started the slow and arduous trek up the mountain side starting at 4600m with the desire to ultimately reach 5895m. The 1st 500m went smoothly with all of our party feeling strong and jovial. The singing of the infamous ‘Kilimanjaro’ song by the porters kept our spirits high and our feet in time with the rhythm. The going was slow and when we reached 5100m I started to feel unwell. The day before we did a practice run up to 4850m where I got terrible stomach pains – the gas was expanding as we ascended. The same was happening to me on summit night. I was trying all sorts of things – burping, farting, you name it, to get the gas feeling to subside but to no avail. My head wanted to explode so Kirk gave me a headache tablet which seemed to keep it at bay. At about 5200m I couldn’t hold back the belches any longer and I proceeded to vomit up the entire contents of my stomach – 3 litres of water and some pineapple! I felt instant relief and my headache instantly disappeared. Kirk was standing by my side whilst I was projectile vomiting and all he could say to me was; ’now I can’t give you a big smooch when we get to the top!’ I was very scared at this point as I had consumed the full 3 litres of water in my pack to prevent it from freezing and it was now soaking into the ground at my feet. I did however feel 100 times better and felt that I could continue my attempt to summit Kili. Not long after I had been ill did Kirk start to feel unwell. We had reached about 5500m when we were both crouched over vomiting up the remainder of the fluids that had been in our stomachs. The headaches had subsided but the will to keep our eyes open was dying quickly and at times we were literally walking zombies. We reached Stella Point, 150m below the summit and miraculously didn’t hang around there for too long – a good thing as I probably wouldn’t have got going again – instead we trudged on. Kirk was blubbering at this stage as he felt this was the hardest part of the trek for him. He really did have to dig deep and use up all of his reserves to make the last hundred metres. As soon as the end was in sight we were both a ball of emotions. It was the hardest thing that we have ever done in our entire lives…it took all the mental and physical strength that we possessed but the feeling when we got to that sign, confirming that we were at the highest point in Africa, was utter joy and relief. When we got close to the sign Kirk insisted that we needed to have a photo of just the 2 of us first, which I didn’t think to be unusual as we had reached a huge milestone in our trip through Africa. When we were both standing under the sign, me getting ready to pose for the camera he pulled out a ring from his pocket and asked me, through many tears, to marry him. It was a very emotional moment and I replied with, ‘of course I will!’ gave him a hug and a kiss and then got everyone in to have a photo. The moment was very surreal and quite rushed and there is a classic photo of me with this look on my face as if to say, ‘What the hell just happened?’

The sun rose from the horizon a few minutes after the proposal and spread its warmth onto us which filled us with renewed energy and relief that we had conquered what we had come to Kilimanjaro to do.

 The view on top of the mountain was simply stunning. Glaciers, of mammoth proportions surrounded us and gave off a brilliant white shine as the sun illuminated their shadows. Our heads were still a little fuzzy at this stage and in hindsight I would have loved to have spent more time at the top but the cold fingers and nose were enough encouragement to get us moving and make the descent. The descent took 3 hours, half the time it took us to get to the top and when we reached the base camp we were greeted by cheery Lucas who gave us a much needed cup of juice and we flopped into our tent. We had a good 2 hour sleep and were woken to have lunch before setting off for another 3 hour descent to Mweka Hut which was set at a good altitude that allowed us to recover without a pounding headache. That evening was a jovial one with all 7 of our team summiting Kilimanjaro and feeling great about it.

We arrived safely at the Mweka Gate 2 hours from our set off time the following morning feeling, surprisingly, spritely! It was strange to feel so good after such a physical and mental challenge and have ludicrous thoughts of actually doing it all again…you forget so quickly just how painful a feat it actually is – the euphoria certainly outweighs the despair.

We arranged to meet John and Lucas that evening for a traditional Tanzanian meal and some dancing afterwards which went off very well. The Nyama Choma was delicious and consisted of 4 kgs of BBQ beef and goat served with salad and BBQ plantains. That was all washed down with many Kilimanjaro beers and followed by a night of dancing at a local nightclub that had a live bans. Our muscles behaved themselves and allowed us to party until midnight but as the clock struck 12 our fatigue set in and we dragged our weary bodies back to the Honey Badger where we slept like the dead.

The London crew left the following morning with Paul and Nils, Laura, Cathy and Esperanza making their way back to Nairobi and me getting stuck into the copious amounts of laundry that we had accumulated during the week. It was a wonderful week and the group dynamics couldn’t have been better. The sense of achievement still exists and the surprise engagement is slowly setting in.

Kirk and I stayed in Moshi for a week after our trip up Kilimanjaro as we were waiting for the final papers for Kobe to be couried to us from Moshi. The time was spent relaxing and socialising with John and his family. We spent a memorable Sunday with the family at John’s father’s house in Marangu where we enjoyed a meal of chicken stew with plantain. The Honey Badger Lodge provided a comfortable and safe place for us to stay for the week but our morning lie ins were marred by the inconsiderate Overland Truck companies who would wake up at 4:30am and bang pots and pans, talk at the top of their lungs. Our detest for these people was heightened and the urge to get to the remotest parts of Mozambique became stronger and stronger. The papers for Kobe eventually arrived on Wednesday and we were pleased to be on the road again on Thursday morning…our destination Dares Salaam, 500km from Moshi.

The road was very good and we made it to the outskirts of the city by 3pm but our progress was deterred by large amounts of traffic. This was painstakingly slow and the misuse of traffic lights meant that we were sometimes stopped at intersections for 3 or 4 light changes. We eventually reached Mikadi Campsite at 8:30pm where we were tired, hungry and irritable from the frustrations of African city driving. We set up our tent, scoffed down a meal of fish and chips, enjoyed a hot salt water shower and hit the hay…tomorrow was going to be a similarly long driving day.

The road was equally good the following day with a bad stretch of road covering only 75km for the day. The road was under construction and in pretty good condition so we reached our destination, Seaview Lodge in Kiliowa Masoko where we were treated to stunning views of the Indian Ocean. The turquoise water was the picture of brilliance and offered us a sneak preview of what Mozambique was going to offer.

The next day took us further south to Mamasi, our last stop over in Tanzania before crossing the border. It was a useful town in that it provided us with a great place to sleep, in a clean en-suite room and relatively good fresh produce so that we could stock up and spend the last of our Tanzanian Shillings. We were on the road the following morning bright and early in search of a deserted beach, crayfish, prawns and fresh Indian Ocean fish. Mozambique was calling and we were eager to get there.

[book id=’30’ /]


Jul 7 2010

Kenya – diary 2010-06-19 to 2010-06-29

2010-06-19 to 2010-06-29

Our time in Kenya was short but enjoyable, unfortunately Kirk and I have come to loath the hustle and bustle that big cities and major tourist attractions attract and with Kenya being marketed as a top safari destination for overseas travellers we were not going to be able to escape it.

We entered Kenya through the Malaba border post which was a main commercial port and full of trucks. Being a no-commercial vehicle we managed to speed our way through and for once we did not have to pay anything at customs or at immigration. South Africans get a free 30 day visa, courtesy of our old father Madiba, and foreign registered vehicles that are non commercial get free use of the roads. We were on our way but had to take it easy as the tar road had been severely rutted from the incessant use by the commercial trucks. Eldoret was our first stop of the day where we had a taste of our first Naukamatt Supermarket where we just couldn’t resist a quick browse. Being South African we always like to praise things that originate from home; Shoprite is one of those places that we are proud to call ‘South African’ but I am sorry to say that Naukamatt kicks Shoprite in all areas. We were in shopper’s heaven. The isles were packed with local and imported goodies at affordable prices and the most impressive isle was the dairy refrigerator. There was a huge selection and assortment of yoghurts, cheeses and milk products all produced in Kenya. After our fix of shopping we drove towards Lake Bogoria National Reserve. The drive was breathtaking as we headed up the escarpment to 2000m where we had sweeping views of the Kerio Valley, which make up the Great Rift Valley, as well as various different lakes and rivers. We eventually arrived at our destination just after 3pm where we enquired about the entry fees…$80 to visit a reserve that is a mere 107km2. We were interested in visiting this particular reserve as it had hot springs and geysers that were unique to this part of the Rift Valley and was a god indication of the geothermal activity taking place beneath the earth’s surface. After much negotiation and bargaining the warden allowed entry after paying residents’ fee…a huge discount. We drove slowly through the reserve and got our first glimpse of what they call the ‘Jewel of the Rift Valley’. Lake Bogoria is a shallow soda lake covering an area of 34kmwith a maximum depth of 9m. In recent years the lake achieved much fame as it became home to thousands and thousands of migrant pink flamingos who settled at this lake after their initial home, Lake Nakuru, suffered from a terrible drought. Lake Nakuru has since recovered from its ordeal but Bogoria is still the colour of pink as it is still in favour with the Lesser Flamingo that feed on the blue green algae commonly known as Spirullina. The eastern wall of the Rift Valley provided a picturesque backdrop to the contrast of colours from the grassland into the lake with a subtle pink outline. The main attraction, as I said before, was the modest hot springs and geysers. The water was piping hot and due to the influx of tourist was quite disappointing in that there was an enormous amount of litter spread throughout the hot spring area. People visit the reserve and think it a novelty to boil eggs and corn on the cob in the hot water springs; they then leave the egg shells, corn leaves and cobs lying on the ground forgetting that this is supposed to be a place of natural beauty. We were truly disappointed that Kenyan Wildlife Services had not yet put a stop to these ludicrous actions. We found our campsite for the evening under some enormous fig trees that provided so shelter from the rain. Kirk proceeded to make a fire so that we could have some dinner and we found our way into bed earlier than normal as the baboons were hiding in the bushes barking at each other and the rain had made us wet and damp and there was no shelter to sit under.

We were eager to get to the coast so that we could soak up the sun and enjoy the Kenyan coastline and so decided to push through to Nairobi and skip out any other National Parks. The 1st 80km were on severely eroded dirt roads that took us through rural villages where pastoral farming was the name of the game. The surrounding grazing plains did not look too promising as they were too severely eroded and barley harbouring any vegetation at all. As we moved away from the grazing areas we came upon this sizable Sisal plantation which stretched as far as the eye could see. At first we were uncertain what the cactus like plants were and thought them to be Aloe plants but were later told that they were the excellent cash crop of Sisal which is used to make rope, mats, baskets etc. We eventually emerged from this farming land onto a beautifully tarred road, the B4, which took us back into the Rift Mountains giving us panoramic views of Hells Gate National Park as well as several lakes. We climbed and climbed and climbed in altitude until we reached the High Altitude Running Club, home to all of those Olympic long distance runners. The viewpoints were impressive and we felt as though we were on top of the world. As we neared Nairobi the landscape changed from undulating hills and craggy mountains to concrete buildings and industry. Kenya was developed and built up showing signs of commerce and industry which was a change from the rest of 3rd world Africa. We arrived in Nairobi and navigated our way through the suburbs to find Jungle Junction where we spent the next 3 days.

Nairobi was a huge surprise to us. It was exceptionally developed and the only thing we had trouble with was deciding which shopping mall to visit and which Nakumatt to shop at. We did tend to do a few touristy things such as visit the Langata Giraffe Centre where they have a Rothschild Giraffe breeding programme. The giraffes are very tame and eat out of your hand as well as give you big sloppy kisses if you place the food pellet in your mouth and offer it to them.

We also visited the David Shedricks Animal orphanage where they work at rearing orphaned baby elephants and reintroducing them into the wild. These gentle giants were just too beautiful. They ranged from 3 months old to 18 months old and were very used to human contact. They came into the cordoned off area and charged for their bottles of milk. When those were finished they enjoyed a bit of social time which included a lot of bundles, spraying red soil on their heads and interacting with the visitors. It was a lovely experience and very cool to be up close and personal with these beautiful creatures.

Whilst in Nairobi, Kirk spotted a 1985 HJ47 Toyota Landcruiser at a second hand car dealer which he was seriously eying out. He was toying with the idea of buying it and driving it back to South Africa but with me being the voice of reason he decided to hold back, although it was constantly playing on his mind. On our last night in Nairobi we enjoyed a dinner at the Fernando’s home, South African ex pats, who live in Karen, a lovely residential suburb in Nairoboi.  We were treated to a wonderful dinner and the Bafana Bafana victory over France. 

We departed the following morning bound for Mombasa and the coastline. The drive took us along a road that divided Tsavo East and West National Park where zebra were seen grazing on the grass that lay right beside the highway. As we descended towards the coast the weather became warmer and warmer. It was a long drive that covered a fair amount of kilometres but we arrived in Mombasa in time to catch a ferry that would take us south of the city. Hundreds and hundreds of foot passengers waited patiently to boards the car ferry and when the cars and people were packed like sardines we eventually set sail and crossed the 100m section of harbour.

We arrived at Twiga Lodge on Tiwi Beach just before sunset and honed in on the restaurant to fix us some dinner as the long day of driving had left us drained and exhausted. We enjoyed a long lie in the following morning and when we eventually rose from our boudoir we were pleasantly surprised at what Tiwi Beach had to offer. Low tide revealed a huge reef that stretched from the shoreline to 100meteres and beyond. We took a long walk down the beach towards some rocky coves where we picked up shells and cowries that had washed up onto the sand. May, June and July are the monsoon months so rains were going to be plentiful and we experienced the full wrath of the torrential downpours which were intermittent with bright sunny spells of yellow sunshine. We thoroughly chilled out on the beach and enjoyed long walks that included massive cowry hunts. We found these coves which were full of empty cowry shells. If they still used these magnificent shells as money today we would have been very wealthy people. The beautiful thing about Twiga beach was that the vegetable and fish sellers would come to us in the morning and offer us their merchandise. This was often very cheap and of an excellent quality. We ordered a fresh red snapper and ½ a kg of prawns from one of the old fishermen and true to his word he delivered a beautiful sized fresh fish that afternoon along with some rather sad looking shrimps. Kirk and I enjoyed a delicious fish braai with savoury rice and garlic prawns.

After spending 3 nights at Tiwi beach we decided to head up the coast to a place called Malindi, which supposedly had a strong historical Swahili presence as well as a huge Italian influence as this was the place that Italian mafia came to holiday. En-route we stopped in at the Gede Ruins which are one of the principal historical monuments of the coast. Hidden amongst the forest were a series of broken down houses, palaces and mosques. Some were in better condition that others and you could actually walk amongst the walls that were still erect and envisage the daily on-goings of this Swahili city. It has been recorded that Gede was established and actively trading by the 13th century as excavations have revealed Chinese porcelain and glass glazed earthenware that originated from Persia as well as other artefacts. The ruins were very atmospheric and we felt as if we had the place to ourselves as we explored the outer city walls and peered precariously down the deep wells.

After a little historic visit we continued to Malindi only to be disappointed by the extremities of the development that had taken place. The town itself was quite charming in that we sensed a true Swahili influence but as we explored the coastal section we were disillusioned by the fact that big hotel chains had dominated the coast and beach access was pretty limited. We had been spoilt by the beach at Tiwi Beach and were basing our expectations on that. We did a quick u-turn and drove back south to try and salvage our day tip and find an alternative place to camp for the evening. We stopped in at an eco lodge called Mida Community Camp which showed good promise in lines of what can be done so as not to destroy the ambience of the natural surroundings. The accommodation options were a little bit out of our budget and their camping facilities didn’t allow access for vehicles into the enclosed area so we decided to head back to our trusty Twiga Lodge.

Our decision to return to old faithful didn’t disappoint us. The weather had improved and we woke to blue sunny skies and what appeared to be a rainy free days ahead. Kirk and I took to the snorkelling pools where we found dozens of pumpkin shells (dead sea urchins) as well as a beautiful live cowry that had a shiny leopard coloured shell. We spent the next 2 days at Tiwi beach where we took a walk to Diani, a huge resort town that was over run by huge holiday resorts and many beach boys who tried their utmost to sell us curios, boat trip snorkelling trip or beach sand. We couldn’t escape fast enough and felt irritated that we couldn’t just take a stroll down the beach without being hounded every 5 minutes. The time had come for us to leave Tiwi beach and continue our journey south and explore some other parts of the Kenyan coastline. Shimoni was the next stop on our itinerary as it was the launching pad for all trips to Wasini Island and Kisite Marine National Park where we were hoping to do some diving. Upon arrival in the town of Shimoni we were pursued by 5 men on foot, who ran for at least 1 km, trying to sell us boat trips to the island. It was the low season and business had obviously been bad but to be hounded by these insistent ‘beach boys’ as they are affectionately known was just the last straw. We hadn’t even been given the opportunity to enquire about park fees and already we were being hassled. That made up our mind and we legged it out of there as fast as we could. It was still relatively early in the day and so we decided to head to the Kenyan/Tanzanian border where we could hopefully find a quiet beach somewhere and not be pestered by salesmen. We had saved some Kenyan Shillings to pay for accommodation for one night and so had to find something to spend it on. We popped into the local village called Lunga Lunga which was the last stop before we crossed the border and enquired about where we could find some Kikoi and Masai blankets and were directed to the town centre where they had ladies selling all kinds of materials and the merchandise we were looking for. For the 1st time since being in Kenya we were not ripped off. The ladies gave a fair price for the blankets and didn’t inflate the price because we were mzungus. We enjoyed a huge omelette chapatti as well as some battered potatoes from the local restaurant and reminded ourselves that this was the Africa that we came to visit! You can become so easily side tracked and lose the essence of what it is that you are looking for.

Tiwi Beach was definitely a highlight of our stay in Kenya as well as the days in Nairobi. It is always nice to experience a little bit of civilization during our travels of Africa and Nairobi was definitely the most developed 3rd world country we had visited.

[book id=’28’ /]


Jul 7 2010

Uganda – diary 2010-05-30 to 2010-06-19

2010-05-30

We departed from Kinigi Guest House at a leisurely time. The border was a mere 25km away and we were not planning on venturing too far from the border as the south western section of Uganda was a gem for tourism and scenic things to do. We crossed at the Cyniaka border where we bought our visas for $50 each and paid $20 for Mvubu. We drove through Kisoro which was the next big town after the border and decided that we should head towards Lake Bunyoni for the night. The drive was spectacular and scenic. The terraced hills were intensively cultivated again and we were afforded gorgeous views of the Virunga Volcanoes which were covered by a ring of clouds, creating an eerie environment to compliment the mystical structures. We drove trough the most magnificent pass that took us to 2500m from where we had views of the lakes in the surrounding areas. The road took a drastic turn and on our way down the pass we were treated to outstanding tarmac and a smooth drive to the intersection of Lake Bunyoni. The road to the lake was rustic and when we rounded a corner to discover a huge resort type settlement skirting the edge of the lake we were disappointed that it was very developed and did not match the rough and bumpy road that had lead us there. We stopped in at the Lake Bunyoni Overland Resort which was a large scale ‘camp’ that covered two banks of one of the coves of the lake. The 3rd side was occupied by what seemed to be a more exclusive lodge that had a jetty protruding into the icy green waters. We set up camp for the evening and resigned ourselves to the fact that East Africa was going to be more developed in areas of natural beauty as it provided much revenue brought in by tourists. With the sound of a speed boat in the distance we managed to unwind and enjoy the surroundings of the irregular shaped lake and the laughing of village children from the opposite side of the bank. The higher altitude meant that the temperature plummeted in the evening and so after our dinner of fillet steak and vegetables we made our way to the open fire pit near the resort restaurant where we warmed up before making our way to bed a few hours later.

2010-05-31 to 2010-06-01

We left Lake Bunyoni and started the arduous journey to Kampala. It was a great distance to cover in one day but we were eager to enquire about the Rwenzori Mountains and Kampala seemed to be the best place to stock up on snack foods and obtain permits for the trek. The drive took us through numerous villages as we wound through the cultivated hills and market places. We had reached an important stage in our journey once again whereby we crossed the equator for the second time. This time we came from the south and ventured once again into the northern hemisphere. Kampala, upon entry, was mayhem. The traffic was representative of any African city and our attempts to pop into Shoprite, which was slap bang in the middle of town, were foiled by a wrong turn which led us directly into the centre of the taxi rank and main market square. We had to gather all of our patients and wits and managed to weave our way through the stationary vehicles. When we were eventually making progress we were faced with another traffic jam. A container truck ahead of us was in the same predicament and tried to make progress by mounting the pavement. This turned out to be the wrong move as Kirk and I watched in horror as the entire truck toppled over onto its side. It almost happened in slow motion and only the scamper and scurry of the pedestrians in the trucks line of fire seemed to happen in real time. The container hit the road with a mammoth thud and a huge puff of dirt rose upon impact. Miraculously nobody was trapped under the mass of metal but all hell had broken lose. The people who were innocently milling around the market area started going mad, rushing to the scene and trying to get in on a piece of action. The taxis came to a standstill and again we were in a gridlock and going nowhere fast. With Kirk’s hand firmly on the hooter and his wonderful sense of humour we were soon on the move again and managed to weave our way through the taxis with only a few minor bumps and bruises on Mvubu. Shoprite was now out of the question and we were fed up of being stuck in town traffic and so decided to make our way to the Red Chilli Rest House and attempt to visit Shoprite the following day by taxi.

Whilst sitting in the communal area at the Red Chilli Kirk befriended 3 South African guys who were working on the development of 3 concession areas in Uganda. We invited them to a braai at Mvubu and enjoyed fillet steak, braai broodtjies and salad.

We had found out from our fellow South Africans that there was another Shoprite situated in a shopping mall 2km from the Red Chilli. The mall also had a Game. We were ecstatic about this news and took a drive there the following morning. We did some price checking and purchased some trekking snacks and other necessities and made our way to the UWA office where we would be able to organise our visit to the Rwenzori Mountains. To do the summit would mean that we would have to pay over $1000 per person which really was stretching the budget especially since we were climbing Kilimanjaro in a month and a half. We enquired about other options and the Central Circuit was very tempting. It was still quite costly but the experience would be worth it. We returned to the Red Chilli to deliberate our options and decided to return to the UWA the following morning to secure our permits for the Central Circuit to start on Friday.  

We enjoyed a relaxed afternoon and evening at the Red Chilli where we packed the groceries into the car and enjoyed a burger for lunch/dinner. The samoosas from Shoprite had certainly filled the gap earlier.

 2010-06-02 to 2010-06-03

It was a bright and early start for us. We visited the UWA office, paid for our trek and made our way towards Fort Portal and Kasese. Fort Portal is something of a sleepy town but was surrounded by the most luscious tea plantations. Kasese was just as sleepy but we were pleased to find that it had a well stocked market where we were able to buy fresh tomatoes, bananas, potatoes, onions and bread for our food to take up the mountain. Our next stop was the plastic boot salesman where Kirk and I both purchased a pair of Ugandan ‘Wellies’ for $6 each. We were all set and made the 16km drive to the base of the Rwenzori Mountains where we met with Andrew, the head of the Rwenzori Mountain Services. We confirmed our date of departure and headed 3km further up the mountain to the RMS Guest House where we were able o camp for free.

Grace, the manageress was very helpful and boiled some water for us to have a hot bucket shower that evening as it was quite chilly at the base of the mountains.

The next day was a busy one. We had decided to provide all of our own food for the trip for the reason that a cook, food and a gas canister would have cost an extra $430 for the two of us. We had 50kgs of weight to distribute between 4 porters and knew that we would be able to include food in that figure. Whilst Kirk took the trekking kit out of the roof box, I sorted through and prepared the snacks and food that would be our fuel to climb and climb and climb! By 7pm we were packed and ready to trek in the morning with enough mince, spaghetti, rice, packet pastas, dried fruit and chocolates to get us through the 6 night 7 day trek.

2010-06-04

Rwenzori Mountains Day 1

We had risen early to pack up the tent and made our way to the RMS office where we were introduced to our guide Erick. We were briefed on what to expect on each day of our mountain trek and began to doubt our capabilities and fitness levels. We set off at 9:15am where we were submerged into the Rwenzori Mountain National Park, a place full of adventure. The 1st day of walking took us through a tropical setting where a series of bridges crossed over the Mbukuu River and its tributary, the Mahoma River. A steep wooden ladder took us up to another pathway which wound up to our first resting spot. Erick had a good eye and pointed out some Black Monkeys swinging in some trees as well as pointing out some of the vegetation typical to the region. After a leisurely walk we arrived at Nyabitaba Hut, our resting spot for the evening. We were quite surprised as the walk took us only 4½ hours and that was with 2 long enforced stops. It wasn’t too demanding and we felt surprisingly fresh when we reached the hut. The afternoon was spent filtering water and socialising with 2 other hikers that were taking on the summit. The view of the Portal Peaks was spectacular as they loomed over our camp. We were in bed just after sunset in preparation for the following day of walking. We were instructed to wear our wellies in the morning as we would be passing through the 1st of many bogs and would be leaving at 9am.

2010-06-05

Rwenzori Mountains Day 2

We were up at 6am to prepare our breakfast of Oats and bananas. We were ready to walk at 8am but had to wait for Erick to join us. We were an hour early but the sleepless night had us anxious to get on the path towards John Matte Hut. The day started off with a steep descent into a river valley where we crossed the Kurt Shafer Bridge which was suspended above the Mubuku Valley just below the river’s confluence with the Bujuku Valley. Across the bridge lay an equally steep incline which took us through some tall bamboo forests. The porters had reached us by this stage and came rearing past us. The 1st 4 hours were tough going. The mud was becoming more prominent and the bad nights sleep was catching up on us. We stopped for our first break at a waterfall where I devoured my lunch and indulged in a much needed Bar One. My energy came flooding back after that and the next hour and 45 minutes was delightful. We had entered the giant lobelia and groundsel zone, a vegetation type limited to East Africa’s highest mountains, and felt as though we had been submerged into a JR Tolken novel. It was magical. The trees were covered in moss and created an enchanted forest scene. We emerged into a clearing where our resting place for the night stood tall and proud. John Matte Hut was situated 3505m above sea level and the air was certainly very chilly. After a long day of walking and a good dinner of mince and rice we tucked ourselves into bed and fell fast asleep without any hesitation.

2010-06-06

Rwenzori Mountains Day 3

It was another bright and sunny morning offering us gorgeous views of Margareta Peak and Alexandra Peak which make up the Mt Stanley Plateau. Their glaciers were illuminated by the suns rays and made a spectacular sight. We set off towards the Lower Bigo Bog which required us to cross a very flimsy bridge made from old tree branches, once over this obstacle we were treated to a 25 minute walk on a brand new boardwalk. The walk also allowed us to take in beautiful views of the valley as well as allow our bodies and minds to prepare for the gruelling task that lay ahead of us. We had a steep incline at the end of the boardwalk which took us through the most beautiful vegetation and landscape. We reached the Upper Bigo Bog which is when the fun began. The boardwalk had long since disappeared beneath the sludgy water of the Bigo Bogs and we were required to stay as dry as possible and not fall in. It took all of our strength, concentration and skill to jump from one tuft of grass to another. Our walking sticks were not only used to assist our balance put also used to prod and probe the slushy ground in search of a sunken log or stone. It was a great deal of fun and all part of the Rwenzori experience. The reward at the end of our exhausting feat was a spectacular view of Lake Bujuku. An eerie mist had settled into the valley and whilst we plodded our way through the cloying mud it lifted and exposed the mighty Mt Baker and the extremity of the peaks surrounding us. It was not long thereafter until we reached our resting spot for the evening, Bujuku Hut, which was set in a beautiful green setting at 3962 meters. A freshwater stream flowed past our residence and we were able to wash our wellies, waterproof pants and bodies and fuel up on soup, Spaghetti Bolognese and copious amounts of chocolate. The usual routine of filtering water and preparing the following day’s snacks and lunch were to follow. As soon as the sun set we found refuge from the cold in our sleeping bags and listened to the rain falling heavily onto the tin roof. Day 3 had been tiring and we were in awe of Erick, our guide, as he resembled a little hobbit jumping from one log to the next. He promised us that we would not get muddy if we stepped where he stepped and so far he had been right.

2010-06-07

Rwenzori Mountains Day 4

The boggy start was enough to get anyone focussed in a matter of minutes. It was day 4 of our trek through the Rwenzori’s and we were set to reach the highest point of the trip today. The boggy ascent was certainly a true test of courage and the steep metal ladder that took us to ascend the Groundsel Gulley was not for the faint hearted. The weather cleared beautifully for us as we had sweeping views of the Bujuku valley and its lake. The hut we had spent the night at was a mere speck in the distance, a true reflection of the distance we had covered that morning. We said goodbye to Amy, a fellow trekker as she was off to brave the icy cold ascent of Margherita Peak. Our trail continued up a steep scree slope, which was hair raising at times, and eventually took us up to Scott Elliot pass (4372m), the highest point of the circuit and the highest altitude that Kirk and I had ever climbed to. We stopped for lunch at the top of the pass and tried to suck in as much of the rarefied air as possible, this was our altitude training for Kilimanjaro and we were eager to see if we would be affected at all by the thin air. The pass was very scenic and the walk down to the Kitandara Lakes was equally appealing. We arrived at Kitandara Hut (4023m) after 4 hours and 34 minutes of setting off from the previous hut. The setting was idyllic and resembled a country cottage nestled on the banks of a serene lake. We again we able to wash off the mud from our wellies and waterproof pants in the nearby lake and stream where Kirk accidently slipped into the water and got muddier than he had been throughout the trip. He was then forced to strip of to his duds and wash his wellies and trousers. I had a good laugh at his expense. After dinner and the usual chores we settled in for the evening only to receive some bad news. A porter, from a pair of hikers who had summitted Margherita Peak the day before, came running past our hut. He came with news that one of the men had slipped on the glacier and fallen into a 4 meter crevice, had broken his leg and they couldn’t get him out. He had run from 5109 meters in an hour and was going to continue until he received cell phone signal to call for the rescue team. We were concerned for the safety of the Dutch man and felt completely helpless. We went to bed anticipating updates all night and were relieved to hear back from the porter just after 9pm. He was on his way back up to the summit to help with the recue mission. Erick, our guide, and 2 of the porters had also made their way to the top to assist in the rescue mission. The thought of having to spend a night on a glacier in the rain was not ideal and my thoughts and prayers were with them all night. The thin air and cold temperature meant that our sleep was interrupted and we were quite relieved when morning came as that meant we could get on with the trek and descend to a warmer climate and denser air.

2010-06-08

Rwenzori Mountains Day 5

We were woken by the 2 remaining porters at sunrise. They had come to inform us that Erick had not yet returned and that we would be departing at 9am with them and assured us that they would take great care of us and try their utmost to inform us of the touristy things. We were slightly worried about the people on the glacier and were considering hanging out at Kitandara Hut until they returned just so that we could be certain of their safety. Miraculously Erick arrived back at 8:30am and came to give us an update about the rescue mission. The porters and guides had successfully retrieved the Dutch man from the crevice and they had all spent a night on the glacier. The rescue team was on their way up to the summit and should have reached the injured man by 8am that morning. Erick had left at 6am and was ready to start our descent to Guy Yeoman Hut. We were astounded at his courage and stamina; he moved swiftly up the thigh bursting climb to Freshfields Pass (4282m) whereas Kirk and I were struggling to get focussed and keep our balance. The view from Freshfields was out of this world. The amount of sunbirds feeding off the Lobelia was staggering as their shimmering feathers caught the sun and gave off a dazzling glow. The peaks of Mt. Baker and Mt. Stanley were impressive with their glaciers reflecting the morning sun and DRC was just a stones throw away. Freshfields was a long traverse which eventually took us down the plateau through the steep river valley of the Mbuku River. The bogs seemed to never end and with Kirk and me having a few close shaves with deep sludgy mud we couldn’t help but laugh and take each stride as it came. The mineral deposits in the river valley were plentiful and gave off a gold gleam in the sun. Kirk took the opportunity to ‘pan’ for gold and the possibility of finding a great big diamond or precious stone amongst all the pebbles. We rested beneath a sandstone cliff for lunch and braced ourselves for the final leg of our trek to the hut. This took us through the rocky bed of the Mbuku River which allowed us to clean our muddy boots and enjoy the different scenery. We eventually reached Guy Yeoman hut after a 6 hour slog. The river provided us with a good opportunity to scrub up and feel refreshed and even though it was icy cold we bathed our feet and bodies and felt rejuvenated afterwards. Our cooker was almost out of fuel so we boiled water with bated breath in the hope that we would have just enough fuel to have a cup of hot coffee in the morning. Sleep came very easily that night. We were both exhausted from the previous night’s disturbed sleep and being at 3505m made it much warmer and more comfortable to sleep.

2010-06-09

Rwenzori Mountains Day 6

We woke up feeling very refreshed and revitalised. Luck was with us as we managed to have enough gas left in the cooker to boil enough water for 2 cups of coffee. We had decided to descend right down to the office today as we were running low on food and we were fresh out of cooking gas. We had a reasonably early start and started the route with a descent of the cliffs of Kichuchu which was rough going and exceptionally slippery. They had built some boardwalks and ladders to help with the descent of these cliffs which took us 45 minutes; in the past it took up to 3 hours. We crossed the Mubuku River many times before reaching the bamboo forests which marked the end of the bogs although it was still exceptionally muddy and slippery. We arrived at Nyakalengija hut after a brisk 4 hour walk where we enjoyed our lunch perched on a rock underneath the intimidating Portal Peaks. We continued the final phase effortlessly. This part of the circuit is the only time we covered the same trail in the duration of the 6 days. We enjoyed the warmth that the lower altitude had to offer and were feeling pleased with our progress. We reached the RMS Guest House after a 7 hour descent from 3505m to 1615m. We were both feeling surprisingly fit and energised and nothing like we had felt after climbing Mt. Cameroon or Jebel Toubkal. We said a huge thank you to our porters, who were incredibly fit and jovial, and Erick our guide who was wonderful. He had an excellent eye for spotting fauna and we were treated to seeing black monkeys on more than 2 occasions, the Rwenzori Lourie and a beautiful colourful chameleon. They were all very grateful for their tips and went home to their families with smiles on their faces. The Rwenzori Mountains were the most beautiful place we had visited on our African adventure thus far with a unique ecosystem that made us feel like we were hobbits in an enchanted forest embarking on a mission. We could do nothing but sing its praises and recommend the trek to any person who showed the least bit of interest.

We departed after stopping in at the UWA office to get a credit note for only spending 6 days in the park and paying for 7 and headed back to Fort portal. We located the Rwenzori View Guest House which was owned by an Anglo Dutch couple who had settled in Uganda and had a very lucrative business as all of their rooms were taken. We were lucky enough to get their last room and were happy to pay the USh95 000 ($50) price tag that came with the spacious en-suite double with the all important hot water shower! We decided to try the grand old Gardens Restaurant for dinner which was set in an old colonial building and turned out to be a great decision as the atmosphere was splendid and the portions were huge. Kirk opted for a traditional African dish of beef with mushrooms and I had a more westernised dish of fish and chips. We returned to the guest house weary and exhausted as the 6 days of walking had finally caught up to us but with bellies full we were content and looking forward to the great big breakfast that awaited us the following morning.

2010-06-10

Regardless of how hard we tried we just could not sleep late and enjoy the luxury of king size bed and comfortable furnishings. We sorted the dirty washing out and packed the remainder of our hiking gear back into the storage box. Breakfast was delicious with us enjoying fried eggs, sausage, fruit, good coffee, bread and local honey. Other travellers sitting around the communal breakfast table took great interest in our travels thus far and we spoke fondly of our recent trip up the Rwenzori Mountains. We decided to head towards one of the many crater lakes 25km south of Fort Portal and with a little bit of shuffling around we managed to squeeze Christophe, a Frenchman living and working in Sudan, into the car as he too was heading towards the crater lakes for the day. We stopped off at the local market to stock up on supplies for our onward travel which included a lot of jovial bartering with the local salesmen. The produce was of a particularly good standard and we even managed to secure a good sized fillet steak from a freshly slaughtered cow. We placed an order for 1kg of oxtail which would be collected the following day…they sell like hot cakes!

Lake Nkuruba Community Camp was a pleasant surprise. Most community camps we have visited were lacking a certain element of infrastructure but this one seemed to tick all of the boxes. The location was perfect in that it was perched on the rim of the crater overlooking the lake and surrounding forest. The walk down to the lake took us under a canopy of trees where black and white Colobus Monkeys and Red Topped Monkeys were playing and swinging from branch to branch. The murky green waters of the lake were inviting and very refreshing as we plunged into the depths of the water. After our refreshing swim we packed back into the car and drove towards Lake Nyinambuga where we visited Ndali Vanilla Factory. When we emerged from Mvubu we were filled with the sweet aroma of sun drying vanilla pods; I was in heaven with sweet memories of my home baked chocolate cakes filling my mind. The tour of the factory was very informative and interesting. Ndali is a Fairtrade organisation that sells most of its products to Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Whole Food in England. We then made our way up to Ndali Lodge which had great views over Lake Nyinambuga. At $400 per person per night (full board) this lodge is definitely not aimed at your average overlanders or backpackers. We opted to enjoy lunch, which was affordable, on the veranda and enjoy the surroundings of this very English influenced establishment. We headed back to the community camp, after dropping Chris off at a taxi stop so that he could get back to the Guest House, where we gave Mvubu a good internal clean and relaxed for the remainder of the evening. Drops of rain began to fall during our shower and developed into a mammoth thunderstorm where Kirk ended up getting soaking wet whereas I managed to scamper up into the tent before the brunt of the storm hit. It was a good laugh getting Kirk dried but a comforting feeling falling asleep to the sound of heavy rain hitting the canvas of the tent.

 2010-06-11 to 2010-06-14

When we were in Kampala we met Bruce, the owner of Lake Albert safari Lodge. We had him and his 2 friend for dinner that night and he subsequently invited us up to his lodge as a kind gesture. We took him up on this invitation and drove north after leaving Lake Nkuruba at 8am in the morning. After a brief stop over in Fort Portal to collect the ox tail and change some money we arrived at Lake Albert Safari Lodge just after lunchtime. We were given a royal welcome with cold wet flannels to wipe the dust off our hands and faces and lunch was served promptly after our arrival. The lodge was well established and has become a good regeneration game reserve where Bruce has worked hard to reintroduce 3 species of antelope (Hartebeest, Waterbuck and Buffalo) and regenerate the now thriving Cob, Duiker and Oribi population. The Football World Cup was set to kick off that afternoon and after our lunch we settled into an afternoon of sport. After a 3 course meal for dinner we were shown to our room, a luxury safari tent with en-suite bathroom which looked like a fairytale bedroom as there were flower petals sprinkled on the mosquito net covered bed. The soft lighting enhanced the atmosphere and Kirk and I relished in the luxury.

The following 2 days followed a similar routine whereby we started the day with a gorgeous breakfast of fruit, toast, eggs and great coffee, followed by a game drive with Bruce, which on one occasion turned into a baboon hunt as they are notorious for killing the baby duikers or antelopes and are in their masses. Sport was high on the agenda and with South Africa playing rugby and three Football World Cup matches scheduled there was no chance of any other activity apart from being a couch potato. I tried to escape the sport by settling at the swimming pool with a good book and relaxing whilst the boys got their fix of sport. We were treated to unbelievable meals and even had a Ugandan celebrity amongst us as Bobby Williamson, the Ugandan Football Coach, spent 2 nights at the lodge. We eventually said goodbye to Bruce after 3 days of luxury and made our way towards Murchison Falls National Park. Bruce’s hospitality could not be faulted and we felt truly rested and ready to continue on our travels.

The drive to Murchison Falls National Park was quick and we settled in at the Shoebill Campsite which was situated right on the Nile River. We had accumulated a heap of dirty washing from the Rwenzoris and took our early arrival and the hot weather as an opportunity to get it all washed and dried. The campsite filled up that evening with a private safari vehicle arriving with 4 Dutch people and another family of 4 on a self drive arriving shortly afterwards. We enjoyed a fillet steak dinner where we were observed by a pair of Civet Cats who were eying out our food.

2010-06-15

We headed into Murchison Falls National Park at 9am after a lazy breakfast overlooking the Nile River. Elephants were grazing on the opposite side of the bank and so we were treated to a ‘game view’ before we had set foot into the park. After sorting out our entry with the credit note we made a bee lie for the falls which were described as the most spectacular thing to happen to the Nile long its 6700km length. The gorge that the Nile passes through is just 6m wide, so if you can imagine the volume of water that passes through there; it makes it the most powerful natural surge of water anywhere in the world. Before we reached the falls we noticed an abundance of Tsetse Flies hovering around the moving car and some even managed to come into Mvubu but me being armed with my bottle of Doom managed to zap them before they could sink their teeth into our juicy flesh. This made the drive very uncomfortable as it was a very hot day and without air conditioner, we felt and looked like we were sitting in a sauna. We stopped at the Murchison Falls viewpoint and dared to get out the car. It was worth it. The falls were very impressive and the sheer volume and power of the water flowing through the tiny gorge would have sent many kayakers to their doom never to be found again. We enjoyed getting sprayed by the fine mist that was propelled into the air as well as cooled by the breeze that the falls provided. This happened to keep the Tsetse flies at bay and when we returned to Mvubu we dreaded the scorching drive that lay ahead of us. The flies were insistent and spread throughout a large section of the park. This unfortunately made up our minds for us and we decided to head for Kampala to do our last bit of shopping before continuing our journey to Kenya. The drive was easy and problem free as we got onto the main highway which was perfect tarmac. Being back in Kampala felt familiar and it was nice to drive around a city and know where we were going. The Red Chilli Rest House didn’t disappoint the last time so after a spot of shopping at Shoprite and Game we arrived in time to check our e-mails, speak to our families on Skype and eat a hearty meal from the restaurant.

2010-06-16

It was Kirk’s 33rd birthday today but when you are on the road there are no birthday parties to look forward to so instead we decided to go off to Jinja and celebrate Kirk’s 33rd year in style, rafting at the source of the Nile River. Nile River Explorers seemed to offer the best deal with 2 nights of free camping, a full day of rafting with Breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as 2 free drinks each. This package cost $125 per person but again it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and we were looking forward to some adrenaline fuelled activity. We paid the money and spent the remainder of the afternoon rinsing left over laundry from our Rwenzori trip and looking forward to the following morning. 

2010-06-17 to 2010-06-19

It was an early start as we departed from the campsite at 8am. We arrived at the backpackers, situated in Jinja town centre, in time for a good breakfast and safety briefing. 3 boats were going out on the river and so we all piled into the trucks which took us to the starting point of our day long adventure. We had 7 people on our boat and we opted for the ‘Wet and Wild’ option which we would soon learn was a regretful decision. Doug, our instructor, was from Zimbabwe and born on the Zambezi so we were in for all kinds of fun and laughter. The day went by with many laughs and a lot of time spent in the water, under the water and clinging onto the boat for dear life. Our last rapid of the day was supposed to be the scariest but we managed to get through it unscathed and dry when we had all wanted to get wet and wild. The trucks took us back to the campsite where we had a BBQ feats waiting for us. Hot showers were greeted with open arms and we spent the remainder of the evening enjoying the company of our newly made friends. The DVD of the day was very entertaining and spurred on a mammoth party which went on until the wee hours of the morning. Needless to say, we were feeling very sorry for ourselves the following morning and once we managed to get our very weary bodies out of our tent, we didn’t do much more than sit on the couches in the communal areas napping and eating whilst glancing at the football. Our arms were exceptionally stiff and even lifting a bottle of water sent pains into our muscles that had us laughing at each other.

After spending 3 nights at Nile River Explorers in Jinja, and getting a taste of what it is like to be young students and backpackers we decided that we should get back on the road again and continue our journey towards the East Coast of Africa. Uganda had been a pleasant surprise and we had thoroughly enjoyed each and every single place we had visited. The people are friendly, the soil is fertile and there is enormous potential for development all around it. Kirk and I had visions of settling in Uganda running some sort of unique lodge that people would queue up for. We have done a lot of dreaming in Africa but Uganda seemed to be the one place that dreams can be made into a reality…Perhaps something to consider for our future.

We said a fond farewell to Uganda and promised to return one day to summit Mt. Stanley and possibly others in the range.

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