Kenya’s Southern Rift Valley

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Take-off from Lake Magadi

After a week in Nairobi we are keen to escape from the hustle and bustle of this bustling city and return to the bush. We head south out of town toward Lake Magadi to begin our exploration of Kenya’s Rift Valley. We’re travelling with Jared and Jen while we explore more of Kenya and then we expect to head into Uganda with them as well before we need to go our separate ways.

The Rift Valley is an enormous trench which stretches from the Red Sea all the way to Mozambique. Lake Magadi lies just north of the Tanzanian border and is the most mineral rich of of the Rift Valley’s soda lakes. It is almost entirely covered by a thick encrustation of soda that supports colonies of flamingos and gives the landscape a bizarre lunar appearance.

The first section of our drive is through the sprawling suburbs and towns which surround Nairobi but eventually we leave the congestion behind and reach the open bush and begin descending into the Rift Valley. The bitumen road takes us all the way to Magadi Town which is a company town for the Magadi Soda Company. We could camp near here but we choose to head further on to a bush camp on the southern edge of the lake. Water levels in the lake are high and the normal track to the camping area is partly under water and not advised unless we have a guide so we get directions to travel further inland and bypass the tricky sections.

Our directions were to turn off the main track onto the ‘dusty track’ and they sure were’t kidding. In sections deep bull dust swirls up and over the bonnet and windscreen and the track wanders around with plenty of side tracks to pick our way through. The scenery is dramatic and the track far longer than we expected but even though it is dusty we enjoy the drive.

At the end of the track we reach the lake and it sure looks desolate and at first glance it is uninviting.

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Desolation

A group of Masai women and children are sitting under a shelter a little way from the water. They are obviously waiting for tourists to sell their bead work and curios to. Jared and Paul head off for a walk to see if they can find a suitable place to camp. They return successful and we drive around a small rise to a spot where we have an expansive view of a different section of the lake in one direction and a mountain range rising behind us. There is no shade around but we position our vehicles so our awnings overlap and we are soon settled down enjoying the peace and the view.

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Solitude at Lake Magadi

Greater and Lesser Flamingoes, pelicans and other shore birds brave the mineral rich waters and we see ripples from the fish which have adapted to survive in these waters. Not far away water bubbles up in hot springs. We could bathe in the springs and they are reputedly very good for muscles and health but it’s almost 40 degrees out of the water and hotter in so we stick to our shade.

We stay two nights in this splendid isolation, only broken by a few vehicles passing and by the expected visit from the local Masai. They stay for a while and then when they realise they won’t get any more sales they leave. They are particularly fascinated by Jared and Jen’s trailer, the open kitchen probably looks like a shop and one of the women is intrigued by Jen’s long hair.

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Masai children attempting to sell beads

Its the weekend and a few other campers and sightseers pass us on their way to the hot springs. They have driven the other ‘wet’ track, usually with a guide, and we are assured we can make it back to Magadi town without any problems. It will save us returning the much longer and dustier track so we decide to give it a go.

We follow the track as it leads us around the edge of the lake and pass close to several other groups of flamingoes.

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Flamingoes feeding

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Flamingoes Feeding

The track suddenly heads straight into the lake and we think we will have to backtrack but Jen finds a side track leading straight up a hill. After a steep climb we reach a magnificent view point where we have a panoramic view over the lake. Splashes of pink are clusters of thousands of flamingoes. At times large groups will take to the air and move to another section of the lake to graze on the algae.

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Flamingoes in Flight over Lake Magadi

We can see the track descend and cross a section of land below us, then cross what looks like a muddy section and then disappear as the water reaches the dry land. We’re having our breakfast here so we aren’t in a hurry and while we are enjoying the views we see a couple of vehicles appear around a point with wheels on one side of the vehicle in the water and the other on what looks like firm ground and the muddy patches appear easy and firm so we should have no problems. We hope.

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Magadi Viewpoint

It all turns out easier than it looks although we’ll certainly be getting the underside of the car cleaned as soon as possible to get rid of the soda which has been splashed over everything.

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Tricky exit from Lake Magadi

From Lake Magadi we are heading further up the Rift Valley. There are no main roads and the quickest way would be to follow the main road back to the outskirts of Nairobi then head out again on the next main road. We’re not keen to do that so we decide to follow tracks up the valley as we have been told they are dry enough to traverse. We backtrack to the start of the dirt tracks and then set out to travel about 100 km or less of tracks before we reach bitumen again.

Well the advice that the tracks were dry enough to get through was correct but last wet season was unusually wet and there has been heaps of damage to the track so we are often taking rough side tracks to get around the sections of bad erosion. Progress is slow, very slow, and when we see locals we frequently ask for information on the track ahead. Eventually  we get through without getting stuck anywhere but its late afternoon when we finally reach the bitumen road.

The place we thought we might camp is too far to reach and Jen finds an alternative which sounds good on Lake Oloiden which is a small lake next to the much larger and busier Lake Naivasha. We might be on bitumen but there are lots of slow moving trucks and it is getting dark and drizzling then raining for much of the drive so we are very glad to arrive at the camp. We find some level spots by the water then retire to the bar to enjoy the warmth of a fire while we have a refreshing drink and wait for our meal to arrive.

In the morning we enjoy our prime spots by the water.

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Tranquil camp at Lake Oloiden

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Breakfast in Style

Paul is out early and catches the birds fishing as the mist rises.

Pelicans float by then move into formation to herd fish to the shallow water where they are easy to catch but the locals use nets for their catch. A Hammerkop stalks the shore in front of us in search of a feed and naughty monkeys play on the slides.

After a leisurely start we pack to move to our next camp. On our way back around the bottom of Lake Oloiden and Lake Navaisha, before we get to the clutter of camps and kilometres of flower tunnels, we pass through a stretch of Nature Reserve which lines both sides of the road. Giraffe peer at us through the trees or graze up the hillside and zebra enjoy the green grass as well.

We’re tossing up whether to stay at Lake Bogoria or the nearby Lake Baringo (or both). Its mostly bitumen though so it will be a far simpler drive then yesterday. First stop is up the highway to the town of Naivasha. They have a good supermarket and we never pass up the opportunity to keep our supplies stocked up when we can and best of all they have a car wash so we can get the Magadi soda off our vehicles.

At Nakuru we leave the highway, and the trucks, behind and travel north. We take a side dirt road toward Lake Bogoria checking first that the road is open. We are assured by the first few people we ask that it is and we continue. Checking our GPS we stop as we pass the equator, time to send a message. While we are stopped we are told that this road to the lake is in fact closed and we need to return to the bitumen road and reach the lake from the north.

We cross back to the southern hemisphere, return to the main road then travel north to cross the equator again, this time there is an official sign so we need photos. By the time we reach the northern road to Lake Bogoria we are in fact closer to Lake Baringo so we decide to travel straight there and if we want to we can return to Lake Bogoria for a day trip.

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Crossing the Equator

Robert’s Camp is right beside the waters of Lake Baringo, much closer than it used to be actually as the water levels of the lake rose several years ago as a result of a seismic shift. Luckily the Thirsty Goat Bar and Restaurant escaped the waters and its a great place the relax in the late afternoon to enjoy the views of the water and the many birds in the area and to check for hippos grazing on the abundant grasses in the water.

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The Thirsty Goat Bar & Restaurant, Lake Baringo

Our camp site is a grassy area nearby and is a comfortable base for our stay, so comfortable in fact that we keep extending and eventually stay for five nights.

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Roberts Camp, Lake Baringo

A friendly hornbill who we name Rufus in homage to one of the friendly, and always hungry, dogs at Jungle Junction keeps us company and is always around when we are eating. We’re on the lookout for monkeys as always but they only visit the area a couple of times. Superb Starlings flash their iridescent wings as they hop around the camp.

Our first sighting of some of the many hippos who live in the lake is on our first evening. A strong wind is blowing across the lake and waves are lapping on the grass in front of the bar. In the bobbing waves hippos are feeding on the grasses, its always great to watch them. One morning I am up early and the sky is coloured with its pre-sunrise pinks and reflecting the colour into the water around the hippos. We have been warned to take a torch if we are up during the night, although the moonlight is usually all the illumination we need, as hippos come onto the grass to feed and sure enough we look out the window of our roof top tent one night to see three hippos munching happily on the green grass, very cool!

One day we take an early morning (well reasonably early) boat trip onto the lake with our local boat driver and bird expert Louis. We see heaps of birds. Small birds included lots of different types of weaver birds, bee-eaters, sunbirds and kingfishers and jacana.

Waterbirds include a close up view of a family of heron posing in a tree with a backdrop of red cliffs, a cormorant resting on a branch, Egyptian geese and a darter drying his wings. A Hammerkop works on a huge nest built in the fork of a tree. A huge Goliath Heron poses on top of a dead tree near the camp.

Apart from the many birds, Lake Baringo has more than 460 species, we enjoy the scenery as we motor around the lake. The effects of the rising water levels are obvious in the many flooded buildings where most fittings have been removed to be used elsewhere and only the shells remain.

For the highlight of our bird watching we first purchase three small fish from a couple of local fishermen. They are paddling small rafts made from branches laced together with twine and have inserted balsa wood into the fish so they will float on top of the water.

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Fisherman on traditional craft

We then motor to an area of the lake where we can see two fish eagles high in a tree. Louis whistles and the holds a fish high and then tosses it out to float on the top of the water. The fish eagles take off and fly toward us and scoop the fish from the water, magnificent. The process is repeated for the other fish eagle and we watch them disposing of the balsa wood then eating their catch before one of them is lucky enough to get another easy catch.

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African Fish Eagle

With all of our bird watching and relaxing at Robert’s Camp we don’t get around to returning to Lake Bogoria, maybe another time. Now it is time to head north into the remote and rugged area around Lake Turkana and the Chalbi Desert.

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Kenya, Amboseli to Nairobi

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Majestic Mt Kiliminjaro

We cross the border out of Tanzania near the Kenyan town of Oloitokitok after driving up the east side of Kiliminjaro. Oloitokitok; it’s a great name and a straightforward crossing but as is usual we still spend a couple of hours at the border. We have a short drive north, stopping in a town to get our new SIM card and data for Kenya sorted out then we turn off the main road toward Amboseli National Park.

Amboseli is one of Kenya’s elite National Parks but unfortunately, like the rest of the elite parks in Kenya and Tanzania, the entry fees for non-residents are exorbitant. Here we would have to pay $80USD per person per day plus a vehicle fee plus $30USD per person per night for camping. We want to spend a couple of days here and rather than pay the national park fees we are camping at a Masai community camp site just outside the park for $10USD per person per night, much closer to our budget. There are no fences around the park and at this time of the year the feed outside the park is good so we have hopes of seeing plenty of game without entering the park. We are also hoping the clouds clear so we get some good views of Mt Kiliminjaro which is just across the nearby border and there is very little to interrupt our view.

This is Masai country and the Kimani Camp is operated by local Masai villagers. One of the locals working at the camp is Risie and as he shows us around the camp he offers to lead us on a walk through the surrounding country so we can see some game and also to visit his village. We agree to a morning walk and an afternoon walk with him the next day and enjoy relaxing under a shady thorn tree for the afternoon and watching the weaver birds build their nests.

The cloud bank covering Kiliminjaro has been thick all day but shortly before sunset the clouds dissipate and suddenly the majestic mountain is clearly visible.

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Mt Kiliminjaro at Sunset

Early next morning we leave camp with Risie and we spend the next two hours walking through the bush and under Thorn Trees. We spot lots of game including giraffe, zebra, warthogs, impala and wildebeest.

We have seen plenty of different types of antelope in our travels in Africa but two species which are new to me but are common throughout East Africa are Thompsons Gazelle and Grants Gazelle. A third new (to me) species are the long necked Gerenuk, they are only found in localised areas and are very shy. They graze by standing on their hind legs and stretching their necks, sort of like mini giraffe but unfortunately they are too wary of us to graze while we are watching.

We return to camp to rest through the heat of the day and set out again with Risie in the mid afternoon. We didn’t see any elephant on our morning walk and he is hoping he will be able to show us some at a water hole they often visit in the late afternoon although as we are on foot we won’t be able to get too close. On our way we see some more of the same animals we had spotted in the morning although not as many because they are sheltering from the heat. The water hole we are heading for is not far from Risie’s village. This village and several others welcome tourists on tours to fund a local primary school as the government school is some distance away. Risie’s father is the chief of five villages in the area and lives in this village. It comprises five extended families but that is quite a lot of people as men can have multiple wives.

The tour starts with the people coming to the front of the village (Manyatta) to welcome us and they encourage Paul and I to join in the dancing and jumping.

After the welcome dance there is a prayer wishing us safe travels then we are free to wander around the village and to take any photos we like as people go about their daily lives.

 

The village is circular with a thorn fence around the outside of the mud huts, then a walk way before another thorn fence and the centre area is where the cattle and goats are kept at nights. They post guards at night time as lions and hyenas would take the live stock if it were unguarded. Risie and two others show how the men make fire each morning which is then used by all of the villagers.

Risie’s brother shows us through his two room house which includes two sleeping areas for the adults and children and a cooking area as well as storage of their belongings.

The bead work in their body decorations is intricate and colourful and they are keen to show us their work and sell some to raise additional money. It is fantastic work but we really can’t buy and carry much. It is hard to say no to all of them though and we leave with four bracelets.

Traditionally young men, before they are allowed to marry, must spend a period of time as Moran (warriors).

While we are looking around the clouds clear again and we get another great view of Kilimanjaro. The Masai name for the mountain is ‘Oldoinyo Oibor’ which means ‘White Mountain’ which is very apt given its usual appearance.

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Mt Kiliminjaro (Oldoinyo Oibor) from the Masai village

After we make our purchases and say thank you and goodbye, (ashe oolong and ole sere) we continue our quest to find elephants. There are wildebeest and zebra nearby but no elephant in sight at the water hole. We take a look beyond the water hole but the bush is very thick and Risie says that there could be buffalo hidden in there. We would not be able to see them early enough to stay a safe distance so we decide to wait near the water hole for a while to see if the elephants arrive. While we are waiting we watch the wildebeest gallop from one side of the water hole to the other, they certainly aren’t the most intelligent of animals.

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Wildebeest scattering in front of Mt Kiliminjaro

No elephant arrive so we walk back to camp. We may not have seen elephant but we saw lots of other animals and the village tour was very interesting so we are very pleased with the days activities. It was certainly a good decision to stay here.

Nairobi is our next destination, a complete change of pace. The first part of the drive is fine but then we reach the highway between Nairobi and Mombasa and its a shocker. Trucks, trucks, crazy drivers trying to overtake trucks when its not safe and more trucks. And then we reach the traffic congestion which is Nairobi. Luckily we don’t have to go through the centre of town but can skirt along an expressway and we reach our campsite safely.

Last year, shortly after we arrived in Namibia, we met US travellers Jared and Jen and travelled with them most of the the three months we spent in that country. We then headed in different directions as we explored more of southern Africa. Our paths are crossing again and we have arranged to meet up with them in Nairobi and we will travel together again as we explore Kenya and Uganda. They are due into a camp ground called Jungle Junction on the southern side of the city and arrive there a day after us. While not the most atmospheric of camps it does offer a good workshop which Jared uses for a few repairs before we head out of the city and we have quite a few chores and lots of stocking up to do as well.

As well as the chores we manage to do some sight seeing though not as much as we had thought as the traffic is dreadful and the weather usually overcast and sometimes drizzling. Paul grew up in Nairobi not far from where we are staying and we drive past the house the family used to live in. There are now additional houses on the property and the original house is available for short term rent. Its empty at the moment and we get to take a tour so Paul can travel down memory lane and show me some of his history.

The company at the camp site is good, the facilities are fine and it is good to be able to visit real supermarkets with good selections of food but by the time we are ready to leave almost a week has passed and we are glad to get out of the big smoke and head back to the bush where we belong.

North Eastern Tanzania

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Traditional Boat Building at Peponi on the Swahili Coast in North Tanzania

Leaving Dar Es Salaam we continue travelling along the Swahili coast. On our first out we are aiming to take a quick look at the town of Bagamoyo then take the road through the Saadani National Park stopping either in or at the top of the park or a little further along at Ushongo before we reach the Pangani River and then Tanga.

Bagamoyo was once an important trading town, the main trade being in slaves. The name ‘Bagamoyo’ means ‘Lay Down Your Heart’ because this is where the caravans reached the coast and the slaves were shipped out to Kilwa, Zanzibar and points more distant. In the late 19th and early 20th century it became the capital of German East Africa. The road along the front of the town is narrow and lined with crumbling colonial buildings and while we aren’t ready to stop for the night we figure it is a good spot to stop for a wander and a morning break. Unfortunately there are admission fees for almost everything including wandering along the street taking photos. Paul manages a couple of quick photos but then we are politely pointed in the direction of the Antiquities Office to pay our fees. Instead we settle for a soft drink across the road at the Firefly restaurant and camp where we admire the restoration of the old building and the simple but colourful decor.

Further north along the main road we take the turn off to the southern entrance of the Sadaani National Park. The dirt road starts off fairly narrow but OK then, after about ten kilometres, we strike a couple of patches of mud which we negotiate without any problems. The next patch of mud we see is much bigger and while we are considering if we want to tackle it a few locals pass by. They assure us we can make it the next village but are unable to provide any information on the track further ahead. With memories of getting stuck in the mud in Mozambique and taking note of the scarcity of other vehicles to help us out if we have a major problem we decide not to risk it and head back to the highway.

Our detour and the need to travel further inland has added a lot of kilometres to our journey and we can’t make it back to the coast the same day. We don’t find a suitable spot to free camp and the only campsite we can find is at the back of the local hotel in Segera at the intersection of the road we need to take to Tanga. Its not much more than a clear area under trees with access to a smelly toilet but its fairly quiet and off the road so its good enough for the night.

After a pleasant and easy drive east to Tanga we take a drive around the town past the port and along the sea front where there are the remains of a few old colonial buildings. South of Tanga on the banks of the Pangani River is the small town of Pangani. We had planned to stay south of the river but have had good reviews of Peponi which is north of the river and easier to get to so we decide to try it. It is right on the beach and the facilities and staff are very good so we decide there is no need to venture further. After the first night we get the prime camping site, right beside the beach and under a large tree and we happily stay six nights. Local fishermen walking past on the beach offer plenty of fresh seafood and we are happy to have a feed of fish one evening.

Once again the reef comes right into the coast and extends out a good distance so there is some interesting walking to be done on the reef at low tide but its not good for swimming. The resort swimming pool fixes that issue though and our days pass easily watching the activities on the reef  and along the beach front and catching up on some reading and writing. Paul is particularly interested in watching the locals building their boats by hand using age old tools and techniques.

When we are ready to move on we ask about the condition of the tracks heading across country to the highway so we can avoid the need to go back through Tanga. We are assured they are OK now and have dried out enough for us to get through. The report was right, sort of, as we reached a section of track which was far to wet, soft and deep for any vehicle to get through but were able to take a fairly long detour through an orchard and open patches of bush and eventually return to the main track. Most of the time we are following two sets of wheel tracks but then we lose one of them and make our way along an area usually only used for motor cyclists and walkers.

Back on the highway we venture west through small villages and larger towns until we reach Mombo. Here we turn off the highway to drive into the Western Usambara Mountains. The paved road winds and climbs into the mountains providing lots of great views along the way.

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Waterfall on the way to Lushoto in the Usambara Mountains

We reach Lushoto, in the heart of lush valleys and take a dirt track five kilometres to Irente Farm and Bio-diversity Reserve who offer camping and other accommodation as well as selling their own delicious rye bread and cheeses. The temperature has plummeted since we left the coast and climbed to around 1400m but the staff light a fire for us in the lounge area in the evening and we decide to stay a second night. Walking is the major tourist activity around here with walks ranging from a few muddy kilometres to a waterfall or an easier walk of several kilometres to a view point through to multi-day hikes staying in local villages but I’m afraid we don’t even manage the easy walk but enjoy the peace and quiet and absence of humidity and the views from the deck in front of the lounge and restaurant. Returning to the highway at Mombo we decide to try and return to this area when the roads are drier. There are lots of places to explore and they would be much more accessible in the dry season.

Our next target is the Mt Kiliminjaro area. At this time of the year sightings of the mountains can be difficult as it is often shrouded in clouds. Moshi is the major town in the area but we haven’t heard or read about anywhere good to camp so decide to head up the eastern side of the mountain to camp and to just visit Moshi on a day trip to stock up our supplies and to arrange car insurance for Kenya. Marangu Hotel offers camping as well as a restaurant and bar and we are after a nice meal for my birthday dinner. The camping area looks OK and there is no-one else in it so it should be quiet and although the dining room doesn’t offer what we want we can get a light meal in the bar which has a good atmosphere. Now we just want the clouds to lift and to be able to have our sundowner with a great view of the mountain but Kili doesn’t ‘lift her skirts’ for us so we settle for watching a local couple have their wedding photos taken in the lush garden.

By the time we return to our camp site an Overlanding truck with about 30 passengers has arrived and while most of them retire to their tents at a reasonable hour, a small group stay up until about 2.30 am and as their alcohol consumption continues their voices rise even higher. They are staying a second night so we decide to find a new spot to camp after we return from our day trip to Moshi.

Moshi is a big place and not all that attractive but we manage to get most of the supplies we are after and to arrange COMESA third party insurance which will cover us for all of East Africa. We are glad to get out of the town and return to the peace and quiet of the Marangu area. Our next camp is quite a bit higher up the mountain at Coffee Tree Camp and it is delightful. We are the only people staying in the manicured gardens and as well as a lovely spot to camp on the lush green grass we have the option of staying in a rondavel with an ensuite for just $2 USD more. Easy choice given the cold and sometimes drizzly conditions and with the extra bonus of providing Paul with a space to set up his big computer and work on some of his photographs.

There is a kitchen area with a place to build a fire for cooking and a table and chairs for dining and we are parked right next to it so food preparation is simple. The weather sets in and the rain increases and temperatures drop so we are very happy to be sleeping and spending our days inside. We are now at more than 1600 metres elevation and even though we get some patches of sunshine the mountain above us is continually shrouded.

Each morning we extend our stay by yet another day until we run out of time to stay with our TIP (temporary import permit for the car) expiring. It is time for us to continue our journey up the east side of the mountain to the border crossing into Kenya at Loitokitok and onward to more adventures.

Exotic Zanzibar

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Laying out the Fabrics, Zanzibar

Zanzibar! The name conjures up visions of fascinating architecture, Swahili Princes and Omani Arab Sultans, narrow alleys and lane ways and exotic spices. We are looking forward to a week in Stone Town and, although it is technically possible to take your vehicle across to the island on a ferry, it is not practical so we have booked a room in an apartment and we catch the passenger ferry from Dar es Salaam.

Our vehicle is left safely locked up at the Safari Lodge where we stayed before our trip. We catch an Uber to the ferry terminal which makes negotiating the heavy traffic on the trip into town easy and when our driver drops us off we arrange for him to pick us up on our return. We had read and heard about problems with the ferry trip, particularly with managing luggage and avoiding overly pushy ‘helpers’. We firmly respond ‘no thank you’ to all offers of assistance and we upgrade our seats and only carry hand luggage so we avoid the crowds and luggage hassles. The trip takes a couple of hours but the sea is calm and the seats are comfortable. Too easy!

Our home for the week is in a three bedroom apartment on the first floor of a building in a small lane near the port. It is owned by a couple of young guys who rent the rooms out through Air BnB. We ring when we arrive on the island and we are met by Abdul outside a hotel near the port. He leads us down the narrow alleys to our new abode for the next week … it is far too difficult to give directions in these un-named alleys. We get the tour of the apartment and we have the use of a lounge and dining room and a kitchen so we can easily make meals when we want and use the Wi-Fi. We have the main bedroom with an ensuite and the other two rooms are occupied by a couple of young guys both here for a month or two. One is learning Swahili while waiting to commence his PhD work on forest management in Tanzanian communities and the other is a scientist and is working on his business of making videos to teach science.

Most Zanzibar residents are Muslim and it is Ramadan so food and drink cannot be consumed at all by Muslims between sunrise and sunset and many restaurants are closed during those times. The ones which are open have screens or other barriers so people who are eating or drinking cannot be seen from the street. We generally find it easiest to make our own breakfast then, after a morning walk, we return to the apartment for lunch and try out different restaurants for our evening meals.

The lanes and alleys are a maze and we frequently walk in circles and cover three times as much ground as we expect to get from one place to another. It’s not a problem though as we enjoy wandering around looking at the buildings and people.

We also love visiting the market. As well as plenty of fruit and vegetables there are lots of spices. Zanzibar is, after all, known as the Spice Island. The fresh fish market is bustling and the narrow aisle is crowded as locals bargain for their choice of freshly caught fish. There is also a meat market next door. Outside the main market are stalls selling all manner of goods and produce. The fresh dates which come from Oman are our pick.

We have signed up for a cooking class with Shara from Tangawizi Restaurant and we meet her at the market one afternoon. First she offers us some options for our class and then we visit several stalls to buy some fresh fish, some vegetables and some spices and rice.

We take a taxi to her house in a suburb of Zanzibar City where we meet her daughter Lutfia and very cute two year old grand daughter. Over the next few hours we help prepare a fish curry and a vegetable curry accompanied by rice and red beans and chapati. The most laborious task is the grating of coconuts to make coconut milk, I think I’ll stick to the cans. After the call to prayer signalling the end of the day we eat our meal and finish it off with a little candied coconut.

On another day we visit the Anglican Cathedral which was built on the site of the old slave market, the altar reputedly marking the spot of the whipping tree where slaves were lashed with a stinging branch. Slave chambers are located beneath the building and have been retained as part of the memorial. Each chamber held up to 65 slaves awaiting sale. There is also a moving slave memorial in the gardens and a very detailed explanation of the history of the area and the slave trade.

Our dinner one evening is a Zanzibar feast in the rooftop restaurant of the hotel Emerson on Hurumzi. It’s a wonderful evening starting with a drink while we watch the sunset. A waiter comes with a menu and describes the range of Persian and Omani dishes we will be tasting in our meal and while we are waiting for the first selection of dishes a local group begin playing Taarab music which fuses African, Arabic and Indian music. The food throughout the evening is delicious and there is lots of variety with several small dishes in each course. It’s a memorable evening.

Our other meals range from barbecue meats and flat bread at the night market to curries or seafood from local restaurants. A favourite spot to stop for coffee or a cold drink or light lunch is the Emerson Spice Hotel. The interior courtyard has a fascinating mix of rough stone and coral, worn timber, green plants and lots of nooks and crannies. On Paul’s birthday we have sunset drinks by the ocean then dine at another rooftop restaurant. Tis a tough life on the road.

The days pass easily with long rambling walks after which we relax at the apartment during the heat of the day before venturing out again.

After an enjoyable week it is time to return to the mainland so we can continue our adventures in Northern Tanzania.

Zanzibar is exotic and fascinating … well worth a visit.

 

Entering East Africa

The Great Mosque, Kilwa Kisiwani

Heading north from Ilha de Mocambique we follow the bitumen north toward Tanzania. Although we would like to see more of the coast the highway curves inland and there are significant detours involved if we want to visit the coast. We narrow our options down and decide to make a side trip to Pemba. The trip is easy and the roads are much better here than in central Mozambique. The land around us is green and as we travel further into the tropics there are more and more people around. Certainly more than in the drier parts of the country.

We take the turn east toward Pemba and shortly before we reach the main part of the town we follow our map and turn toward the camp site we have chosen. After following a dirt road for a while we take a left turn onto a smaller track which gets progressively narrower as we go. Soon we are following tyre tracks which don’t exactly follow the tracks we have on either of the maps we are using. We see some locals and they happily point us in the right direction and we arrive safe and sound at Ilala Lodge. None of our mapping apps seems to handle some of these small, remote towns. George, the French owner, tells us that there isn’t officially any camping allowed here as only Mozambique nationals are allowed to set up camp grounds but we are welcome to stay for free and just pay for wifi if we need it. What a nice guy and what a lovely spot to stay! He shows us an area just at the back of the beach and a little away from the chalets used for other guests and we settle in for a few days. George says we can stay as long as we like. Very tempting!

The tides here are large and the sea is quite shallow as far out as the edge of the reef about 1 km away and there are gentle sand banks before that. Swimming is good at high tide and the water is very warm. Otherwise the main activity is watching the activity of the locals. When the men return to shore after fishing in their dhows they sit on the shore and clean their catch and later the women arrive and wade through the shallows with nets to capture the small fish.

Early morning light at low tide at Pemba in Northern Mozambique

We follow George’s directions that takes us along a much simpler track to return to the highway and we follow the bitumen as far north as it goes. It runs out at Palma and we then have just a short distance on a good dirt road to reach our final stop in Mozambique in the village of Quionga. Here we camp in the yard of a South African missionary, Andreas. There is no fee but a donation is welcomed and we have a peaceful night camping under a huge tree. Andreas is able to give us valuable information about the track north to the Ruvuma River and what time we should leave to catch the ferry as it only operates once per day near the high tide. We don’t need to make an early start and Paul is out taking photos of the village in the morning. He soon attracts a following of young children keen to get into the photos.

We set out in plenty of time to go through the Mozambique border post and then travel a few more kilometres to reach to the ferry. We know the road will be rough and we figure we can have lunch while we wait on the bank of the Ruvuma River.

Rough road on the way to the Ruvuma River, border of Mozambique and Tanzania

Well that plan didn’t work out to well. The road as far as the border post was rough and not muddy but after the border post we descend toward the river and the track becomes more treacherous. We successfully get through a couple of muddy patches then are confronted by a huge mud hole. There appears to be a track on the left side but it looks a little narrow and if we don’t fit along there we could tip over. Next to it is a smallish mud hole and we try it and get stuck but manage to reverse back out. The mud hole on the right is way too soft so we don’t even consider it. By now a couple of locals have stopped to watch the action and one appears to suggest the middle large hole is the way to go and we decide to give it a go.

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Hmm, which way?

Not the right choice as it turns out. While we are still unsuccessfully trying to extract our vehicle a small crowd of local guys has gathered and they offer to push us out for $50USD. We try to negotiate but they don’t budge and when we agree they try to raise the price to $100 but we manage to avoid agreeing to that. They decide the water is too deep and bail it out laboriously then dig soft mud out from under the diff.

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#*#^! Not This Way #*#^!

A couple of attempts have been made to push us out and they don’t even look like succeeding and I’m starting to envisage a night trying to camp in the middle of the mud hole when oncoming traffic heralds the arrival of the ferry from Tanzania. The first vehicle is a 4WD with some American guys who are working in the area, possibly also missionaries. They were stuck here a while back and are happy to help us out so we attach our winch to the front of their land cruiser and we pull ourselves out. Thank goodness!

While we are doing this we see the rest of the traffic, including some 2WD vehicles, take the high side of the track and pass the mud without any problems. We sure got that decision wrong. Even though the local guys didn’t manage to get us out of the hole they have worked extremely hard in trying to help us so we hand over the cash we had agreed on. We’re now not sure we’ll make the ferry but apparently one of the them has rung ahead and the ferry is waiting for us. It is a great relief to get on to it. This wasn’t the type of exit from southern Africa than we had planned on but it is all part of the adventure.

The river is wide and the crossing takes about twenty minutes after which we head for the nearest town of Mtwara. Its a rough road but much better than the road on the southern side of the river. We go through the Tanzanian border post with no problems but it still takes about two hours. It is late afternoon before we reach town. There’s no camping in town and we’re too weary to go further to find a camp so we find a place to stay out of the centre of town opposite the beach. The Cliff and Garden Resort is quite run down but still charming. The owner is an elderly Dutch lady who appears unable to get around much and it appears that things have been let go a little but it suits us. We have a big chalet with a dining room/kitchen as well as bedroom and bathroom and we can park directly outside. Most of the kitchen equipment, ie fridge and stove, doesn’t work but we can bring our own inside and at least we have power, water, a sink and somewhere to prepare and eat food. We order a meal from the restaurant on our first night and are offered a choice of fish and chips or chicken and chips except they don’t have any fish. The serve of chicken is a half a chicken so we decide to share just one meal and it proves to be ample. We want to get a service on the car and have a few ongoing electrical issues looked at so we end up staying three nights.

As well as getting the work done on the car we get a Tanzanian SIM card and data, eat at a great Indian restaurant and visit the local market. Because we don’t have our car for much of the time our travel is a mixture of walking in the hot and humid weather and catching a bijaji. These cost between two and five thousand shillings per trip ($1-3) and are similar to the south east asian tuk tuks.

Our next stop is to be the village of Kilwa Masoko as we want to visit the Arab ruins on the island of Kilwa Kisiwani which is just a couple of kilometres off shore. There are lots of villages along the way and we need to slow to 50kph going through them. The maximum between the villages is 80kph and sometimes the gap between the villages is only a matter of a few kilometres or less so its a slow trip. As well as trucks there are lots of large and small buses on the road and it is a relief to leave the highway and head for the coast.

After a quick look around the village we find a spot to camp at a lodge on the beachfront. We have a nice shady tree to camp beside and although we are just in front of the restaurant there is noone else around so it is very quiet. The owner is very hospitable and makes sure we are comfortable and the restaurant has great reviews so we decide we will dine in it at least once.

The reef here is a kilometre or two off the coast and the tides are huge. We have great views of the activities of the locals as they follow their daily fishing routines.

Kilwa Kisiwani translates as “Kilwa on the Island” to distinguish it from Kilwa Masoku, which is a small town on the mainland, and the largely abandoned Kilwa Kivengi which is about twenty kilometres north and is where the Germans built their “boma” during their brief tenure of the colony of German East Africa in the late 19th and early 20th century.

To visit Kilwa Kisiwani we pay for a permit at the antiquities office and also for a guide and a boat to take us the three kilometres across the bay from Kilwa Masoku. We leave camp in the cool of the early morning because we know that we will be walking for several hours on the island. We clamber over rocks beside the wharf and step onto our boat which takes about twenty minutes to convey us to the island. Our guide, a young Swahili woman named Jamili, describes our rough itinerary during the trip.

A small village of Swahili people still live on the island and they make a living by fishing and growing what they need to eat. Apart from a primary school, a couple of very small shops and the villagers huts  there remains the extensive ruins which have been partially excavated and are all that is left of the chequered history of the sometimes prosperous town of Kilwa over the last eleven hundred years.

Dhows are used for travel and to bring supplies to and from the mainland as well as for fishing. At low tide they are marooned on the mud flats.

The earliest ruins, some of which were simple walled encampments, date back to the 10th and 11th centuries. They, like all the other buildings, were built from coral rock, which was almost certainly taken from quarries on the island. The walls are one to two feet thick and the later buildings were rendered with lime. Where the rock is exposed it is easy to find places where the patterns of the coral organisms are discernable. The same method of building was used in Zanzibar which was also settled by the Omani Arabs and came to prominence after Kilwa’s decline.

While the earliest ruins in Kilwa were quite simple later buildings were very elaborate and with the latter ones being quite luxurious. Gereza, Kilwa’s Fort is the most complete structure. It was originally built by the Portuguese but most of the existing structure was rebuilt by the Omani Arabs.

We visit the remains of three mosques, the Great Mosque, as its name implies, is the most impressive but the small mosque which was mainly used by the Sultan and his family has a wonderful atmosphere as well.

At one end of the island is Makutani, “the palace of the big walls”, where a very large palace and the remains of other buildings are enclosed within a defensive wall.

The final structures we visit is Husuni Kubwa, a magnificent 14th century palace. It is huge and very complex, a splendid royal residence which was only occupied by one Sultan. After exploring it and marvelling at the lavish life style which would have been enjoyed by the regal family we descend the stairs to the mangrove flats and pick our way out to the boat for our return to the mainland.

We are enjoying the relaxed atmosphere at our camp at Kilwa Masoko so we decide to stay an extra day. After we make our decision our host informs us there is a group coming in later and they are likely to be noisy. She sure was right. An extended Indian family occupy most of the chalets and after a communal dinner they sing and dance. It is nice to listen to and it would be great to be a part of their festivities. They aren’t too late with their songs though so we still get a good nights sleep.

We are now just a days drive from Dar Es Salaam. We are planning a week long visit to the island of Zanzibar so we need to find a place to stay for one night then a place to safely leave the car for the week. The electrical work we had done in Mtwara doesn’t seem to have fixed everything so we look for an auto electrician and find one who says they can do the work and will be happy to store the car for the week. The city is big and busy and has a reputation for being a tough place to stay so we are happy to find a place on the internet which is on the outskirts of the city and looks very laid back.

So much for plans. We are using two apps to help us navigate but neither help and we end up at a loss as to how to get there. We ring and follow the hosts suggestion of asking a bijaji driver to lead us to the right road and eventually, after crossing a river and climbing up and down some very basic tracks, we find the place. It doesn’t live up to expectations though because we can’t get our car off the road and the facilities are way more basic than we expected. We decide to go for plan B and head back to the main road and before long we reach the Safari Lodge in a suburb north of the city. Here we find secure parking with an overnight guard, a comfortable room and very pleasant staff. They offer to let us leave our car here for our week on Zanzibar and, after checking out the auto electrician and deciding they look less than reliable, we take them up on their offer. It sure shows that when things don’t work out the way you expect they can work out even better.

Looking forward to our time on Zanzibar.

Ilha De Moçambique

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Stone Town, Ilha de Moçambique

Ilha De Moçambique (Mozambique Island) is small in size at less than 3.5 km long and 500m wide but it is packed with history and has lots of fascinating buildings so we are looking forward to exploring it. We travel across the 3.5km one lane bridge which joins the island to the mainland. Luckily there are passing points along the way. The water beneath the bridge is shallow and remarkably clear. There are lots of people living in this area and the water is dotted with fishing dhows, people netting fish and others wading across toward the island.

There is no camping on the island so our first task is to find a place to stay for our visit. We have picked out a number of possibilities and we are soon joined by a throng of young boys offering to guard our car, for a small fee of course, as we make our way from place to place. The main streets are narrow and often one way and the side streets are often alley ways too narrow to drive through so it is slow going and the boys run behind us and sometimes jump onto the back of the vehicle.

The first few are not suitable either because they are too expensive or not available for the whole time we want and we are just working out how to reach the next place when a young man on a bicycle offers to lead us. Mohamed takes us to several more places, a couple would be OK but we’re hoping to find something better and then the final place he takes us to is delightful. O Escondidinho is a grand old building and there is just one room left for the five nights we are planning to stay. It’s in the courtyard just next to the swimming pool and there is plenty of space for Paul to bring his computer inside to work on his photos. We can’t self cater but breakfast is included and we can easily make our own lunch in the room so we will only need to buy one meal each day. Perfect!

Most of the historic buildings are in Stone Town which occupies the northern section of the island. They were constructed between the early 16th and late 19th centuries when the Portuguese occupied the island and locals were banished to the mainland. The local people now live in Makuti Town in the southern part of the island and Stone Town buildings are mainly used for tourism or are in varying states of decay. Each day we wander around the quiet streets always finding new alleys or revisiting others we enjoy.

The details are in the buildings are fascinating, especially the doorways and windows.

At the north end of the island is the Fort of São Sebastião which was built in the 16th century. It is huge and we spend several hours wandering around and Paul returns in the late afternoon just before they close for the day so he can take even more photos.

Behind the fort, right at the very tip of the island is the Chapel of Nossa Senhora de Baluarte. Built in 1522, it is considered to be the oldest European building in the southern hemisphere.

Another place well worth a visit is the Palace & Chapel of São Paulo, the former governors residence. The residence has been completely restored and we wander around the many rooms with our guide explaining the history. The restoration has been extremely well done and it is easy to imagine the grand life the Portuguese rulers led, at the expense of all of the local people and of the slaves being trafficked through the island. No photography is allowed inside the residence but we were able to take photos in the chapel.

Mohammed led us through Makuti town and it is a bustling lively place, very different from the quiet streets in Stone Town and the splendour of the old buildings. Narrow walkways thread between shacks with the occasional wider thoroughfare.

The main road which runs through the centre of Makuti Town is bustling and it becomes much quieter as we approach Stone Town. A street side shoe stall intrigues me and Paul enjoys watching a pick up game of soccer. An unused church stands at the southern end of the island.

The Memorial Slave Garden is a reminder of the dreadful history of the island and the lives of the many slaves who passed through here or died on the way here.

As it is a small island you are never far from the water and it is always interesting to watch the numerous dhows and the general ‘goings on’.

The sun sets quite early and we try to find a nice spot for sundowners so we can enjoy the changing colours. Later we try out various restaurants and enjoy reflecting on our day.

 

 

 

 

Heading North in Mozambique

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Sunrise at Morrungulo on the Mozambique Coast

Border crossings from South Africa to Mozambique have a reputation for being slow and possibly with problems of corruption or at least pestering. I’m happy to say the Giryondo Border Post in the centre of Kruger and the Limpopo National Parks offered a friendly and efficient service and we were through the South African and Mozambique offices of Immigration, Customs and National Parks in just over 40 minutes. That included obtaining our Mozambique visa on arrival and saw us head into Mozambique by mid morning. Our visa is valid for 30 days and we plan to use all or most of that time in our travels from here to the Tanzanian border in the far north of the country.

We are heading for the coast and the first section of the road through the Limpopo park is slow going rocky with plenty of corrugations. We take it slowly and the car has seen much worse roads in the past so I am surprised when I glance in the side mirror to see one of our spare wheels bounding off into the bushes behind us. The weld on the rear tyre carrier completely failed and it is just as well I saw it go as the wheel which took off into the bush is carrying our rear number plate. It would be a nuisance and some expense to replace the wheel and carrier but it would be an administrative pain to try to get a new number plate. We retrieve the tyre from the bush, remove it from the broken piece of the carrier and strap it on top of the storage box on the roof rack. It will be a relatively easy job to get the weld repaired as we travel.

The rest of our journey to the coast is uneventful and the bitumen road, when we reach it, is in far better condition than we expected. That was until we reached the larger sections where the road replacement is under way and for many kilometres we travel along a dirt track a short distance off to the side of the road. This slows our average pace and as we have travelled further east with no change in time zone the sun is setting earlier so it is well and truly dark by the time we reach our camp site at the Sunset Beach Lodge and it is an easy decision to eat in the restaurant. The meal is good and cheap and when Paul spies crayfish on the menu at an extremely good price we decide to stay an extra night so we can enjoy a feast on the balcony for lunch the next day and a walk on the beach.

The stop over for an extra day means we are travelling north on a Monday so we are able to have the tyre carrier re-welded and to stock up on our food as we travel. Supermarkets become few and far between as you travel north in Mozambique so we can’t miss out on any opportunity to restock.

On our last trip to Mozambique we enjoyed an extended stay at Morrungulo Beach Lodge and we are returning this trip. James and Barbara and their son Harry have a beautifully maintained camping and chalet area on a glorious beach and, although we hadn’t planned to stay too long, we end up staying for a week. We set up the ground tent for the first time, relieved that it is very simple as we had managed to lose the instructions, and Paul is able to spend time working on his photos. Of course he also takes some more great photos from the beach and the drone while we are there.

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Morrungulo Beach at Sunset

We swim twice every day, walk for kilometres along the beach on the firm sands, enjoy the lush green campgrounds and generally relax while we work on our photos and writing. Local fishermen offer their catches and we feast on crayfish one night and buy a huge barracuda which is filleted and feeds us for another two nights and also leaves us with enough fish for another five nights. Yum. Its a hard place to leave but we really need to pick up our travels again. To my surprise the tent easily fits back inside its bag.

Our next significant destination is Ilha da Mocambique (Mozambique Island) which is more than 1,700 km and thousands of potholes north. We met Tessie, Anton and Carol while we were at Sunset Beach Lodge and they were headed for their place at Inhassaro and invited us to stay. Inhassaro is 20 km off the main highway but we decide to drop in as it would be good to see them again. We have lost their phone number so don’t even give them advance warning but they make us very welcome at their place, Yellowfin Lodge, and give us a room for the night and we join them for a delicious dinner and a good yarn.

We are travelling on EN1 (Highway One) and hit some bad potholes as soon as we had travelled north of Vilanculos before we reached Inhassaro. As we continue north they get worse. We try various ways to describe them: you don’t drive over these potholes, you enter them then some time later come out; even the potholes have potholes; sometimes the potholes on the side of the road are so bad you go back to the original potholes in the middle of the road; and then sometimes the road condition was so bad it was no longer potholes, just holes with virtually no bitumen left.

Mozambique - 9

Not much of the road left, EN1, Highway 1 in Mozambique

Our next overnight stop is at a camp near the Gorongosa National Park. The camp is about 15 km off the main road and it is delight to hit the relatively smooth gravel road. We reach the turn off into the camp, pass an abandoned building and head deeper into the bush. The campsite is run by the local community with payment by donation and is set amongst the bush. A couple and their young child had arrived just before us and were the only other campers for the night. We have a relatively short drive planned for the next day so it was lovely to wake in the bush and to have a relaxed start to the day.

James and Barbara recommended M’Phwinge Lodge for an overnight stay and although they have no camping sites they have very reasonably priced chalets. We have been in touch with the owners and Pat has given us directions for a dirt road around the top of the Gorongosa National Park so we can miss the worst section of the main road. It is a delightful drive and worth doing even if it didn’t have the added bonus of missing that dreadful stretch of road. The scenery is great, especially as we drive past the southern side of the Gorongosa massif and through villages filled with brightly dressed local people. There are a couple of river crossings which make this route impassable in the wet season but they are no problem now. Unfortunately some of the buses and trucks are also taking this route and the road is barely wide enough so we just try to get right out of their way as soon as we see them coming.

Eventually we reach the other end of the dirt road and turn on to Highway 2 (EN2), which instead of being potholed bitumen is sand. A few sections are fairly soft sand but most is packed down and, while we need to take care, it is much easier to cope with than potholes. We pass through the town of Inhaminga with ruins of Portuguese buildings along the main road and down side streets and lots of people near some market stalls. The sandy road continues right up until we reach the EN1, thankfully past the pot holed section, and just a few kilometres along we turn into M’Phingwe Lodge.

We have a comfortable night and a nice meal at M’Phwinge and chat with Pat and Ant White. The lodge is set amongst trees and a tame Blue Duiker wanders around the grounds. They are very rare and endemic to this area. He had been rescued and raised in a pen until he was led enough to fend for himself and was just released very recently. He hasn’t left for the bush yet and still likes being rubbed between the tiny horns but when he is ready he can leave and go back to the bush.

In the morning we have another 20 km of pot-holes to negotiate but Pat assures us the road is much better after that. We have more than 700 km to travel today so we leave very early and as we cross the Zambezi the mist is rising through the early sunshine. The river is huge here, many times bigger then when we crossed it first in western Zambia then again as we crossed it as we left Zambia for Zimbabwe and finally as it thundered over the Victoria Falls. Many rivers feed into it and they have all carried water from the rainy season.

The road is excellent and we make good progress. An unusual sight is a poor goat tied to the top of a large truck, even while cornering the goat managed to stay on its feet. The land around here is dotted with huge granite outcrops called Inselbergs and we start seeing them about an hour before we reach our destination of Nampula.

The camp is 15km outside of the busy town and we arrive before dark. The camping area  is set in a manicured garden next to a lake at the base of an Inselberg. Its a very unusual setting and we compare it to our other camps since we arrived in Mozambique; on top of sand dunes at Sunset Beach, under trees just behind the beach at Morrungulo, in a lovely private lodge at Inhassaro, in the jungle at Gorongosa, and in the bush at M’Phingwe.

It was a full moon a few nights ago and there is still lots of light in the middle of the nights so Paul is up taking photographs for a couple of hours in the middle of the night and then again at first light. Luckily we have only a few hours driving to reach our destination for the next five nights, Ilha de Mocambique.

 

Revisiting Kruger National Park

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Zebra, and Giraffe Crossing, Kruger NP

We visited Kruger National Park twice previously and both times the park was very dry after enduring drought for several years. It made the animals easier to see but we wanted to see the park after the last two good rainy seasons so we decided to travel through the park on our way toward East Africa.

We entered the park at the Punda Maria Gate and spent a leisurely four hours driving to the Shingwedzi Rest Camp. We spent three nights at the camp which gave us a good chance to explore the area around it on drives each morning and afternoon before we moved south to Tsendse Bush Camp which is just south of the Mopani Rest Camp. After another three nights with more days exploring around there we headed out of the park crossing the border into Mozambique at the Giryondo Gate.

Even though there was plenty of good cover for the animals we saw plenty of wildlife and really enjoyed the different aspect the green growth and plentiful water provided.

There are boards at the rest camps where people mark the locations they have seen different animals and each day there were sightings of lions and leopard reported and we visited and revisited the areas they had been seen in. We had no luck with seeing lions but a leopard strolled across the road in front of the car on one of our drives. She headed for a bush just by the side of the road but before Paul could get his camera ready she had second thoughts about settling down there and moved through thick bush and out of sight. I managed to catch a quick shot through the windscreen.

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Leopard, Kruger NP

The only other predators we saw were a couple of hyena lying beside the road early on morning.

I was particularly pleased with the numbers of giraffe we saw. they are amazing animals and can seem gangly with their long, long legs and their swaying walk but they somehow manage to always appear graceful. Sometimes they are busy feeding and ignore us but often they are curious and stop to stare at us just as we stare at them. I loved getting detail of their heads and lush long eyelashes and kind eyes as well as detail of their intricate patterns.

We saw plenty of buck on our travels. The waterbuck were plentiful near the rivers and pretty  nyala could be seen among the bushes.

We saw individual or small groups of buffalo frequently, particularly wallowing in mud in the riverbeds. We also saw two large herds numbering in the hundreds, always great to experience.

Zebra are another frequent sighting and warthogs were seen fairly often but they usually head away as soon as they feel threatened.

Amongst the birds we saw were the pretty Little Bee-eater and the stately Egyptian Geese.

Last but by no means least are the elephants. We saw plenty of them while we were at Shingwedzi and they are great to sit and watch as you can see the family interactions and their characters really show. Then as we approached the Mopani camp we saw more and more of them. There were hundreds in the area feeding on the lush growth.

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Elephant at the Water tank, Kruger NP

From Kalahari to Kruger

Giraffe in the Okavango Delta

After we leave the Central Kalahari Game Reserve our next major destination is Kruger National Park so we need to cross Botswana and the top of South Africa. We have a few places we want to visit on the way and the first is a return stay in Maun.

We were in Maun for a couple of weeks last year and had some great trips into Moremi Game Reserve in the Okavango Delta and Paul really wants to fly over the Delta in a helicopter while it has a good amount of water in it. We also have a few chores to do in town, including cleaning off all the mud presently caking the car so we’ll return to Sitatunga Camp just outside of town and catch up with Gerald and Corinne.

We didn’t leave the Central Kalahari until late morning because we had spent time looking for game and negotiating a few muddy patches inside the park. The drive out to the highway also takes quite a while because of all the water on the track. Once on the highway its an easy but long drive and we arrive at Sitatunga in the late afternoon, just in time for a drink in the bar before an easy meal and bed. We stay four nights, the chores get done, the car gets cleaned, Paul processes some photos and video from our last visit and I work on the backlog of posts. Most importantly Paul has his helicopter flight late one afternoon and captures some amazing photographs. There’s one at the top and another couple here, with more to come.

Young elephant covered in white sand in the Okavango Delta

Buffalo in the lush grass in the Okavango

We finish our chores on Monday morning and by late morning we head east. Its a very long day to get across Botswana to the busy city of Francistown and then south for another couple of hours until it is time to leave the highway and find a bush camp. Along the drive east we were amazed by the amount of water along the side of the highway.

Flood waters beside the highway across Botswana

Our long day put us in easy reach of the Tuli Block, a collection of privately owned properties which are mainly game reserves. As well as the opportunity to see wildlife we also hope to enjoy interesting scenery and to see some of the cultural history sites in the area. We start re-thinking our plans almost as soon as we leave the bitumen. A patch of very slippery mud has us sliding all over the road with our tyres caked and unable to grip. If there is a lot of this mud it will make it difficult to get to all of the places we have planned. Luckily the place we hope to spend a night or two in is not far and we reach it with only one more tricky spot, a creek crossing on the property which had been churned up by crossing vehicles. We get stuck momentarily but our diff-lockers save the day and we don’t have to get out the winch.

Our camp site is lovely with beautiful trees all around and our own private ablutions and wash up sink. A short walk down the bank gets us to the Limpopo River with more lovely trees across the river on the South African side. We wanted to spend at least one more day in the area exploring but decide to shorten our stay and reach what we can today and then cross into South Africa.

We want a bush camp not too far from the border but as soon as we cross into South Africa the nature of the countryside changes. Fences stop us from leaving the road as the land is either under cultivation or managed as private game reserves for hunting and meat production. We push on and just before it gets dark we are happy to find a lodge which offers camping just outside the small town of Alldays. The site is a bit rundown and the bore water is dreadful but at least it is safe spot to spend the night.

Our next stay is a huge contrast. The Zakanaka camp site is in the Soutpansberg Mountains not far from the town of Makhado (previously known as Louis Trichardt) and it has lush gardens, a backdrop of impressive mountains, immaculate and very decorative amenities, free fire wood, our own private covered kitchen area including a stove and sink, cleared walking paths and delightful hosts. Gail and Alistair invite us to join them for sundowners when we wander up to the house and we swap tales as we enjoy watching the changing light and the sight of a shy bushbuck wandering past. It is so nice in fact that we decide to stay another night. This gives Paul a chance to download and sort his recent photos and to fly the drone. Gail and Alistair join us after dinner to see some of Paul’s photos and give us directions for the most scenic route to Kruger.

The drive is delightful and we enter the park before lunch time, plenty of time to start our game viewing on the way to our first camp.

 

 

Central Kalahari

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The Central Kalahari Game Reserve is a huge park, the second largest in the world at 52,800 square kilometres, and has a wide range of animals scattered throughout it. It is technically a desert but has a range of habitats and as we are visiting after the rainy season there is abundant vegetation. Accommodation in the park is limited and can be difficult to book so our camp site locations are dictated by what is available at late notice. We are entering through the Xade Gate which is a long way south and west of the main part of the park we want to visit. Our first two nights in the park will be more than 160 km from the entrance so we spend a night bush camping just outside the park boundary. Unlike our last camp just outside the Kgalagadi Trans-frontier park we have no nocturnal visits from lions, the only wildlife we see are some butterflies forming a cluster on damp sand.

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After we leave the park reception at Xade the first section of the drive is through quite dense bush and slow going and, although we see signs that elephant have been in the area very recently, we don’t catch sight of any. In fact we see very few animals at all until we reach Piper Pan where we see the usual complement of Springbok and Oryx. A less common sighting is the fascinating Secretary Bird, so named because the feathers sticking out from its head can appear similar to pens stuck behind the ears of an office worker. Not sure I see that myself but it makes a memorable name.

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After lunch at one of the campsites we continue the second half of the journey and arrive at our campsite by mid afternoon. Just as we are nearing it we see giraffe crossing the road in front of us. More and more appear and eventually we count seventeen, the largest herd we have seen. They are walking away from the direction of our camp so we hope it is on their normal path to or from water.

Most of the campsites in the park are very spaced out, our nearest neighbours are 14 km away. Our campsite is on a rise above the San Pan but the views are limited by trees and the ground is uneven and covered in prickles, maybe that is why it hadn’t been booked already. Paul shovels away the prickles to give us room to sit and to work at the kitchen and we shovel out some sand under one side of the car to level out the vehicle. Its not an ideal spot but the reappearance of the giraffe next morning makes up for it. They are passing behind the car and are very curious and stop to gaze at us.

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We head out for a drive in the morning and spend most of the day parked under some trees beside the Tau Pan which is not too far away. We see quite a few antelope milling around but none are very close. Its very pleasant though and a lovely spot to enjoy being out in the bush and reading in between gazing around. After lunch we decided to drive a little further around the pan and then to head back to camp. Less than 200 metres away we see a young male lion lazing under a bush. We watch for a while but then our attention appears to annoy him, or perhaps it is just time to make a move, and he ambles off. We are able to follow for a while but he eventually leaves the road and heads into the bush.

After another night at our campsite we move to our next camp which is only a few hours easy driving away. The only time we need to pause in our drive is when we see another lion. Sometimes it can be difficult to see lion in the bush, this one is hard to miss. Its actually lying on the road as we approach and shows no sign of moving until we get quite close when it moves to a bush right next to the road. We travel past and apart from turning to watch us he shows no sign of disturbance, and before we leave the area he has settled down for another snooze. At least he is not on the road now so he won’t have to move when the next pesky lot of tourists drive by.

We arrive at our new camp, Lekubu, by late morning. It is also lacking a view but at least it has no prickles. It is situated just at the start of Deception Valley so we continue on to a better spot for a picnic lunch and soon find another grove of trees near an open area with large herds of Springbok and Oryx as well as Zebra. Recent rains have added a sprinkling of wildflowers to the grass.

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As we continue our drive we see plenty more game including lots of ostrich roaming across the pans along with large herds of wildebeest, oryx and springbok.

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Deception Pan is damp and, rather than take one of the tracks right next to it and risk getting bogged, we travel part way around on a drier track. Its getting later in the afternoon and storm clouds are gathering but there is time for yet another photo of the majestic Oryx, this one in full flight.

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Rain starts before we get back to our campsite and soon becomes very heavy. We had considered camping in the grove of trees where we had our lunch but now we see why the camp sites are set on rises away from the edge of the pans. The track becomes very muddy and we slide our way through several sections of the track but reach our sandy and safe camp site with no problems.

We have one more night in the park and another longish drive to reach it the next day. We are a little concerned about the track, or at least I am, but our trusty vehicle, and experienced driver, get us through the muddy patches with no worse than a little slipping and sliding. We pass the two largest of the campgrounds, Kori overlooking the Kori Pan and Deception not too far away. Here the sites are closer together and they are the easiest to reach, perhaps accounting for why they are all fully booked. We are continuing on to one of the three camp sites in the Passarge Valley via tracks that pass by Sunday Pan and Leopard Pan. Again we are 14 km from our nearest neighbour. We haven’t seen as much wildlife in this area but the scenery has been great and the camp site is by far the nicest we have been in so it is well worth the drive. Thankfully no more rain falls during the night. Instead we leave the area to the sight of the valley still slumbering under a heavy morning mist.

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The mist lifts as we breakfast beside the Leopard Pan. There have been recent sightings of, you guessed it, leopard and we are hopeful but out of luck. Still it is a very pleasant place for our cereal and coffee before we make the long drive out of the park and up to Maun. Luckily the sun is drying out the roads but we still have several patches of mud to negotiate and twenty kilometres of large mud pools on the road after we leave the park. We even have ducks swimming on the road. I thought this was supposed to be a desert!