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.

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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.

[book id=’27’ /]


Jun 1 2010

Rwanda – diary 2010-05-22 to 2010-05-30

2010-05-22

The drive to the Rwandan border was about an hour and a half from the Mocray Motel. The road was in relatively good condition and was surprisingly quiet for a national road and main border crossing. We passed through the Tanzanian side without any delays and were elated to find out that South African passport holders do not have to pay for a Rwandan visa. With the carnet and passports stamped we were free to explore Rwanda for 30 days.

Once we were on the road there was a little bit of confusion as to which side of the road we should be travelling on. We were in a French speaking country again and we had a suspicion that we should be driving on the right hand side but were struggling to figure it out until we saw a truck ahead of us which confirmed our suspicions. The drive to Kigali was really beautiful. The terrain is mountainous and covered with intensively cultivated crops. The different colours of green on the hillsides resembled that of a multitude of green, gold, yellow and brown patchwork quilts. The Rwandans were happy and waved gaily at us as we drove by. As we approached Kigali we were once again astounded at how different it was to what we had imagined. We could have been driving in Durban with its skyscrapers, modern buildings, green botanical gardens and water fountains. It far exceeded our expectations and we were amazed to see how swiftly Rwanda was moving forward after its gloomy history. The main reason we were visiting Rwanda was to do the Gorilla trek in the Volcanoes National Park in the north so we hastily located the ORTPN Office to enquire about availability and costs. The office was just about to close so we were lucky enough to be allowed in to ask a few quick questions and find out the cost of the Gorilla Trek – $500 per person. We said we would return in the morning to purchase our permits after deciding on when we would like to do the trek.

After a stressful money changing experience (I am a little paranoid now since our Zambia incident) we made our way down to the Gisozi Genocide Museum. It was an informative and emotional exhibition that drew attention to the build up and ongoing genocide events that occurred between the Hutus and Tutsis since the 1960’s. The most heart rendering part for me was the children’s memorial where photographs of deceased children as young as 6 months old were on display with information about their hobbies, likes, dislikes and characters printed below their portraits. Tutsi women and children were the most targeted as the Hutu soldiers wanted to eradicate the next generation of the Tutsi. There were various other displays of hundreds of bones and skulls that brought shivers down my spine. It was a morbid way to spend the afternoon but we felt it was important to be educated on Rwanda’s history. The mass killings occurred only 16 years ago and what amazed Kirk and me was how quickly the country has picked itself up, put the past behind and moved on to create a country that is attracting more and more tourist each year as well as developing at a rapid pace.

We popped into a bar cum restaurant called Executive Carwash that allows camping on the extensive green lawn behind the building. The owner, Francis, is Kenyans and started his business many years ago. The name is peculiar but well suited as it is situated right next to a car wash and when middleclass folks are getting their cars washed, they pop into Executive Carwash and have a few beers and watch the latest sport. We were happy to see that they were screening the Super 14 Semi Final and then the European Cup Final. We secured a good table, ordered goat brochettes with fries and salad and enjoyed the atmosphere. The open air setting meant that we didn’t feel claustrophobic as the place filled up. More and more tables were shimmied into any available space. The Schol beer promotion of ‘buy one get one free’ ensured that the customers were happy and in high spirits. We made our way to our tent after a very cold shower and listened to the crowed in the restaurant celebrate their teams win. Kirk had unfortunately stubbed his toe on his way back from the gents and was feeling quite a bit of discomfort.

After a good nights rest we enjoyed a good breakfast of avocado on toast and made our way to the ORTPN office. We had deliberated the cost of the Gorilla Trek but settled on the fact that it was a once in a life time opportunity and that we simply had to do it. The only concern was Kirks’ toe and whether or not it would have healed in time. We made the booking for Thursday so that he had 4 days to get it sorted, popped into Simba Supermarket to stock up on supplies for the next few days and headed towards lake Kivu for a little bit of relaxation time.

The drive took us through the most splendid scenery. The road followed the contours and took us into the valleys and up the spurs. The cultivation was again staggering with numerous banana trees, wheat, sugar cane and corn. When we reached the top of the mountains we were afforded sweeping views of Lake Kivu, a huge crater lake forming the border between Rwanda and the DRC. It really was a stunning drive and we were in no hurry to get to our destination. As we descended the mountains we came across masses and masses of tea plantations. Rwanda is renowned for its tea and coffee and we were in the heart of it. We arrived at Paradis Malahide just after 4pm. They don’t really have a camping area but we were happy to camp in the parking area as the setting was lovely and right on the lake.

The next 2 days were not really used for resting. The laundry bag was overflowing and it took a full day to hand wash and hang everything out to dry. I was absolutely shattered at the end of our 1stday at Lake Kivu but we managed to enjoy a couple of hours chilling on the sun loungers, overlooking the lake in the afternoon but were not able to stay up much later than 8pm. The following day was much the same with Mvubu and the bedding getting a wash, a little bit of tidying and eventually spending the afternoon relaxing playing Igisoro (a Rwandan board game) and sipping hot Rwandan coffee. Kirks’ foot was not doing too well. He had suffered from Gout in Ghana, form an abundance of red meat, and he feared that it had returned as he could hardly move his big toe. It also happened to be the toe that he stubbed but that seemed to have mended quite quickly.  We were supposed to be doing the Gorilla Trek in 2 days time and it was not looking too promising.

The following morning marked no improvement so we packed up our belongings and visited the doctor at the Primus Brewery. We were treated to 1stclass medical treatment with both Kirk and me getting Malaria tests, Kirk’s uric acid level checked as well as his white blood count. The Malaria tests were negative, Kirk’s uric level was better than normal but his white blood count was high. He had picked up an infection in his foot from when he stubbed his toe. After an anti-inflammatory injection, a prescription for antibiotics and a letter from the Doc explaining Kirk’s situation, we were on our way. I was now forced to drive…after 7 months of not driving I was now in a position where I had to drive this huge vehicle on the wrong side of the road. It didn’t last very long as I was uncomfortable driving in a foreign African country on the wrong side of the road. Kirk assured me that the injection had worked and that he was now capable of driving. I relinquished the driver’s seat without hesitation and found comfort in the passenger’s seat once again. We drove the 80km to Rhungheri where there was another ORTPN Office. The terms and conditions on the Gorilla Permits stated that a refund would only be issued if you couldn’t walk due to illness after reporting to the departure point. We didn’t want a refund; we wanted to postpone it for 4 days so that Kirk’s foot could get better. The ranger, Justin was super helpful and after a few phone calls to the head office in Kinigi and Kigali, we successfully moved it to Sunday. We hadn’t really rested at Lake Kivu so we decided that we were not going to do any form of admin whilst waiting for our Gorilla trek; we were going to use the time to read, take slow walks and enjoy the solitude of the volcanic mountains that surrounded us. We stopped at the local agricultural market to buy some fresh vegetables ad made our way to Kinigi Guest House where we set up camp in the car park. Nestled 2000m above sea level on the slopes of a volcano we were feeling the chill in the air. The surroundings were breathtaking with mountain ranges of volcanic peaks encircling us. We were at the foot of the setting to Dianne Fossey’s biography ‘Gorillas in the Mist’. It was magical knowing that we would be walking in the dense forest in search of these enormous primates in a few days time. Excitement and anticipation was growing but we had to be patient and hope that Kirk’s foot would be well enough to endure the trek.

Kirk’s foot healed very quickly. We moved the walk forward a day and would now be trekking on Saturday. We placed a request that we see the Susa family, the group of gorillas that Dianne Fossey habituated. We had been forewarned that big tour companies get in early and take the best groups so we planned on getting to the head office at 6:30am. When we arrived on Saturday morning, bright and early, the front lawn of the head office was teeming with anxious gorilla trekkers. As luck would have it, few people were feeling fit enough to do the Susa group trek. We ended up with only 6 people on our group and were elated that we had been awarded our request.

We drove for and hour and fifteen minutes until we reached the Bispoke Parking area to start the climb. We walked up a steep volcanic slope occupied by intensive agricultural crops and small primitive huts that were occupied by the farming communities. The views of the valley were spectacular and we were welcomed by happy children and women going about their daily chores. We reached the wall to national park which stretches for 72km crossing enclosing a national park to protect the last of the mountain gorillas in DRC, Rwanda and Uganda. We took a short break before submerging ourselves into the thick bamboo undergrowth in the Volcanoes National Park. We walked through the dense jungle where evidence of the gorillas was fresh. The previous nights nest was 40 minutes up the hill and when we reached that we knew we were close. We met the trackers shortly after that and they guided us in the right direction. The first sighting of these magical creatures was surreal. They were spectacular. We were instructed that we should keep a 7 meter distance between ourselves and the primates but this proved null in void when we got there as these gentle giants were so inquisitive and chilled out that at times we would be a mere meter from them. The Silverbacks were majestical in their size and stature. They were evidentially the guardians of the family and kept a close eye on the 6 tourists that were clicking away madly with their cameras. The baby of the group was highly entertaining with his abundance of energy and the numerous roley poleys he was doing. He enjoyed imitating the silverback with his attempt at a chest beat and was the apple of the chief silverback’s eye. The females were very relaxed and went about their daily ablutions and pruning of the younger gorillas. It was a privilege to be afforded the opportunity to watch these great animals and share an hour of their day with them

The Susa group is one of the only groups to have a set of twins. Most twins do not survive due to the demand that it places on the mother. The similarity between humans and gorillas is frightening. Their actions, facial expressions and anatomy are so much like you and I that it is difficult not to believe in evolution. The hour that we spent with the Susa family has been one of the most wonderful experiences of the trip. It was worth every penny and if you have any inkling to have such an experience in your life I would say go for it without hesitation!

We reluctantly left the Susa Family saying goodbye and making our way back down the volcano. The experience will stay with us forever.

We visited the market on the way back to Kinigi Guest House where we purchased 2kgs of beef fillet and an abundance of fresh fruit. The variety was incredible as were the prices. The northern region of Rwanda was rich in agriculture with fertile soil and an abundance of land to farm. Our stay had been wonderful and we were sad to be leaving the following day but time was ticking by and we still had other places to see.

Rwanda surpassed both kirk and my expectations. It was the cleanest country we had visited, seeing that plastic is illegal, and the natural surroundings were spectacular. The people were super friendly and welcomed us into their country without prejudice. It is one African country that I would personally recommend for a trip to Africa. The gorillas are obviously the highlight but it also has so much more in terms of the crater lakes, the cities, the national parks and its history that they have moved on from so swiftly. We were impressed and filled with hope that Africa can move on from its dark past.[book id=’26’ /]


Jun 1 2010

Tanzania – diary 2010-05-14 to 2010-05-22

2010-05-14 to 2010-05-22

We crossed into Tanzania at 4:30pm which was a fairly hassle free process. We paid $50 each for our visas as well as $25 for Mvubu to drive on the Tanzanian roads as he was a foreign registered vehicle. After all formalities were over we adjusted our clocks, we had gone forward one hour, and made our way towards the northern shores of Lake Nyasa (Lake Malawi) where we had been told that a new camp was in the process of being opened called Crazy Crocodile. The road there was rough and definitely off the beaten track. We drove through rice paddies and wheat fields that were giving off the most gorgeous light as the sun set behind us. We arrived in the town of Matemba where cries of Mzungu (white man) trailed after us as the children ran excitedly from their homes into the road to wave at us and welcome us into their village. We followed the red Crazy Crocodile signs and eventually arrived at the site of the new camp. Darkness had just fallen so e were feeling a little bit disorientated, furthermore, Thomas, the proprietor was not back from his meeting in Dodoma and so nobody could give us certainty that we were able to camp on the lake shore. Thomas was eventually reached by mobile phone and he was more than happy to have us but he told us that there were no facilities as they were still in the process of building the showers and the toilets. The wind had picked up and rain clouds were looking ominous above us so we decided it was probably better to camp at the established Matemba Beach Lodge and to visit Thomas in the morning.

We arrived at Matemba Beach Lodge and the rains started falling. We set up our tent and sought shelter under the overhang that it provided once we had opened it up. When it came time to shower we were awakened to the fact that we were back in the land of squat toilets and cold showers! We stepped into the shower gingerly, scrubbed up and climbed into bed.

The sun was out the following morning which dried the tent and prepared us for the hot day that was to come. We popped in at Crazy Crocodile where Thomas was there to meet us. He gave us a grand tour and explained the plan he had for the piece of land that was perfectly situated on Lake Nyasa. After a good hour of visiting we said our goodbyes, visited a nearby pottery market and then took a slow dive to Tukuyu. The drive was exquisite and took us through subsistence plantations of coffee, tea, bananas, cocoa, rice, cassava and wheat. The altitude increased from 500meters to 1400meters taking us through a winding dirt which bypassed numerous crater lakes which held much historical importance during World War I. Before reaching Tukuyu we passed a truck loading thousands of bananas to take to the market. We stopped to enquire about the price and came away with 3 avocados and about 20 bananas all for less than a dollar. The beauty about rural Africa is the availability of cheap fresh fruit and vegetables. We settled in at Bongo Camping for the afternoon and evening. It was a community run camp that had basic facilities (cold showers and squat toilets) and a wonderful gaggle of local village children who were immediately intrigued by the mzungus who had just arrived. The afternoon was spent teaching the Tanzanian children how to throw a Frisbee, doing cartwheels and watching them play. When night fell some of the children dissipated and returned to their homes but a few of them stuck around but seemed to congregate around the florescent lights with long sticks. At closer inspection it became apparent what they were doing… catching grasshoppers, a Tanzanian delicacy. They each had an empty 500ml water bottle that was filled with unfortunate grasshoppers. Kirk and I crept off to bed only to be woken by the same grasshoppers that had sought refuge in between the fly sheet of our tent. They were making the most horrendous sound that was reverberating off the canvass. A few vicious bangs on the tent seemed to get rid of them and we were once again able to enjoy a peaceful night sleep.

We didn’t have very far to travel the following morning so we packed up slowly and Kirk was coaxed into the grasshopper hunt. One of the smallest and youngest boys, Augustine, had taken a liking to Kirk and with repeated please of Mzungu Mzungu and a pointing finger, to show Kirk where the grasshoppers were hiding; he managed to fill his bottle up in no time at all. After a good hour of grasshopper hunting we left Bongo Camping and made a slow journey to Mbeya. The drive was once again spectacular with many of the hills being cultivated and giving off an array of different shades of green. We were pretty much restricted from venturing further afield as we didn’t have many Tanzanian Shillings and the banks would only be open on Monday. We stopped off at the BP garage to find out how much a new brake line would cost as we were a little uncertain about the repair job that had been done on the original one after the welding machine nicked it in Livingstonia. The guys at the garage were super helpful and in 3 hours we were all set and ready to go again. Because of our lack of Tanzanian Shillings they were trusting enough to let us go and return the following morning to pay them for their services.

We spent the afternoon exploring the town centre in search of bread and then ventured further afield to Utengule Country Hotel which was set amongst the hills of a coffee plantation owned by some very rich Tanzanians. Their prices were extortionate and even a coffee would have set us back enough to buy bananas for a week. We returned to Mbeya where we camped at the Karibuni Centre in Mbeya. It was a peaceful church yard that again had basic facilities but very friendly people who were very helpful in giving us advice on the roads up north.

We had decided to take the road less travelled towards Tabora which cut through the middle of Tanzania avoiding Dodoma. We did all the necessary admin such as changing money, paying our friendly mechanics buying the odd few groceries and hit the road. The GPS did not recommend the road that we were about to take but we had been assured, the previous evening, that the road was I good condition. The roads were dusty and very rural. Again we were treated to spectacular scenery of undulating cultivated hills and small rural settlements. The road took us to the top of the escarpment offering us sweeping views of the East African Rift Valley. The view was magnificent! The valley was luscious and green and dotted with the odd rocky outcrop and acacia tree. We continued north and drove through many more villages where the people waved frantically and called ‘Mzungu’ to get our attention. We found a great bush camp 220km south of Tabora and 10km north of Rungwa. The setting was idyllic with acacia trees surrounding us and the bell of the grazing cows tinkling in the distance. We made a fire to cook our dinner on and as we were sitting enjoying the solitude that this setting had to offer a herder started playing his pennywhistle, oblivious to the fact that there were 2 mzungus camping a little way from where he was, providing us with a melodious tune and completing the ambience that this tranquil place had to offer. It was just too beautiful.

As you do with bush camping, you rise when the sun does and you hit the road as soon as possible. We were literally in the wilderness as was evident by 2 little Black Back Jackals that were scavenging in the road and decided to run ahead of Mvubu and eventually dash off into the bush. The bird life was also impressive with massive birds of prey perched on the top of trees. We were hoping to see some elephants as there was fresh evidence that they had been on the road that night but they had moved on and were sheltered by the thick vegetation of the savannah. We arrived in Tabora just after 11am where we bought some meat, tomatoes and beer and pushed on to Mwanza, a port town on the shores of Lake Victoria. We were utterly exhausted when we arrived and the camping options were non existence and so we treated ourselves to a little bit of luxury and stayed at Isamilo Lodge. It was a relatively new hotel complex that was perched on the hillside offering great views of the lake from the hotel room balcony. We enjoyed our dinner of Indian curry under the stars on the restaurant terrace as well as the luxury of having TV, air conditioner and hot water in our room. It was a real treat and one that Kirk and I relished every moment of.

We cashed in on the free internet access and spent the following morning updating blogs and sending e-mails after our delicious continental style breakfast. We left Isamilo Lodge just after lunchtime and made our way towards the Serengeti National Park. We had not intended to enter the park on the same day but when we arrived at the gate and made enquiries about the cost and accommodation options in the park it made sense to enter straight away as the park permit was valid for 24 hours. We managed to wangle our way out of paying $200 for Mvubu as we claimed that he weighed less than 2 tonnes and so we got away with only paying $40 for him. The remainder of the costs included $50 each for park entry and $30 each for camping in the park. All in all a grand total of $200 for 24 hours but a magnificent saving of $160! It was 3:30pm and the gate warden assured us that we would reach the designated camping area before sunset which is when all cars were supposed to be off the road. The camping area was 180km away and with sunset at 6:30pm we had quite a distance to cover. The amount of animals on the plains was amazing. The Serengeti most certainly lived up to its name with us bearing witness to herds and herds of zebra, giraffe, impala and warthogs. The migration was still in its early stages with the wildebeest and zebras moving up from the southern sections of the park towards the north. We had entered through the western corridor and bore witness to thousands and thousands of Wildebeest grazing, playing, dancing and butting heads on the lush green plains. It was a spectacular sight. At about 5pm the heavens opened and we were treated to an African savannah storm which turned the clay roads into an ice rink. We were sticking to the speed limit of 50km per hour but alas on 2 occasions we lost control of the car and spun out once. It was a hair raising experience and my nerves were shot by the second episode. Because of the slippery roads we were forced to slow down and made our way into camp at 7pm. The camps were unfenced and had 3 caged dining areas that had been occupied by the tour groups which had arrived earlier in the evening. Kirk and I resorted to cooking and eating our dinner in the open at the back of Mvubu as we normally did. We were in no danger of being mauled by a lion or hyena because the noise levels were enough to chase any intrigued wildlife away. It had been such a whirlwind day that when silence eventually fell and the sounds of the nocturnal predators filled the air, it eventually sunk in that we were in one of Africa’s most eminent national parks and we had the following day to see what it had to offer.

We were up before the crack of dawn and were on the road at 6am. The suns rays had still not touched the earth with its warm rays and we were able to explore the park in darkness for the first 20 minutes. Seronera is the area of the park where most of the animals are concentrated with various other granite outcrops to explore that are home to leopard, cheetah, rhino and lions so we decide to head towards that direction. We had until 11am to search or these elusive animals before having to make our way back towards the gate that we had entered through. The morning started off well with the sighting of 2 big buffalo right outside the camping area as well as a Serval cat running for cover. This seemed to be the 1st of our luck because not long afterwards we spotted our 1st leopard. Next on the list was a pride of lions relaxing in the sun after a hard night of hunting followed by 2 cheetahs stalking and playing together. We were having a wonderful time and were feeling very fortunate but luck seemed to be on our side because not long afterwards we saw 2 hyenas and an abundance of elephants. The Serengeti was most certainly living up to its name and we were elated with our fortune. We had seen 4 of the Big 5 in less than 2 hours and now only needed to hunt for one of the 33 Black Rhino that were in the SNP. We didn’t have much luck with the sighting of a Rhino but we were instead privileged enough to again witness the masses and masses of Wildebeest that were on the march and walking in a westerly direction. We actually needed to stop the car in order for them to cross the road in their droves. We made our way back towards the western gate and were lucky enough again to see a mother and cub leopard in a tree. We were elated with our good fortune. We left the park feeling satisfied that we had made the most of our $200 and vowed to return one day but to do it the luxury way…an all inclusive 5* package. Wouldn’t that be great!

We didn’t venture too far from the Serengeti that evening and camped on the shores of Lake Victoria where fishing Dows were buoyant in the distance and the waves created by the windy conditions lapped onto the sandy shore. The reality of the day took time to sink in and both Kirk and I went to bed content and happy with our recent adventure.

Kirk had checked the welded diff the previous evening and found that it was leaking some oil and so we decided that we should head back to Mwanza to have it checked out by a Toyota mechanic. When Mvubu was on the ramp and we were able to inspect it more closely it was discovered that there was only a very small hole that was not going to cause much of a problem. We left the mechanic without paying for any unnecessary work and instead stopped off at Total to change the oil. We were on the road by 11am heading towards the Rwandan border where we stopped at Morcay Motel to spend the night before crossing into our 20th country. We enjoyed a meal of tough chicken, rice and a tasty tomato sauce at the adjoining restaurant and a couple of beers at the adjoining bar. It was Friday night and everyone was out on the razz. It was lovely to soak up the local atmosphere of Tanzania before leaving it the following day.

We had only spent 8 days in Tanzania but would be returning in a month and a half to climb the infamous Kilimanjaro and explore the coastal region. We were pleased that we had seen a large part of the country that not many overlanders explore and we had managed to visit the Serengeti at a fraction of the cost that it would have been if we had entered through Arusha. We look forward to our next visit.[book id=’25’ /]