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.

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From the Highlands of Kenya to Lake Victoria

Kenya

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.

Kenya

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.

We had planned to travel across the Chalbi desert from here to Marsabit, a sizeable town which sits on the main road between Nairobi and Ethiopia, but the road crossing the Chalbi is flooded. What is it about us and deserts? They are frequently very wet when Paul and I are in the area. Instead we need to travel around the north of the main part of the desert through the towns of North Horr and Kalacha which turns out to be a great leg to our trip.

Some people could conceivably find this type of country flat and boring but we are all delighted with the variety we see and the huge open vistas. Mirages shimmer and tease with the appearance of water.

Camels were common south of Loyangalani but now they are in far greater numbers. As we approach North Horr we reach a palm fringed oasis with hundreds of camels at the water. They take fright when they hear and see us and charge away but are settled by their herders so we can pass. Its an extremely photogenic spot but they don’t appreciate photography so we have to settle for a couple of surreptitious snaps as we pass.

We’re stopping in Kalacha for the night and have the name of a promising sounding camp just south of the town on the edge of an oasis. We follow the track through the town to the oasis where we check with some locals. When we are told it is closed we ask about alternatives and are told we can stay at the Catholic church in the town. Once we are there we have the option of camping if we really want to or staying in rooms for the same price. We’re grateful for the welcome and the rooms in this heat and find shady spots to shelter for the rest of the afternoon.

In the morning we take a tour of the church. Its an Orthodox Ethiopian Church and really worth a visit. As well as the building there is an outdoor area where it appears most services are held. Trees and branches provide shade for the simple wooden benches and pulpit and a low wall sets the boundaries without impeding any cool breeze. Inside the church the walls have comic book like paintings illustrating scenes from the bible. Guess its something to look at if you get bored with the service.

Another great drive the next day takes us across the plains and up into the hills. Along the way we see the flat depression which is the heart of the Chalbi Desert. Its easy to see that any rain in the area would settle there and any more than the average rainfall could take a while to drain away or evaporate. In contrast the country we travel through between the oases is a dry and desolate land. Camels and possibly goats  are probably the only livestock able to survive out here.

Finally the road starts to climb and we reach the town of Marsabit. It is typical of country towns, tiny side streets and people everywhere. Once again the supermarket shown on our maps can’t be found but there are plenty of stalls and some ATMs. Just past the town we take a side road to Henry’s camp. Its far enough from the highway to shield us from the traffic noise and is a good overnight stop.

From Marsabit it is only 250km to the border with Ethiopia and more than twice that to Nairobi. Big cities are not our favourite place but we have more Kenyan exploration to do and we need to complete our repairs so Nairobi it has to be. The start of the journey provides more stunning vistas as we look down onto the plains we have been travelling across and we pass ranges with fascinating rocky formations. Tribal people dressed in traditional clothing still appear in the dusty towns we pass through.

The road goes past or through several nature reserves or conservancies but by then the land is greener and the vegetation much thicker so we don’t spot any wildlife as we pass. By the time we have passed Archer’s Post and reached Isiolo we are leaving the northern parts of the country behind. Time for new adventures.

Kenya’s Southern Rift Valley

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Take-off from Lake Magadi

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

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

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

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

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

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Desolation

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

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Solitude at Lake Magadi

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

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

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Masai children attempting to sell beads

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

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

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Flamingoes feeding

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Flamingoes Feeding

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

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Flamingoes in Flight over Lake Magadi

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

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Magadi Viewpoint

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

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Tricky exit from Lake Magadi

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

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

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

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

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Tranquil camp at Lake Oloiden

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Breakfast in Style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Crossing the Equator

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

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The Thirsty Goat Bar & Restaurant, Lake Baringo

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

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Roberts Camp, Lake Baringo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fisherman on traditional craft

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

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African Fish Eagle

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

Kenya, Amboseli to Nairobi

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Majestic Mt Kiliminjaro

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

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

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

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

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Mt Kiliminjaro at Sunset

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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Mt Kiliminjaro (Oldoinyo Oibor) from the Masai village

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

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Wildebeest scattering in front of Mt Kiliminjaro

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

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

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

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

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

North Eastern Tanzania

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Waterfall on the way to Lushoto in the Usambara Mountains

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exotic Zanzibar

Tanzania

Laying out the Fabrics, Zanzibar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zanzibar is exotic and fascinating … well worth a visit.

 

Entering East Africa

The Great Mosque, Kilwa Kisiwani

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

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

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

Early morning light at low tide at Pemba in Northern Mozambique

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

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

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

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

North Mozambique 08

Hmm, which way?

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

North Mozambique 09

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking forward to our time on Zanzibar.

Ilha De Moçambique

IlhadeMocambique 27

Stone Town, Ilha de Moçambique

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Heading North in Mozambique

MOZ_312_Morrungulo-Edit

Sunrise at Morrungulo on the Mozambique Coast

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

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

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

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

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

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Morrungulo Beach at Sunset

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

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

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

Mozambique - 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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