Pilbara Jewel

Handrail Pool, Weano Gorge, Karijini NP

We love all of the Pilbara region of Western Australia and different parts have different treasures but the jewel of the region has to to be Karajini National Park. We’ve visited the park several times before but it’s a place you can visit time and time again to enjoy the wonderful country, the colours, the mountains and the deep gorges.

This is an ancient land; mountain ranges have weathered down and while they are still called mountains, Mount Bruce, Mount Sheila, Mount Nameless and Mount Meharry, in other younger countries they would simply be called hills.

Precipitation doesn’t occur very often but when it rains it pours. It’s a dry country now but there are still permanent water sources and the flat red earth is cut by deep gorges. From the top you can peer down into deep canyons to see waterfalls and rock pools. Several walking trails take you down into subterranean gorges. Our last visit was nearly six years ago and while Paul still tackled some of the difficult trails on this trip I lowered the bar and settled for moderate walks (up to class 4).

The first gorge we visited this trip was Kalamina Gorge. It’s one of the most accessible gorges and while not as dramatic as some we think it is possibly the prettiest gorge with some lovely little falls and reflecting rock pools. It’s in the middle of the park and on previous visits it’s been very quiet but word of its charm seems to have got out as the car park was nearly full when we arrived. We still managed to have plenty of quiet times to enjoy the beauty as most other visitors walked the gorge, possibly had a dip, and then left.

From Kalamina Gorge we travelled to our first camp at the national park campground near Dales Gorge where we stayed for three nights. The easiest entry into Dales Gorge is via a steep staircase down to Fortescue Falls. There were quite a few swimmers in the pool below the falls.

 From Fortescue Falls it is a short further walk to the idyllic Fern Pool.

Fern Pool, Dales Gorge, Karajini National Park, WA

The other entry into the gorge is via a steep path including a short ladder near Circular Pool. On our first evening we took a very pleasant walk along the rim. The late afternoon light displayed the beauty of the country and the wildflowers were a delight.

Circular Pool was closed due to a recent rock slide but the path through the gorge was still open and was a great walk on the next day.

About 50 km west of Dales Gorge several gorges meet and provide some of the most spectacular scenery in the park. We moved camp to best appreciate these places and spent the next three nights at the Karijini Eco Retreat. We stopped to enjoy the view at the lookout over Joffre Gorge and Paul returned there for some pre sunrise photography the next morning,

Joffre Gorge, Karijini NP, WA

The landscape and vegetation in this region is amazing and we never tire of it, especially when the sun is just rising or getting low and providing extra drama.

Weano Gorge with Handrail Pool at the end of the accessible area provides amazing rich colours

Another amazing gorge to visit is Hancock Gorge and at the end of a very tricky walk you reach the magical Kermits Pool where light bounces off red and gold walls to create magical waterfalls.

Before leaving Karijini we had one more stop. Hammersley Gorge is on the western edge of the park and has some amazing rock formations we have photographed in the past, This time we hoped to see the Spa Pool, a spot we had missed on previous visits. We reached the bottom of the gorge not long past sunrise and Paul began the scramble up the gorge toward the spa. I decided it was too tricky for me and picked my way up the rocky sides to a spot above the spa. From there I could see we had picked the wrong time of the day to visit as it was half in deep shade and half in strong sun.

Paul had a far more difficult trek to reach a spot where he made the same conclusion. Guess you can’t win them all. Anyway Paul managed a lovely shot of one of the small water falls and I enjoyed the amazing curves in the rocks.

If you have never been to Karijini you should put it on your bucket list and if you’ve only been once or twice or for just a short time it is certainly worth a return visit.

Ethiopia Part 2, Bahir Da to Aksum

Basket Market under the Fig Tree, Aksum, Ethiopia 2018

From Bahir Da we continue north on the historic circuit toward the royal city of Gonder but on our way we make a detour to the northern edge of Lake Tana and the tiny village of Gorgora. There are very few camp grounds in Ethiopia and so far we have stayed in cheap hotels but a Dutch couple run some cottages and a camp site on the lakeshore so we decide to take the opportunity to camp while we can. Hotels can be fine but our roof top tent is our own bed and while we are enjoying Ethiopian food it will be good to cook for ourselves from time to time. The camp area is pretty with heaps of shade and a pleasant outlook and our planned two night stay stretches to four before we are ready to go back to the well-trodden tourist trails.

We are travelling after the rainy season and there are crops being grown on every bit of flat ground and mountain sides except for the very steepest and highest rocky slopes. Most of the slopes are covered in terraces full of crops with all work done by hand. In the valleys there are flatter areas and more water so fields are larger and cattle are used to plow the fields ready to plant the new crops. Donkeys are often used to haul loads but if a cart or buggy is needed to haul goods or people they often use ponies.

We reach Gonder in the early afternoon and after our rest on the lakeshore we are keen to begin our sight seeing in this historic town. In the 17th and 18th centuries Gonder was the capital under Emperor Fasiladas and the population of the town grew to more than 65,000. Its wealth and splendour had become legendary with castles, banqueting halls and lavish gardens. It gradually declined and then later was looted by Sudanese Dervishes and finally bombed by the British in the mid 20th century. 

The Royal Enclosure will take hours to explore so we’ll save that for the morning but this afternoon we have time for a visit to Debre Berhan Selassi, one of Ethiopia’s most beautiful churches. Most of Gonder’s churches were destroyed by the Sudanese but Debre Berhan Selassi survived when a giant swarm of bees surged out of the compound and chased the invaders away. It is situated on a hill top and enclosed in a walled garden with a grand entry. Paul enters the church through the front door and I cover my head and enter through the female’s door at the side. Its a grand building with fascinating old paintings including a ceiling covered with angels. The priest giving a tour shows how the drum is played and in very limited English explains the bible stories illustrated on the walls.

The painting at the lower right shows St. George killing the dragon. St. George features heavily all around Ethiopia, most often depicted as an Ethiopian which we enjoyed.

The Royal Enclosure is a ten minute walk from our hotel and we make our way there the next morning. The old Gonder city is a World Heritage site and the 70,000 sq m compound has been restored with the assistance of UNESCO. The are several palaces including the grand palace of Fasiladas and a smaller but fascinating palace of his son Iyasu I. We wander around these and other palaces, banqueting halls, churches and other buildings in varying states of ruin imagining life here when the walls were draped in gold cloths and adorned with paintings and mirrors and sumptuous furniture filled the rooms.

Not far north of Gonder are the Simien Mountains which have several peaks above 4,000 metres. We are keen to visit the National Park for the dramatic scenery and also for the chance to see Gelada monkeys and Walia ibex and perhaps the Ethiopian Wolves. Unfortunately a ‘scout’ who is an armed park ranger is compulsory in the park and while, over short distances, we can manage to carry a third person either sitting on the roof rack or squashed between us on the console, the distance we need to travel from the headquarters to the camping area is just too far. Very disappointed we continue on, we’ll have to make sure we visit some high country elsewhere in Ethiopia. 

As we descend from the foothills surrounding the Simien Mountain Range we are treated to some wonderful views over the valley below with a waterfall cascading down from the heights. 

Disappointed at not being able to stay in the mountains we end up travelling on to the next town on the historic circuit, Aksum, arriving after dark. In the morning we set out to explore and find Aksum to be a charming town. The streets are wide and clean, the people friendly and there are things which catch our eyes everywhere we look in both the old town and the newer sections.

There are many mysteries and legends about the history of Aksum. According to some the Queen of Sheba lived here and the Ark of the Covenant which holds Moses’ 10 Commandments is kept here in a small chapel. Maybe those Knights of the Round Table were looking in the wrong place all that time. Whether those facts are correct or not, Aksum was certainly an important place from around 400BC and continuing for at least 1000 years.

Ancient obelisks are scattered all around the area and one of the most important groups in the Northern Stelae field. Here there are three enormous standing rock needles, an even larger collapsed one and several other smaller obelisks. As well there are underground mausoleums and other smaller stelae to see and far more underground tombs and treasures which have not yet been excavated. The fallen stele, also known locally as King Ramhai’s Stele,  is a massive 33m and is believed to be the largest single block of stone that humans have ever attempted to erect. At 24.6m high and 170 tonnes, the Rome Stele is the second-largest stele ever produced at Aksum. In 1937 the stele was shipped to Italy on Mussolini’s personal orders. On arrival it was reassembled and raised once more in Rome’s Piazza di Porta Capena, where it was known as the Aksum Obelisk. It remained in Rome until 2005, when decades of negotiations were finally victorious and was returned to Aksum that year and Unesco raised it in 2007, just in time for the Ethiopian millennium celebration

Behind the stelae field is a small but very impressive archeological museum. We spend quite a while wandering through it absorbing the tales of the kings and seeing items recovered from tombs. Videos are playing in one section and as well as providing us with a cool place to sit on a very hot day we enjoy seeing some of the impressive scenery in the north of the country and hearing about the rich history.

We pass up visits to the old (men only) and the new (women allowed) Churches of St Mary of Zion and the Ark of the Covenant Chapel. No-one is actually allowed to see the Ark and only one guardian is allowed to even enter the chapel. Instead we admire the buildings from the outside and spend our time wandering around the streets in the Old town and also the newer areas of Aksum. 

Buildings are frequently made from rocks but newer ones have been rendered and often painted in bright colours. There isn’t a lot of traffic in the side streets and when kids playing in the streets see Paul wandering around with his camera they like to pose and then see themselves in his view finder.

Several markets are held regularly in Aksum and the most colourful is the Saturday Basket market where people come to stock up on high quality Tigrayan workmanship. If space allowed I would love to have purchased a good range of baskets.

The Basket market is held under a huge fig tree so its a great place to spend time and enjoy a coffee.

Late one afternoon we walk up to the Yeha Hotel which is perched on a bluff overlooking the Stelae field and the Mary of Zion churches. Its a great place to enjoy sunset drinks and while we are there we hear the bells calling worshippers to prayer. On our way back to town we pass the old church and see many of the female worshippers lining the fence and listening to the service broadcast over speakers.

 We loved our stay in Aksum and are tempted to stay longer but after three nights we need to move on and continue our journey around the historic sites.

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.

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. 

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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.

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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.

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

Tanzania

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.

Tanzania

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.

 

Ilha De Moçambique

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Stone Town, Ilha de Moçambique

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Revisiting Kruger National Park

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Zebra, and Giraffe Crossing, Kruger NP

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

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

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

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

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Leopard, Kruger NP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Elephant at the Water tank, Kruger NP