9 May 2013- Aswan, Egypt
We are in Egypt, rested, fed and watered after the ferry journey. The Wadi Halfa to Aswan ferry is something we have heard about for a while now, its one of those (in)famous parts of an overland trip up the east of Africa and I must say it was ok. Not the greatest time ever, but not nearly as bad as we had heard/expected. Just a long day and night.
We arrived as planned in Wadi Halfa Sunday morning after our final night in the desert, which was spent watching the stars before bed, a beautiful big dark sky. As we entered the small dusty town we rang Mazar, our fixer, who asked us to meet him at the 3 story building. It’s an obvious landmark as it’s the only building in town more than one story. We went there and waited for him for a while then rang him again and he asked us to come to the wharf, we could get landy on the barge that morning rather than the next day as planned. Off we went for the couple of minutes drive to the wharf where we finally met Mazar, a friendly funny local guy who stayed right on top of it all throughout. We decided to hard boil our last eggs to munch on over the next few days. Mazar told us he needed our carnet (landy paperwork) and when we were done cooking to get ready as landy was being loaded soon- the barge was leaving that morning! So we finished getting the final things ready, we had packed that morning for the ferry and a few days in Aswan without landy, we heard people usually wait 3 or 4 days before the vehicle arrives. We still were not sure when landy was to leave or arrive in Aswan or when we were for that matter. Anyway we got landy completely ready and then got the call- meet me in town the ferry is not leaving today. We went for some lunch while waiting for Mazar, it was a bit grim, a filthy place and very oily ful (beans) but what we could find. We then met Mazar for a cup of tea. On every corner in Sudan sits a tea lady- under a tiny spot of makeshift shade, surrounded by a few stools and barrels to put your tea on, she keeps some coals going all day, with her glass jars for her potions of different leaves and spices in front of her and makes tea. Its fascinating to watch the ritual, a dash of this, a pinch of that, large scoops of sugar and pouring the water through the tea leaves for the perfect time before its served. We sat and chatted to Mazar with our hot sweet tea next to the communal water pots. The communal pots are something I find make me smile in Sudan, they are so endearing. All over, on every block, at least, in every town or village of any size are large earthenware pots on metal stands. They sit in the shade. The pots are porous and water slowly seeps out and evaporates which keeps the water cool. They have a communal cup (often an old tin can) chained to the stand.
Mazar told us the ferry would leave Tuesday some time (not yet known) and the barge for landy would leave the same day (time also unknown). He said we could camp at his house but we ended up taking a drive just out of town near Lake Aswan (which is the Nile damned) and in the heat of the day spreading our awning on the ground in the shade and laying there until the main heat passed. It was a lovely peaceful spot so we thanked Mazar for the invitation and just stayed out there. Monday morning about 8 Mazar rang and asked how close to town we were, the barge was now leaving that day, could we get there now? Yep, off we went and after a cuppa at the tea lady we were back at the wharf (24 hours after doing it the first time) and after waiting, not sure what happened behind the scenes as Mazar did it all, suddenly we were driving landy on the barge! We were not comfortable to leave the keys with the captain as we had no idea who would drive landy off and where it would stay at the other end so we kept our keys (very happy about that!) We were told the barge was leaving now, I was very sceptical about when ‘now’ would be, but sure enough while we were there they started pulling up the ramp and getting things sorted, maybe it would leave that day?! We were told to get into a small truck full of a few other local guys, no idea who and they zoomed us back into town, still didn’t know who there were or where we were going as we were flying down the road to town. When we got to town (Mazar wasn’t with us as he stayed at customs) we got our bag out and had didn’t know where to go to find a hotel. We didnt see any signs in English and hotels don’t really stand out that differently from any other building in Wadi Halfa. We rang Mazar for a hotel suggestion and got in a tuk tuk and put him on the phone to the driver who zoomed off taking us to a hotel (presumably). As always the driver was humming and singing and waving to everyone we passed, he didn’t speak any English and we have no Arabic (aside from the few pleasantries we have learned) but he smiled and waved a lot to us. We pulled up to a hotel just outside of town and Mazar was waiting for us, he got us a room, with A/C!! He told us the ferry left the next day at 5 but we would need to go around 11 or so to make sure we got a space. We spent the hottest part of the day in the room reading then went to town for some food and drink (tea and juice, alcohol is illegal in Sudan). We had a nice meal of ful, taamiya (falafel) and some potatoes in some sauce stuff (we knew our way around a bit now and found much nicer food than the day before). All served with the bread rolls they eat with everything here. We sat and people watched for a few hours, as the sun faded the town started to come to life again. Things really are dead during the heat of the day. Places were setting rows of chairs out for a football game on tv that night (probably English football, they love it!). Wadi Halfa was bustling as the ferry had arrived and was leaving again tomorrow- no doubt the busiest day of the week, all the night passengers coming and going are in town. We watched people come out to meet friends, have tea and a meal. All washing their hands and rinsing their mouths at the communal bucket and spout. Groups of young men getting ready for the football and families having dinner as well as a steady stream of old sand blasted beat up landies tooting their crazy horns as they came through loaded with passengers and their bags still coming from the ferry. The old landies are taxis that take everyone to and from the weekly ferry.
We had a poor sleep in the hotel. The sheets were dirty so we laid the small blanket we brought with us on the bed and covered ourselves in a sarong (well I was covered) but were too chilly with the A/C on!! Havent had that problem for a while, but found it stifling without (worse than in landy as there was no fresh air). In the morning Olly went for fresh bread while I packed up again and we had a small breakfast in our room. Mazar arrived about 10 saying it was time to go, so we finished our tea and loaded our bags on the roof of the old landy that was taking us to the wharf. The waiting began. We left the hotel after 10 and waited at the ferry ‘terminal’ until just after 1. It was a pleasant enough place to wait, much better than I was expecting. At least we were not in the sun. It was a large building with a few fans and lots of people. Bit smelly and I was not feeling that well, for some reason a bit light-headed and nauseous all morning. About 1 ish Mazar came back and told us to come now. So we did. He took us though immigration and somehow managed to get us into the next waiting area before anyone else. We waited there for a while before a police guy came along and shouted for everyone to get out, back into the other waiting area, at least that what we assume he was shouting with his gestures and what everyone was doing. Soon we were moved outside and it was still all very calm- until the bus arrived. The bus takes people to the boat which is about a ten minute drive away. The craziness began. People went nuts trying to get on the bus. Pushing, shoving and screaming. Mazar was determined to get us on the bus so we could get to the ferry early enough to get a good spot. There was no way I wanted to squeeze on there (I hate being squeezed into small spaces) but knew I would have to get on this bus or the next, which would of course be the same so I had to take a deep breath. Olly was pushed to the back and I held back and asked if I could just stand near the doorway. There is no way we would have gotten on the bus if Mazar had not been there. There were too many people to shut the door so I just held on for dear life in the doorway. When we got there everyone tumbled off and things got worse. Getting on the ferry was an absolute mad scrum. We were now all standing in the hottest time of the day, people screaming at the security who were screaming back and pushing shoving and carrying on. At one point I thought things were going to kick off with the police and security and glanced around to see where we would go if they did. I had not been feeling very well all morning but with the heat, body odour and being pushed all over I started to feel really light-headed. They let a few people on every minute or so but more and more were crowding behind us and they seemed to stop letting people on and at one point starting shutting the doors, the screaming got worse then! I was trying to hold my ground and not get pushed over but was feeling weak. Olly was also just getting crushed, holding our passports high and was dripping with sweat. Suddenly Mazar appeared. He came up and asked if I was ok (I prob didnt look it) and grabbed my arm and did not let go- he screamed and shouted and pointed and gestured and somehow pushed and dragged me though the scrum and I grabbed the passports from Olly as he pushed though. Mazar literally ran with us upstairs on the boat and deposited us in a shady spot closely followed by his other clients (3 Sudanese guys). We found a little patch we liked near the others and rolled out my yoga mat (which I have used exactly once but it was worth taking it all this way for the ferry!) We spent the next 3 hours before the boat left chatting to people, trying to keep our precious space and reading. Just after 5 pm the boat pulled out and us and 600 Sudanese and Egyptians were on our way. It was a long night with people crawling over us, ash from cigarettes, food and general dirt from the ferry blowing onto us, the call to prayer as we were trying to sleep and a very hard surface for sleeping. Obviously not much sleep but we did manage some, more than I expected. At one point during the night I was laying there smiling as it was dark and few people were moving around (people had stopped crawling over us) and I could see stars and feel the boat murmuring away under us, kinda cool. A Sudanese guy who has been living in Sweden for 13 years sort of took it upon himself (as his duty he told us) to help us out, told us where we could get some food- in the scrum to get on someone had thrust a few small bits of paper in my hand but I didn’t really take notice, getting on was like an out-of-body expierence, turns our they were food tickets. He told us how to get our passports back, they take them when you get on and process them overnight and you get them the next day. After the 5 am call to prayer (just when it was nice and cool and still dark) we knew we wouldn’t sleep anymore so we sat up again and listened to some podcasts and watched part of a James Bond film on the ipad and generally tried to battle people off from crawling over us. Finally we could see Aswan, the border town in Egypt and soon we could see landy on the barge sitting there waiting for us, it was a good sight!
We waited on the ferry as everyone trampled each other to get off, partially to stay out of the stampede and also because we did not have our passports back as ours were not ready yet, maybe Sudanese people don’t need a visa for Egypt? Anyway they didn’t have the visa stickers so we waited. Kamal, our fixer on this side was waiting for us and eventually we decided to try to get off the boat (if they would let us without our passports) chat to Kamal and then get back on and get the passports. As we were going for the door Kamal came on and said let’s go start other stuff and come back for passports. We spent a few minutes negotiating fees etc with Kamal and making sure all was clear and off we went. We quickly moved though with Kamal in the lead and started on customs, sorting the carnet. It went quickly and soon we had our passports, with visas in them and Olly was able to drive landy out of the customs area and into the car park and soon Kamal took off to sort things in town, we waited in landy for a bit over an hour and he was back with our Egyptian number plates, Egyptian driving permits and Egyptian insurance. All sorted, we paid Kamal and off we went. We had initially expected we would not have landy as everyone we have spoken to about the ferry had to wait in Aswan for 3 or 4 days before their vehicle arrived so we had heard about a nice guesthouse. We decided to go there, the first time we havent slept in landy when its been possible. I heard the camp site here is basic (as almost all have been for the last few months) and we both really fancied a shower and hoped beyond hope this place would have an actual toilet to sit on! After wading through the horrid mess in the toilets on the ferry we were both wanting to use a toilet and change our very dirty clothes. We arrived at the guesthouse and were shown to a clean room with a bed that has clean sheets (!) and a toilet and shower!!!! Bliss! We had some late lunch/early dinner the host cooked up for us, fresh fish for Olly and delicious veggies cooked in a clay pot for me served with a cold beer, our first in a few weeks (alcohol is illegal in Sudan). After our meal the lack of sleep caught up with us and we retired to our cool room and watched a video on the laptop and went to sleep. What a night!
L and O
4 May 2013- northern Sudan
Its been 45 degrees in the shade but we are slowly getting used to it. It’s not too awful if you have some shade and don’t move between 11 till 4.
Sudan is wonderful! We really didn’t have much of a mental image of Sudan or much idea of what to expect, this has been the case in plenty of new countries we have been, but much more so here. After our long border crossing and our first night under the stars we carried on north and started noticing the differences, the main one we noticed straight away is that Sudan only has one foot in Africa, and at times you could forget that you are in Africa at all. We started to notice large herds of camels and in some areas they were being used more than donkeys for riding and carrying goods. Sudan is the first fully Muslim country we have come to on the trip, 99% of the population is Muslim and in addition to that its a Muslim state with sharia law. Most of the men wear long white flowing pyjama type things, which actually look rather cool to wear. Most of the women wear much more and of course all have their heads covered to varying degrees. The architecture is very different, the houses and structures are all low with flat roofs made of mud (or in towns bricks or metal) rather than the mud and stick, with thatched roof huts of all rural Africa we have been in so far. But truthfully the main thing we noticed the first few days was the heat- its stifling. Like an oven. Our A/C broke as we left Ethiopia (awful timing!) so we were driving through the sand and dust widows open, lethargic with a damp towel on our head- it works!
We arrived in Khartoum in the afternoon and found the YHA where we camped in the car park. There were no other foreign visitors there. Sudan has no tourist industry to speak of, to say tourism is in its infancy here is an understatement. The country has had so many years of war and conflict which heartbreakingly continues still, many years of US sanctions, and was a real pariah in the 1990′s after supporting Saddam Hussein and harbouring Osama. As in many places politics has held the country back. There is an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court in The Hague for multiple counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for the president. Grim.
Once we got over the heat, the overwhelming impression is the absolute beautiful hospitality of Sudanese people. They want you to you know they are not defined by there politics. Its touching. Hospitality to strangers is a matter of fact, a duty to others but never even a hint of it being a burden. Even in Khartoum, which of course has foreigners living there, mostly UN workers, loads of people go out of their way to literally walk across the road to say Welcome to Sudan, how are you, offer you tea, to share their meal, do we need help with anything etc etc. Their warmth is infectious and comes with no strings attached- they don’t want to sell you anything, offer you a service of any kind, ask you to shop in their place, they just want to engage with you and make sure you are ok and are delighted with visitors to their country.
Khartoum is a large modern city with good infrastructure and of course very hot right now! But there is ice cream, which was glorious as its been ages since we had ice cream. It was cooling down to 30 degrees at night and eventually our second night there we were tired enough, after only a few hours of very fitful sleep the previous nights, to pass out with the help of a wet towel draped over us. The soundtrack of Sudan is of course the calls to prayer that boom out from the many many mosques numerous times a day. Depending on where you are you can often hear it from more than one mosque. There are currently heavy travel advisories for Sudan, the Australian government recommends no travel and British government currently has travel warnings for Khartoum (risk of kidnapping of westerners) so we tried to keep a low profile, left landy in the compound of the YHA and stayed close to ‘home’ at night. We also told anyone who asked (as we have been doing for a while now) we are going the opposite direction to what we are.
We decided to see if getting the A/C fixed was a possibility so asked around and found a ramshackle A/C mechanic who had a look and found a hole worn through one of the metal pipes, it was a bit tricky to get out and took a while. Olly stayed to help out in the sun and I hoped in a tuk tuk for a nearby cafe. It was bliss, great A/C , internet and mango juices so I was happy to sit there a few hours. Olly of course ended up getting invited to share in endless cups of tea, served with half a cup of sugar as is the taste here, and their lunch. We are so happy we got it fixed! It’s still a landy A/C so not like other vehicles but its cool air and its a lifesaver not only keeping the temperature down but also saves having the windows wide open when a sand storm passes. While in Khartoum we caught up on all the blogs we had written offline and other internet stuff, did a bit of a shop and got our photography permit, which is a requirement in Sudan. It was an easy process, filling a form in (only one!) and (another passport photo, glad we have so many with us) and is basically a list of things we can and can’t photograph – things not allowed include bridges, petrol stations, any government buildings, anything to do with police or military and anything that could defame Sudan including beggars or slum areas. This is the only place I have ever travelled where you get a far better exchange rate on the black market than at a bank, dollars are in demand here. Due to US sanctions you can’t use MasterCard or Visa to get cash out of ATMs so we had to rely on changing US dollars for Sudanese pounds. As recommended we limited our time in Khartoum due to the travel warnings and headed off to see our first pyramids, Meroe.
It was a few hours drive away from the city (but much longer for us because 60 km out we had to turn around as we had left the computer charger in the cafe and took ages to get back to the city to get it!) and we arrived late afternoon. We found a place just behind a small ridge from the pyramids, it was windy so we tucked ourselves in their and walked up and overlooked the ancient ruins for a bit before dark. Wow! We were camping next to pyramids! We had a peaceful night, watching the stars and a great sleep that seemed a bit cooler to us which was brilliant. The next morning we got up just before sunrise and walked up the dune to see the sunrise and the pyramids in the beautiful morning light. We then went and walked around them, amazing and surreal to be walking amongst well over 200 year old pyramids!! Each one was a little different, some with a stepped outside and some with straight walls. All had carvings inside the small offering chapels, attached to the pyramid facing the rising sun. We wondered about all the people we were following in the footsteps of over the past several thousand years.
By the time we left about 10 it was boiling hot and we drove on to Karima where we asked a few locals if we could camp up near the Nile and after a string of people came up saying hi (those with a few words of english) and others giving us a thumbs up they all went home and we cooked up cabbage, beans and rice and crashed out for the night, a little cooler close to the river in our spot amongst the date palms. People here are very curious about us but not at all in your face, its a very noticeable difference after Ethiopia. People just said “Salem” shook our hand and left us alone to sleep in their field. In Karima we got up early again to beat the heat and go have a look at some pyramids there and walk up the most striking feature for miles- a big sandstone bluff overlooking the Nile. What a view, it really gave us such a stark picture of the importance of the river – there would be no Sudan without it. Brown brown brown for as far as you can see with a strip of green along with house cutting through it. Although you are in the middle of the desert, you can buy bananas, mangos, eggplant, dates and other yummies because of the river, it’s the heart of Sudan. From the top of the hill we could also see the ruins of Jebel Barkel, old Egyptian style temples. We decided to go and have a look from the ground and had a brief walk around in the hot hot sun when we met a couple from Zimbabwe who work at the embassy in Khartoum. Lucky for us they were there as a worker had the door open to an area of a temple that is carved into the side of the hill- it was incredible. We walked in and found an amazingly well preserved 2,700 year old temple. Hieroglyphs all over the walls and some of the carvings still had paint on them. Being indoors it is protected from the destroying effects of sun and sand being blasted at them. The guy there showed us around and told us about some of them, we thought it was impressive he knew what the hyroglifics said but while chatting to him on the walk back to the office found out he is an archeologist excavating the area with a Canadian archaeologist, they only excavate during the winter due to the heat.
Sudan is the only country we have been stopped at more road blocks than the locals. We occasionally get waved through but most often stopped. The people manning them are often security services who are plain clothed so its weird handing your passport to them. They often record the details of our passports and vehicle but are always friendly and wish us well.
We have just had a few days in Dongola. After leaving Karima we cut through the desert again, on almost perfect roads, in a largely featureless flat hot desert. As with all towns it is based on the Nile. We stayed in the car park of a nice little guest house that had been suggested to us by some overlanders. An oasis of clean (squat) toilets and a shower that sometimes has water. There was an upstairs terrace with plenty of shade and a rope bed typical of the area to lie still for the hottest part of the day, which is HOT! These simple rope beds are all over, outside of homes and shops for people to lie around during the heat of the day. I was caught out last night in the shower, for the first time on the trip the water stopped when I had soap all over me. The place is run by a very friendly Korean family who have lived in Sudan for 8 years and Africa far longer. Isa and his fun and boisterous sons welcomed us so warmly and we had such fun swimming with them in the Nile, playing football on the beach as well as going on a great old wooden boat yesterday and finding a perfect bit to swim- a spot with a sand island and a strong enough current so the water wasn’t too mucky (after our first swim in more stagnant water we both had a sore throat the next day) the current was strong enough for us to run up the bank, jump into the deep water and get swept down to get out and do it all over again- it was great fun, and ended up doing it over and over and over. To the shrieks and antics of the boys (about 9, 13 and 15 in age). We sailed back right as the sun was setting, gorgeous!
One afternoon we were on our way to the River Nile, all in Isa’s car when ahead of us on the road we could see some sort of convoy, as the cars in front of us pulled over and Isa did the same my first thought was a politician? Then about 20 army vehicles came through town and the scene made us feel uneasy, Isa very quickly and firmly told me not to take any photos (I had the camera on my lap but as soon as I saw it put it under my legs- I no intention of photographing these guys, photographing anything like this anywhere in Africa would be a recipe for trouble). We could tell Isa was uneasy, which made us even more uncomfortable. The convoy was a collection of open backed land cruisers and landys with large rear mounted machine guns. As they passed people on the side of road waved and shouted. To us they looked like a group of surprisingly young revved up men. They were posing, revving engines and waving like royalty. Isa said he had never seen that in Dongola before and was most curious what was going on. The day we left we asked him if there was anything we needed to know about the road ahead or if he had heard why the army were in town, he told us people were saying they had come because there was talk of rebels in the area. He said the rebels come from the west and would never go on the east side of Nile which was the side we were travelling north on.
We enjoyed Dongola, just walking around town and having lots of cups of tea (served piping hot and very very sweet, not what I want when its 45 in the shade but it’s everywhere and when in Rome…). Our first day out we intended to just have a cuppa but saw some yummy food at one of the tiny street cafes and ordered some fuul (a national dish of sorts) which is cooked broad beans poured into a silver serving dish squeezed with the bottom of a glass coke bottle and served sprinkled with raw onion, tomato and oil as well as some green powered stuff and a separate dish of chilli sauce stuff (turns out it has crushed peanuts in it which Olly discovered very quickly!) Of course you eat with your hands, in this case using bread as the scoop. DELICIOUS! Within a minute or two we had people chatting to us (they are so so nice) and wondering how are travels are going and an English teacher wanting to practise his English and learn some new words to teach his students. We also had lunch one afternoon with the night watchman’s family at the guesthouse. They were so so lovely and served several dishes (we paid for the ingredients as to not be a burden, as suggested by Isa the owner of the guesthouse). Their simple home is home to the mum with her two adult sons, one is single and the other has a wife and five children. We squeezed around a few small tables and dug in tasting the dishes being intently watched by the elderly gran making sure we ate and ate and ate. She was very concerned when I stopped eating thinking I needed more and more. Both of our favourites was a smoky eggplant dish. Two of the others were a weird slimy texture which I found hard to get over but of course ate it anyway.
Today we are driving north again, we will go most of the way to Wadi Halfa as we need to be there in the morning by 10am to meet the fixer to sort the barge (for landy) and the ferry (for us). The fixer is a local guy who organises things for us, to get us on the ferry and landy on the barge. Apparently it’s virtually impossible to do it yourself if you are not Sudanese or Egyptian and don’t understand the finer details of the ‘timetable’ as well as speak fluent Arabic, and besides he has to drive landy onto the barge after we have left on the ferry. We have been in touch with him all along, while in Sudan, making sure things are ticking away. He rang yesterday saying he can get landy onto a different barge the day before our ferry leaves (in theory anyway). So off we left mid morning this morning. If all goes well we will put landy on the barge Monday and we will get on the ferry Tuesday. It’s a 18 hour sailing time for us but much more than that with immigration etc and we are assuming there will be a hiccup or two along the way.
27 April 2013- southeast Sudan
Haven’t had good enough internet to post blogs, so catching up on ones we have been writing offline….
This morning we woke up groggy as we had loads of mozzies in landy last night so we spent half the night hiding from them and the other half trying to hit them with a map! We got an email at breakfast from the fixer that we are indeed booked on the 7th May ferry from Wadi Halfa in Sudan to Aswan in Egypt – despite sharing a massive border, the ferry is the only way to go between the two countries. That’s good news, we are keen to get a Sudanese sim card and ring him to start sorting details and see how early we need to arrive in Wadi Halfa to get landy on the barge that carries the freight as well. One of the staff we have had some good chats with over the last few days at Lake Tana had the day off and was off into town to do a shop for the upcoming Easter feast which will break the fast that most people have been on for over a month. We offered him a lift and chatted as we bumped our way back to the main road to Gondar. On the way we passed heaps of animals in the road as usual and he told us an Ethiopian tale. Once there was a donkey, a goat, and a dog travelling in a mini bus taxi. When they got to their destination the donkey jumped out and paid the driver, the goat then jumped out behind him and sprinted away without paying. The dog was the last to get out and gave the driver some money and was expecting change, the driver was so annoyed that the goat didn’t pay that he sped away without giving the dog his change. From then on whenever cars pass, donkeys stand where they are proud they have paid, goats run away at the sight of a car, making sure they don’t get caught and dogs chase every car that comes past hoping to get their change. It explained a lot to us as its spot on! As it was Saturday there was a stream of people heading into town for the markets, to buy and sell. He told us there were even more than usual because of Easter, people are stocking up. People carrying chickens, massive clay pots, big baskets, and of course herding sheep, cows, goats etc. We dropped him near Gondar and he came with me while I did some shopping at a market to get some veg and helped me buy some spices we have been enjoying to take with us, it made it so much quicker than it would have been! He insisted on buying us bananas as a gift and would not take no for an answer, I could tell he was uncomfortable so just said thank you and let him.
We drove a few hours, most of the time loosing elevation, it got hotter and hotter as we knew it would. We were sad to say goodbye to Ethiopia today, what a beautiful country and one we have enjoyed immensely, we would love to return one day. We were thinking about Ethiopia and what Sudan would hold, but that was all swept away by the border crossing.
Geeeezzzzz….. it is hot here, so dry my nose feels like its going to crust off my face, it took five hours of sitting around in the searing heat watching people pray, blow their nose in their hands, chat and generally scratch their balls to cross the border. We arrived at Ethiopian side just after 1, immigration was open but customs was closed, it was to open at 7:30 (Ethiopian time which is 1:30 our time, so only half hour away) or 9 (Ethiopian time which is 3 our time, almost two hours) depending on who we asked. So we got our stamp from immigration and sat outside the customs office for a few hours, fortunately in the shade. We changed some money to Sudanese pounds, it is a rare country when changing money with black market money changers you get a better rate than the official rate! It was a hot afternoon and we drank our very warm water, chatted with a few guys sitting around outside the office and just waited until just before 3. Hot but no worries. One of the guys who had been sitting around with us for ages then opened the office and said “Ok you can come in now” He stamped the carnet in no time then got our document stating what electronic equipment we had brought into the country and went to have a look at landy. He checked her more than anyone else has anywhere, he checked the VIN and looked inside, asked what a few things were (including our video camera which we forgot to declare on entry, Olly was quick thinking and said we had told them but they didn’t write it down, which he accepted). He had us open different areas and asked what was where etc. When satisfied he wished us well and off we went…. to Sudan.
Well… that was where the fun began- the fun of sitting in the stinking hot, waiting and being told 5 more minutes about 100 times. We first went to immigration where they asked us for copies of our passport and Sudanese visa (which we had) along with originals of course. They had us fill out several forms (all of which ask the same thing). In Sudan you are required by law to register within 3 days of entering the country. We had heard sometimes you are able to do it at the border (rather than Khartoum) so we thought we might as well get it out of the way if we could so we asked if we could register there. After determining we had Sudanese pounds to pay the fee and a passport photo each we were able to register which involved filling in another form (again same questions) and then being told to sit down, ok no worries. The minutes ticked past…. and past and other people started coming in also sitting and waiting but who knows what for- we had our passports and paperwork so they couldn’t have been doing anything with them. There seemed to be dozens of people working there, walking in and out but no one who was waiting was being served. At one point we could see them all in the other room eating. So we waited and waited getting hotter and hotter. Soon the power came on and someone turned the telly on. So we were treated to the loud Arabic TV program which kept flashing on and off. Finally a man came and went into a little glass office and called us up, asked for our paperwork and after we paid the fee to register (around $50 each) he fiddled with some more papers, passed our documents to someone else and gestured for us to sit down again. After waiting awhile we decided we would go and wait near the counter as a gentle reminder and finally they came out with our passports, stamped into Sudan and with the additional sticker indicating we have registered as required.
Right…. now on to customs. We were directed to a large warehouse that was partitioned into a few offices, all empty. In the front waiting area the two staff were laying down watching telly (really!) One grunted at us to wait so we did. After awhile we gathered nothing whatsoever appeared to be happening so I asked Olly to ask him what we were waiting for. Someone was praying and would be back shortly. Ok, more waiting. Then he gestured for us to go to a large shed with the ceiling falling in, stinking hot with about 10-15 men walking in and out but always at least 10 at any given time. They seemed to ‘work’ there but weren’t doing anything (to us anyway). They asked us to sit down and wait, so we did. We sat for ages while they just all walked in and out, having a coffee, some chatting, a few praying, one guy sleeping. We asked again what we were waiting for and to speed things up a bit and told them we had to drive to Khartoum tonight so need to go (its a long way). We were told “The General is eating” When the bloke said wait 5 minutes please I thought we need to step it up a bit or we will be sleeping here. I haven’t sussed out how they will respond to an assertive women yet up here so I was trying to keep my mouth mostly shut, but I had to speak up then we went back and forth insisting all we need is a stamp in the carnet and we can’t wait any longer, someone else must be able to do it. We stayed there and insisted over and over. So one of the guys who had been lazing in the shed the whole time said he would take the carnet and be back- no way. We said we would go with him, we figured he could disappear and we could be told to wait for who knows how long. So we followed him into the first building and he proceeded to do it all! Very very slowly and tediously but he did it. He copied the carnet details and Olly’s passport details into about 5 or 6 different places. Just as it looked like it was going to happen he produced a stamp which was broken and couldn’t find any staples to put all of his paperwork together. By this time we were silently grinding our teeth. Olly insisted he keep going. He fixed the stamp and finally 3 hours later we made our way to security the final hurdle which strangely involved a few smiling blokes asking us where we come from? Australia? Oh kangaroos! And said Ok bye and we drove past them. At 5 hours for both sides that is by far and away our longest border crossing yet! We have since read that Sudan has the largest bureaucracy in Africa, we don’t know what they base that on but it rings true to us! By the time we left it was almost dusk so we only drive 50 or km up the road before stopping and after drinking lots of water and rinsing the dust and sweat off our faces we felt heaps better. The stars are amazing tonight and we hope to get some sleep in the heat.
26 April 2013- Lake Tana, Ethiopia
We have just spent a couple of nights in Gondar in the west of Sudan, Gondar is a big town that was the third major capital of the Ethiopian region in the 16-1700′s. The centre of town sits just outside the walls and watchtowers of a royal enclosure. Each emperor added a new castle to the complex of buildings inside, that include the remains of 6 castles and numerous other buildings including churches, two lion cages, a library, wash houses and stables. It was great to be guided around and hear the history of the palace and how it was successively built up, after the guide had showed us around we went back to wait out the heat of the day in one of the balconied castle rooms and chatted away for ages. The town itself is a busy place, bajaj (tuk tuks) whizzing everywhere, cafes in squares offering juices and snacks, lots of donkey and carts hauling stuff around the place. We walked down from our car park campsite for breakfast on our way to the castles on our first morning and Lisa found a spot in a cafe out of the sun while I posted some fantastic postcards of Ethiopia from the 1970′s, of what seemed to be the first concrete tower block built in Addis, quite an attraction! When I got back Lisa was chatting to a guy who was having a breakfast of avocado juice and a cake, he was having a few days away from the Addis and seeing some of his country. We ended up having a great chat, and after discovering there were no eggs (every breakfast item on the menu was egg based) we ended up having juice and cake for breckie too. Modestly but very generously he paid for our breakfast as he left, I can’t imagine that happening in Sydney or London. On our wanderings around Gondar, we found Dashen House, an open court-yard with plastic tables and chairs, a popular place serving local beer and simple food. After a few hand gestures and pointing at someone else’s food nearby we ended up with a couple of great draught beers and a plate of food all for a couple of dollars. We have found Ethiopians so friendly, kind and quick with a smile and joke. The security guard at the hotel we are camping at nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard we were from Australia. He was an older gentleman and didn’t speak a word of English but with a massive grin and immense pride showed me his mobile phone that had an Australian number saved in it. It turns out that his daughter lives in Oz and the next day he brought in some treasured photos of her and his grand kids, carefully unwrapping them and showing them to us, he then phoned his daughter and thrust the phone out to us so we could speak to her. Well, his daughter lives in Perth and has a very proud Dad back in Gondar, happy to have shared his family with us!
Yesterday after breakfast we walked to a nearby church, one of the most beautiful we have seen. We removed our shoes and entered in separate doors as is necessary and we met with almost every surface covered with fresco paintings depicting scenes from the bible. The priest who minds the place had a few words of english to point and show us a couple of things but mostly we just sat in silence and took it all in. Although the hotel had a very friendly security guard, it is often difficult to sleep in car parks, so we were very glad to be on our way and heading to a campsite for the first time in Ethiopia.
We arrived yesterday afternoon to the edge of Lake Tana to a lovely place run by a friendly Dutch couple, Tim and Kim. It has been so relaxing! We are camped under a massive fig tree (not a car park in sight!) which provides needed shade and when we get up to go to the loo in the morning nobody is standing right outside the door looking at us. We have had all of our laundry done (never do it ourselves anymore, no washing machines anywhere and we are not hand washing our sheets, it would be a mess. So we hand it over to the professional who hand wash them). We have clean sheets, so nice! We joined Tim and Kim last night for a communal meal with the other two guests staying in one of their little rooms they have. It was a nice evening with a few beers and Lisa and I had a game of scrabble and finished the grog we had in landy before going to Sudan, where it is illegal.
We have decided to head for the border tomorrow. We don’t know yet when we need to arrive in Wadi Halfa, in the north of Sudan, to get our ferry to Egypt so we decided to carry on.
O and L
22 April 2013- Lalibela, Ethiopia
We had the day in Addis walking around, stopped for a pastry and hot drink (as half of Addis seems to be doing at any given time) and even tried a coffee, yuck. Ethiopia is the home of coffee and everyone says its great. We are not coffee drinkers but thought we would give it a go. We both found it very bitter and had to eat our pastry to get rid of the taste. We went to visit the excellent cultural museum and then went to the National Museum to see Lucy and her mates. After studying anthropology I felt I should have known more about it all but hardly remembered a thing. As expected Addis is a busy crazy city- cars, bikes, animals and people all over streets and footpaths. Of course the traffic is impossible. There were a lot of people begging, far more than we have seen anywhere- its difficult to see. We are so fortunate and its hard to reconcile that.
We left Addis a few days ago and drove half way to Lalibela, stopping in a town and once again camping in the car park of a hotel. Not for the first time I found myself standing under the shower head all ready for a shower, with the ever-present smell of sewage and turned the tap… no water. Got dressed and went to get the bucket and cup, I really don’t mind that option, in fact I am fond of it. At least it’s water and enough to get wet with. Sleeping in car parks is, perhaps not surprisingly, not peaceful so we ache for our peaceful camps of Australia and early in Africa. Oh well, no doubt its car parks for a while yet for us. We spent the night trying to sleep and listening to the night watchmen, just as we started to doze the call to prayer started and we were awake again.
The last 100 or so km of the drive to Lalibela was on a dirt road, most of the roads in Ethiopia so far seem good, paved and the best overall we have seen for a while. This little road was a beautiful stretch winding through the mountains and a few small villages with literally every person waving at us. Although it was slower and bumpier it was nice to turn onto a small road- you always see so much more from a small bumpy road than you do from a paved road, travelling at speed and having to be so vigilant of other vehicles in your lane and all the people and animals.
Many of the children here work themselves into an absolute frenzy when we drive past, their shrieking gets higher and higher pitched until we can no longer hear them. They run along side landy shouting “pen, pen, exercise book”. We can’t believe there are (have been?) people silly enough to just drive around handing out pens to children. No doubt with good intentions but it seems to us it doesn’t take much thought to see that it’s not useful. The funny thing is when you stop and talk to them the are calm and just say hi and tell you their name. We have experienced the (in)famous ‘farangi frenzy” in Ethiopia where people (mostly children) just go mad- shouting and shrieking “You You You” whenever they see us. Although it is a bit full on we have not found it too bothersome and mostly just laugh or wave and occasionally shout “You You” back, that bemuses them. We’ve not had the problems some people have mentioned of children throwing rocks at us, only a few times, nothing too worrisome. One thing we have had to get used to in Africa but even more here is we ALWAYS have people watching us- from first thing in the morning to last thing at night and it’s not at all unusual to have someone leaning on landy at some point during the night. We have found generally people in Africa have a very different sense of personal space and its common to have someone right next to you or for example if we are sitting in the back of landy with the door open to have someone walk up and stand right in the door and lean in and touch things and look at us. it has taken some getting to. I still can’t imagine what is so interesting about us brushing our teeth!
Anyway we arrived in Lalibela in the afternoon and after sorting landy’s spot in the car park (yep car park again) we went for a walk around town to get our bearings and stretch our legs. At the moment its fasting time in Ethiopia, in their calendar it is lent, which means no meat for locals and yummy food for me. We had a feast our first night- ordering a fasting beyaynetu (platter of injera with about 6 or so small vegetarian dishes and sauces poured onto it) for me and beef tibs (bits of beef and peppers cooked in sauce in a clay pot) for Olly. My fasting dish was easily enough for both of us so we had a lot of food- too much really. We now know one fasting plate is always enough for us both.
We have heard from a few people the churches in Lalibela are a must see in Ethiopia. They are. The town sits high on a ridge overlooking a dry stark landscape and has eleven old churches. In the 12th century, after travelling to Jerusalem, King Lalibela decided he wanted to build a second Jerusalem in Ethiopia. Historians (or whoever looks into these things) think it would have taken many thousands of people (perhaps tens of thousands) twenty some years to construct these buildings but some locals, including our guide, believe it was King Lalibela who worked during the day and an angel that worked at night, explaining the seemingly miraculous buildings.
Yesterday was Sunday and as we walked down the hill towards the churches with our guide a flood of people in white shawls were heading up after the Sunday morning masses. We paid the entrance fees and headed towards the first church. It was hidden as we went down a ramp and some steps towards it, we were both looking down at our feet at the rough steps, when we got to the bottom, looked up, and stood with our mouths open, and gasped. We had walked down into a deep ‘trench’ surrounding a large building with pillars all around it, the roof was level with the surrounding rock on the outside of the ‘trench’. Olly knew the buildings were carved into rock and I thought they were built of stone, and hadn’t realised they were carved from the surrounding natural rock. We took our shoes off in the door way and stepped into the dimly lit interior. Going inside we were memorised and the enormity of their excavation hit home. We realised then that masons must have chiselled the outside of the building, then into the door way and from there removed all the rock from the inside as they went, chiseling the entire inside of the large pillar vaulted church! Inside was cool and dim, as though we had stepped into a cave, shafts of sunlight picked out the small cross-shaped windows. Thin carpets covered the uneven floors, where it didn’t quite reach the floors were polished by hundreds of years of bare feet. Looking up into the gloom we could make out crosses and carved patterns in the vaulted ceiling connecting the robust square pillars. We walked around slowly as our guide pointed out details and the symbolism of the church construction.
There are a number of ways the churches struck us, the immense task of actually constructing (excavating!) them is mind-boggling, they are also startlingly beautiful buildings with arches, fresco paintings and superb details carved into the ceilings and pillars. All the time we were looking around a trickle of locals came in crossing themselves and kissing the cold stone pillars or kneeling down, touching their forehead to the floor in prayer. Each church has its own unique features but all are beautiful and have the odd person in a quiet corner huddled over a prayer book mumbling melodically a prayer over and over. These 800 year old buildings are not museums or ruins but are alive in this deeply religious country and are used daily for services or rituals and especially pilgrimages. In the first church the priests were rubbing a gold cross onto someone who had ‘bad spirits’, we were told that church is often the first port of call for anyone who is ill, blessings and holy water are thought to cure most ills, only afterwards would someone go to a clinic. For us it was like watching something from another world and time, the woman with bad spirits was lying on the floor moaning, the priest rubbing and bumping her with the cross and moving her into different positions while pushing the cross into her body. This was a special cross, made of solid gold and is only brought out on Sundays (it is protected because it is pure gold and weighs 7 kilos, and was once stolen and sold to Europe, but thankfully was recovered and returned).
We are enjoying Lailbela, and will have another day or so here before heading west to Gondar area.
L and O
18 April 2013- Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
It’s a rainy morning in Addis and cold (well relatively)! Addis sits at 2000m, so much chillier than we normally wake to. We arrived yesterday afternoon and took hours to drive from the southern part of the city to the northern part (where we are staying) through traffic that doesn’t move a great deal and if your side of the road is backed up just drive over the median and go up the other side, which then of course gets backed up quickly with cars going two ways.
We went on a food tour last night- mmmmm. The food here is brilliant. Not everywhere has a national cuisine and the staple in many African countries we have been to is pap (called all different things) but is essentially a maize meal based plain starch. Other things often include greasy chicken and chips (which are soggy) etc and we cook very similar things over and over (beans and rice with cabbage is a staple) so we are delighted to have so many new and interesting things to try! We had enquired about the food tour earlier in the day and said we didn’t know what time we were going to arrive in Addis. We arrived at 3:30 and had to meet at a church in the south of the city at 4:30 which we didn’t think there was any chance of doing because it had just taken us hours to do almost the same thing. Staff where we are staying (camping in the car park of a guest house in central Addis) said it should only take 30 ish minutes in a taxi so off we went. We jumped in and arrived 15 minutes later after beeping and zooming our way through the chaos that is Addis. We feasted- we went to four different little local places and tried heaps of different things. My favourites were a sour goat cheese and a lentil dish. Olly’s favourites were a very rare beef (a dish called gored gored, which is basically lightly cooked chunks of raw meat) and chicken wat (which is a bit like a curry or stew with minced chicken and a boiled egg) everything was served with injera, a thin, large, spongy sour pancake type thing that is served under and with most (for locals, all) food here. Its one of the staples and would certainly be the equivalent of bread elsewhere but is more than that, as it’s what you eat everything with, tear a bit off and fold it around whatever you are eating, including very saucy or juicy dishes. Delicious!!! Usually the food is served on a large silver platter covered in a large injera and different dishes are dumped around the platter on the injera and you dig in communal style. Yummmmmoooo! It was interesting to hear a bit about the different foods as well, something you don’t know when you try things on your own, gave us a bit of info on what we were eating and have been eating.
Ethiopia is a feast for the senses! It’s so different and there are interesting people, sights, sounds and smells everywhere you turn. What a place- Ethiopia has a different way of expressing time (what we would say is 7 am is 1 o’clock to Ethiopians) they also follow a different calendar with 13 months in a year and are 7 1/2 years ‘behind’ our calendar. There are many many different tribes (all with fascinating and different cultural, dress and practices), and an incredibly interesting history. We have noticed it is very simple in many ways, especially in the rural areas – there is much cultivated land but no mechanical equipment being used- wooden plows pulled by bull and most of the people use sharp sticks for their work in the field. We have really noticed we are no longer seeing people carrying things on their heads as we have for months but in pouches on their back made of animal skin or cloth. There are few private cars, plenty of trucks and buses and UN vehicles but most people and their goods get around on donkey drawn carts- piled high with people and produce, often driven by a child. Women here carry the load of the country on their back, literally. The other day we approached what we thought was three donkeys carrying massive loads of grass, one had a much larger load than the other two- we said wow poor donkeys and as we got closer noticed the one carrying the larger load was an elderly women. We have seen this a lot everywhere we have been in the last few days.
We spent a few days at Konso cleaning Landy and resting up from our northern Kenya experience as well as checking our the local market and a local village (with a guide, well done and low key). We then headed north to Arba Minch and checked out a lodge (that has camping) that had been suggested to us, amazing view over two lakes and the Rift Valley but a bit pricy for us (to camp in the car park outside the lodge!) we decided to have lunch and leave the noise and heat and go up the mountain. Lunch was delicious and we were a little awkward as we tried eating with one hand only (the left hand should not be used) and then made our way up to a simple perfect place with a few small huts and a patch of flat for us to camp on. What a view! We set up the chairs and enjoyed just looking out over the Rift Valley and talking about all we have been seeing and our impressions of this fascinating and different country. A bit later a friendly German guy came up and said he had bought a goat and had it butchered as he is sick of fasting food- it is the time of year here when Ethiopian Orthodox Christians (which make up at least half the countries populations) do not eat animal products and do not eat until 3pm each day (3pm Western time which is actually 9am Ethiopian time). He invited Olly to join him for some goat soup which was delicious but made Olly cry real tears from its spice! We left the next day after sharing some fresh ginger tea with the German guy, a French girl and some staff and headed north again to a nice camp on a lake in the town of Awasa. On the drive down children popped out onto the road dancing all sorts of crazy dances as we drove past!
In Awasa we camped on the grounds of a very basic hotel right next to the lake, they let us use a room for the toilet and shower (we didn’t bother with the toilet but the dribble of cold water in the morning was nice). We made dinner and sat next to the lake until the mozzies chased us inside. Yesterday morning when we got up and got breakfast ready it was the first time in ages nobody was starting at us, it was amazing. Just us, no one watching. We were not sure where we were headed so after breakfast we had a look at the map and calendar (our visas expire at the end of the month) and decided to head north. We had wanted to go to the mountains near where we were (Bale Mountains) but decided to go north to where we want to spend most of our time and to make sure we have plenty of time there and if we have some days after that go to the mountains up there (Simien Mountains). So off to Addis yesterday. The roads here are rather good. A LOT of people (including so many children!) on the road and of course heaps and heaps of cows, donkeys, goats etc but otherwise driving is ok. The main thing is the kids, keeping an eye on them, although they look after herds of animals and are obviously used to the road, there are not actually many vehicles on the road in some areas so they get startled when you drive past. Goat herders or not they are still children, a make shift toy (plastic lid that they roll on end- very common) rolled in front of us the other day and sure enough a child nearly darted out in front of us to get it.
Today we are going to get a few bits done and then go to some museums- Lucy lives here (Lucy the v v old ancestor of humans)! We will likely leave Addis tomorrow and start north again.
12 April 2013- Moyale, Ethiopia
We are here, we are in Ethiopia. I’m sitting in the back of landy and I can hear the sound of the call to prayer from the mosque nearby. Olly has gone for a shower, it’s a smelly shower/squat toilet with just enough (cold) water pressure to splash the dirt from the floor onto your legs, but to us its great!
The last few days have been hands down the most tense of our travels. We arrived in Ethiopia an hour ago and have not been stamped in by immigration. The guy wanted to go home early so he told us to come back tomorrow! So we have crossed the border driven into town to find this hotel and parked up in the car park- so happy to see it! We had a ten hour drive today from Marsabit in north Kenya through an area prone to bandits on v v bad roads. Travelling in a remote area is sometimes a little tense at first, then we settle in and love it, with the added security concerns it was nerve racking. There is no reason to believe they target westerners but we could get caught up in it same as everyone else. Anyway we are here safe and sound, although exhausted. Arriving here was manic, after days with nothing but scrub, lots of mud, a few other vehicles and camels suddenly there were people everywhere, coming up to landy, motorbikes, donkeys- busy busy and they drive on the other side here, which we only just found out about! Friday is fasting day here so they only eat vegetarian food- we are wasting that eating in landy and going to bed early but too tired to face everyone staring at us.
We had planned to drive into Ethiopia via Lake Turkana and had been given various suggestions of which route to take. Some said go one way- better roads, others said more bandits on the way with the better roads. We opted for less bandits and the most recent suggestion and headed off. We made it several hours down a perfect paved road and then suddenly it stopped and we bumped onto the dirt. The next roadblock we were stopped at the guy said the road we were going down might not be very good but give it a go, we could always turn around. We asked about the security situation and he said should be fine. So we headed off. This area of Kenya is very exotic and feels far far away from everything. We stopped to let some air out of the tyres and were approached by three tall men, carrying spears and interesting looking, very intriguing for us. They were wearing a colourful piece of material on the bottom, nothing on the top and rubber shoes. They had some ritual scaring on their bare chests that were criss crossed with thin beaded necklaces. Their hair was plastered to their head with something and covered in a hair net looking thing. Each had numerous thick beaded bracelets as well as chains down their faces that tucked under their chins. They must have thought we were interesting looking as well, they watched us curiously for a while, laughed at us and pointed, talking amongst themselves and waved at us as they walked on.
The area started to look more and more arid and we started to see people herding camels, a first for us. The women we went past were a flash of colour, bare chested with massive thick beaded neck pieces that went half way down their chest. It took a little while to get used to seeing herders with machine guns over their shoulders but they all just waved and smiled. Some had a spear and a machine gun (often with an umbrella as well!). Fascinating. The road was ok, although difficult to follow at times and large sections were washed out. We got briefly stuck once and then came upon a very muddy wet spot. Olly got out and had a look ahead, it only got worse. He also met a herder who remarkably spoke English (not many people up there do) who said the road was impassable ahead, no one had been through recently. Being on our own and given if it rained heavily (which is has been most afternoons) it would just get worse, we felt uncomfortable enough to turn around. There was one other road that headed the way we wanted to, near Marsabit so we headed there for the night- thinking the next day we could either go up the dreaded Marsabit to Moyale road (which we have heard much about it being awful and not very safe) or try this other way to Lake Turkana. That evening in Marsabit (the day before yesterday, feels like ages ago though!) we decided to do the first because we could get no other info from anyone about the other route to Lake Tukana and were concerned about spending hours driving and having to turn around again. We decided to push on to Ethiopia and go for it in a long day. We set off right after first light yesterday and off we went on the infamous Marsabit to Moyale road.
Without a doubt this is the worst road we have been on since we left Sydney. The rains had come to northern Kenya and the road soon became a sloppy mess, we were splashing and slithering along, Olly working hard to keep us pointed down the road. We felt good that we were making our way and although the road was wet the mud wasn’t deep and we thought to ourselves that this wasn’t going to be too bad, just a long day. That was until we came upon patches of thick, deeply rutted wet mud, with trucks littering the road and poking out of the mud at different jaunty angles, all stuck fast. We stopped and thought the worst, we may be stuck here for a while, Olly got out and walked up to the trucks and chatted to the drivers and discovered that many of them had been there for days, including a bus full of passengers (including children) that had been stuck for a week! Glad we’re not taking the bus, we left the passengers with our fresh food (they had nothing to cook with) and headed on, can’t help a stuck bus, they have to wait for it to dry out. Another 4wd had been through that day so we decided to give it a go, and with the engine revving and Olly trying to guide Landy around the trucks without sliding too close to the edge of the track and into the surrounding mire, we made it past. After a few hundred metres of thick mud and hearts pounding we were glad to make it to dry land on the other side. We came across similar sections three or four more times, most with stranded trucks littering the way, it was a battle to keep up enough momentum to carry on, but not going too quick when crunching over rocks or through dips and bumps. At one bad point we skirted around the righthand side of a truck only to miss a better track bypassing this bad section off on the left, by the time we realised it we couldn’t turn around or stop as we would be bogged, we carried on another 100 metres past another truck, just managing to plough ourselves through the thick mud. A section of the mud with big rocks came up and Olly momentarily slowed down as we grimaced and ground over them, that was it, with our momentum lost we struggled on a few more metres and came to an agonising halt. Jumping out it didn’t look that bad, the wheels weren’t bogged in that much, then we looked underneath and realised we were sitting on the chassis and pushing a mound of mud in-front of us. Out came the spade, but the mud was sticky and solid like potters clay. This didn’t look good, we had at least 100 metres of thick deep mud behind us and 100′s of metres in front and no way to get our momentum going again. We were no longer concerned in this section about bandits as there were enough people around with the stuck trucks but we didn’t want to spend a night or two out here, at least there was a couple of trucks nearby for company. Just as all this was sinking in a Red Cross vehicle came up in the other direction along the side road and slowed as they past. I could tell they wanted to keep going but their goodness got the better of them. They stopped and Olly ran up to them and asked if they could pull us out, to our great relief they said yes. After hooking up three tow ropes the marsh between the two roads was bridged. They pulled but Landy stayed still, after what seemed like an age, the mud let go and Landy crept forward, then lurched through the ditch and onto the good road. Olly had asked me to stand some way away in case the rope broke so I was standing in deep mud, Olly jumped out and said, “Thank you, can I hug you?” and without waiting for an answer gave the big Kenyan bloke a crunching hug! Another vehicle a way behind us who were also stuck were helped out by an army 4×4. We were happy to see the army and stuck to their vehicle like glue the rest of the way to Moyale, felt much more secure with it in sight! There are few vehicles on the road and seemingly no other private ones. We saw buses, trucks and land cruises, which are public transport of sorts and packed to the brim with people as well as a few aid agencies vehicles and one UN with an army escort. By the time we hit the bad mud we were no longer concerned about bandits there were plenty of people around, all stuck, by then the road became the main concern.
We pulled one vehicle out, bursting at the seams with people, limbs hanging out here and there. And finally bumped our way into Moyale and were met with lots of waves and smiles and people asking us how the road was. We were told a few days ago no one got through for four days. So happy to be there, landy unbelievably caked in mud, plenty on the inside as well, both of us filthy and tired. We decided to go ahead and cross the border. We arrived at (Kenyan) immigration and the guy asked where we were going (I’m amazed how common of a question that is- where else would we be going, we are at the Kenyan/Ethiopian border!) He said we close at 6 (it was 5) and we asked what time do they close the other border ( we have learned to ask this), his response was “Oh its closed already”. Ok then, we wont go (DUH!) then he rang them and said “No they stay open until 6 as well”. Ok then, we will go. No worries getting through, although we had to explain why our passport and carnet was already stamped in Nairobi (because we expected to cross where there was no border). No troubles, they laughed at our muddy clothes and said see you next time in the dry! Off we went, crossed over and met with someone telling us immigration was closed, its Friday and he wants to go home early. He made sure we had visas (they are not issued at the borer) and said come back tomorrow, we open at 8. Shit…. we thought we were in no mans land- the space between borders but nope all was fine. This border has no no mans land, you leave Kenya and are in Ethiopian. So off we went- in Ethiopian for a night without officially being there. We are stamped out of Kenya on the 12th and into Ethiopian on the 13th, never had that happen before.
13 April 2013- Konso, Ethiopia
The showers and toilets were less great/exciting today. I gagged a little this morning. Today was another long drive, or it felt it anyway. We need to stop for a few days and recoup a bit- clean landy up. Our tolerance felt less today bouncing and bumping. But we are in Ethiopia! Exciting!
We went back to immigration and customs this morning and it was an easy with the staff friendly and professional. Customs asked us what electronics we have with us (we told them, nothing to hide after all) and noted it on a sheet we have already been asked for at road blocks. He also came out to landy with us and compared the VIN number to the one on the carnet, something that has not been done since landy was in the container in South Africa. We left the chaotic border town today after officially entering Ethiopia this morning.
Our impressions of Ethiopia so far- with all the people and animals on the road and the concentration it takes its much harder to drive on the other side of the road, the only other place we have met this was Rwanda where the roads are must less chaotic. We have heard Ethiopia is full on, with somewhat aggressive begging and people in your face. We have had lots of stares and waves but nothing out of the ordinary. The road has been ok, some bits paved and ok and other bits bumpy and rough. The landscape has gone from pretty flat and green to rolling hills and green and finally to a cultivated patchwork. We have seen plenty of people on the road, lots of donkeys, goats, chickens, the usual and also camels which is not something we normally see padding down the road with their gangly legs and massive feet. The houses have all been sticks and mud so far except a few bits of tin in the two small towns we went through. Lots of children, the population here is very young, tIny little half-dressed kids herding animals so much bigger than they are.
We are now in Konso near the Omo Valley. Just as we arrived it started pouring rain so we are tucked away in landy. We are high up on a ridge and view of hills into the distance is nice, we think, we only saw it for a minute before the weather closed in. Assuming its dry tomorrow we will stay a few days to tidy landy and Olly will have a look under and make sure all is well after our rough treatment of her! Today we met Tom, a South African/English guy who is cycling from Cape Town to the UK. I actually wanted to cry for him when he told us about his last few weeks. We pulled up next to him on the road and said G’day and offered to fill his water bottles and have a chat. He had cycled up the v difficult road we just drove up, it was not too muddy but of course a challenging time, only to be told he could not get a visa at the border (he had thought you could) and no amount of pleading worked so he cycled 8 (!!) days back to Nairobi to get a visa, caught a truck back up and took the road again in a land cruiser with 19 other people in it, which got stuck numerous times, “The worst experience of my life.” He admitted he is feeling very worn and defeated at the moment. He needs to stop somewhere for a few days and take a break but has used half of his 30 day visa for Ethiopia to get about 50 km in (the visa started ticking in Nairobi). So he feels he has to keep going. We didn’t keep him long as he had a further 70 km to ride for the day. Wow. We were both sort of silent in thought after that! Cant imagine! We will think of Tom anytime we hit rough roads the rest of the trip!
A back track and small catch up- The day we left Nairobi we didn’t get on the road until afternoon but we were determined to get out of the city, even if not far. We ended up getting a little lost trying to find our intended camp for the night, a guesthouse near Nyeri, in central Kenya. We finally found the place and it was so worth it! It’s a beautiful guesthouse that has a very basic area to camp, a bucket shower and pit toilet but beautiful- we woke each morning to clear views of Mt Kenya and it was so peaceful. We could only hear the odd buffalo in the bush. The guesthouse feels very much like you are in someones house, but not in a weird way so we really enjoyed a few days there. We stayed longer than we would have except we arrived on Saturday and needed to do a few things before heading to the remote areas of northern Kenya. The next day being Sunday and Tuesday being a public holiday (the swearing in of the new president- happy to not be in Nairobi for that) things took a bit longer to get done, everything closed. So we stayed four nights and really enjoyed the company of the owner, Petra and the other guests. One night we had dinner in the house, a communal family style meal and as we set off to walk the few hundred metres back to the camp area the night watchman insisted on accompanying us, which I though was overkill but figured we should just let him do his job. We were glad he did, as we approached landy we heard a noise in the bush which turned out to be a buffalo- buffalo are massive animals and running into one in the dark would not be wise. He said, “back up and don’t run”. We did as told as the watchman shined the torch on the animal, apparently they don’t like that, and we heard him run off. We spent our days pottering on landy, reading, chatting to the people there and also went to a local game reserve for a day and enjoyed the beautiful plains and forest of the area as well as saw animals- heaps of rhino!
In Nanukyi, only a few hours up the road we stopped for more landy parts and a women came up and offered us a place to stay in her garden, as it was afternoon we took her up on the offer. She texted us directions (she had to leave and go somewhere) and came home a few hours later. We ate our left overs with her in front of a roaring fire in her very colonial house- she is a white Kenyan born and raised. With a lion skin on the floor and incredible pictures on the walls from Kenya years ago. We had a nice shower and retired to landy for an early start. So kind of her! People with kids always seem to think of their kids when they meet us, she has children our age who have also travelled. And she herself drove through Afghanistan in the 70′s!
L and O
6 April 2013- Nairobi, Kenya
Our last morning in the big smoke. We have been busy so its taken us a few days to finish the blogs and get them posted. We had several reasons to come to Nairobi and most of them we have managed to do.
Working on landy has kept us busy, getting her a bit tidy after the recent dusty and then muddy days, it was time for a service and a full check up and we’ve been told she is in great condition, music to our ears and a testament to Olly for looking after her so well. We also spent two days sorting our Sudanese visas. It involved a lot of running around (well, mostly sitting in traffic which is awful, it takes about an hour to go a km or two!). Using the most recent info we could find (there is no website for Sudanese embassy) we knew we needed a letter of introduction from our respective embassies, some passport photos, and copies of other bits and pieces. We obviously have to go to two embassies so it took a while. On Tuesday after speaking to the mechanic and putting our washing in to be done (clean sheets!!!!) we set off for the Aussie embassy. After much sitting in traffic and getting through security at the Aussie and British embassies (both heavy, esp the British) we finally had the letters in our hands. After more traffic we got to the Sudanese embassy, the woman behind the counter gave us the application form that is in Arabic and English (a first for us, it included a question on your religion and blood type) and then stood up and without a word walked out and locked the door behind her, the security told us she went on lunch and would be back at two! We came back at two and were told “No this wont work, these letters will be rejected”. Although the content of both letters from our embassies was adequate the letters MUST say at the top- Sundanese Embassy, Nairobi or they would not be accepted. The consul himself came out and had a chat with asking us where we live, we answered Australia and he said “Oh, I love Australia I will be happy to give you a visa… when you fix the letter”. So off we went back to the British embassy first, which was closed for the day. So 7 hours from when we started we went back to camp no further ahead, expect knowing what to do the next day. Yesterday we set off in the morning and repeated it all again. Both the Aussie and UK High Commission staff laughed and shook their head when we said what the problem was. They changed the letters with no hassle and we dropped them off with no additional hiccups. She even said we could pick them up that afternoon, so we went back a few hour later and now have Sudanese visas!
One of the main reasons to come here was to hopefully meet up with some others going north to do the next leg of the trip with. All along we had hoped to share the next leg with others for security and safety (its rainy season, if we get stuck etc). We heard Jungle Junction is normally a busy place with people going north and south, with the elections there are just not many people here and none going north so not to be.
Olly has been changing the broken shock absorber and we even stopped by a shopping centre- a massive new modern place the likes of which we have not seen anything like since Cape Town. I even had a hot chocolate!
Yesterday we visited the elephant orphanage, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. For one hour a day visitors are allowed to watch as the little ones, who are orphaned due to human activity (poaching mostly) are fed. Gorgeous! This organisation does great work and all of the elephants are ultimately reintroduced into Kenyan national parks.
We had to venture into the city to get our passports stamped out of Kenya, where we are crossing into Ethiopia has no border post so we needed to do it here, after being literally being ignored by important people behind desks we managed to persuade them to stamp our passports, and we met the best security guard who let us double park right outside the building.
A few days ago we ran into Monique, the lady we met at the Maasai Mara and she kindly invited us for dinner last night. So our final evening in Nairobi was spent enjoying the company of Monique, Augustino and Yannick, their three-year old son. We feasted on a very nice meal and had a good night.
We are off today- we will start making our way north. The next leg of the trip will likely be in some ways the most challenging and ‘different’ as we start heading for vastly different cultures of Ethiopia and Sudan. We are excited!
L and O
1 April 2013- Nairobi, Kenya
We are at Jungle Junction, a well-known overlanders haunt in central Nairobi and strangely the main sound we can hear around us tonight is the deep, loud croaking of frogs! We arrived in Nairobi this afternoon after an amazing time in the Maasai Mara. As far as animal encounters go yesterday was just incredible and one of the best days of our trip.
At the lodge just outside of the Maasai Mara there was one other group camping- a small group from Nairobi. An expat and her teenage son as well as a couple (he is Kenyan and she is Dutch) and their little boy, all away from the city for the weekend. He has a small tour company (great guy if you are coming to Kenya let us know, we will give you their details) and goes to the Mara a lot with clients. When we arrived we all said hi to each other and I chatted with them a bit while Olly was in bed. We were talking about hiring a guide and asked his thoughts on it. He said they had a guide (or spotter really) already (a local Maasai guy) and we were welcome to tag along with them early the next morning (yesterday morning).
So yesterday we were up while it was still dark (safari days as we call them always involved getting up v early!) and off we went following their landy. We were out for only a few minutes when the Maasai guide managed to spot some lions that we would have never seen! Having two 4x4s meant we could go on tracks that you wouldn’t do alone, especially as we had heavy rain the night before so we slipped and bumped our way down lots of small tracks, the most 4x4ing we have done for a long time.
What an afternoon! Them in front of us with their roof popped up (they have their landy kited out with a roof that clients can stand and look out) so the Maasai guide was standing out the top looking across the endless plains. We came across our first cheetah not much later, sleek and elegant looking. Walking across the wide open savannah. Soon we came across a group of five lions lazing under a tree and further on four young cheetahs laying down with full looking bellies. We saw a serval cat (very rare to see we were told) and very beautiful, a little like a small cheetah with slightly different markings. It was turning out to be an amazing day, we saw our first black rhino in the distance as well as many buffalo, zebra, ellies and giraffe. As something new was spotted we received the beep beep of a text from in front saying cheetah… serval… eagle…!
The light was just starting to fade and we continued to follow the other landy down small tracks, slipping and sliding and through water crossings. We were wondering how we would get out of the park as it was passed the gate closing time, but they knew what they were doing. We came up over a hill and saw a pride of lions, as we approached we could see they were with a kill. This is something we have not seen yet in our travels although we have often hoped we would. There were seven cubs and six adults all tired and fat! Next to one of the big males was a large carcass, mostly a rib cage that he was still gnawing on occasionally but for the most part they looked finished with it for the time being. One of the cubs was chewing on a leg that was bigger than him and wrestling with it. We sat watching intently with the smell of fresh raw meat wafting in through the window, if you closed your eyes you could have been in a butchery. Light was really fading now and we reluctantly headed off, about 500 metres up the road, right next to the track we came across something that took both of our heads a minute to actually take in- two cheetahs who had just killed an impala. They were both crouched down, frantically eating, faces disappearing into the body, all we could hear was the ripping and tearing of flesh and the scrape of tooth against bone. Every now and then one of them would look up, face covered in blood and almost with panic look around nervously. It was getting dark and hyenas were probably not far away so right now they had to eat as much as possible as quickly as possible before they were driven away. It was such a mesmerising sight, raw nature laid out in front of us. The blood was luminous red, almost glowing in the twilight, still pumped full of oxygen from the impala’s last dash.
Once again we reluctantly had to get moving the light was almost gone and a black storm was rolling in. Soon we were splashing along, the rain lit up in our headlights, as we followed two red tail lights wobbling along in front of us. We had no idea where we were going or how to get out of the park so we couldn’t lose them. We followed them to camp through a back way out of the park, not really believing what we had just seen! We spent a few hours over a beer reliving all that we had seen, and were told this wasn’t an average day in the Mara.
This morning we made our way through the park in the rain (we had to stop so Olly could take off a broken shock absorber while I was on lion watch) and arrived in Nairobi around lunch time. Being a public holiday we couldn’t get many things done today but we are ready to do washing, landy stuff and head off first thing tomorrow to get our Sudanese visas.
L and O
30 March 2013 – Maasai Mara Camp, Kenya
A catch up – feels like ages ago since our last post from Kampala, this travelling thing is great fun.
After Kampala we headed east towards Kenya and stopped at a lodge (that also has camping) near the town of Jinja, what a spot! It was a place that very cut off from the local community (which we usually don’t like as much as being able to walk around villages etc) but the location was incredible- right on The Nile! Our first look at the mighty river we’re going to spend so much time close to as we head north.
The camping spots were perched on a manicured lawn looking down over the river as it met a set of rapids and (believe me this is worth a mention!) the cleanest nicest toilets and shower facilities we have seen in a long time! Lights, water pressure, hot water, western toilets that flush, spotless. We stayed there two nights so we could have a full day of just relaxing in the hammock, having a swim, and even a ‘game’ of badminton, I’m awful, and pretty sure the security guard had to walk away so he wouldn’t laugh at us. Anyway it was a lovely way to end our amazing time in Uganda. What a beautiful country, and as we have found the whole trip, such friendly people. Ugandans are quick with their broad genuine smiles. Our time there was made even more special by trekking through forests and seeing the gorillas and chimps- two days that were absolute highlights of more than a year of travel and something we will never forget.
Again a no worries border and amazingly needing a visa actually went in our favour this time. As the only Muzungus around we were the only ones who needed a visa in our passports so they just took us aside and we avoided the big crush outside the immigration window. After completing the forms and paying the fee the visas were issued straight away and off we went.
Straight away the roads were awful- narrow with big drop offs on either side and massive pot holes. Once in Kenya we headed for the town of Maseno and a night in a bed. While we were in northern Tanzania we met a very nice couple, who live in western Kenya, and invited us to stay at their place when we were passing by. We got in touch and they enthusiastically said “Come!” So after crossing the border we went to find there place in Maseno, a small university town where we asked around for the Muzungu who works at the uni, and everyone knew him and pointed us towards his house. When we arrived they were actually in the next city and expected to be back within a few hours and kindly arranged for someone to let us into their place for a hot shower while we waited, what hospitality! We had a really good evening of fab food and great conversation with David and Giovanna and fell into bed late after chatting for ages.
Olly woke the next morning with a very sore throat but we decided to go ahead and carry on as planned to the Massai Mara. Kenya held elections in early April and given the previous elections were sadly marred by widespread violence, times have been tense here and we kept a close eye on the process as we travelled through Tanzania and made sure we were not in Kenya during the election period. What we were not aware of (until we got a travel warning from Aus and UK govts) was the outcome of an appeal to the election results (launched by the loosing candidate) was due Saturday (30 March), right after we got to Kenya. We were told by a number of people to lay low until we knew the outcome and the response to it so heading away from big towns and the possibility of trouble and going to the Maasai Mara park seemed a good idea.
After saying goodbye to our hosts in Maseno we carried on down a highway that ranged from horrible to excellent and everything in between. A few hours later we came as close as we ever hope to having a head on collision at high speeds. Olly was driving and coming towards us was a string of large trucks and other vehicles and a car trying to overtake it all. It’s werid how time can slow down. It must have literally been a few seconds at most but we both had time to think a number of full complete thoughts about the fact we were about to hit someone head on (we talked about it later and had had very similar thoughts). There was nothing for us to do, we couldn’t go into the other lane as a truck was there and they didnt have time to get over either. We started braking and both of us thought at least we wouldn’t hit at full speed. They started braking and moving over to the side of the road and we both thought we might be lucky and just clip each other hard and hopefully not spin into the other traffic. Next thing I knew the other car swerved and was passing me in the deep ditch next to us, thankfully he had made the split second decision to go completely off the road and even more lucky there was no obstructions in the ditch, and they plopped into the bottom of it. We pulled over not yet shaken but more on adrenalin and rushed to see if they were ok. They were, the passenger couldnt open her door at first due to the debris and long thick grass but they were ok, got out and immediately started apologising to us. Within a few seconds we were surrounded by people who told Olly he saved the lives of the people in the other car and just generally fussing over us and making sure we were ok. Turns our they had a baby in the car with them, they were on the way to celebrate their sons first birthday the next day with his grandparents. They had no car seat and the woman had thrown him into the back seat when we nearly hit. Thank God no one was injured, so close. The people who gathered immediately put big branches in the road in both directions (the universal African sign for something ahead on the road) and directed traffic as we hooked their car up to landy and pulled them out of the ditch while heaps of blokes pushed. Apologies and thanks kept coming, we just said we are glad all is ok, and be more careful next time. I kissed the little boy and his mum gave me one last hug and we left both shaken by then. I was jumpy the rest of the drive until we left the highway and bumped our way slowly along the tracks towards the camp at the Maasi Mara.
On the long rutted bumpy drive it was great to be back in Maasi land and once again passing the small villages with bomas (circular thorn-bush enclosures) for their precious cattle. As we bounced along some of the bomas were filling up as the end of the day wasnt far away, it was a long day on the road. The landscape was dotted with the tall striking red clad figures of Maasi tending their animals. By the time we arrived to our camp we were short-tempered and tired, too long of a day but too close to not make it there! Olly was feeling worse and we were both happy to pull up to a nice simple camp and have some soup before crashing. This morning Olly was feeling awful and spent the whole day in bed. Word travels fast and within a few minutes every staff member had come to check on him asking me if he was ok or if he needed anything. He was suffering from a bad cold but nothing sleep couldn’t fix. So he spent a today sleeping, luckily we had some shade so landy was not unbearably hot.
L and O
24 March 2013- Lake Nkuruba, Uganda
We have found another gem of a spot! Its late morning and the sun has poked out after a morning of fairly steady rain. I’m sitting in an open room with a tin roof and just heard something gallop across above, sounded like a buffalo! A black and white colobus monkey leapt from the roof to a nearby tree and swung away! We both woke late this morning and treated ourselves to a breakfast of toast and jam, and a nutella and banana pancake (yum!) with African tea, (although we aren’t really sure what African tea is, seems to taste the same). We pulled up yesterday early evening and smiled at each other, a perfect spot for us. Low key, beautiful, simple and really nice people. We were immediately greeted by some children of the staff who waved at us and held my hand as we got out and walked over to say hi and ask about camping. We are camped on a grassy area at the top of the steep slope looking over a forest rimmed crater lake. The simple accommodation includes a restaurant that serves veggies and rice, chicken and rice, veggies and pasta and chicken and pasta. You bath by pouring water from a jerry can into a bucket and then using the bottom of a cut plastic bottle to pour the cool but refreshing (lake) water over you.
We arrived yesterday tired but exhilarated, as we’d had a big day. We got up at 5 to meet our guide at 6 for a full day of chimp tracking. Normally you do a one hour walk but we had heard from some people we met in Tanzania about an all day habituation program so we decided to go for it and are so glad we did. We walked for three hours through the beautiful mature trees of Kibale Forest National Park until we heard an almighty screech – our guide, Silver, looked at us and said “Chimps!” Until then we had enjoyed our walk and Silver, who was an excellent guide pointed out different trees, butterflies and monkeys as well as telling us a lot about chimps and what they eat. We hadn’t seen any evidence of them in the area and more importantly we had not heard them. We were beginning to think we might not find them. The key to tracking is their noise and once we heard their many calls we understood that - they are very loud! So when we first heard it, off we went behind Silver. We came across the first chimp high up in the trees and got a few glimpses of it eating. A few minutes later we came across a group of at least 15 and were able to see some of them climb up the trees to the high branches they seemed to favour. This was probably as close as we would get to them as they are so fast, very skilful climbers and can swing from branch to branch at an incredible speed. Although it seemed obvious now we were standing looking up, it was a little disappointing to realise this was as close as we would see them. How wrong we were. Silver said we will wait here, he has been working with the chimps for 22 years so we figured he knew what he was talking about, and sure enough after a while two adult males climbed down the tree and started walking through the forest. It was amazing to see them so close, and to our delight Silver said, “We will follow them”. We both looked at each other, with big grins! We were actually following chimps as they sauntered through the forest, they walk on all fours using their knuckles. Although they looked as if they were going slowly we had to walk fairly quickly to keep up. They glanced back at us every so often, and paused a few times for a sit down and relax. At one point they scooted ahead of us, moving quicker and started screeching and grunting that was accompanied by loud booms as they jumped onto a big buttress of a mighty fig tree and whacked it with their feet, they make this loud noise which echos through the forest as a way of calling others. I tried it as I passed the tree, my efforts hurt and only produced a quiet little thud.
Soon we were beneath a small hole in the canopy where a big tree had crashed to the ground. The males joined a few others who were around the clearing, some dozing precariously in the lower branches and others playing, snoozing and grooming each other on the logs of the fallen tree. We were held spellbound, relaxed chimps were everywhere, it was siesta time. We watched the little guys chasing each other, but the main activity was grooming. They merrily pick at each other constantly shifting through each others long black fur searching for and nibbling on ticks and cleaning wounds. They took turns, and at one point even formed a little line sitting on a log grooming each other. Every so often they would break into truly deafening screeching to speak to other family groups nearby, a very intimidating noise. Silver knew each individual of the 100 strong community, they hang out in small groups of up to 10-15 individuals, but the groups are always calling and checking in with each other. The leader is the alpha male, and when he moves on the whole community move too. Individual groups can be up to 2 km apart, hence the very loud calls, and Silver told us they had about 50 calls. All meaning different things, greetings, lets move, threats, checking in, time to hunt… The only time they are silent is when the males move off to defend their territory against another community, stalking silently and then it’s not pretty.
After a quick bite to eat we moved to an area with a dense canopy with not much undergrowth and sat down on the forest floor quietly watching the relaxing chimps around us. A couple of younger guys were playing with each other and slowly became a little bolder and checked us out, getting a little closer and closer, mum looking up every now and then. It was a special moment as we sat and relaxed with the chimps, doing exactly what they were and sharing our space together. Two males walked very close and right past us and the group began to move on. This was a perfect point to let them go and head our own way.
What a day. We spent ten hours out in the forest, much of it walking following them, some of it just sitting on a log or the forest floor watching them and almost all of it with the chimps. What a privilege to be able to spend so much time and see so many of their behaviours.
As I have been typing this I discovered a tick on my arm so we have spent the last 20 minutes looking remarkably like chimps ourselves! Checking each other and ourselves for more and picking them off, but not eating them
L and O
21 March 2013- Lake Bunyoni, Uganda
We had been walking for hours, the tracks getting smaller and the slope getting steeper and steeper until we were scrambling, pulling ourselves up through the thick vegetation. Our foot steps fell onto the tangle of plants covering the slope, occasionally falling through the network of stems and into the wet, spongy and black soil beneath. We continued higher on all fours crawling up a steep section and came across a muddy trail where the vegetation had been stomped and flatten, we followed the trail upwards, the only flat footholds had been indented deeply into the side of the soft slope. We suddenly realised that we were climbing from one giant round footprint to the next. It was hard to imagine an elephant climbing this way, but there was no doubt one had gone before us. The rain had stopped, trees loomed through the mist hanging on the slope above and a hushed silence fell over our group, the anticipation was building.
As we reached the top of the ridge we were me by the tracker, after a minute to catch our breath and calm the nerves he pronounced “Right then, let’s go and see the animal”. We exchanged an excited grin and plunged down the other side of the ridge following the tracker as he hacked a trail through the undergrowth. The tracker slowed and skirted across the slope calling out a warning, but not to us. Our hearts were pounding, just below us we made out a black furry shape between the foliage. We glanced at each other knowing this was it, a pulse of excitement flashing between us. A few more steps and we were transfixed by the brown eyes and curious gaze of a gorilla, pausing long enough to question who were these lanky apes looking me, as it climbed down a sapling barely able to support its weight.
Our gorilla trek.
We only arrived in Uganda yesterday afternoon. On our final day on Lake Kivu in Rwanda we had a wander around the village and stocked up on fruit and veg using a combination of French, English and hand gestures to gather what we wanted and find out what we were to pay. We made our way into the small city near by to find an auto parts shop, and came within a few hundred metres of the border to the Democratic Republic of Congo, we soon turned around, it’s a definite no go zone at the moment. We were not sure where the day would take us, a night in northern Rwanda or crossing the border into Uganda? On the map it looked a fair distance but Rwanda is tiny and before we knew it we were approaching the border and decided to crack on and head into Uganda and check on gorilla trekking.
The border was really quite and very easy but a bit fiddly with having to check with the police first in one building, then immigration and customs, also in separate buildings, then to the barrier at the border to be told we needed to head back to the police to get our final exit pass. As the passenger Lisa had to get out of the vehicle and walk around the barrier out of Rwanda and then jump back into landy again about two steps later. Apparently its something to do with security? Sometimes its better not to ask.
As soon as we arrived in the small dusty town of Kisoro our first stop was the Ugandan Wildlife Association (UWA) office to enquire about gorilla permits. Everything you read says you have to book months in advance but we couldn’t really do that as we never know where are going to be that far ahead. We were prepared to pay a premium and buy a permit from a tour operator (who buy them to sell onto their clients) if need be. Not being the peak season we had heard this could be possible. Or as a last resort make the long drive to Kampala and see if we could score permits there. We heard we may be lucky and be able to get a gorilla trekking permit from UWA for the gorillas that live in Mgahinga NP (these gorillas cross the border at will between Uganda, Rwanda and DRC so they don’t book permits months in advance for these groups). This was our first plan, seeing if the gorillas were on the Ugandan side of the border.
At the UWA office Lisa asked “Are the gorillas on this side of the border?” – ” Yes” came the reply, ”Can we book permits to them for soon?” -”Yes” ” For tomorrow?!” “Yes!”. We were both beside ourselves with excitement and less than an hour after crossing the border we booked in for the next day! The really helpful and friendly staff at UWA office patiently answered all of our questions, however strange, and as we were just about to buy our permits told us there may be a possibility that we could fill some cancelled slots at a bit of a discount at another park to the north, Bwindi Impenetrable NP. This would require us to leave at 6am sharp for the “maybe one hour maybe two hour drive” to the southern section of Bwindi NP. We didn’t really care where we went as long as we could go on the trek and for the discount we said yes. The staff said if they could get permits at Bwindi they would drop them on their way home to our camp site and if they didn’t it meant it was back to plan A, trekking in Mgahinga at full price. We didn’t really mind either way we just wanted to go! By bed time that night we had not heard anything so assumed it was on for M NP. Just as we were falling asleep to the thumping music from town (we thought as we drove in this was small peaceful town!) the night watchman knocked on landy door and said “permits”. We grogily jumped up and there was the UWA staff member with our permits for Bwindi!
So yesterday morning started with us leaving at 6 am in the pitch dark for the two hour drive down a bumpy dirt road. We could tell the narrow track was cutting up and down steep hills and it was a cool way to start the day, watching the sun rise, revealing the patchwork of terraced slopes we were driving through. When we arrived we had a quick pre trek brief and met the other people we were in a group with and set off with a guide, two armed guards and a porter for one of the walkers. The trek began, and it was a trek!
Straight away it started to rain, I guess a lush rainforest has to have some rain! We walked on a narrow rough track for the first hour or so with steady rain falling, which was not a bad as it may sound, it was warm and still, and we were excited. Of course how long you walk depends on where the gorillas are, we had heard its anything from half an hour to a few hours. It would have been a little bit of an anticlimax to see them near the car park, which is what sometimes happens, but we didn’t expect a whole day. Our trek was 3.5 hours, the first half on smaller and smaller trails, and the rest pushing through the undergrowth. We both loved the walk and being in the beautiful misty forest, although it was calf deep mud at times and steep at others. It would have been a brilliant day just with the walk…. but as we reached that ridge why we were there was brought home when the guide said “Give the guard your walking sticks” and told us what to do in the event of charge (don’t run!) and then said, “Right let’s go see the animals”.
What an hour! A really incredible overwhelming experience and such a privilege to see them. Our time with these giants was exhilarating and beautiful. Their sheer size. They seemed at ease with us there, with the guides making soft soothing grunting noises to them. Its humbling seeing animals observing you as much as you are observing them, especially as they are so human like in their features and gestures. Making eye contact with several was a highlight for both of us, those big deep brown eyes holding our gaze. We were surprised to have such a clear view of them and to be able to get within a few metres. One female in particular seemed to be watching us intently. As we approached she was lying in a clear bit on her back scratching her enormous belly. After we watched her for a while she heaved herself up on her side, crossed one leg over the other and propped her head up on her hand looking at us, what a poser!
When it was time to go we were told we would head back a different, easier way. It was easier in that it was down but only slightly. It was very steep and muddy and we all spent time on our bums- a lot! Including once when Olly slid spectacularly and collected me as he headed down the slope! It took 2.5 hours to walk and slide our way down to where we started. We peeled off our very muddy and still damp clothes. Tired and smiling dreamily we packed our filthy clothes and shoes away and decided to go to a nice spot on the lake a few hours drive away, and here we are overlooking a peaceful lake.
We spent the drive reliving it all and collapsed into bed early after a massive but amazing day.
O and L
17 March 2013- Kibuye, Rwanda
Rwanda feels heavy, so heavy to us. From as soon as we arrived we were both thinking it and a bit later expressed it to each other. Every person, where were these people….. did they suffer, or worse were they perpetrator of the genocide in 1994? I feel this needs a separate post, it can’t go with anything else.
There is nothing we can say about the Rwandan genocide that has not been written about time and time again. What everyone knows is that almost a million men, women and children were brutally murdered in 100 days in 1994. There was unimaginable horror and brutality perpetrated by both government trained forces and everyday people.
We went to the Genocide Memorial Centre in Kigali. We arrived at the rather non descript building and were patted down by security and walked to reception. I had a pretty heavy feeling knowing it would be full on when we were greeted by a man giving us a couple of minutes description of what we could expect- “Welcome, this is a memorial opened in 2004 as a memorial to the people killed. You can walk through the building and then over there is the mass grave where 250,000 bodies are, the people who were killed on or near this site.” My mind spun and I felt a bit like throwing up. We had no idea there was such a large mass grave here. This place is not a museum it is a memorial. It shows the cost of ignorance and ignoring.
I have read a lot about Rwanda, it is a place I have been interested in for years. Olly has been recently reading about the history as well so we both pretty much knew the factual details and events presented on panels with text and photos that lead up to the events. Rwanda is very committed to not forgetting or letting anyone forget.
It was very distressing and incredibly overwhelming. There were times I found it physically hard to walk to the next room and much of the time I felt short of breath. I realised much later I held my breath most of the time. People silently walk through – there is nothing to say. The story of how the genocide occurred- what happened before during and after. It makes the very stark point the violence was not sudden or sporadic it was a meticulously planned event that was almost unbelievably ‘successful’.
Although the panels detailing the events leading to the genocide are disturbing it was the ‘other rooms’ that were completely shattering. I walked around a corner into a room full of wires stung across the walls and snap shots of individual people clipped to the wires, thousands of photos that families had donated. Of course these were only a fraction of the victims. It felt like someone punched me in the stomach. At the end there is a room called The Children’s Room. When you first walk in there is a plaque that reads something like ” To our beautiful children, who should have been our future” There are three small rooms each with a couple of life-size photos of different children and with a small simple sign under each photo listing their favourite food, their favourite sport or toy and then the way in which they were murdered. I wanted to lie down on the floor and curl up. The faces and a snapshot of them, a few of the many thousands killed.
It took us both awhile to speak afterwards but of course we did. We sat in the garden and then finally talked about our thoughts about the place. Then we went back out into the city, which seems both impossible and necessary. After seeing the memorial you have to see Rwanda alive, and it is. People are living and it is a seemingly thriving incredible place. Less than twenty years ago, 2/3 of the population was either dead or in refugee camps in other countries. Many more were injured, the country’s infrastructure was completely destroyed, many many children were orphaned, many women had been raped and contracted HIV and of course nearly everyone was traumatized beyond belief. And now its seems to be a safe, clean, relatively prosperous, stable country. Its incredible. And people are living. If you came here and didn’t know (and ignored the memorials) you would see people living just like anywhere else. Although after leaving the memorial I was struggling to understand how. It just feels so heavy to us.
We have also visited two churches outside of the city, these are now memorials as well. They were much rawer, no signs explaining anything- just piles and piles of clothing and the bones of the thousands and thousand of people who were killed there neatly stacked. One has been left exactly as it was (except the bones were removed and are now stacked up in one area of the church). Many many people sought sanctuary in churches hoping they would be safe- they were not. You can see where grenades were thrown in, you can see bullet holes on the walls and through the stained glass windows. Some of what you see I don’t feel able to type. Visiting on a Sunday we could hear the music from a new church that has replaced this one, very near by. People walking past, kids riding bikes, a church choir singing. So weird to hear and see life, it also brings you back when you step outside and you see life not just death.
A guys who works at one of the churches showed us around a little today. He said they will always have the memorials so people never forget, he also pointed out it is not just Rwandan history but the world’s history. The story of how the world was involved (or not as the case may be) is a whole other disturbing tale.
The final place we visited we sat for ages on a bench outside. Just sat there. Tight chest, tight heart.
Hatred is so powerful, but it seems resilience is more powerful.
18 March 2013- northern Lake Kivu, Rwanda
We are sitting by the lake and can see right out across the few smattering of islands and to the DRC. Its early evening and its a bit cool. One of the staff here brought us Maasai blankets for our knees and a little fire in a pot that he has set next to our feet! Lovely!
Quick catch up- When we left Mwanza (in Tanzania) we caught a ferry across a bit of Lake Vic as it saves a long drive around and started toward the border to Rwanda, not sure how far we would make it. The road got worse and worse and was soon a series of massive potholes, it was taking ages to get anywhere. We found a guest house an hour or so before the border and were made very welcome, and ended up camping in the car park. We could hear people mumbling and whispering ‘Mzungu’ (the typical east African word for white person), excited that Wazungu (plural Mzungu) were staying here, it took a while for them to understand that we wanted to sleep in our car! We turned up tired, both ratty and the thumping music from the local pub next door didn’t help matters. After saying hi and having a quick chat with all the people staring at us (where did they come from?!) we settled in for an early night and both of our moods quickly improved. The night was as we expected- very loud music until rather late (although not as late as we thought) and then a very early start. We woke up groggy, used the horrible loo (would have much preferred to go outside but to many people watching all the time) and headed off for the border.
It’s amazing how an imaginary, arbitrary line changes so much. We crossed into Rwanda mid morning and noticed things were different straight away. After crossing to drive on the other side of the road (there is no sign saying they drive on the right here, luckily we had read that before we arrived!) we soon noticed the big crazy buses were not hurling towards us any longer. The roads were also in excellent condition and the few potholes were being repaired- properly! Not the dirt sprayed with tar we normally see.
Rwanda is a tiny county and 11 million people are squeezed into it so it probably goes without saying every little bit seems to be in use- the many many hills (land of a thousand hills is an excellent name!) are terraced with things growing and houses covering all of the space.
We arrived in Kigali around lunch time and found our camp- another car park, this time a youth hostel. Driving into Kigali was amazing. It’s a hilly city spread out with houses and buildings all over the hills and filling every valley. But most amazingly we were met with wide streets in excellent condition, meticulously manicured space everywhere! Seemingly every median strip, roundabout, street etc is perfectly manicured and spotless with no rubbish anywhere! Kigali is certainly Africa but also feels very cosmopolitan and very… well organised, clean and so functional! Nearly all of the traffic lights work (some even with the seconds counting down how much longer you have to wait!) and people actually stop at them when they are red! All of the things that normally hit us when we drive into a town or city were so different! The shops are all in buildings rather than everything being sold on the side of the street (or in the street). There were no goats, donkeys or cows on the road, no one cooking or washing clothing on the side of the road, none of the chaos we usually encounter upon entering a town or city.
We had a few days in Kigali but not very peaceful nights. The first night really bad karaoke from somewhere nearby kept us awake for ages. While there we spent time at the Genocide memorial (more on that in another post). We treated ourselves to an amazing Indian meal, we heard of a good place and hopped on the back of two moto taxis (motor bike taxis) and zoomed through the streets of Kigali. I have a small head and the helmet he gave me was prob average size but despite tightening it as much as I could it was so loose it was blowing off my head and resting on the back of my neck most of the trip! It was fun to see Olly on his moto taxi in front of us.
And the very very bad news is- my kindle is broken! I am still in denial. Fortunately some of the books are on the ipad so I can read on that. Months of not reading is not an option! So Olly and I can fight over reading on the ipad from now on- I plan to win the fight! We very seldom see books and even more rarely in English. Olly has just told me we need to download the books from the kindle online, good grief, I thought there were automatically there, that is first priority when the power (and internet) comes back on.
Anyway we left Kigali yesterday afternoon and drove the twisting roads up and over hill after hill- all of them completely covered in the patchwork of cultivated land- no space unused and soon no trees if the rate they were cutting them down today is any indication. We spent last night at Kibuye in a room! We preferred landy but we could not find any camping (there isn’t much in Rwanda) so we ended up in a pleasant room overlooking the lake and watched the sunset and tint the sky and lake pink. The bed was awful though, look forward to our landy bed tonight!
The drive north along the lake today was stunning- 100km that took four hours to bump and rattle along. We were passing small houses and people the whole time, every few hundred metres the kids going berserk when they spotted the two Wazungu. Many waved and shouted and some even rang alongside us as long as they could. We felt very on display through the small villages- its hard to imagine a situation where you would be more on display than rattling through rural Africa- today everyone just stopped to stare, point, whistle, shout, smile or wave.
13 March 2013- Mwanza, Tanzania
We are parked on the beach of Lake Victoria. The gate to the camp opens right on the water and yesterday when we arrived it was windy, pushing waves across the gate so we had to drive through water to get to our camp. Yesterday it looked like a sea, with the waves and today it looks like a lake, although a very big one. It’s a beautiful still day with a little breeze.
The last few days have been really amazing and feel a bit dream like this morning next to the water. We have been exploring in the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti. These are
places that we had planned to visit right from the first times we discussed our trip, and here we were, very excited at driving up onto the rim of Ngorongoro Crater! We reached the rim and stopped to look down into the crater, stretching our eyes we could see a few dots in the base of the crater, and as our eyes adjusted we could make out an elephant wandering along. It was the afternoon when we arrived and we camped that night on the rim of the crater anxious to get up early and head down inside. We were up so early that we had to wait to be let out of the campsite, it was still dark as we headed for the gate down into the crater, as we got closer we hit dense mist and we became a bit worried that we wouldn’t be able to see anything in the crater. We stopped at the gate, signed in, and then headed on our way down, thankfully we soon drove down below the mist and the crater opened up in front of us. A huge bowl with a flat base, covered by a manicured lawn, munched short by the thousands of grazers. As we got to the base we could see a sliver of morning sunlight above the rim, just peeking under the level of the clouds. There were a couple of cars way in front of us, and some a long way behind but we soon pulled off onto a side road and felt like we had the place to ourselves. It was fantastic to be seeing the day wake, wildebeest trotting after each other and bulky eland surveying the surrounding plain. As we ambled along we were stopped by the awesome sight of a male lion walking right towards us along the road, behind him were the rest of his pride sitting on and beside the road while teenage cubs chased, hunted and pounced on each other and any mum or aunt that moved.
The male walked right past us followed by the rest of the pride, the cubs still pouncing on each other and wrestling as they walked past. It was an amazing moment, finally in the crater and so special to see a whole pride interacting and so lucky no one else was around. We watched them for a while, the cubs wrestling in the bushes, we could see their tails flicking or two ear tips and eyes starting out at us every so often as if they were getting ready ambush us. The other animals around kept a close watch on the pride, a small group of eland not surprising galloped off as the adults approached. We watched as they headed over a few small hills blending in perfectly with the bushes and rocks, if someone had come by at that moment they would have no idea there was a pride of twelve lions so near.
We spent about four hours driving around, revelling that we were actually in the Ngorongoro crater. We drove through patches of woodland, short grass plains (where you can see every animal there is to see, nothing to block the view), saw the lake tinged pink by hundreds of thousand of flamingos, and stopped for breakfast while watching a pack of hyenas. A highlight was seeing two brown lumps in the grass, we reversed and realised they were two very young hyenas stumbling around near the entrance to their den. They still had watery eyes and were so unsure on their feet we wondered how many times they had been out. A few of the tracks on the outskirts got pretty muddy but even though we slid around a bit we managed to keep going with a little sigh of relief we didn’t get stuck-not keen to get unstuck with lions around and then having to pay a further $200 to leave the crater late! We were a little disappointed when we had to start our climb out of the crater, it’s a spectacular place with incredible scenery and so many animals!!
We had to get a move on it and drove along the rim of the crater and down the other side towards the Sergeant plains. The Ngorognoro Conservation Area (NCA) is not a national park and is part of the homeland of the Maasai people, who still live in the area. It was interesting to see an area where people an animals live together (we don’t know how well). Unlike a national park the Maasai are permitted to live in this area with their cattle and even permitted to take their cattle into the crater for water. We passed the colourful dressed people tending to their herds of cattle and a few small villages (which consisted of literally a few very basic huts clustered together). It was interesting to see herds of cattle and then a short distance away large herd of zebra or buffalo.
Just before we crossed the line on the map that separates the NCA from the Serengeti we started to pass through massive herds of zebra and a seemingly never-ending herd of wildebeest, can’t imagine it during the migration! As we looked across the flat vast plains of the Serengeti the wildebeest were spread out as far as the eye could see from cows and their calves close by to tiny specks of black on the horizon.
We arrived into the Serengeti in the afternoon and made our way to our camp. The camps are basic but def adequate and mostly full of people on tours, in fact in the crater area and the Serengeti we only saw two other vehicles that were not tour vehicles! We parked as far away from the groups as possible as larger groups of people tend to be noisy and we were glad we did because as they all sat inside eating and talking we sat outside on the edge of camp listening to hyenas, buck, lion and the odd trump from an elephant. In the morning we were up very early again (woken before the alarm by elephant feeding nearby) and just as we were getting ready to leave in the first shards of light we saw a group of elephant walking through the edge of the camp site, a pretty special way to start the day. We had smiles plastered across our faces as we left. We explored as much of the area as we could in our 24 hours and especially enjoyed the morning spent on a tiny track weaving through the plains where we could see forever and watching hyena, giraffe, zebra, buffalo, wildebeest, warthog, buck, hippo, monkey, baboon, elephant and even a few bat eared foxes. The only thing we didn’t enjoy was the tsetse flies! We have come across these awful beasts before but not in such numbers as that afternoon. They are attracted to heat so they were swarming landy and we had to put the windows up. Tsetse flies put the sting of the march fly to shame. We stopped to look at the largest group of giraffe we have seen yet. Each one was stretching and craning their neck to stare our way, although they were def checking us out we noticed a movement nearby and realised they were also keeping a close eye on a pair lions lazing under a tree.
It had been two really long days of driving all day but it didn’t seem like that because there was always something to see around the next corner. As we approached the far west exit of the Serengeti we continued to see lots of animals, especially large groups of munching zebra, wallowing buffalo and wildebeest as well as the ever-present warthogs trotting here and there and were treated to a final sighting of a pair of lions.
When we left the Serengeti we were snapped back into the real Africa (although you would think seeing the lions and zebra would do that!) straight away there were villages, noises, cars and people.The sights, sounds and smells and every bit of space being utilised, which is the norm in Africa with national parks being the pockets of exception. We decided to push on to Mwanza so we could have a day or two relaxing by the lake and we are glad we did. Mwanza is Tanzania’s second largest city and sits right on the edge of Lake Victoria. We felt like we were really back amongst people and the usual sites of Africa. As we drove along we were hit by the noises and smells and the variety of things being sold by the street. You can buy food, phone credit, sunglasses, carpets, sofas being reupholstered, bricks, sugarcane, tyres, bicycle parts… One minute a sweet smell of donuts and the next the not so sweet aroma of sewage. Maze being cooked on open fires and sold on the side of the road, clothing hung out to dry blowing in the breeze, kids walking home from school, piles of bamboo being loaded onto bicycles, and two guys stuffing three goats into the tiny space behind the last row of seats in a local taxi (mini bus). A guy walked past with a chicken (nothing out of the ordinary there) hopped on his bike, tied the chicken by the legs to his handle bars and rode away. We can tell we have been in Africa for a while as all of this we rarely think to mention, we hardly notice it most of the time anymore.
Today we have been looking landy over (after bumpy roads of Serengeti) getting caught up on some other bits and tomorrow we plan to head to Rwanda, or close to anyway.
O and L
9 March 2013- Mto Wa Mbu, Tanzania
We are trying to work out a rough plan for the next few days. Normally we wouldn’t really bother much but since it costs about $400 for each 24 hour period we want to plan our timing! We are very excited about the next few days as we are heading into the Ngorongoro and the Serengeti (just trying to block out the cost).
We have had a busy and fun few days since we left Dar. We made our way to the ferry back into the city and waited for three ferries to come and go before we got to the front of the queue and squeezed landy on. Within a few minutes a sea of people were crushed in all around us. Leaving Dar took hours as we expected as traffic simply doesn’t move, on the plus side you can buy pretty much anything you may want (or not want) while waiting in traffic- including fruit/veg, cds, plates, small battery run fans, papers, nuts, phone chargers, posters, pots and pans …… people walking up and down between traffic peddling their wares.
We decided we wanted a bit more coast time so we drove up to the far north coast of Tanzania, not far from the border to Kenya and had a lovely few days at a nice camp spot right on the beach. We also met some other overlanders, Collin and Diana who are from the UK and going south then Karen and Marchello from UK/South Africa also going south. We sat around with a few drinks and shared info and swapped ideas, it was nice (and helpful!).
There were a surprising amount of people staying in the simple chalets and camp site, a noticeable change from what we have had. We had a really good day out on a lovely old dhow (traditional sailing boat). The crew hoisted the big ratty sails and there was just enough wind to take us out on the turquoise waters to a small sand island where eight of us spent a few hours swimming, having lunch and chatting. We really lucked out and had a great group of people for the day. After lunch on the island we sailed to two different reefs for some snorkelling. It was great to be in the water and have a look at what lives in the underwater world of this part of the Indian Ocean.
We left a few days later and yesterday made our way to Moshi, at the foot of Mt Kilimanjaro. We passed km after km of sisal plants growing, which are dried and used to make fibre products like rope and twine, much more sustainable that plastic. The area was surprisingly flat and dry, quite barren really for most of the way. The drive was fine but quite tiring as driving here is- with trucks regularly going walking speed if there is any sort of hill at all, buses going as fast as they possibly can regardless of the road conditions or anything else, the speed drops to 50 through every village and there are massive speed humps all over. There are far more road blocks here than anywhere else so far but we get waved through almost all of them.
Anyway we arrived to Moshi yesterday afternoon and had a quick look around before heading up to the foothills of Kili to seek a cooler nights sleep. We couldn’t see the top of the mountain as it was covered in clouds (apparently if often is) but enjoyed having a look on the slopes as we tried to find somewhere to stay. Last night we ended up saying in the courtyard of a local family’s house with their nine children and two neighbour children as well as the granny watching every move we made and the kids crawling all over landy. They were lovely and we spent the afternoon playing footy and drawing letters and numbers in the dirt. We had a bit of time in their home in the evening before bed, a cd playing and all of us pretty much just looking at each other as only a few of the older kids spoke a very tiny bit of English and our Kiswahili is limited to thanks, please, etc. We didn’t want to be a hassle (and there was nowhere to use the loo) so we were up and ready to go early and were just saying goodbye and thank you when a small boy silently pointed to our tyre, which was completely flat. So Olly changed the tyre with three women (me and two mammas) and nine kids watching him. We said our goodbyes and the kids waved until we were out of sight, gorgeous. We went back into town to get the spare fixed and then hit the road for Arusha, on our way to Ngorongoro crater and Serengeti area, we never did see the top of Kili, oh well. Tonight we are an hour or so from the entrance to the crater area. The drive took all day again, plenty of road works and brightly coloured and decorated buses with bible verses, allahu akbar and such painted on them coming at us in our lane. We are seeing a lot more Maasai people- they are striking, tall and noble looking drapped in the red clothing, wearing elaborate beaded jewelry and always carrying a long stick. We have met some Maasai already, they were often security in Dar and Zanzibar.
We have had our dinner and are pouring over maps and trying to work out driving times and will likely go into the crater tomorrow- we are both very excited and refuse to think of the money- just go!
4th March 2013 – Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
We have just had three nights in Stone Town on Zanzibar island, we have been revelling in not having to cook and having a bathroom that doesn’t involve an outdoor dash, its been a little “holiday” from travelling and staying in Landy.
To give an idea of what its like here I thought I would just describe our last 6 hours, just the time it took for us to travel from our hotel on Zanzibar back to Landy, that was left on the beach (at a campsite!) in Dar.
After our few days in Stone Town we were pretty confident we could navigate haphazardly through the maze of alleys and narrow roads in-between the old buildings to the ferry. We set off slowly, knowing we would soon be sweating buckets in the humidity, passing between black stained white-washed walls, old and new heavily carved wooden doors with large pointed brass studs on them, hugging the houses avoiding cars and mopeds chugging down the very narrow lanes. We took one of the alleys off the ‘main’ road, the houses and shops crowding in on each side, just a narrow slice of sky trickling in between the overhanging roofs and balconies, I’m sure people could pass stuff from window to window across the road if they wanted to. On our way we had a couple of jobs to do so we headed for a sandwich shop we had eaten at before to grab something for the ferry trip, while we were inside the heavens opened, rain drumming the pavement outside and pouring from the roofs high above as if lots of mini waterfalls were gushing into a narrow gorge. The alley was soon transformed into a river, with rapids and whirlpools at every corner, people fleeing as soaked cyclists splashed through the torrents. We gulped and looked at each other hoping it would clear up soon, and thinking of all the muck and swill being washed along in front of us. The rain eased a little and we decided to make a dash to our next stop, the old arabic fort on the way to the ferry where we had seen a carved picture frame that we wanted to pick up to remind us of a fab few days exploring the alleys, shops and food here. We picked up the frame and headed on through the spitting rain towards the ferry terminal trying to avoid the more putrid smelling puddles.
We made it to the ferry with only a bit of splatter from the passing cars, and settled down in the waiting area for the ferry to arrive. We tried to keep cool, not sure if we were wet from the rain or our sweat, and enjoyed watching the mix of people milling around, the colours of Africa mingling naturally with black head scarfs and henna’d hands and feet, all waiting patiently. We were impressed with the valiant attempts of a single ferry worker trying to stop everyone clamouring onto the wharf at once, queuing or waiting for your turn here is not natural, he did very well but he has his work cut out for the next couple of hundred years before it catches on! We found a couple of seats on the ferry (a really nice, pretty new one) and were suddenly in another surreal world, who knew that there are hundreds of people ploughing back and forth across the sea in Tanzania watching screens on a ferry showing Mr Bean goofing around Paris, quite a change wandering through flooded streets then sitting in a comfy seat with Mr Bean teaching Tanzanians about these crazy muzungus.
We glided into Dar Es Salaam, and it was on, everyone piling out in a big rush for the doors, it suddenly clicked, this is exactly how people drive around here, if there was the slightest gap in front of me then the people behind wanted to get around and into it , and it didnt matter how they did it, the small women seemed to be the worst, head down and into the gap! We got off the boat and through the scrum of taxi men and people selling things and headed on our way. We knew from our trip to Zanzibar we needed to walk along the water to catch our small ferry crossing across the river to south Dar. We weren’t hassled and didn’t feel uncomfortable as we weaved our way through the throng of people walking home after work, avoiding cars mounting the kerb to get into that vital position in front of someone else. The rain came down in lashings again just as we got our tickets and waded through to the waiting shed for our little ferry crossing, the shed filled and filled and the ferry arrived disgorging a line of cars while the foot passengers refused to get off until the rain subsided a bit. The gates were flung open on the shed and we all ran down the slipway to the boat, wanting to get out of the rain. The breeze was lovely as we crossed, and we spotted a dalla dalla (tuk tuk) taxi who was crossing, I went over to see if he could take us onto our campsite on the other side, and we jumped in ready to roll when the ferry docked. A short putput around cars and parting a human sea of passengers saw us heading back to Landy, enjoying the wind as we flew along and bumped our way back.
Zanzibar and Dar are so colourful and vibrant, we had such a good holiday away, but its great to be ‘home’ again in Landy and tomorrow will be another day on our trip once more.
4 March 2013- Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
A few photos from our Zanzibar holiday. Zanzibar has a fascinating history- a history of sultanas, British rule, slavery, spice and great wealth.
Stone Town (the old area) is a maze of hundreds of small alleyways twisting all over and is a rather intoxicating mix of the colours of Africa and the culture of Arabia. We spent hours getting lost- passing old elaborately carved doors, delicious smells, hearing the call to prayer echoing out from the loudspeakers, being passed by children on bicycles ringing their bells frantically to warn us and scooters zipping by so close we could feel them as they passed. Hearing ‘Jambo’ (a casual greeting) called out as we walked along. Its been so hot and very humid so we have gone back to the guesthouse a few times a day to cool down in the a/c before heading back out again. Heaps of places sell delicious fresh juice (many places don’t sell alcohol) so we have had fruit juices of every kind to cool down as well.
We decided to stay in one area and really explore rather than venture to other areas for the amazing beaches Zanzibar is known for (we have been lucky to have a good dose of amazing beaches in Australia) so instead we spent yesterday afternoon on a boat trip out to a nearby island for a swim, snorkel in the coral garden and a look at some giant tortoises that were brought to Zanzibar from the Seychelles a hundred years or so ago, we heard they were there but were both shocked at their size! They were brilliant to see and watch and give them a little scratch on the neck, which they loved!
We had heard Zanzibar is full on from as soon as you get near the ferry in Dar and while over there- people selling things, wanting to guide you, tours etc as well as having to barter for a lot of things. We found it fine. When you are really really hot it can be testing but Africans must be the most entrepreneurial people anywhere, no thank you (over and over again) works and after a bit they start to recognise you and sort of stop. Most people took no for an answer and just said Hakuna Matata as we walked away. We always try to remember its just people trying to scratch out a living, cant begrudge that.
28 February 2013- Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
It’s a hot and sticky evening and we are really feeling it after time in the cool highlands of northern Malawi and southern Tanzania. We had a brilliant few days just south of Iringa visiting Annie and Quentin and their two gorgeous girls. They live on a really nice property which they have worked hard to make a successful farm. It was good to be in their lovely guest quarters and not have to go outside in the morning to use the loo! But the best thing was the amazing warm welcome they gave us and being in a family home. We had good chats, really enjoyed their company, had fun playing with the girls and ate amazing fresh food at every meal (so nice!). We were spoilt! We also spent a day getting some bits done- Olly did a service on landy and we cleaned the water filter and a few other things. Happily we were able to help with a few things at the house as well- Olly packing veg boxes and me helping Annie with the salad dressing she makes and sells (they are delicious).
We went into Iringa as well to get a few things done and found Neema Crafts (Annie suggested we have a look and it’s currently being run by some other friends of David and Elaine’s so we were able to meet them briefly as well). What a great place. It is supported by the Anglican church and is amazing. After having a quick look at the shop, which sells beautifully hand crafted jewellery, scarves, clothing and other things we were shown around the workshops- so much talent in one place! All of the items are made by people with various physical disabilities. There are no services for people with disabilities here and they are often shunned so not only does this project provided over a 100 people with employment but with the sense of satisfaction, dignity and purpose working gives all of us (it does, even if we get sick of it!). We saw people hand weaving and dying material for scarves, making jewellery out of recycled glass from old bottles and newspapers and creating beautiful wooden lamps. We then had lunch in the cafe where we were served yummy sandwiches. The cafe is run entirely by people who are deaf, you simply write you order down and hand it to the person at the counter. The menu even includes a few sign words, like hello and thank you if you want to give it a go! We both loved it! Community based projects are my passion and it was great to get a chance to see this one.
We left Annie and Quentin’s place yesterday and drove half way to Dar. The roads here are mad! Well the roads are fine (good really) but the drivers are literally all over the road, especially the bus drivers. At first we thought they have a death wish but it appears they are happy to take others with them. God is Great, Allah is Great, Pray for the Survivors… these are written on the back of busses, to give them a bit of extra help? I wish they would rely a little less on god or allah and a bit more on staying on their side of the road! It’s not at all uncommon for a packed bus to pass two or three big trucks while going over a hill or around a blind corner. We were nearly sideswiped by one doing that this morning, Olly quick response and that there was room for us to move over prevented it. There are also massive speed humps (no wondering why!) regularly and the speed limit goes up and down all the time so all in all it takes a lot of concentrating. We got stopped for speeding this afternoon, Olly was just slowing down when we saw the police. Fair enough we were speeding, its hard to keep track of the speed limit changes. He stopped us and showed us on the radar we were speeding and said the fine was 30,000 Tsh (about $18.00) we were polite (and he was polite and professional) and didn’t argue about the speeding but acted a bit shocked at the amount of the fine. He paused and waved us on telling us to drive safe! We were quite surprised!
Next stop Dar (after driving right through a national park on the main road and seeing heaps of animals from the road!). It all came to a grinding halt! Traffic is horrific and once we worked out why it’s no wonder- people just drive on whatever side of the road they see space so if there is a gap (even if not on their side) they simply drive in it so of course when people come who are actually meant to be driving there…. well you get the picture- chaos! The result is no-one goes anywhere for ages.
Anyway this afternoon we finally made our way to the ferry to South Dar where we are staying (an area where there are places to camp), had a bit of an issue with the cost of the ferry (with a very surly women) and I was told as the passenger I had to get out and wait with the pedestrians passengers while Olly drove landy. I didn’t mind of course but then I noticed other cars had passengers so I crawled back over the fence to join Olly in landy and we crept our way on to the packed ferry for the few minutes ride across.
We have booked the ferry to Zanzibar for the morning. Landy will be staying here and aside from really really hoping she is safe its weird to leave her! One year ago tomorrow we left Sydney on this wonderful adventure! What a year.
L and O
23 February 2013- Mybeya, Tanzania
We are camping in the car park of a church/mission tonight. Safe, pleasant, cold shower, squat toilet what more could we want?! We have been told there are guard dogs from 11pm-5am so DONT get out of landy during that time, just shout out ‘watchman, watchman’ and he will hold the dogs back if we need the loo. He explained this with a few words of English, some hand signals and by barking loudly. On the plus side we can hear the choir practising in the church- lovely! We are in southern Tanzania after crossing the border this afternoon. The border crossing was once again fine, very straight forward- we are a well oiled machine now and deal very well with the people selling this and that, changing money etc! The final hour or so in Malawi we passed at least five roadblocks but were waved through all of them. Already Tanzania has heaps but we have been waved through most of them as well. So far a noticeable thing about the roads in Tanzania are the massive speed humps!!!
We have internet! We spent a few hours this afternoon getting a sim card, in the past few weeks we’ve only had internet for a few minutes twice so we have some catching up to do, posting blogs we have written offline, banking, emailing etc.
Where to start? A quick catch up- We had a few days near Livingstonia- enjoying the views and the cool air but didn’t enjoy the bloody mossies constantly on us! We stayed at a great place, which uses entirely solar power, compost loos, and an amazing garden so we had a massive salad from their restaurant each night!
We so enjoyed Malawi! It’s a beautiful colourful country and we will fondly remember the smiles, the bicycles taxis (mad colourful decorated bicycles used as taxis), the children mobbing us everywhere we went (hugging us, touching us, climbing on us, shouting and singing to us), of course the lake and swimming in the beautiful fresh water and one of our fav spots, our camp last night. When we left camp near Livingstonia yesterday we carried on a bit further up the hill to Livingstonia itself to have a look at the church and the town.
We were not sure where we would go next, another night on the lake or cross the border into Tanzania? We wanted another night on the lake but the place we heard about nearby was full of big overland trucks (with 20 somethings all over) which we have not seen since Vic Falls and are not really into, we are so used to having everywhere to ourselves! Anyway while we were there checking our email we saw a small sign for a B&B and camping near by so we called in and we were so glad we did. In the north of Malawi, only an hour or so from the border sits FloJa Foundation, a mix of the names of the people who started it. A Dutch couple came on holiday to Malawi ten years ago and one thing lead to another and they decided to move here about four years ago. They built their house and started a preschool for 80 local children (preschool is naturally not a luxury people here have!). About a year ago they started the accommodation side to continue to fund the project. We were able to have a look around (the kids had mostly gone home) and saw the two classroom, decorated with growth charts, painting, alphabet games (in english so the kids can practise english which is required in Malawian school) and a spotless kitchen where they prepare two meals a day for the children who attend. They have employed all locals and trained them so they run the whole thing. The manager of the project (a local guy, Benson) gave us a quick informal tour of the place and told us how it runs, his pride was evident. The children are local children who are vulnerable, some orphans, many with HIV and of course all from families struggling to feed them and send them to school never-mind preschool. He also showed us a tap they have installed which is open to everyone in the community so they can access clean bore water rather than drink lake water (which is what most places do as well as where they bath, wash dishes and clothing). When the children leave the preschool to go to primary school they can come back each day after school (primary school is only a few hours a day in classrooms with a hundred or more students and one teacher with very few resources) and get further tutoring with a qualified teacher. There were still a few kids around playing in the playground and we ended up playing an impromptu game of footy with them, started with us and two littlies and soon some more faces appeared then a few more and soon there were about ten of us, we played until we were dripping with sweat (not saying much its humid there) and I ended up on the sidelines with some little ones crawling all over me chatting and dancing while Olly played on for a bit with the bigger ones (happy to get rid of us useless ones no doubt) so they could show off their real skills – fancy kicks all over!
After we said bye to the kids we settled into a lovely evening next to the lake and enjoyed our dinner. We felt a bit heavy-hearted when we left this morning! Every so often you find a place that really captures you- and this one really did.
So here we sit in the car park, finally getting all caught up on the posts we have been doing offline and will actually post this the day its written! (Not to be. The internet died and computer battery ran out!)
Tomorrow we are off to a farm near Iringa- some friends of David and Elaine (very good mates of Olly’s – David married us in Ireland!) live there and we have been invited to stay. Really looking forward to meeting them and having a little time with them.