Wildlife on our Doorstep

Young BushBuck and Warthog, Chobe Safari Camp, Botswana

Chobe National Park in Botswana is one of great wildlife destinations in Africa and the Chobe river front section supports the largest wildlife population in the park. What a great place for us to enjoy a final safari before we finish this part of our African adventures.

Once we cross the border from Zambia to Botswana it is a short drive to Kasane where we are camping in the Chobe Safari Camp. We love our site next to the river and we are right on the border of the national park. As well as our great river views we can see elephants coming down to drink all along the river front and one evening an elephant approaches the edge of the camp, only an electric fence prevents him from wandering right into our camp site. As well as listening to the hippos snorting in the river we frequently hear the cry of the African Fish Eagles from the tops of the nearby trees, two sounds which immediately invoke wild Africa.

Initially we planned to stay for a few nights but we eventually leave after a five night stay. Several tame bush bucks and semi-tame warthogs with their young wander around the camp. The bush buck are so tame they walk right up to the camera and even allow us to gently pat their heads.

There is plenty of bird life including bright Red Bishop birds, Yellow Weaver birds, White-Browed Robin Chats and frequent sightings of Fish eagles. A bright green dung beetle investigates the droppings left behind from the warthogs.

We venture into the National Park early one morning. It is a short drive to the park entrance and we immediately head down toward the river. There is plenty of water throughout the park at this time of the year and during the morning we do not have much luck spotting animals at the river. There are plenty of water birds though and we stop frequently to watch them.

Game we see in the morning includes two hyenas heading down for a drink and investigating interesting smells on their way. As well as Impala, Kudu and Waterbuck, the park has good populations of the water loving Red Lechwe and a small population of the endangered Puku.

Chobe is well known for its elephant population and we are surprised that we don’t see any down by the river, especially as it is early morning. By late morning we have gone as far into the park as we plan and we turn back toward the entrance. Very soon we start seeing family groups of elephants heading toward the river and from then on we see more and more elephants heading down for a drink and a splash or swim. Before long we have seen hundreds.

A special sight is watching a baby elephant suckling.

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By this time the hippos are also ready to emerge from the river to graze.

The next day we take a boat cruise from the camp in the late afternoon. The water was calm and the reflections beautiful.

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Chobe Cruise, Botswana

We get some nice close views of the birds.

And get even closer to a Fish Eagle bathing in the river before he flew off to a neighbouring tree.

A large herd of buffalo were grazing on Sedudu Island.

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Buffalo Grazing on Sedudu Island, Chobe National Park, Botswana

And a family of elephants drink at the water’s edge.

We stop by some crocs basking in the late afternoon sun.

Before enjoying the river scenery on our return cruise to the camp.

Late afternoons and early evenings are spent watching the changing light and the sunset from the Sunset Bar but at other times we just watch the river from our camp site. Its no wonder we extended our stay but finally it is time to move on from this camp but we’re not going far.

Senyati Camp is less than 20 km from Kasane and not far south of the town of Kazangula so it doesn’t get us far on our journey but is well worth a stop over. The camp sites are very comfortable with lots of trees, a private shower and toilet and a sitting area with a sink. The real reason for coming here though is the waterhole with a fresh water fountain which the elephants love and an underground hide so you can get very close. On our last visit it was the dry season and we saw a steady stream of animals visiting the waterhole including hundreds of elephants over the course of the night, as well as wildebeest, buffalo and impala. There is plenty of water around at this time of the year and we wonder if the water will attract the animals anyway. When we first take our positions near the waterhole there are no animals nearby. As we sit we gradually see giraffe moving across in the distance and as time goes by we see more and more of them.

Senyati Camp, Botswana

Next a single male elephant approaches the waterhole for a drink and he is followed by several other males.

Later, as the sun is setting, a family group comes to the waterhole and as the evening progresses we see more and more of them. It has certainly been worthwhile making another visit here.

Senyati Camp, Botswana

Swahili Coast Holiday

Sunrise at Peponi Beach Resort, Tanzania

We need a holiday! Ethiopia was full on and packed with sights and experiences so now we want to kick back and relax. We had a taste of luxury and relaxation at the place we stayed at in Malindi for three nights before we visited Lamu, and two nights afterward, but we need more. A day spent in Mombasa where we do battle with traffic and bureaucracy and a late drive south makes our arrival at our holiday spot in Diani Beach on the southern coast of Kenya even more welcome.

We booked our two week break here online and sometimes the pictures and description promise more than they deliver but not this time. We are in a two bedroom chalet in its own grounds and we even have our own swimming pool.

Diani Beach Bliss

A couple of staff look after the pool and grounds of this property and some others and help us with whatever we need. This includes arranging for a local fisherman to visit to provide us with our choice of fresh seafood and going down the street to buy us charcoal for our barbecues at local prices rather than the Mzungu (‘white man’) prices. The weather is hot and humid and there is no air conditioning but unless the power in the town is out (which happens several times), the fans keep the air flowing. Paul has fun getting stuck into some work on his photos and I finally start writing about our time in Ethiopia. And of course we can jump into the pool, and do so, many times each day starting from a pre-breakfast dip. As the day continues the pool heats up so by mid afternoon it initially feels very warm but after lazing in it for a while we feel refreshed.

We’re only a ten minute walk from the beach and we have high expectations of walking in the mornings and evenings most days but unfortunately we fall short of that and spend less time on the beach and more time in the pool than we planned. I guess that’s what a holiday is about. We go out for delicious meals a couple of times but mainly we are happy to be able to cook for ourselves in a real kitchen especially with fresh fish, prawns, octopus or calamari from the fisherman, access to real supermarkets for meat and groceries and a good range of fresh fruit and vegetables from the local stalls. We even manage to find some reasonably priced wine and some good croissants … not easy in East Africa.

When Paul was growing up in Kenya his family often holidayed in this area over the Christmas period. At that time (it was after all a very, very long time ago) the road was a single lane dirt road, there were a few holiday houses along the coast but there was no power or running water and the indigenous forests extended to the beach in most places. Now there are hotels and shopping centres, restaurants and resorts, and lots and lots of people. Its still very nice, and as I said the access to the supermarkets and electricity to run the fan and the pool pump has been very welcome, but we would also like a bit of time at a more laid-back location. After our fortnight holiday is complete we cross the border into Tanzania just 80km south then continue another 100km passing through the sea-side town of Tanga to Peponi Beach Resort. We camped here on our way north through Tanzania more than six months ago and it should be perfect for another week’s holiday before we hit the travel trail again. This coast is much quieter than the Kenyan coast and much closer to the holiday experience that Paul remembers from his childhood. 

The reef comes right into the shore and the tides are big so our view varies from exposed reef for more than 100 metres to water lapping the sand just below our camp. At high tide we can swim in the warm sea water and at other times we can have a dip in the resort pool. Unless it is a very high tide some sand remains at all times and villagers use the beach as their highway. Palm trees line the edge of the beach and a short walk in one direction takes us to a small fishing village where there is always plenty of activity when the boats bring their catches in or when groups wade through the water dragging nets along the channels in the reef. In the other direction a mangrove forest extends into the ocean.

Our camp site on the edge of the beach is perfect! We have a boma (shelter), plenty of shade, a nice pool, power to keep the fridges running so we have cold drinks and food, and a wonderfully peaceful atmosphere. It is so perfect that, at the end of the week, we decide we can stretch our food to stay an extra couple of days. Then, as we are trying to plan where we will be for Christmas, we decide we couldn’t find a nicer place than this so we extend even further and end up staying for two and a half weeks. As a bonus the resort is doing a big spread on Christmas Day so we book in to that and we won’t even have to think about what food we will need to buy to celebrate the day. We do however need to buy more food for the rest of the time so we drive back to Tanga and visit the excellent local market and quite good local supermarket and enjoy a very pleasant lunch at the Tanga Yacht Club. Our second week passes equally easily and we enjoy more idyllic days.

Our Christmas Day is relaxed and easy, tropical fruit and yoghurt with our breakfast, prawns and a crisp white wine for a light lunch then after a few dips in the pool we head up to the restaurant for our evening meal. It is a real feast and we sit at at long table with the other guests. Next to us are Geoff and Sally who own a property a short distance away as well as the new South Africa owners who took on the Peponi property three months ago.

Christmas Feast at Peponi Beach Resort, Tanzania

Finally holiday season is over and we need to travel on. We have less than two weeks left on our Tanzanian Temporary Import permit for the car and we don’t want to spend hours trying to extend it so we will need to pick up the pace. At least we are starting our journey south feeling well rested and refreshed.

Ethiopia Part 8, Tribes of Southeast Ethiopia

Mursi Woman and Children, Ethiopia 2018

In the south-east of Ethiopia, we find an entirely different aspect of the country. We leave behind the  Orthodox Christian Churches and Monasteries of the northern circuit, the hustle and bustle of crowded Addis Ababa and the extreme highs and lows of the Bale Mountains and the Danakil Depression and enter an area where tribes build huts in their unique traditional methods and the people live as they have done for hundreds of years.  

The first village we visit in this area is a Dorze Village in the Guze Mountains high above the Rift Valley city of Arba Minch. The Dorze people live in a cold and damp environment so they need huts which can withstand the weather and they are famous for their towering homes which are essentially massive upturned baskets. Its too high for banana trees to grow but perfect for Bamboo and Enset (false banana) and their homes are woven with bamboo and thatched with the enset leaves. They can be 12 metres high when first built (or woven) then as termites and damp slowly wear away the base is sliced off so over 60 to 80 years the huts become progressively shorter. They don’t use a central pillar for support and the hut can be picked up and moved to a new location when needed.

Inside there are partitioned areas on the sides for livestock and vents are set high in the roof to help clear out some of the smoke from the cooking fires. A small area at the front serves as a reception room and if you imagine this as the trunk and the upper vents as eyes, the homes are said to resemble massive elephant heads (maybe you need a good imagination).

There are numerous Enset plants in the adjoining garden patch and our hostess shows us how she makes and cooks kocho, a fermented, unleavened bread, from the plants. It is eaten with honey and data, a hot chilli sauce. 

We are also treated to glasses of a local hooch made in stills in the village and drunk with a loud ‘Hoy, Hoy, Hoy’ toast as you raise the glasses high then quickly swallow the lot. Pity our visit was in the morning as a few more of those would certainly be warming on a cold afternoon or evening.

We are staying just a short distance from the village in a lodge where each chalet is a modified Dorze hut. Instead of the partitioned area on the side housing livestock, we have an ensuite, and there is a dining area in the middle of the hut, instead of a cooking fire, with magnificent views over the lake below. The views and the peace are so magnificent it is easy to stay an extra night.

Not far south of Arba Minch live the Konso people who have taken an entirely different approach to building their villages. They are not as high in the mountains and the weather is milder but the country around is very hilly and covered in innumerable rocks. Through 400 years of very hard work they have transformed the hills into terraces for their crops and built their villages on the tops of the hills surrounded by walls of rocks for protection.

We visit a village with a guide who explains the customs and significance of what we are seeing. Once inside the outer wall the twisting stone-walled walkways connect family and clan compounds, each with a clutch of thatched-roof homes, communal mora (huts where young men sleep at night to serve as watchmen and community servants for the village) and public squares where generation poles (one pole is raised every 18 years) stand tall.

Children play in the walkways and around the generation pole in the public square.

From Konso we drive west into the Lower Omo Valley. This area is featured in many articles in National Geographic and it is an area we have been looking forward to visiting. There are over 20 different ethnic tribes with distinct differences in dress and culture and they still live largely traditional lives. The country is primarily indigenous bush with very few buildings using modern materials. This part of Ethiopia has been accessible to tourists for a relatively short time and west of the Omo River it is still very remote and requires planning and guides to visit the area.  

Jinka is the largest town in the area and will be our base for visiting the Mursi people. Even our drive to Jinka is fascinating as we pass through wonderful and varied landscapes and through towns like Kako and Key Afar where the local tribes include the Banna people with their distinctive hairstyles and decorations. It is market day in Kako as we pass through the area and for many miles either side of the village we see people driving their animals or carrying their produce for sale in the market.

Once in Jinka we find some accommodation and begin organising our trip through the Mago National Park and across the Mago River. A guide is required for the trip and we also need to collect an armed guard when we enter the national park. Fitting one extra person into our vehicle for a trip of that length is extremely difficult and uncomfortable, two is not even an option so we will have to go in our guide’s vehicle. While we are at our hotel we are greeted by two other travellers we had seen on our trip out from Konso. Igna and Thomas are from Lithuania and have been working in the US for the past few years. They are riding a tandem bicycle for two months in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania … it sure makes our travels seem very easy and comfortable by comparison. They are also planning to visit the Mursi people so we join forces to share the costs of the guide and guard.

We make an early start and the trip out to and through the national park takes us through more great landscapes as we cross a range of hills and the Mago valley. There are apparently quite a few animals in the park but the thick vegetation means spotting any is rare. It would appear the need to carry an armed guard is more to provide employment than any real danger. 

We visit two Mursi villages. The first is a permanent village and the people have some cattle but are also involved in agriculture. In the second village, they primarily raise cattle and move around their lands to provide them with new pastures. As they are nomadic so their huts are less substantial and are easily deconstructed then remade using larger branches they have carried with them plus local grasses and other materials from the new area.

The main source of cash income is from visiting tourists such as ourselves and although the clothing, or lack of it, is genuine, the face and body painting and elaborate headgear would traditionally only have been worn for battle or special occasions. It is now worn often in the hope we will pay for taking their photos and people eagerly line up to be included in the photo shoot.

The enormous lip-plates worn by some of the women can be up to 12 cm in diameter. They are made of clay and are inserted into a slit in their lower lip. Due to the obvious discomfort, women only wear the lip-plates occasionally, leaving their distended lips swaying below their jaw. The hole is cut around age 15 and stretched over many months. Now women can choose to wear plates in their ears instead, not an easy process but certainly easier than wearing the lip-plates. When asked why they did it we were told it was to show respect for their culture. Other people told us that it originally started to stop neighbouring tribes abducting their women.

In the second village the decorations used included cattle horns, gourds and local berries.

Mursi Woman, Ethiopia 2018

From Jinka we travel south to Turmi. One of the main reasons we are here is to witness a Hamer “Bull Jumping” ceremony. While we are waiting for that to happen we travel to the nearby town of Dimeka for their weekly market. It’s a very colourful and lively affair and well worth the visit while we are waiting for the “Bull Jumping” ceremony.

Back in Turmi we conclude arrangements to visit a “Bull Jumping” ceremony which turns out to be something quite special and warrants its own post so keep an eye out that.

Ethiopia Part 4, The Danakil Depression

Sulphur Springs, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia 2018

Sulphur Springs, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia 2018

The Danakil Depression, a place you read about in magazines on a plane going somewhere else, or in brochures in an air-conditioned travel agency. The hottest place on earth and one of the lowest at over one hundred metres below sea level. Weird landscapes that have been transported from a different planet. A place where foreign interlopers are viewed at the same time with disdain, indifference and suspicion. Not just by the people but by the country itself. Not somewhere you are going to go out of your way to visit. A place that sounds like hell on earth.

Active volcanoes with the oldest permanent lava lake on earth with hundreds of thousands of acres of blackened lava beds that are hard on shoes and even harder on car tyres. Bubbling sulphur springs and pools of acid set in an alien, technicolour landscape of bright yellows, lime greens, and gaudy oranges. Dried lake beds of white salt stretching over the horizon, too bright to look at under the noon day sun but, at sunset in the middle of this vastness, a wondrous place to watch the reflected blues, pinks and purples and the yellowing rays of the sun. A sun that, day after day, bakes the earth and everything else around until every bit of moisture has evaporated leaving nothing but salt or desiccated husks.

The Danakil Depression is located at one end of the largest rupture in the surface of all the continents on this planet, the Great Rift Valley. A rupture that will one day, thankfully in the distant future, split the biggest continent in two and the Danakil Depression will disappear under the sea.

Temperatures here regularly reach 50 degrees Centigrade and the average, year round temperature is over 34 degrees. Nothing grows here, nothing! There are enormous, very shallow and very salty lakes but you cannot drink the water. The Danakil stretches west from the Red Sea in neighbouring Eritrea until it runs up against a barren range of mountains over 2,000 metres high. Every pebble, rock and gigantic fold on the eastern side of these mountains is exposed to the desert winds and sun. On the other side of the mountains sits a very different world of farms, villages and towns amongst valleys and mountain ranges that seem to rise and fall for ever into the distant blue haze.

The hills are getting drier as we head toward the Danakil Depression, Ethiopia 2018

The Danakil, a desert of salt lakes, hot sulphur springs and volcanoes, is home to the Afar, a warrior people whose lives have changed very little in thousands of years. They live in small, rounded huts with rough walls of rocks covered over with thin sticks and fabrics. The rock walls fit loosely together leaving numerous gaps designed to let any little breeze through. There are no doors. 

Afar Village, Erta Ale Volcano, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia 2018

Most of the Afar live in small villages around the edge of the Danakil where there is some water and sparse desert grasses to feed their herds of camels, donkeys, goats and sheep.

These days they carry semi-automatic rifles and there is still a sense of tension although the long-running war between Ethiopia and Eritrea has now ended. There are one or two small towns where there are basic markets and some rough accommodation for travellers, typically a mattress on the floor of a large communal room.

Village, Afar Region, Ethiopia 2018

This is the place we have come to see and it turns out to be one of the highlights of our time in Ethiopia. With some trepidation we decide we want to go there in our own car but no private travellers are permitted in the Danakil. Village chiefs must be paid and armed escorts are compulsory. We eventually settle on World Sun, a tour company in Mekele, who are willing for us to tag along with one of their groups for less than half the price quoted on the web sites.

We leave Mekele just after 9am in convoy with one other vehicle which is carrying our terrific guide, Gere, Joachim from Germany, plus two other support staff. We will be meeting up with another vehicle in the small town of Abala situated below the mountains at the western edge of the Danakil. It looks like it will be a very small group which is great! It takes us a couple of hours to reach Abala and we arrive before the others so we sit and have a coffee in a roadside stall as is the custom in Ethiopia.

The car we are waiting to meet is carrying three tourists so it is a group of six including us, plus Gere, the cook and the drivers. 

We are back on the road before long and we have been given a radio so that we can communicate with the others. The country changes as we move from the foothills east where it levels out and stunted thorn bushes grow. We see the odd herd of goats and camels early on but after a while they are very few and far between.

Old Volcano, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia 2018

After another couple of hours of driving on the tar road which leads to Eritrea we turn north onto a sandy track which takes us to a village where our guide stops to find the local chief. We take the opportunity to let some air out of our tyres now that we are off the tar road.

Afar Village, Erta Ale Volcano, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia 2018

It isn’t long before we are moving again and we are driving across a sandy plain. Plumes of dust rise high in the air behind each car and the tracks fan out so we each end up driving on different tracks keeping an eye on each others dust. Our vehicle is carrying more weight so we are a bit slower, especially when we hit softer patches of sand. We are in four-wheel drive so we make it across these patches quite easily.

Desert Driving, Erta Ale Volcano, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia 2018

After about half an hour of this easy driving across the desert, the tracks converge and we come to the first of the lava fields we have to cross.

The remaining distance is quite short and we can see Erta Ale, the volcano we are here to see, but we are now moving at a much slower pace, between 5 and 10km per hour. The track is easily visible since the tour companies come out here nearly every day but the rocks are still rough and I begin to wonder whether we should have bought new tyres. We will definitely need them after this. After another hour and a half of driving we finally arrive at a roughly made village which seems to exist purely as a place to bring tourists to have dinner and prepare for the trek to the volcano. It is about 4pm when we arrive. We can see clouds of smoke coming from the top of the volcano in the distance.

Erta Ale Volcano, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia 2018

Old Lava, Erta Ale Volcano, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia 2018

We rest in the shade until the day starts to cool a little and then I am up and about taking photos. There are several convoys of vehicles parked around the place and groups of tourists sorting our their gear ready for the walk to Erta Ale. In amongst all of this are lots of camels which will carry mattresses and extra water.

Around sunset we have our evening meal and soon after that we are ready to leave. We are each given two bottle of water for the walk to the volcano. We will need them for the 14km walk! The sun has set but there is still plenty of light for the moment. The first part of the walk is through a sandy gully and across a plain. The sand is a little soft but it is easy going.

Erta Ale Volcano, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia 2018

Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten so much food though! It isn’t long before the path rises a little as we cross a lava plain. Our pace slows a little and I am starting to feel the heat. Even though the sun has well and truly set it is still over thirty degrees and the air is extremely dry. We take small swallows of water and try to conserve it for later on.

The sky is now completely dark and we are using torches to pick our way across the lava fields which are getting higher. We are using a little water to wet some ‘special ‘cloths we carry so that we can cool our heads and drape around our necks. Gere is terrific and he starts to make the rest stops a little more frequent. I certainly need them. The rest of our group is much younger than us and they are very patient. Eventually Gere tells us that we are now starting to climb the volcano. Funny, I thought we were nearly there! I am really feeling the heat and I need more rests as we climb. The temperature doesn’t seem to have changed at all. We are wearing the good walking shoes we bought in Tasmania and we certainly need them on these rough and sharp volcanic rocks. It is the first time I have worn shoes in well over a year and my feet are not liking the confinement at all. My socks are soaked in sweat.

We reach the camp at the top of the volcano around 10:30pm and we are exhausted. Gere shows us where we will be sleeping and says that we can rest for a short while before we go down to the edge of the inner crater to see the molten lava which is another 10-15 minutes walk after climbing down some steep steps in the rocks. Julie decides to rest for longer and wait until the early hours of the morning. I’m afraid that if I don’t go now I won’t make it at all. Julie beds down on her mattress inside an enclosure surrounded by a low wall of rocks. 

I grab my tripod which came up on the back of a camel and the rest of us make our way down to the inner caldera and, on strict instructions, we follow in Gere’s footsteps across the brittle lava. Some of it is less than a year old and still brittle and honey-combed with hollow channels which wouldn’t bear our weight. It is fairly slow going but before long we reach the edge of the inner crater. The breeze is variable and every so often we have to cover our nose and mouth as the smoke comes over us. It is very dark and there is no moon so the only light comes from inside the volcano or from the distant stars. Gere peers over the edge and decides we should move around the lip a short distance which we do.

As I sit on a rock and rest I start to visualise some compositions which I can photograph. I love the red colour of the clouds reflecting the light from below. I take these shots at about 11:30pm. I’m glad I brought my tripod!

Erta Ale Volcano, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia 2018

We wait for a short while but we don’t manage to see any trails of molten lava below us and we are all tired so we head back up to our camp. Gere says that he will wake us at 4:30am to try again to see the lava. I’m totally exhausted when we reach our camp and I bed down as quickly as I can. I need some sleep and I decide to forego the early rise which Julie makes with the others and guess what … they manage to see some of the molten lava. I have a good rest and I take some photos of the group walking back across the brittle lava of the inner caldera.

We start walking back down just before sunrise and our legs are getting more and more wobbly. Well mine are for sure. The walk up took us nearly four and a half hours. It will be a little less going down and we will only need one bottle of water. Nevertheless, we get back to the village a little after 9am and have some breakfast after a rest. 

Now it’s time to drive back to Abala for one night. I have had enough walking for a while. My feet are in a bad way and one toe nail is bruised and I lose another two toe nails a few weeks later. We repeat the slow drive back across the lava fields and then we reach the sandy plain. We have some fun with the three vehicles driving abreast across the sand with the dust billowing behind us. We reach the tar road and turn east towards Eritrea. It is not far to some hot springs and a salt lake where we get out and wade in the lake. In this temperature we are not really interested in the hot springs. After a bit we head back out to the road and we make it to Abala by early evening. We are in the trailing vehicle and we note how the other drivers are very careful when passing the herds of goats along the way. We wonder why the local people have to graze their animals so close to the road.

Back in Abala we find our lodging for the night and Julie and I decide to use our roof top tent. It will get any breeze there is and it is mosquito proof so we should get a better sleep than we might in a window-less communal room. Our group is down to three as the other vehicle has headed back to Mekele but before dark another group arrives that are on their way to Erta Ale. They all hail from Israel and we have a good chat about our travels. One of them is after a Coca Cola which isn’t available in town but I fetch one from our fridge for him. In the morning they return the favour and make us some Israeli coffee. Pretty good!

During the evening there are several people coming and going and we understand that the woman who owns the property is an elder and influential in the town. At some stage a policeman arrives in the compound and we realise that there are some serious discussions going on. I wander across to find out what is happening and Gere tells me that we have been accused of running over a goat on our way back to town. I immediately invite the policeman to inspect our car but he wants us to take it to the police station where it will be impounded. We have already set up our roof top tent and we intend going to bed fairly soon so we are not really interested in this. Eventually the policeman agrees that we can visit the police station in the morning to clear the matter up. We ask Gere what the price of a goat is and he tells us the (obviously inflated) price of a goat and a camel. Over a hundred dollars for a goat and over a thousand for a camel. Hah!

After breakfast the next morning we drive around to the police station with our host and Gere. We park in the street and get out and chat to a few of the policemen around about. We aren’t included in the discussions but we gather that another tour company was originally accused of running over the goat and they denied it and fingered us as the ‘ferengi’ that hit the goat. The discussions continue across the road at a nearby coffee shop. Nobody is bothering to look at the two vehicles that were allegedly involved. The owner of the dead goat is demanding justice. We decide that we need another coffee as well so we sit down across from another group of policemen and we start talking. Eventually they take some phones out and start taking selfies with us but we aren’t allowed to take any … so no photos, sorry.

We have to hand it to Gere. After about an hour the discussions are wrapped up and the two tour companies agree to pay half each for the ‘dead goat’ and we are grateful that, not only were we not involved in the discussions, but we haven’t been forced to pay either. 

We are now free to leave town and we head north along the base of the mountain range west of the Danakil on the road to Dalol where the sulphur springs and salt works are located. The drive through the foothills of the mountains is spectacular and we take some photos en-route.

Mountain Range, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia 2018

We stop briefly in a village for lunch and continue towards our new camp which is a short distance from Dalol. 

After a quick stop there we move on out onto the salt pans which seem to be endless. Our first visit is to some sacred rocks which are about the only thing that rise out of the flats. They are brown and made of ancient salt. The local Afar people eat pieces of the rock when they are sick and apparently it helps with stomach problems.

Nearby is another small hot spring which a few people from another group take a dip in.

Our next stop is for a sunset view beside a salt lake which disappears over the horizon. We drive as close as possible before the salt becomes to wet and before the cars start sinking. We set up tables and chairs and get out the cold drinks and nibbles from our fridge which we are very glad to have with us! The colours are amazing and I have a lot of fun with my tripod, wading out into the shallow lake to get the reflections. 

Our small group is very relaxed and we take some photos of the group before we leave.

We drive back to camp for dinner, arriving a little after dark. It is still very hot and there is a strong wind blowing. The landscape is desolate with rocks covering low undulations and very little grass. We find some shelter behind one of the huts. Our cook is inside with the fire and that’s the last thing we want to get close to. After supper we make ourselves comfortable on some rough beds up against the shack.

Bed under the stars, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia 2018

We are protected from most of the wind but we get just enough to keep us relatively cool. Even so we only need a sheet and it isn’t long before we fall asleep gazing at the myriad of stars.

The next morning is another early one. we leave at 6am to get out to the sulphur springs before the other tour group which is much larger and tends to take over when they arrive anywhere. It isn’t far and it is only 10 minutes walk from the cars. This is the lowest point in the Danakil at around 140 metres below sea level.

What a sight! I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. 

I also get the drone out and take some shots which I am quite pleased with. Some of these have been posted on Whitefella Walkabout Photography on Facebook

Gere has warned us about the slippery rocks and we take care. One of the young women who who was also at Erta Ale, the volcano, slipped and her feet went into one of the pools and they were badly burned by the acid. She had both feet bandaged and couldn’t walk without help, but she made it up to the volcano on the back of a camel. 

We start heading back to the cars just as other people start arriving. We are glad we made it out so early. It is already over 40 degrees when we reach the cars at about 9am. We really want to get our of the sun now and drink some water!

We stop a short way away for breakfast in a small, muddy canyon where the salt encrusted walls provide some much needed shade.

Our next visit is to the salt works which the Afar people have been working for over a thousand years. It is hot, horrible work in temperatures around 50 degrees. The crust of the dry bed of the ancient salt lake is cracked using pieces of wood as levers and then salt blocks of 5kg are shaped by hand using primitive tools and tied into bundles to be loaded onto camels.

Camel caravans still carry the salt to distant markets taking two weeks to get to places like Lalibela.

A 5kg block of salt is worth about 9 Birr here. In Lalibela it sells for about 200 Birr. The salt miners are very loth to change their traditional methods though. They refuse to allow trucks to carry the salt away and refuse to change their mining methods as they fear losing control of the salt and their livelihood.

It is finally time to go and it is good to get back into an air-conditioned car for the drive back to Mekele. We stop again as we drive through the foothills to take some more photos.

Camel Caravan

After that the road starts climbing until we are at about 2,400m above seal level and it is much cooler. What a contrast from the sulphur springs about 2.5km below us and less than 100km away.

We cruise back into Mekele and say goodbye swapping contact details and expressing our gratitude for the care and professionalism of our guide and the tour company. We are very glad we made it there and back. Now if only our tyres will hold out until we get back to Kenya.

Ethiopia Part 6, A Quick Visit to Eastern Ethiopia

Colour, Harar Old Town, Ethiopia 2018

The northern historical circuit and our excursion to the Danakil Depression in northern Ethiopia have all been fabulous and now it is time to explore other parts of the country. We didn’t get to visit the Simien Mountains National Park but we would still like to spend some time in the high country and hopefully see some Ethiopian wolves and other wildlife. One place we could visit which might fit the bill is a bit off the beaten track in the Menz-Guassa Community Conservation Area, south of Lalibela. We’ll need to travel on some rocky seldom travelled  roads to reach it which could be very tricky after rain. The rain begins on our last night in Lalibela and is continuing intermittently so we’ll need to watch the weather and reassess later. It continues raining most of the day and it is slow travelling on winding roads and with lots of slow moving traffic.

We stop for the night in the town of Dessie and consider our options. The dirt roads up to the conservation area will be tricky and camping in the high country in the mud and rain is less than appealing so we decide we’ll skip it and instead visit the Bale Mountains National Park in the south east of the country later. Before that though we decide to travel into eastern Ethiopia and visit the old Islamic town of Harar. We take the road east from Dessie to the southern end of the Danakil Depression. If we continued east we would be heading toward northern Djbouti and Eritrea which both sound fascinating but not on this trip. Instead we take the Djbouti Road south into eastern Ethiopia. We had thought it might be a dirt road but there is brand new bitumen and the only other traffic on this road are some trucks which are heading for the coast. The borders to Eritrea have only recently been opened and the traffic is light and the road flat and straight so we make good progress. We are back in camel country and while there are signs of recent rain it becomes much less as we head south and the temperature rises once again.

Unusually wet for camel country, Ethiopia 2018

Our good road finishes at Awash and we turn east and are back on one of the main highways to Djibouti. Our progress is much slower. We are heading back into higher country so we have lots of winding roads and hills, the road conditions deteriorate and there are regular pot holes, and much more traffic. This is the main road east from Addis Ababa and there are lots of trucks. There are also lots of villages and local traffic and animals so we need drive carefully, not a bad thing as the views along the way are worth slowing for anyway. Numerous wrecked trucks show that they don’t always take the appropriate caution, I imagine there are other vehicles in accidents as well but as they are lighter they are easier to remove. One truck in the middle of a village has us wondering.

Your guess is as goods ours, Ethiopia 2018

After an overnight stop along the way we reach Harar. The old walled town is World Heritage-listed and has 368 alleys squeezed into its 1 sq km. We find a hotel just outside the old town and after lunch we wander inside. Like many other places in Ethiopia its history is imprecise. It was founded somewhere between the 7th and 13th centuries and in the 17th and 18th centuries it was an important centre of Islamic scholarship and was almost never visited by Europeans. 5m high walls surround the old town and there are 6 gates including one which admits vehicles which was added in 1889.

Entrance to Harar’s old walled town, Ethiopia 2018

As we walk in the old streets we are surrounded by people wanting to guide us or just wanting a hand out. It is immediately off-putting and we are reluctant take photos even if they are of the street and buildings and not of people. We wander down some lane ways, not as relaxed as we would like because of the continual attention we are getting. 

 Colourful robes and Peugot 404 cars catch our attention as do the frequent bhajaj. When Paul was growing up in Nairobi they had a Peugeot 404 station wagon for a while and they were popular at the time because they had won the East African Safari Rally three times in a row. They still seem to be popular here, perhaps because we are very close to Djibouti which was a French colony.

We visit the museum dedicated to Arthur Rimbaud, a famous French poet who lived in Harar for about 10 years. It is interesting to speculate about the life he led and what brought him to this place which must have seemed completely remote and cut off from his life in France.

Other alleys lead us past the tailors shops and small houses to the butchers area where black kites line the roof tops hoping for some meat. Tourists are encouraged to buy a little meat and hand feed the kites which swoop down to take it.

We had planned to stay at least two nights in Harar but in the morning we decide we are not really enjoying the atmosphere in Harar, the lane ways are not particularly scenic and the attention from the people is intrusive and sometimes aggressive.  There seems to be a different sense of personal space here and we feel crowded. Kids hold our hands or just hang on to our clothing, its sort of cute for a little while but then gets a bit much and we decide to continue our travels. We  return along the main road we came here, it is still busy and people still clamour around us whenever we stop so we just keep going.

Eastern Ethiopian Town, Ethiopia 2018

We make good time and reach Awash where we spend the night in a delightful old French colonial rest house which used to be the railway station which is run by an Italian-Ethiopian woman. We had two flat tyres on or way to Lalibela and had them repaired with plugs. One of the repaired tyres is flat again so we try again in the morning before we leave town and we also get a temporary fix to a leaking fuel pipe. We spend the day driving south along a minor road toward the main road which leads to the Bale Mountains. Once again the minor road gives us a much better run than highways. For the first time in Ethiopia we are travelling across fairly flat land which receives good rainfall and we see agriculture on a much bigger scale and the use of heavy machinery including large tractors and harvesters. It is such a contrast to the terraced slopes in the mountains where all work is done by hand.

Patchwork Fields, Southern Ethiopia 2018

The day begins hot and dry in Awash but as we continue south the clouds build and before we reach the end of this road it is fully overcast and rain is threatening.

We stop over night in the town of Dodola where we enjoy their take on ‘traditional tibbs and enjira’ then travel east to the Bale Mountains the next day. The road climbs and then travels along ridges providing great views to the valleys below. The land is green and there are lots of scattered villages throughout the valleys, it is a highly populated area. As the road climbs further we enter the clouds and are surrounded by mist and drizzle.

In the Clouds on the way to the Bale Mountains, Ethiopia 2018

Through clear patches the scenery is stunning, great escarpments are on one side of of the road and gentler hills on the other. The road takes us through a part of the national park, the Gaysay Grassland and we are slightly lower here and below the clouds. This is supposed to be a good spot for wildlife but we don’t expect to see any next to the road. We stop to adjust a latch on the car and to our surprise a large male kudu is grazing less than 20 metres from us. It is still early and we could continue up into the high section of the mountains today but at more then 4,000 metres high it will be very cold so we spend the afternoon and night in the town of Goba. We’ll leave very early in the morning and have our breakfast at the top of the mountains, hopefully watching Ethiopian wolves.

Ethiopia Part 3, The Tigray Region

Stunning Succulents, Gheralta Area, Tigray, Ethiopia 2018

After we leave Aksum we continue our journey east passing through the town of Adwa. It was in this region that Emperor Menelik II inflicted the biggest defeat ever on a colonial army in Africa, thus saving Ethiopia from colonisation by Italy. Before we reach the next big town of Adrigat we begin our detours to see some of the amazing landscapes in northern Tigray. Scattered sharp peaks rise into the sky out of a sandy, rolling semidesert and perched amongst these peaks are 120-odd churches. These are carved from cliff faces, built into pre-existing caves or constructed high atop some improbable perch. 

Many of the churches are open to tourists, provided you have a guide to find the church and pay an entry fee. Often you also need to pay somebody to find the priest to open the door, you may also need to tip the priest as well as paying the entry fee and you are frequently surrounded by kids begging for money or sweets or pens. On top of that many are very hard to reach and can involve climbing sheer rock faces with or without the aid of ropes. With all that in mind we have decided to take in as much of the scenery as we can by driving around the area and to visit just a few churches which we can find on our own.

The road to Debre Damo Monastery is reputed to be a contender for Ethiopia’s most beautiful drive so we take the detour to the north of the main road. Here we are close to the border with Eritrea and as far north as we are going to be on this part of journey. The scenery is every bit as good as we hoped and we have a lovely few hours wandering along the dusty road stopping frequently to take in the views and to take photos. The monastery is perched high on a rocky mesa and we’re sure there would be even more amazing views from there but we give it a miss. For a start it is for men only and then there is the ascent which includes scaling a sheer 15m cliff. Even with a rope to pull yourself up and a rope around your torso so the priests can help haul you up it would still be an extremely strenuous and nerve wracking climb.

Debre Damo Monastery, Northern Tigray Region, Ethiopia 2018

The land is dry and dusty with rocks scattered everywhere. Houses are constructed from carefully selected and laid rocks and the roof is covered in soil and grass, great insulation. Slopes are terraced and ripe yellow wheat creates patterns between the dusty brown rocks and scattered green shrubs. The road winds through the hills and we pass deep gorges, scattered settlements, haystacks perched on bare rocky slopes and churches on top of rocky hills surveying the scene below.

After hours driving around that magical area we finally reach the town of Adrigat. Its not a very interesting town but 4km south of the town there is a nice lodge on a hill top and they allow camping out the back of the rooms. We enjoy a sunset drink looking across the valley to the next ridge where there is yet another church with a commanding view.

Adrigat Sunset, Northern Tigray Region, Ethiopia 2018

South from here are hundreds of churches and a couple of choices on which road we take to continue. The scenery south of Megab sounds particularly interesting and there are a couple of reasonable sounding accommodation options in that area so we are headed that way but first we want to visit the Medhane Alem Kesho Church. Its not far south of the turn we want to take and is fairly easily accessible so we think we can find it without a guide. Once we leave the main road we pass stone huts, some with goats grazing on the roof, flat pastures and terraced slopes. After a couple of wrong turns on the rocky side roads and several offers of help from local ‘guides’ we find the 4WD track which leads close to the church.

At the top of the track there are Orthodox Christians wearing their traditional white robes streaming down the hill from the church and joining more than one hundred others sitting below a large tree or gathering in groups to chat. We find out a funeral has just finished and that is the reason for the big turn out on a Monday morning.

The path to the church is very clear and with the service just completed we know the priest will be around and the church open but that doesn’t stop several young guys very insistently offering their services as a guide and following us all the way in the hope we will give them a fee. After a ten minute walk up the hill we pause to admire the view over the country below us then walk the remaining few minutes to the church which is hewn out of the rocky hilltop.

After we pay our fee we are allowed to enter the church. Daylight shines through the doorway and windows to a narrow entrance hall but once through the inner door there is very little light apart from our torch. The interior is also roughly hewn but there is an elaborately carved coffered ceiling.

 Back on the main road we make our way through Hawzien and Megab to the Gheralta area. Here we find another lodge who will allow us to camp and best of all they are perched on a hill with awesome views. Paul will be able to take sunrise photos and I won’t even have to get out of bed!

 

Pre-sunrise colours from Korkor Lodge, Gheralta Area, Tigray, Ethiopia 2018

Later in the afternoon we head out for some exploring. We find a small track leading into the heart of a range of hills and we follow it to see what we can see. We are more than happy with the wonderful scenery and views of rural life.

We tour around the area extensively the next day capturing more views.

Naturally Paul finds the light and colours best in the late afternoon and just after the sun has set so we are late returning to the lodge. As often happens we can stop the car and there is nobody around but within a very short time there are people clustered around the car or intently watching Paul while he is taking photos. 

Luckily we had arranged to have dinner in the lodge so we join the other guests and the owners at the table and share stories of travels and sights in Ethiopia. As we are leaving very early in the morning we say our farewells to the hosts after dinner, they didn’t charge us for staying so we just need to settle up for our meal and drinks. We see the sun rise as we are leaving and just a short distance down the road we reach a spot Paul has seated for an early morning panorama.

Early Morning Panorama, Gheralta Area, Tigray, Ethiopia 2018

It is still early and we don’t have far to go today so we backtrack to Hawzien as they have their weekly market today. Its a bustling place with lots of colour and activity.

Back on the road south we pass the white painted church of Dugem Selassie before we reach the last of the Tigray churches we plan to visit, the 10th century church of Abraha We Atsheha. Its a large cruciform shaped church with cruciform pillars and well preserved 17th and 18th century murals as well as a wonderful wooden door.

There will be more churches further on in our journey but in the meantime we are heading for the Mekele, the capital of the Tigray area and a busy university town. We, and many others, are here to arrange a tour to the Danakil Depression, our next adventure.

Ethiopia Part 1, Addis Ababa to Bahir Da

ETHIOPIA-137

Celebrating Meskel in Bahir Da, Ethiopia 2018

Ethiopia is a large and fascinating country and we easily spent more than 8 weeks touring around different regions. Highlights of our journey include the ever changing, magnificent scenery, the rich cultural heritage and its impact on current day life, the traditional methods of farming and the use of animals in many aspects of every day life, the delicious food and the friendliness and diversity and sheer numbers of the people. We have so many memories and photos we will share them in instalments.

The people of Ethiopia are diverse, there are nine broad groups and within those groups, in some areas in particular, there are distinctive tribes who still dress and live their very traditional way. Some reasonably large cities and towns are scattered around the country and there is a good network of roads connecting them. In between are innumerable small villages and while buildings in the cities and towns tend to be constructed from concrete the homes in the villages are made from whatever materials are locally available. 

Like its people, the topography of Ethiopia is remarkably diverse. The vast central plateau has an average elevation of between 1,800 m and 2,400 m but there are also 20 mountain peaks which are more than 4,000 m high. It sure brings home to us just how flat Australia is; our highest mountain, Mt Kosciuszko is a mere 2,228 m high. Surrounding the cool highlands are the much hotter lowlands. These include the northern section of the Rift Valley. The Rift Valley begins in Mozambique, runs through Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda before entering Ethiopia in the south west and running through the country finally finishing in the Danakil Depression, one of the lowest, hottest, driest and most inhospitable points on the Earth’s surface, which in parts lies almost 125m below sea level and sprawls into neighbouring Eritrea and Djibouti. 

Paul entered Ethiopia from Kenya at Moyale in the south of the country and spent a couple of days travelling north to Addis Ababa up past several of the Rift Valley Lakes. I joined Paul in Addis Ababa after a two week trip to Australia. The second week of my stay was spent on the southern Gold Coast so while Paul was making the long trip from Nairobi to Addis Ababa and coming to grips with this chaotic city I was taking long walks along a quiet beach, loving my swims in the clear ocean water and enjoying meals with family and friends.

My introduction to Ethiopia was flying into the capital of Addis Ababa at the end of a very long flight from Australia. The fourth and final leg of my flight (I said it was a very long flight) was from Dubai and the plane carefully avoided airspace over Saudi Arabia and Yemen and we travelled up the Gulf of Aden. We like desert travel but even if it were safe and there were roads in Yemen the landscape looked way to harsh to tempt me to travel there. Addis Ababa is on the central plateau at an altitude of more than 2,000 metres and is surrounded by green hills, a sharp contrast to Yemen. 

It is a sprawling, chaotic city with millions of people. Traffic can be dreadful so we limited our sightseeing and took taxis on the few occasions we ventured out and about while we were waiting for some work to done on our car. Just to add variety to the traffic snarls there are also donkeys or ponies pulling carts or buggies transporting goods and people around the narrow streets or even along the highways. Ethiopia has more than 100 million people but between 70 and 80% of the people are involved in agriculture and there are less than 3.5 million in Addis, it just feels at times as though they are all trying to get to the same place you are. 

One excursion is to the Ethnological Museum located in the gardens of the Addis Ababa University. It is inside Haille Selassie’s former palace and gives us a good introduction to the cultural and social history of the country. Tribal tales are used to illustrate many aspects of the culture. The museum also includes the preserved bedroom, bathroom and changing room of the Emperor, an art gallery filled with samples of religious art across the centuries and an area dedicated to traditional musical instruments.

While we are at the museum I sample my first Ethiopian meal, a simple and cheap meal with Shiro and Injera. Injera is the national staple and the base of almost every meal. It is a thin pancake made from fermented Tef, the indigenous Ethiopian cereal. It’s slightly sour taste grows on you and over our stay we become almost addicted to it. Shiro is a simple chickpea puree but spices are added and the flavour and freshness vary with each serve we have, and they are many. Traditional Ethiopian coffee follows, black and strong. Most locals add sugar but we find it delicious without and although the cups are small at an average price of 25 cents per cup we can have two or even three if we need the extra caffeine.

Once the repairs to the Landcruiser are finished we are more than ready to continue our journey. The first section of our travels out of Addis follows a loop to the historical sites in the north of the country. In the first part of this loop we are travelling in the highlands with many descents to river valleys and then the corresponding ascents to the next ridge. On our first day out of the capital we cross the Blue Nile Valley dropping more than 1 km to the floor of the valley then rising to the plateau on the other side. Slopes of wildflowers and rocky escarpments punctuate the terraces and fields full of crops and mountains stretch away into the haze. We hadn’t really planned to stop yet but figure its worth an overnight stop in the next village so Paul can take some photos in the soft morning light. 

The next day we easily reach Bahir Da, a busy city on the banks of Lake Tana. As well as being Ethiopia’s largest lake and the source of the Blue Nile, the islands and peninsula’s of Lake Tana contain 20 or more centuries old monasteries. The number of islands and the number of monasteries, and their age varies according to who you ask but some date from the 13th and 14th centuries and we will be quite content to visit just a few. We organise a boat and driver to reach the monasteries and we need to organise a guide when we get there.

Ethiopia 2018

Heading out to the Monasteries on Lake Tana, Ethiopia 2018

On our first island stop we climb moss covered stone stairs to the Entos Eyesu Monastery. Its a much newer monastery than we were expecting and while the building is of less interest the paintings are vivid and the monk who welcomes us is very helpful. 

On the next island we visit Kebran Gabriel, a beautiful 17th century monastery where Paul makes the long climb to visit the men only museum and to wander around the monastery.

On the Zege Peninsula we enjoy a coffee while smelling the incense and then have a look at the stalls where local people are making and selling souvenirs. 

A short walk past more stalls and village huts leads us to the 14th century monastery of Ura Kidane Meret. This is far more impressive and the large building has art works dating back many centuries.

Back in Bahir Da we are comfortable in our hotel and extend our stay so we are here for Meskel, an important religious day. In the meantime we enjoy more delicious food, and coffee of course, and take in the every day sights. Bajaj are East Africa’s version of South East Asia’s tuk tuks and they can be seen everywhere.

Meskel is a celebration of the finding of the true cross and is held throughout Ethiopia. According to tradition, in 326 AD, Helena had prayed for guidance to find the cross on which Jesus was crucified and was directed by smoke from a burning fire to the location. Ethiopian Orthodox Christians believe she lit torches to celebrate. In Bahir Da believers gathered in a square for prayers and during the evening crosses which had been erected throughout the city were burned.

From Bahir Da we continue our journey north on the historic circuit toward then royal city of Gonder.

Uganda

Dead Dutchmen Falls, Uganda

Dead Dutchman Falls, Uganda

Border crossings are almost always a drawn out affair what with the processing through immigration and customs for the country we are leaving and for the country we are entering, plus any add-ons  for third party insurance and local taxes. In our travels so far we have been able to get our visas at the border without any hassles but the paper work takes time. Visas are usually paid for in US$, which we do carry, but fees for a Temporary Import Permit for the car, or for road taxes, or for any other thing the country decides we need, have to be paid for in local currency. This means we also need to find an ATM or a money changer at the border. To do all this we figure a straightforward crossing is likely to take two hours so we are pleasantly surprised when we get through the Busia border crossing from Kenya into Uganda in less than one and a half hours. Hopefully its a good omen for our visit to Uganda.

We are still travelling with Jared and Jen and for our first night in Uganda we are headed for Jinja, the town on Lake Victoria located at the source of the White Nile. Well actually we are headed for a camp site 15 km down river so we are able to miss the traffic in the centre of Jinja but get stuck in the traffic snarl where the ring road crosses the Nile and roadworks are in progress around the construction site of the big new bridge. 

It is late afternoon when we reach The Haven River Lodge and it is probably one of the nicest camps we have stayed at in Africa. We have grassy sites overlooking the river and rapids, shade for us and sunshine for Jared and Jen … which are our respective preferences. Power and WiFi are available at the camp sites and the very clean showers have plenty of space and hot water. Complimentary glasses of orange juice are delivered to our sites on arrival and if we don’t want to walk the short distance to the bar and restaurant we can ring to have coffee or drinks delivered to us. The views of the Nile and the rapids, Dead Dutchman Falls, are fantastic. Its no wonder we end up staying almost a week.

The sun rises above the hills opposite and early morning is also a good time to watch the fishermen putting their nets into the river above the rapids.

As well as wonderful views of the rapids and the river we also have good views of the Plantain-Eaters which are a large Turaco. A Fish Eagle often perches in a nearby tree and hundreds of egrets roost on the trees above the falls. An inquisitive blue lizard watches us from a nearby tree.

Red-tailed monkeys scamper through the trees, they are a shy animal and don’t approach the camps so our food is not at risk from them. 

We travel into Jinja one day to complete a few chores and to visit the source of the Nile. Unfortunately we picked a Friday and traffic is even thicker and slower than when we arrived in the area. We get our new sim card and buy a few supplies at a supermarket, not as much as we hoped as the choices are very limited. Then we find a Mexican restaurant and Jared and Jen are very pleased with the food and declare it the best Mexican style food they have had since they left the US. 

After lunch we cross the river and drive down to some gardens where we can walk down to a monument to see where the White Nile starts its journey to the Mediterranean. There is some argument as to whether the Nile or the Amazon are the longest rivers but there isn’t much in it. 

Dead Dutchmen Falls, Uganda

The Source of the White Nile, Jinja, Uganda

Finally we decide that, although we would like to stay at the Haven for a while longer, we only have a limited time in Uganda and plenty we want to see so we better move on. We are heading toward Kidepo National Park in the far north east of the country. Its a long trip and we need at least two stops along the way. The first is at Sipi Falls in the foothills of Mt Elgon. We stay at Moses Camp and find level spots with fantastic views over the plains below and with just a few steps to a great view of the falls. Facilities are far more basic but we can still get warm showers as they heat the water then carry it to waterbags in the showers. The staff are very keen to make us comfortable and we relax and our one night stay extends to three before once again we feel we need to cover more territory.

A longer drive the next day gets us to Kotido deep into Karamojaland. This used to be a very dangerous area to travel through but since the people were disarmed in 2011/12 when 40,000 AK-47s were confiscated it has become safe for tourists to travel through. Now it is an interesting drive, reasonable roads for the most part and lots and lots of villages and people. Many of the Karamoja men wear hats with a feather stuck in them and Paul’s Akubra with his collection of feathers gains lot of attention and admiration.

We spend the night at the Karamoja Cultural centre where they have an area available for camping next to a small primary school. There are three young girls near the spot we will camp in when we arrive and they come and introduce themselves with the oldest shaking hands and the two younger girls executing perfect curtseys … wonder where that custom came from.

Its an easy drive next morning to the national park. While park fees are cheaper in Uganda than in Kenya or Tanzania they are by no means cheap. Here we have to pay $US40 per person per day plus $US50 for the vehicle entry so we are limiting our visit to the park to just 24 hours. Luckily the camping fees are cheap at just 15,000 Uganda shillings per person ($AUD5.50).

As we enter the park one of the rangers asks if we’d like to see a Cape Cobra which is a short distance up the track partly in the bushes. We get a reasonable view but then it slides back into the grasses, that’s close enough for me and I’m quite happy not to see any others but I think Paul would have liked a closer look. As we drive toward the main camping area we start to see some wildlife including zebra, buffalo and plenty of Jackson’s hartebeest. We have been driving through so many villages and small farms that it is nice to be back in the bush looking over plains to the mountains beyond. Some of the mountains mark the border with the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo).

At the main reception we have the choice of camping there or at a bush camp. We always prefer the bush but its also nice to have some amenities and when we find out the bush camp has showers and flushing toilets it makes it an easy choice. We follow a side track toward the bush camp seeing more game along the way and when we reach the camp we are very pleased with the location. It is on the top of a hill with 360 degree views over the valleys and plains.

Kidepo National Park, Uganda

Great Campsite in Kidepo National Park, Uganda

We pick our spots near the top of the hill and Jared and Jen drop off the trailer and we head out for a game drive. Paul has his camera mount on the side of the car ready for more game viewing and we see more of the same animals and also eland, duikers and elephants and Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, a new one for us.

We complete a loop track near our camp then decide to head for another track on the other side of the valley. When the track becomes muddy and appears unlikely to reveal many animals we decide to turn around and head back by another side track. This track shows little sign of recent use and as we go further it gets narrower and narrower and with more and more signs of mud. Before long it is obvious we can’t get through this way but it is too narrow and too wet along the sides to turn around so we have to reverse to the junction of the two tracks and retreat the way we entered the area. Oh well, its far better than getting stuck.

We head out for another game drive in the morning with high hopes of spotting some lions but no such luck, we have to make do with more of the same animals and beautiful views as yesterday, not such a bad thing at all. After an early lunch we need to make tracks for the park exit to ensure that we are out within our 24 hours. 

Paul’s cold has eased a bit but he now has a tummy bug so its a short days drive and we stop for the night at a guest house and small camping area not very far from the southern gate of the park. Next day we have a longish drive across the north west area of Uganda to a camp site just north of the Murchison Falls National Park. By now Jared, Jen and I are all starting to feel the effects of the dreaded cold so we have a rest day the following day before entering the park. Its a very pleasant place to spend our down time with extremely friendly staff, good facilities and giraffe and cob (a type of antelope) wandering through the property.

Once again we will only be in this national park for 24 hours and the main attraction we are here to see is the waterfall so we book a place on the afternoon boat trip and head south toward the river. Its a good drive with interesting scenery and game scattered along the way and there are plenty of tracks we could explore but we have just enough time to drive slowly to the river where we have lunch while waiting for our boat trip.

Huge baboons wander through the busy picnic area where people are either waiting for the next vehicle ferry to take them across the Nile or have just arrived from the south side on the last ferry before their lunch break. The baboons are big and confident, they rummage through rubbish bins and one hops into the open top of a safari vehicle and finds a banana before being chased out. They can be vicious and are very strong, I would not be at all keen on getting too close to one or trying to chase it away if it didn’t want to leave.

Our boat trip is on a two level open boat and although it is nearly full with people who have boarded on the other side of the river we manage to get some good seats at the front of the top so we have great views going up river. Its not long before we are seeing wildlife along the banks. The giraffe here are a much darker variety and the older they get the darker they become.

Hippos and crocs share the river and its banks and buffalo and waterbuck graze on the green grass.

There are scores of Pied King-fishers hovering above the river, there must be abundant fish, and darters rest on the branches after their morning fishing.

Murchison Falls, also known as Kabalega Falls, is not the highest or widest of falls but it is spectacular. Above the falls the Nile is 50 metres wide and it is then squeezed through a 6 metre gap in the rocks and it crashes through the narrow gorge with unbelievable power. Our boat stops a safe distance away where we are sheltered from the strong current by a small island so we can get some good views of the falls before we turn and return to the ferry crossing with more crocs, hippos and other animals being seen along the way.

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Murchison Falls, Uganda

When we get back to our vehicles we are lucky to get on to the vehicle ferry to cross the river with very little delay as we are all weary after the day’s activities and I for one am still suffering the effects of the nasty cold. We make our way to our campsite which is downstream on the banks of the river and all happily elect to eat in the restaurant rather than cook our meals. It is a delicious four course meal and a very pleasant end to the day.

In the morning we head south to Masindi then south west to the town of Hoima. This side of the country is heavily populated and there are lots of roadworks so the trip takes most of the day. We find a space to stay overnight and then plan our future travels. My cold is not getting better and Paul is also not 100% so we decide to stay in a BnB until we are completely recovered so we can enjoy our travels. Fort Portal is a town further south in the direction we want to go so we book a place in that area but about ten kilometres out of town in the countryside so we can recuperate in peace. Jared and Jen are travelling south when they leave Uganda and they want to visit Kampala so they turn east from Hoima toward the country’s capital. They will meet us in Fort Portal in about four days time.

Our drive toward Fort Portal takes us along more country roads ranging from narrow dirt roads to wide busy roads. Once again there are lots of road works and we decide Uganda probably has the most and biggest speed humps in Africa. Shortly before Fort Portal we leave the main road to reach our destination passing though the middle of tea plantations along the way. Our BnB is basic but very suitable for our needs. We are 11km from Fort Portal so we can pop in there if we need to but we are in a very quiet location just outside the tiny village of Kasiisi.

Our initial booking was for five nights but we extend several times and eventually stay for nine nights. Jared and Jen join us for three nights and leave one day earlier than we do. We make a couple of trips into Fort Portal to visit the small supermarket and have a look around. An excellent find is the Duchess Restaurant which not only serves nice food in a pleasant setting but also sells bread and cakes baked on the premises, cured meats including salami and chorizo, a range of locally made cheeses and also yoghurt.

When we are both feeling fully recovered and we are finally ready to move on we begin our trip with a visit to the market and a third visit to the Duchess for more goodies. While we are in town we get a message that Paul’s Mum is unwell and in hospital. Initially we are not sure whether to make the trip to Johannesburg and, if so, whether we should drive or fly. While we are waiting to hear more detail we continue south toward Queen Elizabeth National Park. When we get more news later in the day we decide to fly to Jo’burg. By now the quickest way is to continue a little further south then cross from the west of the country to the east via Mbara to Masala then up the highway to the airport at Entebbe which is south of the capital of Kampala. We overnight in Masala and continue on early in the morning.

When we entered Uganda we got a 3 month visa but just a one month Temporary Import Permit for the car which we need to extend because it will expire in a few days. After several attempts to find out where and when we can extend it we finally reach somebody on the telephone who advises that the office in Kampala is open today until 6.00pm so we decide to get that sorted so we can fly out very early the next morning.

The trip is smooth until we approach the outskirts of Kampala when we begin to strike some heavy patches of traffic.

It then eases again until we pass through the centre of the city and then it becomes totally chaotic. There are cars, motorbikes and people moving very slowly in one gigantic snarl.

It looks as though we will arrive at the Customs office at lunchtime so we decide to have some lunch first but when we arrive at the office at 2.00pm we find that they have just closed.

This could be a huge problem for us. We could be up for a sizeable fine when we try to take the car out of Uganda with an expired TIP. After wandering around and speaking to a few people the head security officer approaches us and he goes out of his way to help us after we tell him why we have to fly to South Africa. He gives us a photocopy of our Temporary Import Permit and takes the renewal fee off us, promising to get the thirty day renewal of the TIP processed while we are away. We can get the official paperwork when we come back from South Africa and we promise to be away no more than two weeks. It helps that he has a relative living in Australia.

Everywhere we have travelled we have found almost all the people to be friendly and helpful but here in in Uganda they have, if anything, been even more welcoming and helpful than elsewhere.

We drive south to Entebbe and to a hotel near the airport. Once again the people are very helpful and are happy for us to leave our car in their secure carpark while we are in South Africa and also to plug it into power for no charge. On top of that they provide a free airport shuttle so we can easily catch our 3.50am flight to Johannesburg via Nairobi.

We are in South Africa for a week and a half. Paul’s Mum is in hospital for most of that time but returns home a few days before we are due to leave. Since she has been home she has begun to improve and she is doing better now.

Unfortunately while we are in Johannesburg I receive news that my mother is not well so I make arrangements to return to Australia, leaving South Africa a day before Paul is due to leave. He has to return to collect the car from the hotel in Entebbe, collect the new TIP and travel to Nairobi to get our freezer fixed so we can continue our travels later.

Although our visit to Uganda ended rather abruptly, with a two day dash from the western region to Kampala and Entebbe, we have loved the people and been amazed by the diversity and fertility of the country. Massive rivers, lakes and wetlands as well as mountain ranges, forests and savannahs in the north. If you have a chance to go there then do so. It is a beautiful country.

From the Highlands of Kenya to Lake Victoria

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Mt Kenya

After our travels in Northern Kenya we are going to spend a week or so in the Central Highlands of Kenya and then travel west across the Rift Valley and onward to the Ugandan border. First though we need to pass through the highlands and continue on to Nairobi for some repairs that have come about from all the jolting around on the roads in the north. On the way we make an overnight stop at a trout farm not far from Mt Kenya. It has a restaurant, various types of accommodation and a small area grassy area for camping. From the main road it is about 8km along a dirt road with a ford across a small creek at the end. Perhaps because of the distance from the main road and Nairobi, or insufficient marketing, there is just one couple finishing a late lunch when we arrive and no other guests for the rest of the time we are there. It is a shame as it is a beautiful spot and the food and the service are excellent. The staff are extremely friendly and dressed very formally. They certainly make sure we enjoy our stay.

One of the highlights is seeing the Black & White Colobus Monkeys in the trees next to our camp. They have long black and white fur with long white tails and white ringed faces. They travel through the high tree tops and leap from branch to branch. There is also one Blue Monkey (Sykes Monkey) which lives in the area and he approaches also, apparently it is unusual for the two types to be in the same area and they have a bit of a territorial dispute.

This close to Mt Kenya we are more than 2,200 metres in altitude so it is no surprise that it is a very chilly night. We can expect more cold weather when we are staying in this area after our repairs so the four of us have booked a week in two houses through Air BnB. The bookings commence in just under a week so we hope that will give us plenty of time to finish our work in Nairobi.

Back in Nairobi our repairs consist of reattaching the awning and replacing some latches on the canopy. The tasks get organised in the next few days but not completed. We can’t find new latches anywhere in Nairobi and have to ship some from South Africa and they will arrive the next week. We sit around waiting for several days while we wait to arrange the work on the awning and eventually make a booking to have the work completed the next week. It will mean an extra trip back to Nairobi for Paul but it is the best arrangement we can make. While we are waiting we take a trip into town to get a new Temporary Import Permit (TIP) for our car and to visit Basharia Street, the area previously filled with Indian Traders and still lined with fascinating stores to explore and a great place to pick up some new Kikois. For lunch we call into the Thorn Tree cafe at the New Stanley Hotel, a place Paul used to call into for coffee when he lived in Nairobi. Since the early 1900s, the New Stanley Hotel has been known as a traditional meeting place for those going on safari  in Kenya and messages would be left attached to the original tree. There is a more formal message board next to the tree now.

Meanwhile Jared and Jen are busy completing their own repairs on their trailer. They manage to get most of the parts and work their way through their list. Their new brake assembly also needs to be shipped from South Africa but should arrive before Paul has to return so he can collect it at the same time. Paul and I end up being ready to leave Nairobi one day early and Jared and Jen eventually leave two days later than planned. Guess that is what we can expect from making plans.

Its difficult to find a nice camping spot north of Nairobi that will suit Paul and I for a night so we check other accommodation and find a great deal on a room in the Misty Mountain Resort near Mt Kenya and not far from where we will be staying for the following few nights. Its such a good deal in fact that the staff have never heard of a room being so cheap. It appears a mistake has been made but as we have a confirmed booking we end up with a wonderful room and some brief views of Mt Kenya in the morning when the clouds clear as a bonus.

The tip of Mt Kenya peeks above the clouds

Our first home stay is for three nights in a place called Cammplot just out of Naro Moru and less than 10km from Misty Mountain Resort. We arrive early while the place is still being cleaned but that is no problem and we are made welcome by Karanja who manages the house. As we are shown around the house we begin to wish we had this place booked for longer. It is perfect! Downstairs is a big open space living and dining area with an open fire in the centre. Behind is well equipped kitchen at one end and a double bedroom and a bathroom at the other end. In front is a huge deck with a dining table and chairs as well as two couches around another open fire place plus more seating. In front is grass leading down to a small ldam and then a rise covered in bush beyond and eventually the cloud covered slopes of Mt Kenya. Upstairs are two more large bedrooms with ensuites, the main is huge with two walk in robes and a seating area and best of all a huge window which will give us views of the mountain from our bed … when the clouds clear.

Karanja lives nearby and arranges for firewood when we request it and sets the fire but otherwise we are left on our own to enjoy the space and the peace. Paul commandeers the downstairs bedroom to work on his photos and as it is the first place we have had access to a washing machine for ages I wash several loads the easy way. Hand wringing sheets and towels sure is a pain. I also get some writing done and get to sort through my photos. We hardly use the inside living area because the deck space is so good that even on chilly evenings the fire and a light rug keep us toasty.

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Cammplot

We are here for three days but unfortunately Jen and Jared miss the first two days as their repairs take longer than they hoped and they can only join us for the last evening. Shortly after they arrive in the early afternoon the clouds completely clear off Mt Kenya and we have absolutely fabulous views. We had been seeing bits of the mountain but these views are magnificent. Overnight and in the morning the clouds are still dispersed so we enjoy mountain views from our bedroom.

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Mt Kenya

After a relaxed morning and early lunch we set off for our next home stay. It is at the top of the Aberdare National Park in a home called Mokima House. We have high hopes for the house as it is on the border of the National Park and the reviews are very positive but it can’t live up to our expectations … we have been spoilt by Cammplot. The house is far more enclosed so we have no views from inside and to reach the boundary fence from the house we need to walk down a muddy track lined with stinging nettles. A family and a chef live on the property and it appears most guests have meals provided but we want to do our own catering and have to pay an additional charge for the use of the kitchen. In addition when we first arrive there seems to be people hovering around all the time and we start to feel a little claustrophobic. Luckily things improve after the initial period. We are pretty much left to do our own thing and the kitchen fee includes washing up so we have no dishes to do for the four days of our stay, that’s a bonus. Everyone is very friendly and we leave feeling far more positive than when we arrived.

On our second day we take a trip into the nearby town of Nyeri. On the way we stop at Nyeri Hill coffee farm and purchase some delicious coffee for our onward travels. In town we head for the Nyeri Club. Paul used to visit here when he lived in Kenya as his father played cricket against their team. At that time the club house looked out over a golf course then a race track and the cricket ground was in the bowl below surrounded by a ring of hills. Now the race track and the cricket ground have been taken over by the expanding town and the golf course is reduced in size but there is still a very pleasant view from the club house and we enjoy lunch under the umbrellas in the sunshine.

After lunch we brave the hectic streets to find a supermarket and butcher for some supplies then visit the Outspan Hotel on the edge of town. This is an old colonial hotel and still retains an aged splendour.

As well as looking around the hotel we have afternoon refreshments on the lawn and then visit Paxtu cottage, the final home of Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scout Association. It is now a museum for the scouting movement and contains photos and memorabilia of Lord and Lady Baden-Powell and scarves donated by scouts or ex-scouts who have visited from all around the world.

Paul has to return to Nairobi the following day to have the awning reattached and leaves at 4.00am in an effort to get through town before the morning traffic jam. Unfortunately it is the day Barak Obama is visiting town so the traffic is even more snarled than usual and it takes an extra couple of hours to get through. As the job had all been measured he hoped it would be completed in the day and he would get back to us the same day. Unfortunately it didn’t go as smoothly as planned and he has to stay overnight and a good part of the next day before finally getting away in the afternoon and reaching us in the early evening. In the meantime Jen, Jared and I have a relaxed couple of days, there is a bit of writing and they have to go out to collect their coffee from the farm but as it is overcast most if the time it is a great opportunity for some reading.

After leaving Mokima House our next drive takes us through the high country north of the Aberdare Range then down into the Rift Valley. The high country is green and very pretty to drive through and trucks are minimal so it is a pleasant drive. As soon as we drop down into the Rift Valley the temperature rises and it is decidedly hot as we pass through the crowded town of Nakuru and then cools again as we begin climbing up to the Njoro area. Here we are staying on Kembu Farm, a working farm with a camping area and several other accommodation choices including the house Beryl Markham lived in which was on a nearby farm and which was transported to this location.

We have a grassy area to camp with some shade but also open areas for solar power, hot showers (most of the time) and although there are two overland buses in the camp the travellers are quiet. A semi tame duiker wanders in a bushy section of the property and our camp site overlooks fields filled with dairy cows. The nights turn very cool and the open fire in the bar is welcome.

After two nights we move on toward the border. We travel through the high country surrounding Kericho where the hills are covered in tea plantations then down to Kisumu on the shores of Lake Victoria. A short drive south of the town is Dunga Hill Camp. Here we find a small area for camping right on the edge of the lake and on the hill behind is a bar and restaurant filled with locals enjoying a balmy Sunday afternoon. We join the crowd for a drink while we watch the sunset and later have our dinner delivered to camp, pretty good service. Paul is fighting off a cold and we stay three nights before we leave. From Kisimu it is an easy drive to Busia and the border post into Uganda. We’ll spend around a month or a little more in Uganda then Jared and Jen will travel south into Ruanda and we will return to Kenya so than we can head north to Ethiopia.

Northern Kenya, “No More Stuckings”

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Low Hills surrounding Lake Turkana

Northern Kenya is remote and rugged and we are looking forward to the scenery and the different tribes and having some adventures in the bush. Together with Jared and Jen we’ve planned a loop across the top of Lake Baringo to Maralal then up to Lake Turkana, across the Chalbi Desert and down to Marsabit, then further south to the northern side of Mt Kenya. Well that’s our plan anyway, we’ll just have to see how it unfolds.

The road across the top of Lake Baringo is generally in good condition with some rough patches and a few muddy spots, and lots of great scenery. As we get some elevation above the lake we can appreciate how big it is. Our boat trip covered just a tiny fraction of the western shoreline. The hills are covered in green trees and shrubs after the rainy season and we spot a few duikers, zebra and eland. There are a few villages along the way but it’s relatively sparsely populated.

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North of Lake Baringo

After a few hours we reach Maralal where we hope to find a supermarket but we have to settle for a few vegetables and some eggs and some diesel. We fill our fuel tanks as well as our jerry cans because we may not find reliable fuel for quite a while.

It’s mid afternoon and we’re planning to stop at a community camp in the mountains north of Maralal which has fantastic views. We need to travel 23km up the main road towards Lake Turkana then 10km on a side road. We start climbing into the hills almost as soon as we leave town and we are still on the main road when we encounter our first section of thick soft mud. It looks tricky but both vehicles manage to make it through although the Toyota tyres slide more than we’d like.

We reach the turn to the community camp and ask about the road conditions. No problems with our 4WD vehicles we are told so we head toward the camp. It’s not long before we strike a tricky patch with a narrow section on top of a ridge and holes on either side of the road. Jared gets through with no problems but our tyres let us down and the left rear of the Toyota slides into a deep hole and we are left hanging with our front right tyre about a metre above the road. For a moment I think we are about to tip but it felt worse than it actually was. This is a bit more adventure than I appreciate!

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Oops – now we have to get out of this hole

Travelling in convoy pays off as it proves to be reasonably simple to hook our winch to Jared and Jen’s vehicle and haul ourselves out. We continue down the road and see a long stretch of mud down the hill from us. Time to give up the idea of the community camp, now the tricky bit is for Jared to turn the Jeep and trailer around. The Jeep ends up sideways across the road and the trailer at a sharp angle after one of the trailer wheels slid down a slope and with no room to manoeuvre to straighten up. Some digging and the use of Maxtrax and shuffling back and forth finally gets it sorted and we can get moving again. Once again we are impressed with the capabilities of “Snort” as Jen and Jared call their heavily modified Jeep.

By now it is getting late in the afternoon and we have no idea where we are going to stay for the night. One of the Samburu men who has been watching us approaches Jen and introduces himself and offers us a ‘special camp site’ not far away. After chatting for a short while Jared brings Jack over to us. The special camp is actually on a stretch of grass in front of the boma (compound) where he and his wife and daughters, his brother and family and his father, Alexander, live. We accept the offer and Jack rides with Jared and Jen to show us the way.

Back on the main road we continue for a couple of kilometres and are then confronted with another stretch of mud with a truck stuck in the middle and what turns out to be seven trucks backed up on the road behind them. Luckily there is a narrow and only slightly muddy track off to one side that we can use to get past the stuck truck and then we weave between other trucks to reach a patch of grass on the other side of the road which is to be our camp site for the night.

We level up our vehicles and set up our camp under the watchful eyes of Jack, his father and brother and assorted other family members and also several of the armed guards, carrying assorted semi-automatic weapons, who are providing security for the stranded trucks and their cargoes. This used to be a fairly quiet stretch of road but a wind farm has been built in the north near Lake Turkana and the Chinese are presently constructing the power line through this area to carry the power to Nairobi. A fire is lit for us, at this altitude it is decidedly chilly, and we sit around and share drinks with Jack and Alexander. Other family members and the guards also wander in and out of the area and we feel uncomfortable about bringing out food for just us and don’t have enough to share around so we settle for making a snack at bed time and having a picnic in bed. Its been a long day.

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Sunrise from Jack’s Place

In the morning a tractor trundles down the road and pulls the stuck truck out and the remainder of the trucks follow. Most build up their momentum and get through the muddy patch without incident but one can’t make it and they get pushed out by a grader. Jen and Paul go with Jack to meet his grandfather who is reportedly 117 years old and to take some family photos. Finally we are ready to continue our journey. We ask about the road ahead of us and are told that there is an easy drive with no more muddy patches and we should have “no more stuckings”.

We are driving to Lake Turkana today and it is a great drive with ever-changing scenery. We start on the top of the Loroghi Plateau with views to the valleys on either side of us then begin our descent. We start to see odd groups of camels as well as the usual cattle and goats. A bus thunders toward us with some of the passengers on top of the bus, we figure the driver wants most of the road so we pull over to let him pass.

The views at the top of the final descent to the plains cause us to pause and enjoy the broad vistas below.

As we cross the plain we see tree-studded grasslands which eventually turn drier and the vegetation turns from green to brown. Camel herds increase and the numbers of cattle decrease as the country becomes drier. The drive, with several stops to take photos of the scenery, is interrupted by a short lunch stop on the side of the road. We pass over dry riverbeds and through a couple of towns, Baragoi and the interesting South Horr, as well as several dusty villages.

Finally we start to see the blades of the new windmills emerging above the low hills. A report I read said there were to be 365 turbines which we initially doubt but as we drive further we wonder whether the number is in fact higher. When the power line is completed this energy will provide one third of Kenya’s power needs. As we leave the area with the wind farms Lake Turkana spreads before us. It is huge and glistening in the afternoon sun. Islands are dotted around and we can’t see the other shore.

We slowly descend to the lake on a very rocky road, here the country is covered in roundish rocks, mostly red but some patches are black. If we could wait here until the sun was lower in the sky the colours would be amazing but we have another half an hour or so to reach our destination for the night so we need to keep going.

We are starting to see some of the local people by now. There are several tribes living in this area, Turkana and Samburu, Gabbra, Rendille and El Molo, and the huts we see are round, igloo shaped dwellings made from branches and grasses and what ever other materials can be found. Goats and camels are grazing on the very little feed available and often people stand on the side of the road asking for fresh water. There is no shortage of water with the lake close by but although it is technically safe to drink it is extremely unpalatable due to the high concentration of minerals in it.

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Huts on the edge of Lake Turkana

The road travels along the edge of the lake and we travel up a crest and a large number of the round huts are spread before us, we have reached the town of Loyangalani. It is the main town on the lake, in fact it is the only town with just a few villages scattered in other places. Many of the buildings are the round huts and there are some cement buildings with a few places to stay.

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Loyangalani

We’ve planned to stay at a ‘resort’ in town but we follow a bus inside the grounds and it disgorges more than 40 people who are going to be staying here. It appears as though they are here for a conference or something else although the trip seems to have been too much for one young guy as he appears to be passed out on the side of the entrance road. Its crowded and noisy and the camping area doesn’t appeal so we search for alternatives.

Malabo Resort is a kilometre or so north of the town and while the accommodation is mainly in round huts (bandas) they also offer some camping. The camping area is OK but for only a little more, after Paul completes his negotiations, we can stay in the bandas (with ensuite) and still do our own catering or we can use the restaurant/bar which is perched up the hillside with a cooling breeze in the evening and views of the lake. Easy choice especially as this is can be a very windy place with 60km/h winds very common.

The road to Lake Turkana, while not the roughest road we have been on, has taken its toll. One end of our awning parted with our vehicle and it is now strapped to the roof rack on the Jeep and we already had one latch on the canopy break and a couple more have now failed. Jared and Jen’s trailer has had serious issues with the suspension and brakes and some of the rivets have given way causing dust problems inside. Jared is able to do some repairs over the next couple of days and we can repair one catch and shift some of the catches to minimise our problems but other repairs will have to wait until we reach a much bigger town, probably Nairobi.

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Snort and pet at Malabo Resort

We spend three nights at Malabo Resort and loved the friendliness of all of the people there. We ate in the restaurant on two nights and, because it is hot, they water down the dirt to cut the dust and we have a special couch out in the open for pre-dinner drinks while the sun sets and a table nearby for our meal. The meals aren’t always exactly what we ordered but they are delicious, and cheap.