Swahili Coast Holiday

Sunrise at Peponi Beach Resort, Tanzania

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

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

Diani Beach Bliss

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas Feast at Peponi Beach Resort, Tanzania

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

Entebbe to Addis Ababa

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Delicious!

After a flying two week trip to South Africa to visit my 92 year old mum in hospital after she had a heart attack I am on a plane back to Uganda on my own. Julie flew back to Australia from Johannesburg the day before yesterday for a short visit, but I need to get back to Uganda.

We left our car at a hotel in Entebbe and when we left we promised the Security Officer at Uganda Customs that we would be back in two weeks to pick up the extension for our temporary import permit so I need to get back there.

The flight takes me via Nairobi and, as we fly past northern Tanzania, I have the good luck to see the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro surrounded by a sea of clouds and lit up by the afternoon sun.

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Mt. Kilimanjaro from the plane

During the three hour stop in Nairobi airport I discover that if I had organised a longer stopover there I could have had a free trip to Nairobi National Park. Something to remember! It is dark by the time I land at Entebbe airport on the shores of Lake Victoria. Before I left Johannesburg I sent an email to the hotel to let them know when I was arriving and my flight has been slightly delayed so I expect them to be waiting for me.

When I get out into the concourse I find it filled with people and outside on the driveway it is, if anything, even more crowded and the road is chock full of cars. I wait by the gate and it isn’t long before I see the receptionist from the hotel. She says we have a little way to walk to get to the car and we find it after a few minutes, still on the approach to the airport terminal. We climb in but we aren’t really moving so the driver decides to mount the divide and turn back onto the road heading away from the airport. A policemen shakes his finger at us but that is all.

We are still moving at snail’s pace and I learn that I have arrived at the same time as a plane-full of Muslims returning from their pilgrimage to Mecca. Everyone around is in good spirits but a drive back to the hotel that normally takes five minutes takes us about forty minutes instead.

The next morning I check out and pack up the car. The hotel very kindly let us leave the car plugged into power for the two weeks that I was away and the guard watered our herbs for us. I hit the road and head for Entebbe to pick up the extension for our temporary import permit. This ends up taking several hours because the security officer isn’t there but by late afternoon I finally get the paper work and head for “The Haven” a wonderful camp site beside the Nile River just north of Lake Victoria. We camped there for a few days when we first arrived in Uganda so I have no trouble finding it.

I can’t hang around though so the next morning I get on the road and head for the Kenyan border at Busia. The border formalities take a little time but I don’t have to pay for a visa because the one I have is still valid but I only get a temporary import permit for the car for seven days. That should be enough though as I will be heading for Ethiopia as soon as possible.

I still have a few hours of daylight left and I plan to spend the night in Kakamega Forest on my way to Nairobi. There’s a bit of rain around and it pours down heavily when I stop at a road side bar for some Nyama Choma. “Nyama Choma” is bbq meat and it is sold throughout Kenya at bars, restaurants and roadside bbq stands, typically outside butcher shops. I wonder what this rain will do to the dirt roads in the Kakamega Forest.

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Nyama Choma calls

It is after dark when I get to the edge of the forest but it isn’t too far to the camp site marked on my map. I ask a policeman and he assures me that I will have no problems getting through the forest as the road is still in good condition. The road is fine but when I turn off to the camp ground it quickly turns to a muddy, rutted track. There’s nothing else to do so I change into low range, four wheel drive and try to keep rolling. There’s one tricky stretch but it’s no trouble. However, when I find some of the forestry workers and ask them about camping they tell me that the camp ground is closed … long pause at this juncture … they know that I don’t have any other options so they agree that I can stay the night and one of them leads me down a small track. We are in the middle of the forest and the rain clouds are still around so it is very dark. It isn’t long before I am in bed and if it rains during the night I have no idea because I am dead-tired.

Next morning the weather seems to have cleared up a bit. There are a few colobus and blue monkeys around looking for food in the trees. I take a few photos, then pay for the camping and head off deeper into the forest on my way east to Nairobi.

It’s a beautiful drive and there is only one patch of mud where the dirt has washed down to the approaches to a bridge. There are workers busy clearing it but there is still a short stretch of mud to negotiate. No problem!

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Kakamega Forest

It isn’t long before I am out of the forest and approaching the western escarpment of the Great Rift Valley. The road climbs and the temperature drops. I stop on the side of the road to enjoy the view and have a quick chat with a local farmer and his family.

I arrive in Nairobi at Jungle Junction, the same camp ground we have used several times before. I’ll be here for a few days while the car is serviced and the wheel bearings are redone. We want the car to be in good shape before we head into Ethiopia. Christoph, the owner, is a mechanic and he gets a couple of his staff onto the job the next day. Not surprisingly the work takes longer than anticipated and only the front wheel bearings are done before I run out of time. I need at least three nights on the road to get from Nairobi to Moyale in far north east Kenya on the border with Ethiopia.

In addition there is a new problem. The front prop-shaft has too much play in it and I will need to get it fixed in Addis Ababa while I wait for Julie to arrive back from Australia. Christoph assures me that there are plenty of Toyota mechanics in Ethiopia and I do some research into Toyota workshops in Addis Ababa.

It is midday before I leave the camp ground, do some shopping and head north out of Nairobi. I decide to head up past the east side of Mt. Kenya as we have travelled the western route a few times before. It will be slower but very scenic. Unfortunately it gets dark before I find a place to camp for the night about 40km south of Meru. I’m on the road again early the next morning and I catch some fleeting glimpses of Mt. Kenya. The valleys and ridges that form the eastern flanks of Mt. Kenya are green and fertile. The soil is a rich red colour which contrasts with the deep green of the banana trees and the tea plantations. They get a lot of rain in these parts and there are large numbers of people living on farms and in the cities here.

I am heading to “Henry’s” in Marsabit, another camp ground we have used before. I arrive half way through the afternoon and get to relax for the first time in a week. In the evening a group of Dutch people arrive from the north. They have just come through Moyale and inform me that the day after tomorrow, the day I plan to cross the border, is a public holiday in Ethiopia; their New Years Day. They are pretty certain that there will be no Ethiopian staff on duty that day at the border crossing. My Ethiopian visa isn’t valid until then so I may just have to take my time so that I don’t have to wait in Moyale itself which has a bit of a reputation.

Around mid-morning I head north and take my time. I stop to take some photos of a crater just north of Marsabit and then head down into the large swathe of arid country that used to be called the Northern Frontier District.

Meteor Crater

It is hot and dry for the most part with very little water. The few tribes that live out here include the Boran, the Turkana and the Gabra, all nomad peoples who run herds of goats, cattle and camels. The Shifta (bandits from Somalia) used to come over the border and raid the country for livestock. The local people are no pushovers and reports of these clashes would drift back to Nairobi from time to time.

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Tough Country

These days there are plenty of police patrolling the roads and it is usually peaceful. There are still the odd fights over water rights but these don’t really affect tourists and travellers as long as you stay clear of anything that looks threatening.

I have been driving north for a few hours already so I am well and truly out in the flat, dry country of northern Kenya now and the sun is starting to get really hot. The colours of the landscape are washed out under the harsh light of the sun and I am squinting against the glare. Distant hills and trees float above the horizon on shimmering lakes that are mere mirages.

My map shows a pattern of old volcanoes dotted all over this country. Most are very old and worn down to rounded hills. A few larger ones remain. I spotted a large hill, possibly an old volcano, on the northern horizon in front of me a little while ago but I don’t seem to be getting any closer. Off to the sides of the road I see the odd herd of cows and camels and sometimes a couple of ostrich.

Water is hard to come by out here. The land is a light brown colour and the stunted thorn trees are widely spaced around fields of rocks with a few tufts of straw-coloured grass here and there.

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Big Horizons in a parched country

Fortunately I have some water in the fridge to drink. I stop for lunch under a rare shady tree on the edge of a dry river bed. There’s nobody around. In this heat it takes effort to move very far and most people, like the animals and birds, rest up in the middle of the day. Early morning and the evening are the best times to do anything physical.

Back on the road I can still see the same hill in the north. I take another look at the map. There aren’t many turns in the road but it looks like the road will take me to the hill and then turn east just after it. The map shows that there is a small town just south of the hill. Eventually I start to make out some details. There is a large hill with some massive rocks surrounded by some smaller hills littered with large boulders. The road will pass the town and leads over a saddle between the large hill and another to the west.

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The Hill

I drive slowly through the town and then the road rises into the hills and curves gently to the east. I spot a tower on the hill and a dirt track that leads up to it. I’m ready for a break so I turn onto the track and pretty soon I am out of sight of the main road and parked in some shade. It is quiet apart from some hornbills and starlings that come along to check me out. It has taken me half a day to reach this hill from the time I first saw it.

A little while later and I still haven’t seen anyone so I decide to camp the night. It’s too far to reach the Ethiopian border at Moyale and I have a good view to watch the sunset from up here.

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Sunset on the Rocks

The next morning I continue driving east. The thorn bush is thicker here and fairly green. To the north is a range of hills that lie along the border with Ethiopia and I surmise that this is the source of the water that was missing from the country further south. I’m driving slowly because it’s not that far to Moyale and I’m not sure where I will camp for the night so that I can hit the border crossing as early as possible the next morning.

At one of the police road blocks two police ask for a lift. They both squeeze into the front passenger seat, good thing they are both quite skinny. We start talking and I ask them about the border crossing. One of them gets on the phone and calls someone in Moyale. We hear that another traveller successfully crossed into Ethiopia this morning so the there must be some staff on duty. Knowing this I am keen to get there and we drive into town around lunchtime.

The Kenyan border formalities are done with fairly quickly and I drive across to the Ethiopian side where things stall right away. There’s hardly anyone around, just a few guys sitting around outside and the vast car park is almost empty. There are no other travellers around at all. One of the guys turns out to work for immigration and I show him my e-visa. He says that’s fine but he has to phone and double check with someone in Addis Ababa. As today is a national holiday, New Year’s Day, it may take a while to reach someone. Also the phone network is down so I will have to wait. Another chap tells me that the Customs people won’t be coming in until tomorrow. They were here earlier but they have gone home. It looks like I’m stuck here overnight and the only place to stay is at a lodge within the border post on the Kenyan side.

At this point one of the guys who just seems to be hanging around asked me if he could have a lift to Addis Ababa. In return he says he knows the head of the Customs Department in Moyale and he will give him a call. Of course I say that’s great and he makes a call. Even so, I’m there for several hours and it is mid afternoon before my new friend and I head north into Ethiopia. For the first kilometre the road is littered with stones and corrugated iron and lined with broken down shacks. Terefe explains that thousands of refugees from Somalia live on the right with Ethiopians on the left. Many of the Somalis have been there for ten years and they are frustrated that they have not been granted Ethiopian citizenship. At the end of the kilometre we see a line of taxis and tuk-tuks. Terefe says they won’t go any further than this because of the off and on fighting that breaks out near the border.

Since Ethiopia is the home of coffee I let Terefe know that I’m interested in sampling the local brew as soon as possible and he says that there is a village a short distance away where we can make a stop.

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Typical Ethiopian Town

We soon get there and stop at a typical roadside coffee shop. The floor is strewn with green grass and yellow flowers, partly a celebration of the New Year and partly a reminder of life in the villages and farms which is where the vast majority of Ethiopians are born and raised. The coffee is very good and Terefe gives me the run down on the coffee ceremony and explains that many Ethiopians drink three cups at one sitting, and that the third cup is the “Blessing Cup”.

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First Coffee Stop

Due to the late departure from Moyale we only make it as far as Yabello that night. Terefe is my guide again at dinner and I have my first meal of Tibbs and Injera, the first of many while we are in Ethiopia. I spend the night in the roof-top tent in the hotel car park and we hit the road again at about 7am the next day.

Ethiopia, Day 2

What a day of contrasts! Started out in the thorn bush country of the nomadic Oromo people in southern Ethiopia under wonderful blue skies.

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Thorn Trees and Ant hills

Headed north west from Yabello and stopped at a stock dam to take photos of the Borana cattle watering there as well as the two young herders.

Then the road climbed through a narrow pass in a small mountain range to the town of Konso where they have been terracing the hills for over 400 years to collect water and control erosion. On the approach to the town the dry hill sides are covered with old terraces. (Click here for more info)

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Konso from the air (image from the Internet)

I stop in a narrow valley under a large shady tree to empty the diesel from the jerry cans into the tankand to have a bite to eat. It’s not long before the car is surrounded by about twenty excited kids. From where I stand I can see some of the bigger dry stone walls that are part of the town defences.

From Konso the road turns north up the western side of Lake Chamo to the large town of Arba Minch set up on a hill looking over Lake Abaya. Approaching the lakes the banana plantations line the road and sweep down to the lake shore. Arba Minch itself is very busy and crowded with a large university. North of the town are extensive orchards of large mango trees … not in season for another month. The soil is a rich red colour and the banana plants and mango trees are a vivid green.

Lake Abaya is pretty long and there are many opportunities to stop and take in the amazing grey pink colour of the water, a reflection of the colour of the mountains that provide the backdrop along the eastern side of the lake.

Driving further north the road starts climbing, first through forests and then into an area of steep-sided hills intensively planted with well-tended crops. There are very few gaps between the villages here. The road is pot-holed and there is plenty of traffic, mainly buses, taxis, bajajs (tuk-tuks) and trucks loaded up with bananas to take to Addis Ababa.

The road seems to climb forever and eventually I stop to take some photos. At 2,800 metres it is pretty chilly, especially after the warmer country to the south. A farmer and two young boys walk up the hill from their fields to see what I am about. The clouds are low and grey and every now and then a crack of thunder rolls around the hills and there is some far off lightning. I feel close to the sky up here.

Looking south from this height, many miles away, I can still see the sunlit plains beside the lakes.

The style of buildings changes as I pass through the different regions. This is a good indicator of the many and varied ethnic groups in Ethiopia.

Driving further the weather worsens and the rain is bucketing down by the time I find a place to stay in the next big town, Hosanna. It’s dark and grey, water is flowing down the streets, the town electricity has failed and every vehicle is driving around with their hazard lights switched on. It seems that every where you look there are blinking red and orange lights against the dark grey and drenched streets. Hail bounces off the car as I drive the last few hundred metres to a hotel. No camping in this weather. What a day!

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The morning after the storm

Another early start the next day and we reach Addis Ababa around lunchtime. I take Terefe to a church because he wants to buy some holy oil for his wife and children who he is on his way to see. He works in Moyale for an NGO which tracks refugees as they move around. That’s as much as I can work out anyway. He still has about 100km to go to get to his family.

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Entering Addis Ababa

I locate the hotel I am staying at and pay a quick visit to the Toyota workshop and get the car booked in for the next day. I set myself up in the hotel room so I can process photos while I wait for the car and for Julie to arrive from Australia in about a weeks time. Luckily the hotel is close to the airport and to Toyota which I visit regularly to keep an eye on things. Addis Ababa is busy, dirty and not blessed with many street lights. Just like the villages in the country side, cattle, goats, donkeys and horses roam the streets and often just stand still in the middle of the road forcing people to drive around them. Luckily I have plenty of photos to keep me busy.

From the Highlands of Kenya to Lake Victoria

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Mt Kenya

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

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

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

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

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

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

The tip of Mt Kenya peeks above the clouds

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

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

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Cammplot

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

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Mt Kenya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Northern Kenya, “No More Stuckings”

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Low Hills surrounding Lake Turkana

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

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

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North of Lake Baringo

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

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

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

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Oops – now we have to get out of this hole

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

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

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

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

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Sunrise from Jack’s Place

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Huts on the edge of Lake Turkana

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

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Loyangalani

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

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

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

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Snort and pet at Malabo Resort

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

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.

Kenya

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.