Across East Africa with Two Kayaks
9th July 2016 – Kenya and Tanzania
I touch down in Nairobi and step off the plane. I have the unmistakable smell of dust filling my senses and the warm wind on my face. Embarrassingly, my rusty Swahili causes me to mumble through my greeting with the customs official and I make a mental note to brush up before I head off into one of the remotest parts of East Africa. Steven is waiting for me outside the terminal. He’s never late. I catch his eye with a wave, heave my luggage onto my shoulder and move through the throng of taxi drivers with their handwritten signboards.
“Twende Steven”, I say. Let’s go.
I am in Nairobi for a couple of days while I wait for my paddling partner, Simon Dunshea, to arrive from South Africa and am staying in Karen with my good friends Luke and Chloe Davey.
Simon is a friend of my cousins’ in South Africa, and has decided to join the expedition very recently. Initially I had hoped to do the expedition on my own, but the sound of a practically minded farmer on board, didn’t sound like such a bad idea…
With me based in London and Simon in South Africa, everything had been arranged over the phone and we’d only just managed to squeeze in transporting his kayak up from South Africa with mine in time for our departure.
Our journey out of Nairobi and down to Tanzania should have been completed in no time at all. However, on rounding a bend only a stone’s throw from the border of Namanga, I see a large official-looking figure step into the road. Hand raised.
It’s a sight you grow to despise seeing in Africa because more often than not, you know you’re in for a tedious battle between standing your ground and paying a bribe to get on with your journey.
“These things,” he starts, tapping the blue kayak with his baton. “these things are too big. As you can see, they extend over the windscreen. You may not transport them in this manner”.
I’ve lived in Africa most of my life and know very well that carrying two kayaks on the roof doesn’t even begin to compare with the precarious loads we see on some vehicles.
“You can pay me now, or you must return to Nairobi to buy a trailer”. His oversized fingers beckon me out of the vehicle. I can’t help but notice his rotund frame. Too many years of sitting lethargically under an acacia tree with nothing to do except stop passing cars.
Knowing that the kayaks on the roof are well within acceptable limits and weight, I spend half an hour smiling and nodding at the insistent traffic officer who, without actually asking me for the bribe outright, is talking in roundabouts about my ‘overloading’.
“Sure I’ll pay you now, but I need a receipt.”
“No, you will have to appear in court if you do not pay me now.”
“If this law exists, I have already told you I will pay the fine Mr Traffic Officer, but I would merely like a receipt.”
“You will have trouble in Tanzania if you don’t pay me now.”
“Well, why don’t I take my chances and see what they say.”
And so it goes… for 45 minutes. He gets bored with my simple remarks and smiling face. This is one battle I will not lose. We set off again. Onward to Arusha.
I am due to spend the evening at Brad Hansen’s place. He’s an old friend who runs his Safari company from Arusha. I generally stay here on my way through Tanzania and more often than not, I spend the evening looking after his forlorn dogs on my own as Brad is always on safari or expedition, and is seldom home.
As it happens, it’s not Brad’s dogs we spend the night with, but adventurer Kingsley Holgate and expedition team member Bruce Leslie.
What a night. Kingsley Holgate is an absolute delight to be around. He is large in presence and even larger in personality. Copious measures of Captain Morgan loosens the tongue and we discuss parts of Africa we love most, talking deep into the night about adventures, past and present. Bruce has us all in hysterics, recounting stories about expedition members and their antics, and then in horror when he opens up about his stabbing out at sea on the horn of Africa by Somalie pirates. All these experiences blow me away – the lengths the team will go to to really explore Africa is incredible.
“Isn’t life a great adventure” Kingsley writes in my book as we get ready to leave Arusha.
It certainly is.
Two more days of dusty driving though the back roads of Tanzania and we pass through Tabora, and onto Katavi National Park.
Katavi is one of Tanzania’s least visited national parks but is probably one of the most wonderful. It doesn’t exude grandeur on the same scale as the Serengeti but when you’re there, you feel like you’re the only person in the park. Sadly, we had to push on and only had time to drive straight through, passing by the notorious hippo pool next to the road. There was more water here than on my previous visit where the hippos were so tightly packed, one couldn’t see the water at all…
Onward to Lake Shore Lodge, my Tanzanian home away from home.
My route was largely the same as my trip in 2013. For a map of this section click here.