Facebook has all the photos for this part of the trip – click here to have a look.
30th November – 2nd December 2013
Livingstonia is a town set high up on the Nyika Plateau, towering 900m above Lake Malawi and is just a few kilometres west of Chitimba – straight up. Not to be confused with Livingstone in Zambia, Livingstonia is an old mission station which has developed into a town. Cape Maclear had been the original site for the 1894 Scottish mission but on realising that their lakeside location was rife with malaria, the missionaries moved their calling 600km north, to the heights to escape the mosquitos who were killing all those they were trying to save. With it’s colonial stone buildings perched on the edge of this escapment and beautiful tree-lined streets, one might forgive you for thinking you’d gone back one hundred years in time. People walk the earthen streets in their Sunday best as if they’ve just been to church, and are proud of their University, school, museum, hospital and mission church that still serve as the central hub around which community life revolves. Getting up to Livingstonia is a tale in itself…
From Chitimba Camp you can approach Livingstonia in two ways. Walk or drive. Unfortunately neither of these is terribly pleasant. I had originally planned to drive up, but on discussing this with the owner of the bar, I suddenly had second thoughts. The “Gorode” (as it’s referred to by the locals) up the almost-vertical escarpment is a series of 21 switchbacks on a single gravel track. I’m talking about wheels-almost-over-the-edge type driving. The journey is said to take around an hour and some of the switchbacks involve a three point turn to get around the corner. If faced with a vehicle coming down while you’re going up, one of you needs to reverse until you find a switchback with a little room for you to manoeuvre around each other – and there aren’t that many about. You can’t drive if it’s been raining, as your vehicle will simply slide off the edge. I’m not the best when it comes to heights, sliding mud, crumbling road verges or reversing down cliff-dropping switchbacks and so I elected to walk up instead.
(Turns out the Beast would have managed the climb no problem, but without someone with me to spot I’m kind of glad I didn’t drive)
Chitimba Camp can arrange for a local guide to take you up to the top, and so at 5:00am I was ready for my pathfinder, Lawrence, at the gate. The distance from Chitimba to Livingstonia by road (via Lukwe) is around 18kms, and with a total elevation of around 900m this was bound to be a tough walk. The guides know ‘shortcuts’ straight up between the switchbacks which cuts the distance down somewhat but your’e climbing almost straight up. I had packed a backpack for one night’s stay at the top but with my camera equipment and two litres of water, I wasn’t travelling light. I’ve walked up Table Mountain in Cape Town before and, aside from the weight I was carrying, this was a fairly similar trek.
As I’ve mentioned before, Malawi is one of the poorest African countries so very few local people have vehicles. The only way up and down from Livingstonia is by walking, and for some, this happens every day, sometimes multiple times a day. On my way up I passed several groups of mostly women (and a few older children) walking down absolutely laden with produce balanced on their heads and carried in their arms. I asked Lawrence about this and he told me that the villagers bring fruit, vegetables, grain and other food stuff up and down the mountain daily. These women were mostly barefoot and I couldn’t help but be reminded how hard some people work to earn a meagre living.
After hours and hours of climbing, the punishing gradient tapered off and Lawrence took me down a side road to my place of rest for the night. Lukwe Eco Camp is perched precariously on the very edge of a sharp drop off and has views all the way to Lake Malawi in the East. The grass huts jut out over the edge and have the most fantastic views. The camp has been built from local resources and is run on solar power and wood fuel. Lukwe have their own organic gardens and compost toilets which require the scooping of ash and soil, from nice neat pots, into the tank below to cover your contribution.
Lukwe is around 4kms before the actual town of Livingstonia so I dumped most of my things in my grass hut, thanked Lawrence for getting me up to the top and discussed a meeting time for him to walk up and fetch me the next morning. I didn’t necessarily need a return service as the only way is down, but when you see how hard these people work for every penny, spending of $10 becomes a little more purposeful. Lawrence would see me at 7am the next morning.
I had heard about Manchewe Falls and thought I’d visit this site on my way up to Livingstonia. After walking past a few remote huts and farmland, I suddenly realised I was being followed. Every time I looked back, giggling boys would dart back into the bush to hide. I felt a little like the pied piper after a while and gestured for them to come and walk with me which they did. They lead me to the Manchewe Falls and we all had a bottle of Fanta together. The falls were a nice little attraction, dropping down in to the valley below and surrounded by lush forest.
It took about another hour of walking uphill to get to Livingstonia where I bumped into a group of travellers from Chitimba Camp along the way. This incredible town is built along a one kilometre tree-lined dirt road. We decided to explore together as a group and stopped in at the market for a bit of fresh produce. We popped into the barber’s shop to see about a hair cut for one of the boys, but the barber had a queue and looked to be fairly busy (I’m not sure the styles on offer were what he was hoping for either) so we tried to visit the museum in Stone House instead, but it was closed. Near the end of town we dropped into the Craft Coffee Shop and met the shop keeper, Isaac. I was parched and so we stayed for a drink. Isaac speaks perfect English and was well versed in African history. Taking time out to listen to his stories was well worth the stop! Since the mission establishment in Livingstonia over a hundred years ago, the town has been visited constantly by missionaries who continue to educate the local children and adults. Livingstonian folk speak the best English of all the African people I have ever met.
At the far end of town the impressive church stands proudly between the trees. We couldn’t help but notice the enormous stained glass window depicting David Livingstone, the Scottish explorer after whom the town is named. Obed, the enthusiastic caretaker, lead us on an extended tour through the church halls, past the choir and up onto the roof, through the rafters and out onto the open air bell tower from where we could see all the way out over the edge of the escarpment and down to Lake Malawi.
Livingstonia Church Choir in rehearsal for a special event – amazing!!
My group of merry travellers decided to stop for a bit of lunch, but by this time I wasn’t feeling good and simply ordered a plate of rice. I’m not one to get ill and hadn’t been sick once since the trip began. In fact, it’s rare if I even get a cold once a year. I attribute my incredible immune system to my many teaching years, being exposed to just about every strain of germ and virus going around, so it’s very unlike me to feel unwell.
We all walked together back down the hill to our camps. The rest of the travellers were staying at Mushroom Farm, a kilometre further than Lukwe and so we’d arranged for Lawrence and myself to meet them on the way down – giving Lawrence an extra bit of cash for the group of us. After walking the 16kms almost straight up to Livingstonia and a further 4kms back to Lukwe, I was not in a good place. A recent loss of appetite over the past two weeks had meant that I hadn’t been eating much and with quite a strenuous trek up the mountain that day, my resources were depleted and I crashed in my hut and slept for a few hours.
At small camps in these remote places, you tend have to put your dinner orders in at around lunch time so that the cooks can acquire exactly what they need for their guests during the day. On arriving earlier that afternoon I had optimistically chosen the steak, mash and vegetables off the Lukwe menu. There were only two other guests at Lukwe that night and so I sat down with them for dinner. The food came out, I stared at it, poked at the rice but couldn’t touch a thing. You’re always at risk offending people by sending their lovely home cooked meals back to the kitchen but I asked that someone explain that I wasn’t well and that the staff were welcome to have my dinner. I also though it wise to tell someone that I wasn’t well and the lovely African lady who runs the place, went to speak to the European owner about what to do. He mentioned that he was driving down the mountain the next morning at 11am and I could get a lift with him to Chitimba. With slight relief and with no dinner, I staggered back to my hut and called Lawrence on his cell phone. In my best simple English tried to explain the situation to him. I didn’t want him walking up in the morning if I was getting a lift down in a car. He seemed to understand eventually but, as with most lovely African, when they find out someone is sick, they are always hugely concerned and want to help. I explained that I would be fine for the night, and as I was getting a lift, I’d be back in Chitimba without further problems in the morning. I had no way of informing the other travellers, who I knew would be waiting for me at 7am down the road, but figured they would head down by themselves after my no-show.
Things progressed from bad to worse – back in my hut I got progressively more ill. I was lethargic, clammy, was cramping badly and had dire nausea. Without any immediate (I mean “in my hut” immediate) access to fresh water, food or medication I felt completely useless. I managed to get hold of Boris by text and he told me to get to a hospital as he was worried it may be malaria. I had one of the worst nights of my life, fighting nausea, cramping, and in my exhausted state, had to trek up the pathway every time I needed to use the compost toilet… I should have just slept sitting down on it.
I must have fallen asleep in the early hours of the morning, and at 7am dragged myself to the bar to ask if the owner could take me to Livingstone hospital but he wasn’t around. I went back to bed, waiting for him to leave a little later, and was eventually woken by the cleaning lady at 11am who told me I needed to be out of the hut so she could clean. I explained that I wasn’t well and was waiting to catch a lift down the mountain with the owner. She looked puzzled and said that she didn’t think he was going that way today. My first hope was that she didn’t know what she was talking about, but I got up and stumbled down the pathway to the bar area in search of the owner. I couldn’t find him, but his African assistant confirmed the worst – he had decided not to go down that day after all.
Well that was just about the moment all my hopes came crashing down around me. I could try to walk up to the Livingstonia hospital, but that was 4kms away, uphill, and would take well over and hour. It also meant that I was walking in the opposite direction to where my car and my medicine was, and without those two lifelines, I felt hopeless. It was too late to phone Lawrence to come and get me as it would take him an hour and a half at least to get up to me. What a calamity of events, I’d cancelled my guide, I’d missed the cool early morning start and now I’d be hours behind the rest of the group from Mushroom Farm. I decided to head down and hope for the best
The next three hours are a bit of a blur, anticipating malaria, I knew I needed to get myself to help fairly quickly but with the delay and miscommunication, I was setting off in the midday sun. I had a few snack bars to chew on and a two litre bottle, so that’s all the water I could carry. In the days leading up to this, I had been surviving on nuts and fruit and had not had a proper meal in ages. Coming down the steep descent was torture on the legs which had turned to a shaking mess. I found a stick to use for balance and would change course just to walk in shade, even if it meant a longer path. I started counting my steps to take my mind off things but with the sun beating down on me, I was absolutely exhausted and was losing what little energy I had left, fast.
At one point, I spotted a vehicle heading down but as I was on the steep decent in-between the switchbacks I wasn’t on the road to flag it down. I tried to pick up pace but it had passed the road beneath me before I could get down. It was slow going but all I could think about was getting back down in one piece. My vision was hazy, the weight of my bag wasn’t helping and I had long since finished my water when I heard someone call out from behind me.
It turns out, Green (yes, I checked a number of times – that is his name), a 20 year old local man had been visiting his grandfather up in Livingstonia and was now on his way back down the mountain. He offered to help and guide me down. For fear of seeming like a feeble tourist who can’t handle something these locals do everyday, I didn’t want to tell him how I was feeling and tried to keep up with his blistering pace. Eventually I asked him to slow down as I was starting to lose my footing regularly on the steeper parts. I wanted to throw up but I’m as stubborn as an old mule and couldn’t believe my body was shutting down on me like this. We made it out of the steepest section of the walk, where the land gradually slopes though the town of Khondowe and down to Chitimba Camp on the lake – another 5kms away. Leaving the wooded slopes behind us, we were walking under the harshest sun and my water had long since gone.
I took my mind off how blady awful I felt by talking to Green about his schooling, his family and about life on the lake. We went back and forth together with my simple words and his broken English. As with most Africans I spoke to along my journey, he was incredibly resilient, happy with very little and saw the world through content and hopeful eyes. We parted ways in Khondowe at the foot of the mountain and I thanked him with the money I had intended on giving Lawrence. Another forty minutes of sun slogging, I stumbled past the carving stalls near the entrance to Chitimba Camp when Lawrence appeared, completely unaware of day’s events and now completely ashamed of himself for not guiding me down. He had been busy carving my name into a wooden keyring to thank me for giving him work the day before. It didn’t help how many times I tried to explain the situation in my simplest English, he just couldn’t understand why I hadn’t phoned him to ask him to help me. That’s African benevolence for you right there.
Getting back to the cruiser, I consumed all my purified water in one downing before standing under a cold shower for almost half an hour, too tired, too weak to move. The thought of drying myself seemed a chore… I got myself to the bar area and got some electrolyte mix, coke and more water into my system before collapsing on a chair where I sat and stared, completely drained, out over the lake until fell asleep. I’d started to feel better that evening and figured that this had probably been a case of heat exhaustion and lack of sustenance than malaria and so the urgency of getting to hospital soon abated.
I needed to press on the following day and decided against heading up to the Nyika Plateau in favour of finding some more wonderful camping spots on the lake further south. Nyika Plateau is higher up than Livingstonia and the only way to get there is by going around the plateau, 100kms south to come back almost 100kms north, something I didn’t have time for. So I turned the Beast south towards Mzuzu and Nkhata Bay.
Not five kilometres into my day’s journey and just outside the town of Khondowe where I had walked the day previously, a robust and very official looking lady stepped into the road ahead with her left arm high indicating that I should stop. Road blocks of this type are common; where are you going? where have you been? can I see your drivers licence and insurance (that’s not a question, that’s a command). She sauntered over to me, her voluminous bust had the shirt buttons at bursting point and her skirt stretched to capacity round her rear end. Leaning on my open window she peered into the cruiser, spying my recently washed pants and bras hanging from the washing line over my back seat.
“Where are you going?” – here we go…
“I’m going to Mzuzu and then to Nkhata Bay, Mayi” I respond in the respectful tone, addressing her as madam in Chichewa.
“Very good” she says “I’m requesting transportation to Rumphi. Let’s go.”
Well what choice did I have but to oblige? I had just become the official escort for the Malawian traffic police.
Facebook has all the photos for this part of the trip – click here to have a look.
Chitimba Camp, Malawi
28th – 29th November 2013
Squeezing the Beast in between the hundreds of trucks jostling for space in the Songwe border, I eventually found a place to park and hopped out. At any African border, you’re greeted by twenty ‘helpful’ people wanting to exchange money or show you the ‘border procedure’ (for a fee of course). I learned very early on in my journey to pretend that I do this sort of thing daily. I greet them in the local language, smile, tell them I’ve already exchanged all my money in the previous town and that I’m good to manage the border myself.
BORDER INFO: In Malawi there is no charge for road or fuel tax at all, only for 3rd party insurance which I already have in the Yellow Card Comesa.
The difference between Tanzania and Malawi was immediately apparent. The land either side of the road was noticeably more flat and arid than the escarpment I had just descended in Tanzania. Where the farms were green and flourishing in north of the border, the land here was dry, burning and barren. The people of Malawi seemed slimmer, wore clothes full of holes and walked without shoes.
Due to last minute vehicle maintenance that morning, I had left Mbeya in Tanzania later than expected and I got to the first major town of Karonga in Malawi by early afternoon and was still undecided about whether to spend the night there or not. The guide books give you a few options for accommodation but you never really know until you pull into town and get a feel for it. One of the very first things I do when arriving in a new country is find a shack selling local sim cards and so I stopped at the Karonga bus terminal to try to buy one. I quickly realised that this was not the safest place for a lone female traveller and so I pulled up half on the pavement and as close as I could to the shack. This left half of the Beast blocking a large portion of the entrance to the bus station terminal and I soon had angry taxi drivers shouting at me to get out of the way – it’s amazing how a big smile and a thumbs up diffuses the situation. With a sim card and a bit of credit in my possession, I got the hell out of Karonga. With daylight fading fast, I set off for the next camp on the lake, Chitimba, 80kms south.
I arrived at Chitimba Camp as the sun was setting. One of the most important rules of the road in Africa is to drive whilst you have light – even twilight is a risky ride.
The road surface in Malawi is generally good but it also serves as the main thoroughfare for every man and his dog. Malawi is one of the poorest African countries and very few Malawians own vehicles, so the roads are available for bicycles, hand carts, children, adults and trains of livestock. Aside from the occasional bus, you may see a clapped-out car or expedition 4×4, but due to the lack of traffic the roads are free for people to use. As a vehicle travelling at speed, you need to be highly vigilant and you find yourself driving in the centre of the road, avoiding the endless stream of pedal and foot power moving on either side. Keeping your eyes on the horizon, you dread the thought of an oncoming truck or bus as this tends to require advanced driving skills… immediate deceleration, and Stigg-like manoeuvring abilities through the human and livestock chicanes until the approaching vehicle has passed. You breathe easy and it’s back to driving with your tyres either side of the centre line.
Approaching Chitimba I could see the Nyika escarpment on the right and the lake opening up to the left. From the northern border with Tanzania to Nkhata Bay 300kms south, Chitimba Camp is one of the only good stopovers on the lake. There’s no town here, just a local village with a few stalls selling the usual produce of onions and tomatoes. I took a left turn towards the lake and drove past a few village houses. Greeted by barefoot kids running along side the land cruiser calling for sweets and money, I rolled down my window and gave the a high five instead.
As I drove past a dozen or so basic wooden stalls lining the dirt road before Chitimba Camp gate, I wondered how each of these incredibly skilled artists and sculptures make a living. The souvenir stands have been set up to provide the local villagers with a place from which they can sell their paintings and carvings without ‘harassing’ the tourists on the beach. A little sad really, but understandable. Malawi’s population survives on less than a $1 per day, so the competition for selling artistic work to tourists is fierce. It’s a sad reality that these people, in their desperate attempt to make up to a month’s wage with one sale, would start to approach visitors and not take no for an answer. People hoping for a nice quiet holiday at the beach soon choose not to visit these areas for fear of harassment and tourism declines. These allocated stalls seem to be the most reasonable and fair way of allowing the Chewa people to market their beautiful handcraft whilst the tourists walk the beaches undisturbed.
Chitimba Camp is set back about 200m from the lake, and is owner-run with a good restaurant and bar area. The basic accommodation is only around £1 more expensive than camping and I was exhausted from a full day of driving so that made the decision easy. There are a number of wooden style rooms, furnished with a single bed with a small window. I can’t say it was spacious, cool or airy but after a long drive, it was less hassle than climbing on the roof and opening up the tent.
I settled down in the bar area to get some planning and blogging done. Despite the restaurant food being incredibly cheap at these camps, I have lost my appetite and seem to be happy snacking on fruit, nuts and tomatoes. Wifi is almost non-existent and costs an exorbitant amount of money for a frustrating internet experience which gets you nowhere.
Later that evening an over landing truck pulled into camp and spewed out it’s 20 or so travellers, most on their ‘gap yah’ no doubt. Having come down an alternate route in Tanzania, this was the first time I had come across a big over landing truck full of tearaways and so a little social observation ensued…
From my seat in the corner of the verandah I watched as two girls from the overlanding truck approached the camp bar. After ordering five rounds of double vodka and cokes, and digging through her bag for change, the one asks her tbff (travelling/temporary best friend forever) “What money are we using?”. The response, “I have no idea. What country are we in again?”.
Look, I’m sure each trip is different, and if this is the only way to see these countries, then I suppose it’s better than nothing. I’m all for young people getting on these trucks to ‘experience’ Africa but do feel that these trips tend to metamorphose into a drink-infused hazy cycle of camp, drive, drink, camp repeat (yah?). Throw in a few wildlife parks (optional extras at a cost) and you get to see some animals on your journey. Often these travellers can’t afford the game park entry fees and pricey side excursions, electing instead to spend their time pursuing other recreational activities (and I don’t mean the day trip kind). Cue the drama…
We had two incidents that night.
On heading over to the communal washrooms to brush my teeth, I found a gathering of people surrounding an older lady standing in a bucket of water. She was sweating, puffy and panicked, and I realised that this was probably a case of anaphalaxysis, a response to a severe allergic reaction where the body produces a dangerously high quantity of histamines which can cause swelling of the body tissue including the throat. It turns out she’d stepped on a wasp in the dark and was reacting fairly badly to the sting. I asked her whether she was carrying an epipen (the drug needed to counteract this severe reaction) and she wasn’t. We got a few oral antihistamines into her and for some time she really wasn’t in a good place. There was one local hospital within a 300km radius and it was up in Livingstonia but the road is treacherous and not to be driven in the dark. With all the vomiting, she couldn’t keep the oral antihistamines down so we lathered her in antihistamine creme and her friends got her into a shower to keep her body temperature down. After a number of hours, she was slightly better. It seemed the reaction was subsiding and I left her friends to tend to her. It was well past 1am.
Not long after I had put my head down to sleep I heard a huge commotion not far from my hut. I rushed out into the night to find two girls screaming and banging on the door of their overlanding guide, pleading with him to help them. They were absolutely hysterical and one seemed to collapse from what looked like a seizure. I ran over, and with the help of the tour guide, we got the girls out of his hut and back onto the grass area. Through frenzied sobbing and uncontrollable panic, the girls told us that someone had drugged them and they couldn’t find their friend. The tour guide seemed less than impressed and did little to calm the girls down. By this stage, half the camp was awake and some overlanding friends had come to comfort the two hysterical souls. I asked the girls a few questions, trying to find out if this person who drugged them was still in the camp and, more importantly, trying to piece together where the third friend may be. It didn’t take long before I had my doubts about this mystery drug lord, and my hunches were confirmed when the third friend sheepishly appeared only to tell us that they had all been smoking weed on the beach and these two friends had completely flipped out. She was fine but they had clearly suffered a proper dose of paranoia which lead to the fabrication of their weak story for fear of the police finding them and putting them into a Malawian jail. It was then that I understood the apathetic reaction of the tour guide – he must see this on every trip.
I finally went to bed to the sound of an enormous thunderstorm over the lake.
Journeying through Tanzania was all too brief and I have no doubt I will be back to explore this incredible country in more depth. Descending into the Ngorongoro Crater, where I would witness one of earth’s most unique ecosystems, was beyond extraordinary. The animals roam within their amphitheatre without a care in the world. Beyond the crater walls I passed briefly through the world of the Maasai. I sensed that they felt compelled to live a life on show – exposing their homes, their life and their children, in exchange for the money that tourists bring. I did get a sense that they would be better off without us as they are ultimately losing their nomadic ways in exchange for a quick buck. Onwards to the Serengeti where the plains opened up and were littered with wildebeest, buffalo and zebra as far as the horizon. I can’t describe the sheer volume of wildlife. My time in the Serengeti was days too short. After consulting the maps it was decided that I would veer off the beaten track. A few days and one passenger later, I left Arusha and took roads less travelled, traversing west towards Lake Tanganyika through Singida, Tabora, Mpanda and Katavi National Park. What an absolutely increidlbe adventure!
TO STAY: We stayed in Masai Camp on the outskirts of Arusha on the Overlanding trip with Absoulte Africa – it’s a place to pop up your tent but is nothing special. See Lonely Planet’s write up here.
TO EAT: Can’t fault the Blue Heron, we had a light lunch here and coffee – lovely garden atmosphere and definitely worth the visit. Blues and Chutney also comes very highly rated – it also has extremely good reports about the accommodation offered here. We also stopped at the Mango Tree for a few drinks which was pretty good, a nice local mix of people pull in here on the weekends.
TO DO: You could always go climb Kilimanjaro – something I did in 2008… We organised our trip through African Travel Resource, and would do so again.
TO STAY and EAT: I spent two nights with the tobacco farmers having dinner and drinks at the Orion Hotel, an old German hunting lodge in it’s heyday. It’s probably the only place that’s half way decent in town.
To STAY and EAT and DO: Our time at Lakeshore Lodge cannot be faulted. The resort has a range of accommodation types, from honeymoon type chalets, to smart bandas, to camping under the mango trees. The food is absolutely exquisite top restaurant-quality and there is a fully stocked bar with the most incredible lounge overlooking the lake. You’ll have to come off the beaten track to get here but it’s so worth it. The owner Chris will pick guests up from Sumbawanga if necessary. There is so much to do here – kayak, diving, boat tours, walks – and visits to nearby game parks can be arranged.
To STAY: We stayed at the Moravian Conference Hotel. It’s run by a Christian organisation so you’re pretty safe here. The rooms are simple but clean – two beds in each with an ensuite. At under £5/night, it’s more than adequate! It’s a dry establishment so you’ll need to go elsewhere if you want a beer or two.
To EAT: We had dinner at Forest Hill, a short trip from the Moravian Conference Centre. The owner was wonderfully friendly and the food was pretty standard but good for this part of the world – I would recommend it if you’re passing through. They also have rooms for the night here.
GUIDED EXPEDITIONS ROUND TANZANIA
If you’re looking for a tailor-made and exclusive safari experience get hold of Brad Hansen of Hansen Safaris. Brad is extremely capable when it comes to accommodating his guests’ expectations and turning whatever adventure they desire into reality – walk like Livingstone through the bush, done! Armed with excellent local knowledge and heaps of bush sense, Brad doesn’t disappoint – give him a shout and see what he can muster up for you!
I used Vodacom. The coverage in cities is fine but the moment you’re out in the middle of nowhere, reception is zero. It’s the same with all the providers.
Nairobi (blue) to Arusha (red) – 170 miles (5 hours, great road, border crossing easy) – read about this stretch here
Arusha to Tabora (green) – 392 miles (they were doing road works near Arusha, good tar to Singida and then patchy gravel road to Tabora) this took around 10 hours… – read about this stretch here
Tabora to Katavi (yellow) – 275 miles (this road is very do-able but incredibly slow. It had been dry and so the roads were ok, very bumpy 20km/h driving. Wouldn’t like to do this in the rainy season!) Stopping for photos and taking it chilled, this took almost 12 hours – read about this stretch here
Katavi to Kipili LakeShore Lodge (purple) – 93 miles (took things slow as we completed the game drive through Katavi, roads quite corrugated for a long time and you’re not able to drive at pace, last stretch down to Kipili is a beautiful escarpment road) this took around 4 hours – read about this stretch here
Kipili LakeShore Lodge to Sumbawanga (teal) – 92 miles (ok dirt road) took 3 hours – read about this part here
Sumbawanga to Mbeya (blue) – 210 miles (first 40 miles are being rebuilt this road so it should be great in a few months, the rest was great tar, extremely congested with trucks near Tunduma due to Zambian border) took 5 hours – read about this part here
Mbeya to Songwe Malawi Border (red) – 70 miles (great tar all the way, absolutely beatufiul drive down the escarpment into Malawi) took 2 hours – SPEED COPS THE ENTIRE WAY (they sit in the many 50km/h zones) – read about this part here
Lakeshore Lodge – Lake Tanganyika, Tanzania
23rd – 26th November 2013
I can’t explain the sense of awe we had on rising up over the escarpment and seeing Lake Tanganyika stretched out in front of us. This lake is rather special. Formed in the fissure of the Great Rift Valley, at 673kms long, Lake Tanganyika is the longest freshwater lake, the second deepest and the second largest by volume, in the world. At over 13 million years old, it’s also one of the oldest. Across it’s waters lies the forbidden DRC.
We were headed for Lakeshore Lodge, near Kipili on the eastern shores of the Lake Tanganyika. Lesanne had been in touch with the South African owners, Chris and Louise Horsfall, to arrange a photo shoot for her photographic book on Africa. Chris and Louise had very kindly agreed to have me stay with Lesanne. We came off the main road to Sumbawanga and down the escarpment track to the small fishing village of Kipili. The road narrows and just about disappears as you creep slowly past village huts and you are greeted by singing and dancing children along the way. There isn’t much room between the lake and the village and, at times, you’re driving over front lawns and under their fruit trees. This Lakeshore place sure was off the beaten track!
A huge sign, the length of the entrance wall greets you as you drive into the grounds… “Welcome to Lakeshore Lodge. Arrive as guests, leave as friends.” Never a more true phrase spoken.
The owners, Chris and Louise Horsfall originally from Joburg, had arrived in 2007 and built Lakeshore Lodge in this remote part of Tanzania. It’s exclusive, it’s a hidden gem and is so worth the visit – honeymooners, this is the place for you! Overlanders, you have to come well off the beaten track to get here but it’s so worth it.
The lodge has a range of luxury chalets on water’s edge, stylish bandas and a campsite under their mango trees. The heart of Lakeshore Lodge lies in it’s amazing lounge, restaurant and bar area where we spent the next few days hanging out with these amazing people.
Lesanne and I couldn’t believe our luck – we’d been treated to superbly stylish and luxurious chalet – the lake lapping the shore metres from the steps. The whole side of the chalet opens up to the water and before anything else, we took off our flip flops and went straight into the lake – the waters are crystal clear and the visibility is incredible.
With only eight or so rooms available here, you’re bound to get to know the other guests – and I’m so glad we did.
Louise’s brother Dave and his lovely wife Cath were over from South Africa to stay for six weeks. There were Nod and Emily, a couple from the UK. Nod was doing research on the slave trade in East Africa – super interesting to talk to. The last two guests were quite special. Mat, a Kiwi now living in Scotland, and Jaap, a Dutchie now living in Switzerland, were on their own overlanding adventure down from Europe to South Africa on their KTMs. They got in contact through mutual friends and met up for the first time in September in Genoa on their way down. They had also heard whispers of this magical place and had come down the length of the lake from Burundi. Having hung up their riding boots for a few days, they too were enjoying the respite from travelling. Jaap is a camera man by trade had the most incredible footage of their journey – all shot on GoPro and edited by Jaap along the way. I had a serious spell of camera skill envy. My monotonous footage shot from the driver’s window of roads ahead, paled in comparison to the stuff these guys had!
Over the next few days we had some of the most memorable times of my entire trip. Diving time! Chris called us all out with his vuvuzela and off we headed, towards the Congo. We moored near a small island a few kms off shore and to our suprise there was a whole village living on the island. The children jumped off rocks and swam out to us, happiest in the world these Tanganyika kids! Descending only a few metres, we followed Louise’s fins and cruised around massive boulders, taking in the lake’s special little cichlids.
Overlanding requires constant tinkering with the vehicle, the camping gear etc. I had tightened the steering bolts and I’d noticed the tent wasn’t sitting quite straight. On closer inspection, I realised that the second section had been sitting at an angle and the hinges had been warped over time. Handy Mat helped me get the bolts undone and hammered the hinges straight. This took the better part of an hour and by the time we came back to the bar area, all we could hear was shouting and singing. We found the rest of the crew in the lake… Cath shouting for more wine, and Dave and Lesanne singing with their glasses raised high out the water. What could we do but join in? The wine flowed, the singing got louder and more passionate and the sun set on Lake Tanganyika – one of the most incredible sunsets ever.
We had dinner in the old boat on the beach and were entertained by some incredibly inebriated individuals…
The following day was a little stormy, perfect time to sit and blog and watch more of the boys’ footage. Mat and Jaap were due to leave that morning, but as the rest of us were all leaving the following day, we promised them a big party that evening (as if the previous night hadn’t been enough). So they stayed, one more night…
We had the most incredible meal – pig on the spit. At Lakeshore Lodge, you all eat together like one big happy family, and you drink together like long lost friends. Conversation flowed, the drinks kept coming and before we knew it Chris had brought down two enormous speakers from upstairs. Thank goodness the closest neighbours are about 10kms away – music pumped, there was dancing, there was singing, there were body shots on the bar… With Chris behind the bar, the night went downhill fast, and the evening decended into anarchy. Bring on the ‘tequila omelettes’… one times raw egg, chew, swig of chilly from the bottle, swallow and chase with a shot of tequila. We all did it. I wish never to do it again. A couple of us found ourselves in the lake (despite Louise’s warning about a resident croc, and please don’t swim after dark). Someone arrived back in the bar from the lake, soaking wet just their undies as they couldn’t find their clothes in the dark… Nights like this will be remembered for a very long time. It was 4:30am by the time before I found myself a human prop and we staggerd down the path and off to bed.
Well the next morning was interesting. Lesanne and I were due to leave for Sumbawanga early in the morning and were taking Nod and Emily with us in the Beast. We only woke up after 11am and struggled with the very idea of getting packed and ready to go. Everyone was in the lounge, nursing hangovers – Dave was back on the beers… Mat and Jaap were due to get to Zambia that day, but on critical reflection decided that a short ride to Sumbawanga was tolerable, anything further would not be possible on a day like today. Time to leave these wonderful people, this magical place and move on… it was a sad goodbye to Chris, Louise, Dave and Cath.
Road from Lake Tanganyika to Sumbawanga, Tanzania
26th November 2013
We got backpacks racheted down on the roof and with Nod and Emily in the back, Lesanne and I headed off up the escarpment and back to the main road that runs the length of the lake. This 150km journey took about 3 hours and was mostly on dirt. We’d agreed to meet Mat and Jaap at the Morovian Conference Centre, a christian establishment with clean double rooms and ensuite bathrooms. We decided to go out and have dinner at Forest Way, the four of us hopped in the Beast and Mat & Jaap caught a lift standing on the back bumper – just like in Africa… Still struggling from the previous night’s shenanigans, we had dinner and hit the sack early.
After a slow start the following day, we said our sad farewells… Mat and Jaap were headed for Zambia and then were hoping to make a daring dash through a short strip of the Congo. Lesanne was to travel with Nod down to Zambia by bus and Emily was to wait in Sumbawanga for Nod to come back in a week or so. My compass had been set for Malawi and so I turned south east for Mbeya.
Lesanne is one of the bravest young girls I have met, full of life and was such a pleasure to have on board for this stretch of the trip. She completed her trip near Christmas time and is in the process of putting together a coffee table book of her travel photos. Her travel page can be found on Facebook – Lesanne’s Trip Around Africa.
Jaap and Mat made it all the way to the Cape without too much hassle – I envy them for having ridden the length of the continent! Two of the nicest gents I met on my trip, sorry to see them go… Check out their Facebook page Edinburgh to Cape Town Overland.
Road Sumbawanga to Mbeya, Tanzania
27th November 2013
The drive to Mbeya was a little uneventful and took just over 6 hours. 40miles of off road next to “roadworks” ie. an almost complete new road. Then the remaining 160 miles was good tar all the way. The road takes you past the Tanzania/Zambia border in Tunduma. Abostlute chaos with trucks back to back down kilometres of road. Thank the stars I wasn’t crossing here and I pushed on to Mbeya. The scenery towards the end of the drive was pretty awesome – the road rose and fell with the undulating forested land.
Garth Pereira had put me in touch with a friend from Zimbabwe, now living in Mbeya. Paul Metcalf very kindly had me stay for the night. I was treated to a night of darts and pool at the local hotel whilst the rest of the town’s volunteers played volleyball – clearly a favourite and very competitive sport round these parts.
Road Mbeya to Songwe Malawi Border, Tanzania
28th November 2013
Following our little steering wheel issue up in Kipili and before heading for the border, I decided to get the Beast into a local garage and have them check that all the bolts were on tight. This took the better part of the morning but they understood my need to get going and so did me a favour by getting my vehicle first in line. With a few things tightened and adjusted, I was off to Malawi.
The 140km escarpment road from Mbeya to Kasumulu is one of the most stunning of the entire trip. Long winding roads rise up and then roller coast you down again on the other side past lush green forests and banana, coffee and tea plantations. This trip is slower than you think. Every time you pass a village, and there are many many villages, the speed limit decreases to 50km/h. I passed no less than 8 traffic police blocks along the way and got stopped by the 2nd one for driving 10kph over th limit. I sweet talked my way out of it, learned my lesson and just took it easy the rest of the way. They seem to have an appreciation for all things British round these parts – I drove past the “London Car Wash” and the previous day had come across the “Modern London Pub” in the middle of downtown Mbeya.
The border was chaos but definitely better than Tanduma. The carnet makes customs straightforward and pretty painless, and despite the number of trucks, I was through fairly quickly. There is no charge for road/fuel tax at all, and the only fee they needed was for 3rd party insurance which I already have in the Yellow Card Comesa.
Thanks Tanzania… for your shy and quiet people, for the chance of heading off into the unknown, for your unpredictability, for your picturesque woodlands and vast expanses and for the memorable times we had with the most hospitable and incredible people.
Facebook has all the photos for this stretch of the journey – click here to check them out.
Nairobi & Naivasha, Kenya
15th – 18th November 2013
After flying from Diani to Nairobi, I collected the Beast from the garage in Karen. Luke Davey had been dropping in every now and again to keep an eye on progress and update me with photos, but seeing it again after three months, I couldn’t believe how good the Beast looked. Not a scratch, not a dent, it had simply been restored to it’s former handsome self.
After the crash and whilst waiting at Mikey Diesbecq’s place in Naivasha, I had stripped the Beast down entirely before sending it off for repairs in Nairobi. You know things grow legs here in Africa – so best not take that chance. (I later caught the security guys at Toyota Kenya draining my 80l of diesel…) The roof top tent, side awning, every box, every tool, books, cooker, gas stove, spares, recovery gear, clothing, shoes, batteries – every removable item had to come out. We stored everything under a massive plastic sheet in Mikey’s workshop along with his assorted collection of various vehicle and motorbike parts.
I was back to reload, restock and say farewell for the final time, to my Naivasha crew.
Mikey, being a mechanically minded young man, cast a quick eye over the Beast. We found a couple of things hadn’t been screwed in properly or bolted down and so cracked on with tightening up all the loose ends. With much heaving and sweating under the harsh Kenyan sun, the farm workers Nino and Albert helped us get the roof top tent back up, load the recovery gear onto the roof rack under canvas, tightened nuts and bolts and fill the jerry cans with water. Boxes went back into their respective drawers, leisure battery connected, camping gear arranged on the side and the fridge was re-stocked with what drinks and food remained after a three month stint in Mike’s fridge – there wasn’t much…
As always, I had a great evening catching up with the Carnelleys at their camp next door. Sadly the visit was short lived and I was chasing a visa deadline. I put my foot to the floor, and after a short stop in Nairobi (thanks Luke and Chloe for the use of your home… again!) turned south for the Tanzanian border of Namanga.
18th – 19th November 2013
Whilst living in Diani, I had met a young Zimbawean in the waves off Tiwi. Lesanne Dunlop, had been photographing lodges around East and Southern Africa and was staying at Kenyaways in Diani at the time. The lovely Monique had befriended her and brought her down to surf with us one afternoon. Lesanne was on her way to Tanzania, and I had kept in contact with her on the off chance our plans would coincide at a later date. We were both going to be in Arusha at the same time and so I offered to come and pick her up, and we’d go through Tanzania together.
Before I could put pedal to metal and get out of the streets of Arusha, I had a couple of things that needed to be done on the Beast. I had started to notice a tractor-like noise when overtaking or exerting the Beast. I had also lost the use of my hooter on the way down from Nairobi, and I found myself in heightened state of alert at the prospect of dopey beasts of burden or inadvertent humans wandering into the road at any given time.
Arusha is a hot and heaving mass of traffic and people. There is very little space for all the modes of transport and hawkers and people and animals that wish to use the same space. Pedestrians, donkeys, cars and boda bodas ebbing and flowing, jostling for an inch more pavement or road. Women with babies slung to their backs selling fruit, men pushing carts, kids and dogs running all over the place. Driving with no hooter is an experience I choose not to repeat. I got the Beast to Toyota in Arusha (and as usual, Toyota were useless and told me the noise was fine). I organised a fixer to ride with me for the day and help me sort out the rest of my affairs. I needed a new hooter, tinting on my drivers window and possibly a new tyre (my front drivers side had a bulge – patched up from the accident no doubt). No one could help me with the tractor noise coming from the engine… Driving back and forth fixing this and that took almost the entire day – thank goodness for fixers!
Whilst waiting in Diani, I had been in touch with my good friend Brad Hansen. A Natal boy now living in Arusha, Brad has his own exclusive company – Hansen Safaris – and I had been trying to get some bush time out with him. I missed a few fantastic expedition opportunities the month before as the Beast wasn’t quite ready, and when I did manage to roll into Arusha, Brad was out on a safari of his own. Despite not being there, and typical of what you’d expect from a nice Natal boy, Brad had offered to have me stay at his place whilst I was in Arusha. His flatmate Justin would be at home and here was his number.
After days of failed attempts get hold of Justin, I picked Lesanne up from Arusha Backpackers and just turned up at Brad’s house, climbed over the gate and walked into the living room. “Hey Justin! Been trying to get hold of you and did you know we were coming to stay?”. Turns out Brad had given me Justin’s old number and the dear boy had no idea.
Lucky for us, JT is a welcoming and awesome host. “Karibu” he said, and opened up his home to his new and unexpected guests. Over the next few days, Lesanne and I set about planning the trip through Tanzania.
Through previous discussions with Brad I had learned that Kingsley Holgate was making his way up on the Mozambique coastline, through Tanzania and up to Thompson Falls near the Abadares in Kenya, following in the footsteps of the Scottish explorer Joseph Thomson.
This trip was also a personal journey for Kingsley and his son Ross, as they were carrying the ashes of their late wife and mother Gill “Mashozi” Holgate. The journey took Kingsley up to Thomson Falls and down to the Ololoolo Escarpment on the Maasai Mara where they scattered Mashozi’s ashes from the escaprment under the spiritual blessing of the Maasai warriors around them. You can follow Kingsley’s expeditions and see the work his foundation is doing here – Kingsley Holgate Foundation.By the time I had rolled into Arusha, Brad had joined Kingsley on his journey back down towards South Africa and was near Rungwa Game Reserve on the south western side of the country. I was hoping to catch up with them to join the travelling party as they made their way down towards Zambia.
Lesanne needed to get to Lakeshore Lodge on Tanganyika to do a photo shoot and we had about four days to get across Tanzania. We both needed to get to just about the same place, but choosing how we were going to get there was the next problem… The safest option was to double back east and drive in completely the wrong direction, past the roads to Tanga and Dar es Salaam, to Morongoro, Iringa, Mbeya and up to Kipili on Lake Tanganyika – this route would see us do a clockwise route of the country from – safer roads, smooth tarmac but it would take the longest time and over 1800km.
Another option would be the 1500km drive via Dodoma road towards Malawi and then hang right to Lake Tanganyika – but on closer inspection this was completely out of the question as we’d heard that the roadworks along this section caused the flow of busses, trucks, cars and everything else, to crawl at a tediously sluggish pace over corrugations and through air thick with dust next to the actual road, taking days to complete even short stretches. Errrrr… next?
The only option left was to cut south west through the country directly towards Lake Tanganyika on roads less travelled. We tried researching this route but found no information on any overlanders’ blogs or any mention of this trail in any guide books. We had no idea whether the roads were safe, tarred or were even passable in this, the start of the rainy season. A couple of local people in Arusha had told us that they knew the stretch to Singida had been recently tarred but after that, not even the Tanzanians seemed to know what lay beyond.
Time to find out, and do a bit of trailblazing for anyone else wishing to venture off the beaten track…
Word from Brad, he Holgate party is in the Rungwa area… WAIT BRAD AND KINGSLEY – I’m on my way!
Road Arusha to Tabora, Tanzania
20th – 21st November 2014
Lesanne had a contact in a small town in the middle of nowhere. Tabora was en route and so we had decided to push on through to stay with Roy, a Zimbabwean tobacco farmer. Tabora was almost 400 miles from Arusha… and 400 miles on small Africa roads is not like 400 miles anywhere else on the planet. We set off nice and early with high spirits, and after an initial 50kms of roadworks outside Arusha, we were on good tar all the way to Singida. Now when I mention “roadworks”, I refer to this in the loosest term possible. There could be a perfectly good tar road ready to be driven on but the workers have left rows of rocks across the width every 10m to deprive you of this convenience, forcing you to churn dirt on some made up gravel track along the side of the perfectly good road – avoiding rocks, under low trees, thumping over corrugations and detouring around the odd hut. If you so happen to get stuck behind a slow moving vehicle, you grind on blindly through plumes of dust and diesel fumes. There is no passing lane on this made-up-dirt-track-along-the-perfectly-good-tar-road, so with patience wearing thin and my sense of humour waning there were times when I chose to overtake lumbering vehicles and plough through the bush taking out termite mounds, crashing through ditches and ramping over rocks to get ahead of the pack. The road from Singida to Tabora was patchy gravel for most of the way and the journey took over 10 hours.
Buggered and in need of a good feed, Roy welcomed us with open arms and told us we were going to the local club to have dinner. Bare in mind, this is a small African town, so my idea of having dinner at “the club” conjured up thoughts of loud music, plastic chairs, checked wipable table cloths, ugali (sadza/pap) and goat stew for dinner. Turns out we were headed for the Tabora Hotel, the old colonial country club I expect, and to my delight we were greeted (with double vodkas and cokes thrust into our hands on arrival) by no fewer than 15 Zimbabean tabacco farmers. Ayyyyeeeee, we ate, we drank, we laughed, we played pool and we had sore heads in the morning…
The Beast was in need of attention After Toyota Arusha telling me the intermittent trumpeting was “usual”, the resounding noise now roaring from the engine made the Beast sound less like a thoroughbred Land Cruiser and more like an old tractor with emphysema. It had become progressively worse over the past day and the noise was unbearable.I had spoken to some of the guys the night before, a few rally car drivers/enthusiasts who had all put in their thoughts, and I was to see the local garage man in the morning. The workshop had the Beast in for a full day and found that the sound was coming from a missing exhaust manifold gasket, which had come loose and fallen away. Their verdict on hearing the Beast had been rebuilt in Nairobi: it hadn’t been screwed on properly. Their solution: put an asbestos replica in it’s place until I find a garage that stocks my part (I changed this in Harare, over 3000kms later – no problem!). Good job by the garage team in Tabora!
This manifold affair, along with the broken spiral cable in the hooter (fixed in Arusha), and the bolting on of the winch that was just sitting in it’s slot (which Mikey found and fixed in Naivasha), was just the start of things that I found wrong with the Beast on leaving the workshop in Karen, Nairobi. After almost three months of waiting, I had put pressure on the workshop to have the Beast completed and it was only when I started sending Luke Davey to check on the proceedings and to take photos, that things started happening. But it had been a hasty repair in the final weeks before I needed to leave. It was no wonder the owner (name withheld) was a little brusque with me in Nairobi. Knowing I had a visa deadline and needed to be out of Kenya, there was no way of me coming back to have him fix these issues. [There were a few more incidental episodes following the hasty repair of the Beast further on down the line… keep reading.]
Slowing us down by a day didn’t help Lesanne but she called ahead to Lakeshore Lodge to let them know we were delayed. We spent the next day catching up with the wives of the farmers, some of whom Lesanne knew from Zimbabwe. It’s times like these you appreciate even a simple lunch of fresh bread, pickled onions, salami, ham, tomatoes and cheese. Thank you Esmé Blair, it was heavenly! We met everyone at the club that evening for a more civilised evening, everyone feeling a little less inclined to follow the previous night’s antics.
Who would have thought, in the arse end of nowhere Tabora, that we would find this wonderful group of Zimbos? We can’t thank Roy enough for his hospitality and for looking after us. Also, massive thanks to Garth and Jane Pereira for all their help and contacts throughout Tanzania.
Word from Brad, the Holgate party are near Rukwa Game Reserve… WAIT BRAD AND KINGSLEY – I’m on my way!
Road Tabora to Katavi National Park, Tanzania
22nd November 2014
Stocked up with a few luxuries from Roy (steaks, tinned mussels, crackers and additional surprises), Lesanne and I set off. Before leaving Tabora, we just so happened to be driving behind a morning marathon training session – what looked like the entire male population of Tabora was out on a pacey morning jog in a peloton pack.
On our way out of town, we were stopped by a fat cat in uniform. With his hand in the air – I wanted to drive up and give him a high five, but thought best not.
“Eh, you ah going down a one-way street”, Mr Official slurred whilst reaching for a pen and his booklet of fines (aka, notepad void of any written receipts whatsoever)
I looked around. I saw no one-way signs. In fact, I saw no signs at all which is why we were a little lost, and we were on a dirt road so there sure weren’t any road markings to forewarn us of this violation in the first place…
“I’m sorry, I didn’t see the sign, and which way to Mpanda kind officer?”
“You are going down a one-way street. You need to pay a fine”
Lesanne leaned over, elbowed me in the ribs slightly and started talking so fast I could barely keep up, “Hello Shamwari (uh, Lesanne that’s Shona and he’s speaks Swahili…), we need to get to Mpanda and are lost, and please can you show us the road that will lead us out of town, and we’ve got far to go and people are waiting for us to arrive, and what a nice day it is, and we’re in a hurry, and which way again?”
We threw a joke in the mix and forced a laugh, it’s amazing how quickly one can distract a fat cat… he gave us a series of turns this way and that, I put my foot down and thank him with a hand wave as I speed off.
The road to Mpanda and on to Katavi was the slowest and most arduous journey of my entire trip. We were headed into the real unknown, a place very few people venture. We probably overtook one car that day and passed another four or five trucks coming towards us. The road was poorly maintained and progress was extremely slow, barely breaking 20km/hour at times. We descended into thick woodlands and passed up to six of broken down trucks. Worried about ambushes in such a remote area, we didn’t take any chances, kept our speed up, our distance round the rigs as far as we could and our eyes peeled. The track varied from full on graded dirt road to single lane track, and the ground rose and fell under the Old Man Emu suspension. Dodging fallen trees and weaving my way around pitfalls, constantly having to choose the best line and having to slow down every 30m made for tedious driving.
We pass a few small villages on the way and stopped to buy some local food and drink. The kids stared and we waved. Lesanne took photos and they all ran inside. Mostly I think the kids are happy to see us but with so few muzungus ever coming out this way, let alone stopping at their particular village, we must have been something of an anomaly. I’m guessing we must look like two albino humanoids with with long wild hair, our faces covered with black plastic across our eyes, how can we possibly see? Lifting the sunglasses, waving and shouting “jumbo toto” (hello kids) makes all the difference, and suddenly they all want to come out and dance! At another village, we passed a run down hut with the sign “The Hilton Hotel” painted on the wall. I wondered if they might have a concierge service out here?
As we were driving past, Lesanne pointed up high in the the trees to what I can only describe as rectangular boxes hanging on rope. We wondered what they were for. Later we did a bit of research and found that they were for bees and it was the local communities’ form of bee keeping and honey harvesting. We also happened upon a dead hyena to the side of the road and stopped to have a look. At first it seemed like everyday road kill but on closer inspection, we realised that the bloated hyena’s ears and paws had been severed and it’s eyes had been taken, for more sinister intentions perhaps? In Africa, hyenas are mostly viewed with fear and contempt as well as being associated with witchcraft, as their body parts are used as ingredients in traditional medicine. We got the hell out of there…
It took all day to complete the 275 miles and by the end of the day the sky had darkened so much that it seemed night had came early. It started to pour with rain and we drove into the Katavi National Park Offices only to find that it was extortionately expensive to spend the night in the park. Weary from a heck of a long day’s drive, we just paid the park fees and drove towards the camp site on the river.
Katavi National Park, Tanzania
On crossing over the river and into the park we came across something that I doubt I will ever see again. We stopped the Beast on the bridge and grabbed our cameras for this unique photo opportunity. A heaving mass of hippos lay as thick as the river was wide. At first glance this might look like a bumpy road, or old lava flow, but it’s nothing short of unbelievable. Hippos side by side and nose to tail as far as the eye can see. During the wet season there is a vast wetland area, but in the dry season the rivers reduce down to paltry muddy streams. The hippos converge and jostle for space, it’s a sight to behold. You’ll find crocs in the mix – often tucking into the bloated, swollen bodies of hippos that have died in amongst the masses – nice…
We camped on the Ikuu River’s edge, a short distance from the ranger’s post. Lesanne made a good fire and we had Roy’s steaks for supper. Without too much light about, and with night upon us, we had to cook and keep sentry at the same time. Hippos rule this part of the land and we had a couple of inquisitive cows saunter right past our camp. We were the only vehicle in the area and were on our own if a bold individual decided they didn’t like the look of us. We fell asleep to the rain and heard them grunting all night long……………
Word from Brad, the Holgate party are near Mbeya… WAIT BRAD AND KINGSLEY – I’m on my way!
Road from Katavi to Kipili on Lake Tanganyika, Tanzania
23rd November 2014
Bleary-eyed from all the nocturnal riverside commotion (worse than a Saturday night in Clapham) and in need of strong coffee, we took almost two hours to get sorted out before heading off on a short game drive on our way out of the park. From the previous night’s rain, things were strung out to dry and this gave us the opportunity to attend to general overlanding living chores. Today we were headed for Kipili on Lake Tanganyika – with just under 100 miles to go, we were ok to take things at a slower pace. The road out was all dirt track but we journeyed on through heavy woodland with mostly green velvety carpet. Passed some rural villages and stopped for a quick bite to eat on the side of the road. The rains had come, the land was green, the cows were fat and the children were happy!
On the last stretch, the road takes you down the most incredible escarpment road down towards Lake Tanganyika. You’re in thick lush forest and with the winds and bends, you can just about see the lake at times. It was on one of these lovely hairpin bends that I felt something wrong with the steering. I could feel a jolt when I turned the steering wheel at a certain point and could hear a faint thunk at the same time. I mentioned it to Lesanne but didn’t want to make a bit deal of it and came down the rest of the way at snail’s pace.
On arriving safely at Lakeshore Lodge at the bottom of the escapement, I parked and had a look under the steering wheel to find that all but one bolt and a few washers come away from the steering arm into the engine bay and were lying in my footwell. With a few shakes of the steering wheel, everything came away and I was left with a free spinning steering wheel… thinking about what might have happened winding down the escarpment at speed, and having the bolts give way, just isn’t worth it. Once again, the Beast held out until we were safe before letting go.
Sadly, I believe this too was probably the fault of the workshop in Nairobi not getting everything bolted down tightly and with care, and we’re just incredibly lucky it didn’t happen on that escarpment track or on a busy road.
Word from Brad, the Holgate party have crossed in Zambia… ahhhhhh man… the King has left the country and all my hopes of me joining my favourite modern day explorer were dashed.
Things work out for a reason, and I stayed at on at Lakeshore with Lesanne instead – turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip!
Just a snapshot of the wonderful things I got to do and see on my journey through Kenya – most of this was filmed from the dashboard with my iphone 4 – next time I’ll take a camera crew!
TO DO: Try kitesurfing, surfing and stand up paddle boarding with H2O Extreme the only reputable water sports centre in Diani. Operated from the Kenyaways Kite Village, the instructors are very knowledgeable and have you up and going before you know it! I was SUPing from the first go, was standing on the surf board and riding waves shortly after starting…
Spend a day snorkeling or diving the reef at Wasini with Pilli Pipa Dhow Safaris. They lay on an incredible lunch at the end of the trip too!
TO STAY: Kenyaways Kite Village – a place that I have spent more hours than I can count. It’s relaxed and the perfect place to come and stay if you’re visiting Diani. It has its own piece of pristine beach front and the views are to die for. There is a great water sports centre operating from here called H2O Extreme.
If you’re looking for a more expensive and luxurious stay, get hold of Valentina at Water Lovers, a lovely small boutique resort in the heart of Diani; or Ida Andersson at Kinondo Kwetu, a gorgeous and exclusive retreat 10kms south of Diani. Kinondo Kwetu also offer horse riding on the beach and yoga overlooking the sea. All three of the above places won Trip Advisor Travellers Choice awards last year.
I also stayed at South Coast Backpackers when I arrived. If you’re on a budget, stay here. The pool is lovely and the bar is always open. The owners are three young French guys, Kevin, Justin and Louis, who know how to show their guests a good time. It’s full of backpackers, volunteers and other young travellers. Head here if you want some company and a bit of a party.
TO EAT: Get hold of Bruce at Madafoos at the Kenyaways Kite Village – great vibe, relaxed atmosphere and always filled with Diani’s usual suspects. They have fish BBQs on Friday nights and curry buffets on Sundays – not to be missed! For a more special evening, head to Sails (at Alamanara) – the chef Luke is one of Kenya’s finest and you dine under the most beautiful sails right on the beach. The food is under-priced for the quality of cuisine that is served up!
TO STAY: I stayed at Mombasa Backpackers. If you’re looking for a party and great way to get meet travellers – head over here. Look out for Rasta Dave (came to the backpackers over a year ago to stay for a few days and never left) as well as Dan Sorrell, a crazy South African full of fun who spends most nights here too. Dave the owner is very helpful and will ensure that you have a good time…
TO STAY AND EAT: You can’t go wrong with Camp Carnelley’s. Set on the water’s edge, this beautiful array of little cottages as well as sweeping lawns for camping is the perfect spot to explore the water, Hells Gate and Crater Lake game park nearby. The restaurant, complete with a wood burning pizza oven, serves some of the most amazing food I’ve ever had! The owners Lovat and Chrissy Carnelley are warm and hospitable. Ask Lovat if you have car trouble – he’s a mechanic of sorts…
TO STAY: I tried a few places in Nairobi but nothing compares to Wildebeest Eco Camp between Karen and the city. It’s secure, beautifully maintained and extremely reasonable (free wifi!). They have a range of options from tented dorm rooms (crisp linen included, couldn’t believe it!) to luxury permanent tents overlooking a lush garden. They also have a small area for camping. Can’t recommend this place enough! You can find out more about tours going out to the Masai Mara etc here too.
Sadly if you are planning on staying at Jungle Junction, just be aware that they had two armed robberies late 2013. You make the call… Karen Camp too is an absolute dive so don’t bother with that either!
TO STAY: We had a magical few days at Che Shale, near Malindi on the North Coast of Kenya. Owner run, this remote retreat is set in a coconut grove away from everything and everyone! The food is absolutely first class and you couldn’t ask for a more hospitable stay! The winds are good here, so kite surfing is popular. Che Shale has its own kite surfing centre.
GUIDED EXPEDITIONS ROUND KENYA
Tailor-made safaris with a focus – photography, cultural, kitesurfing, fishing, birding – you name it, these guys can make it happen. Contact Kenyan born Boris Polo at Expeditions East Africa, he knows more about the bush and coast than anyone! Drop my name, he may cut you a deal…
I used Safaricom, it’s the most widespread provider and is the provider most people use. Buy data bundles if you plan on using the 3G for browsing – you get about 10 times more out of it than using your regular top up money for data.
14th October – 14th November 2014
Che Shale, North Coast – Kenya
Following my little jaunt around Tanzania, I flew from Nairobi to Malindi to meet up with Boris for a short holiday on the North Coast. Boris had been on a week long fishing expedition with his good friend Justin Aniere and a client Eric d’Echallens, north off the Lamu archipelago. Justin’s family bought a stretch of land just north of Malindi in the 70s (I think) and have run Che Shale as a beach resort for many years. Set in a coconut grove, this awesome place is filled with island style charm. In short, it’s a little piece of paradise! Coconut trees plus Boris Polo’s reversing = hazard… just saying.
After their week at sea, the boys arrived back bearded, tanned and smelling of fish. They’d had such a successful run and once boys catch good fish, you don’t hear the end of it. Check out their video here. We stayed in a little grass hut on the beach and had a completely relaxing 3 days in the company of Justin and his wonderful lady Isabelle. This is a great spot for kite surfing (which I still can’t do!) and so we surfed sans kite on the small waves coming into the bay. Andy Belcher and his family came up for the day – his daughter, Emily, is a PE teacher’s dream kid when it comes to all things water, and we couldn’t get her or Eric out the waves.
On our way back down south, we stopped in Malindi and Watamu, both cute coastal towns with a spice trade feel – the Arabic influence is strong here, with lots of Swahili architecture, and we popped into some fabric shops to purchase beautiful kikoys.
Back in Diani, day to day life continued – reading on the veranda, swimming in the pool and sea, taking Pluto and Scooby for walks along the beach, spending time at Kenyaways for Friday BBQs and Sunday curries, seeing Reed for tea and meeting friends for lunch. Hard life…
I spent a couple of evenings down at the Tiwi River mouth, surfing with Boris, Bruce, Monique and Luke. I can hold my own on the small to medium size stuff now but can’t read the waves yet and need surf boss Boris to tell me when to start paddling. Bruce, I’m still better than you! Monique brought along a friend one day – a Zimbo from Shamba called Lesanne Dunlop. This resourceful young lady was backpacking round East Africa, making her way from resort to resort in exchange for taking fresh photos of their places for marketing purposes. Blady smart if you ask me! Chatted to Lesanne on the waves before I realised all of this. She was staying at Kenyaways and was photographing the place for Lindsay. We kept in touch with each other. [More to come regarding Lesanne joining me later on the trip for the Tanzania stretch]
Amongst other evenings at Kenyaways, Alex had a party which he had to be dragged along to – but at 4am, and after two bottles of whiskey between him and Boris, he wasn’t complaining.
Boris’ twin friends Max & Alex came down for a few days with their lovely girlfriends Janina and Ale, and two friends from the UK, who had just got engaged. We had a brilliant few days together, sundowners on Tiwi Beach (which, after one too many Jelzin vodka coconuts, sent Ale pole vaulting into the lagoon), sunsets with Ale and Alex on the jetty, octopus braais and nights out at 40 Thieves. Just so happened that my good old friend Luke Davey was in town round this time too and it was great catching up late into the night over one too many at 40s. Best comment of the week: Boris, “We’re having Dorado tonight for the BBQ”; Janina, “Who’s Dorado? I haven’t met him yet”.
Dodson’s Wedding in Tsavo
Early November, Boris and I jumped in the truck, followed by Dan Floren and Jo-Jo, and off we went to Tsavo for Rob and Lore Dodson’s wedding. If you’ve ever wondered what a real bush wedding is like, then this is the prime example. Everyone in tents (ours in the baking sun, rookie error), a massive bar built especially for the occasion, pre-wedding party till 3am, riding flip flop lions, waking up with a hangover in a tent oven, red stained feet, food being cooked round the clock on outside braais, wedding attire with flip flops (nice shoes get ruined), wedding in the middle of the bush with rain falling – nobody cares, speeches that last way too long but nobody cares, post-wedding party till 4am (with a little sleep in between), miraa shots to see you through a few more hours, the green hat, everyone’s a friend after enough rum (enter the Wildlife Works girls) Cara, Joyce, Yugala & Christina, Danny the broom boy, Fleur and Andy bush party, hangover in tent oven, more food, chatting on rugs, pillows and hammocks with Lindsay, Dave, Andrew, Eddie, Sue, Mikey, Tash, Hugo, Andy, Fleur, Harm & Selina. And so the weekend drew to a close. Boris and I headed back to Diani via the beautiful Shimba Hills and were treated to a partial solar eclipse that afternoon.
Wasini Island, Kenya
My last excursion was spent down at Wasini for the day (Harm and Selina’s Pilli Pipa Dhow Safaris). From Shimoni we took a dhow out to the Wasini area where we spent the day snorkeling with GoPros. We got to see schools of dolphin and Boris was down in the water when a couple of them passed by! What a way to end my stay here on the Diani coast!
So long Diani Friends!
Saying goodbye to the Diani crowd was a long and drawn out process. Everyone has brought something unique to my short life here on the coast and it’s only on leaving that I realised how much I had grown to love this place.
Ric, Vale, Sara & Sole – keep living the dream – you’ve done wonders with Water Lovers, it’s possible to continue this idillic life I know you can make it work, Ballito is calling, come and see for yourself!
Filip & Ida – you’ll be pleased to hear I still do yoga as much as I can Ida (on my mat in the middle of nowhere!), best of luck with Kinondo Kwetu and Malaika Cotton. Pity I didn’t get to experience the rush of the skate park but please just watch Filip and Lova, worried they might be ramping over the roof soon.
Lindsay & Dave – keep Kenyaways going strong! Exciting times ahead with the expectant Irish water baby in a few months. You’ll be back on the waves sooner than you think Linz!
Reed & Monique – will miss our chats, you’re both such awesome girls and I’ve loved getting to know you better! Follow your dreams (whatever they may be and wherever they take you!) Keep Diani tidy and in check for us please – it needs a sensible few to keep that crowd in line.
Danny – my first Diani friend, did you kick my dog? Enjoy life out in the Shimbas – couldn’t ask for a more beautiful spot to raise your new livestock family!
Anina, Claudia & Gabriele – lovely meeting you ladies and best of luck with the businesses – may tourism in Diani continue to thrive!!
Alex & Petra – good luck with the safaris and the little bush baby, no more whiskey benders for a while now Alex…
Brucey Baby – cheer up bugger and stop stressing, may Madafoos continue to thrive in the company of tourists and Diani’s finest people. Surf more, kite more and when in need of a cuddle, Boris will always be there.
Chief – from Mombasa parties, helping me get expedition ready, Naivasha festivals, days up on the Shimba ridge and sunsets at Tiwi – it’s been a memorable few months to say the least. I don’t know what I would have done without your kindness and generosity after the crash. Thanks for opening your beautiful home to me and for allowing me to share Pluto and Scooby as pets for a few months. Wishing you windy and wavey seas, continued flip flop fetishes and a steady stream of tourists hungry for adventure – so much to look forward to!
The Beast is ready. It’s time to set the compass south and leave my home of three months.
Onwards and downwards!
TOUR WITH ABSOLUTE AFRICA
Nairobi (blue) to Arusha (red) – 170 miles (5 hours, great road, border crossing easy)
Arusha to Ngorongoro (green) – 130 miles (4 hours, slow going nearer the crater) – see post here
Ngorongoro to Serengeti (yellow) – 65 miles (9 hours, horrendous road crater to park gate, pole pole game drive) – see post here
Serengeti back to Arusha (red) – 200 miles (7 hours – hectic corrugations park to crater) – see post here
Arusha to Nairobi (blue) – 170 miles (as above, good roads – few road works Tanzania side, border crossing easy)
NGORONGORO AND SERENGETI TOUR WITH ABSOLUTE AFRICA
10th – 14th October 2013
Following a trip back to London for Lizzy’s wedding, I had discovered that a good South African hockey friend, Cheryl Boshi, was booked onto a tour in Tanzania just as I was due to fly back into Kenya. They were leaving from Nairobi the following day and so the timing was perfect. Boshi, Lara and Dave had been in Diani the week previously and flew up to Nairobi the night before the tour was due to start – what luck!
I splashed out and joined them for the night at the Heron Hotel in Nairobi, and we piled into a transporter the following day to head for the border and onto Arusha.
The tar was good and the drive was painless, as was the border crossing. Our campsite for the evening was the stark Masai Camp on the outskirts of Arusha – does the job but nothing to write home about. A good friend of mine, Brad, runs his own Safari Company from Arusha and so Boshi, Nasser and I set off to the Mango Tree for a few drinks to see him and to pick up a roll mat for the trip, which turned out to be one of Kingsley Holgate’s from a previous expedition.
Whilst in Arusha we happened upon the “Zebmobile”, an unmistakable Toyota cunningly camouflaged in zebra stripes. I had been following these guys on their blog but, as we well know – blogs are often not up to date, so I had no idea they were in Arusha. Thalia and Wynand are also overlanding from Battersea in London to South Africa – check out their blog here BatterC2CPoint. Although I didn’t get to talk to Thalia and Wynand themselves, I continued to watch their trip down and am pleased to report they have completed their trip and are safely in South Africa – I hope to follow safely in their well worn tyre tracks!
We left early the next day for Ngorongoro Crater. Driven by our tour guide, Simba, the crew was made up of a select group of the finest individuals, each one bringing their own unique characteristics to the team (from left to right):
Aussie Dave “Nasser” – the most unlikely source of flowing information – knew more about Africa than the South Africans put together
Johnny Bravo’s twin, English boy, James “fire breathing” Wilkinson
Irish lad Dave – renamed “Tave”, nothing phases this guy. Lions? phah…
Skirt wearing no nonsense blondie, Lara – don’t mess with this girl, still hard as nails
Proudly South African Boshi – comes with perpetual energy and with no off button
Yes I know I look Asian, and I am a bit Asian, Cat – nomadic wanderer of almost a year, wrist bands to prove it
Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
Ngorongoro Crater bound, we passed by Lake Manyara but didn’t stop. What a pity as it really was one of the places that had come highly recommended – time was short and we had a hell of a drive to do! Entered the park and travelled along the crater rim and stopped at view point… well hello jaw dropping awesomeness!
Ngorongoro Crater is the world’s largest inactive, intact, and unfilled volcanic caldera. The crater, which formed when a large volcano exploded and collapsed on itself two to three million years ago, is 610m deep and its floor covers 260 square kilometres. [wiki]
We continued around the crater rim before descending the via the North West side down the steepest track 600m into the crater below. The grasslands were super dry and brown but we drove passed hundreds of wildebeest and passed the lake to our left where we could see countless flamingos and a black rhino in the distance. At one point we saw vehicles kicking up dust so I asked if we could follow in pursuit as they were clearly headed for something we hadn’t seen. On arrival we spotted five safari vehicles huddled near some marshlands and found a pride of lion with their kill just off the road. A side effect of the crater being a natural enclosure, and few lions venturing from outside, is that the crater lion population is significantly inbred which disturbed us slightly when we witnessed more lions mating later on…
Our campsite was on the rim overlooking the crater. We shared this space with a horde of other travellers and enjoyed our evening meal, cooked by our support team in the block hall nearby.
The next morning we had to skirt round the crater rim again and headed North West towards the Serengeti. We stopped at a Maasai Village ($10) where we were greeted by dancing jumping warriors, singing women and crying children. A guide showed us to a hut, took us inside and explained the ways of their semi-nomadic life. It was all very interesting. The tribes actually move from village to village – rather like house swap.
One rite of passage from boyhood to the status of junior warrior is a painful circumcision ceremony, which is performed without anesthetic. The boy must endure the operation in silence. Expressions of pain bring dishonor, albeit temporarily. During this period, the newly circumcised young men will live in a “manyatta”, a village built by their mothers. The manyatta has no encircling barricade for protection, emphasizing the warrior role of protecting the community. No inner kraal is built, since warriors neither own cattle nor undertake stock duties.
The piercing and stretching of earlobes is common among the Maasai, and they tend to remove one or more canine teeth early on in childhood as they believe that diarrhoea, vomiting and other illnesses are caused by swelling over the canine region.
For Maasai, the end of life is virtually without ceremony, and the dead are left out for scavengers. A corpse rejected by scavengers, mainly spotted hyenas, is seen as having something wrong with it, and liable to cause social disgrace; therefore, it is not uncommon for bodies to be covered in fat and blood from a slaughtered ox.
Although this village receives quite a lot of tourism, and are benefiting from the funds they receive from us all, I still left with the feeling they’d rather not have the visitors. It wasn’t the best experience and I felt like they’d rather be left in peace.
The road to Serengeti gate was atrocious, took over 4 hours to do just over 80 miles to the camp site. We took it slow but corrugations were blady awful. After travelling this road in someone else’s truck, I’m super glad not to have brought the Beast down these roads!
The Serengeti was everything and more than I could have hoped for. We saw so much game in the two short days we were there – lions mating, cheetah stalking and charging zebra, tree climbing/sleeping lion and a leopard just hanging out causally.
We spent the night in a local campsite and sat around the campfire chatting about our day. James fuelled the fire with sprays of alcohol and we were treated to a bit of a fire walking when a strange young man happened upon us and, loaded with dutch courage, tried to walk across our coals…!
The next morning Boshi, Tave, Lara and Cat went off to a balloon flight across the plains. James, Nasser and hopped into the truck and went for a game drive with Simba. We saw more lions mating (must be that time of year?), and herds of buffalo, hippo and zebra as far as the eye could see! We were also so fortunate to spot a leopard walking in the grass – the game here is quite incredible!
Sadly, two days just wasn’t enough but the tour was over and we started heading back for Arusha. It being Cancer Awareness day and all, the girls decided to get their tops off on the last game drive out of the Serengeti.
The road back to the crater, same road on the way in, had claimed too many vehicles – we drove past spans of of broken down trucks, one on it’s roof, one burned out, and one dropped it’s suspension right before our eyes. If you are coming with your own vehicle, I suggest travelling super slowly – but would highly recommend doing a tour instead!
Back in Arusha, Boshi, Nasser and I went over to Brad and Justin’s place to have a few drinks and say goodbye. The boys had been at polo all day and were worse for wear and hilarious to watch.
The following morning, everyone else left for Zanzibar on their big yellow overland truck and I waved a sad farewell to some awesome people. I got a lift with a transporter back to Nairobi to catch a flight up to the North Coast to see some friends in Che Shale. Staying at the Wildebeest Eco Lodge in Nairobi is always such a pleasure and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Governor’s Camp, Maasai Mara
21st – 23rd September 2012
With the Beast in Cruiser hospital in Nairobi, I am concerned with a couple of things; one, I might need to scrap my steed (heaven forbid, but a definite reality) and two, even if I did get it back, it would take months to repair and I might not have the time to see everything I had planned to. So I decide to flush away a substantial part of my life savings and book a package deal to the Mara.
I fly out of Diani Beach and straight to Governor’s Camp on the North West corner of the Mara. Not my first choice of destinations as the wildebeest migration was due to have passed this area months before (and they were early this year which made the chance of seeing this phenomenon as slim as England having a summer). The package deal was pretty decent so I didn’t really have an option…
We touch down on the Governor’s airstrip and are met by safari vehicles waiting to whisk us off to various lodges. It has just rained and stepping off the plane, that bush smells so good. Two minutes into our drive to the lodge, we happen upon a pride of lions, lazing about in the grass. Just like that! It’s almost as though the scene is staged; the lions walked over in the morning before the first plane gets in, tethered with invisible bits of leash to quench the arriving clients’ salivating hunger for the perfect introductory photo opportunity. But obviously this is not the case, this is simply how it is… this is the Maasai Mara!
Governor’s is a beautiful private camp built on the Mara river. The rooms are massive safari tents set on permanent structures, and a look inside reveals a massive bed, stunning bathroom and more space than you could swing a cat in (even a large lion size cat). The whole thing is absolutely exquisite and far too lush for one so travel-worn. I set my rugged North Face bag down on the specially hand-carved and delicate luggage holder and take a look around. Twelve safari tents line the Mara river and a simple wooden beam barrier separates us from the beasts that roam the river and bush beyond. A short walk down an overgrown path leads to a bar and dining area under cover. It’s lunch time and today the chairs and tables have been creatively arranged under the trees in the shady breeze for our dining pleasure. It’s all inclusive so I unashamedly tuck in to just about everything on offer.
Our afternoon game drive leaves at 2pm and I get ushered to my driver and fellow game drive viewers; two very sweet Japanese ladies who do a lot of smiling and head nodding, and a wonderful lady from Switzerland called Heidi (well of course). Our driver heads out with us bouncing about in the back of his modified Land Cruiser (a spartan counterpart). Our first sighting is a lioness on her own, chilling in the grass. We can see her just perfectly from the road but that’s not close enough for our maverick driver who pulls a hard right, wheel spins off the road, crashes through the bushes and hauls hard on the the handbrake as he slides in right next to her (like a glove). Maneuver complete, he cuts the engine, places his right arm on the window ledge and in the wake of the dust cloud, gives himself a self-approving nod. Not a fan of upsetting the animals, this kind of upset me.
It’s incredibly open here and the grass plains stretch to the horizon so spotting animals is a little too easy at times. We pass herds of Topi, an antelope I had not seen before, most of them with a calf at their side. Our careless driver is gunning it down the dirt tracks and almost takes out some of the herd. Heidi gives out a small shriek and we ask him to slow down, which he does for the next two minutes until he spots a cheetah off road and the fast and furious joyride through the bush repeats itself. Before we know it, we’re about a metre from this cheetah who has her head upright, ears flat against her head and eyes wide as saucepans as she watches us charging in. Eventually she calms down and continues to lick herself. What luck! Two cats in the space of about an hour, super chuffed!
We head off to a point in the river which is notorious for migration crossings. My earlier doubts about having missed the crossing were completely reversed when the rangers informed us that the migration had indeed come through early, but the tail end had come back for some reason. A month earlier and I wouldn’t have seen a single wildebeest at all. The skies continue to get darker and before we know it, we’re in the middle of a massive storm. The wildebeest train that had been heading for the water, does an abrupt u-turn and starts trudging in the opposite direction. We pull down the canvas side flaps and sit miserably as the wind blows rain through gaps in the canvas and drains onto us in long strings of cold water. The hippos in the river next to us are in their element, play fighting and grunting in the downpour.
Eventually things subside sightly. We start up again and continue our game drive. We come across several soggy hyenas lying huddled together in the long soaking grass. They seem too cold to even notice us. Nearing the end of our chilly drive, we find another lioness and she’s crouched ready for a hunt. I spot an unsuspecting warthog on the other side of a large ditch and reckon he must be the one with the target on his rump. We watch her stalking for a while, the warthog gets wind of it, and it becomes too difficult for her on her own with the ditch in her way. She spends the next five minutes creeping up and down the ditch whilst the warthog watches her from above, basically giving her the finger. Eventually he just trots off and she gives up and sits sulking on a mound.
We pass another group of lions on our way back into camp. This is the Marsh Pride and daddy is a fighter. His right eye has been damaged over a number of years, defending his position as alpha male and it’s clearly not getting any better. He scratches it with his paw whilst we watch and I cringe. It looks so damn sore! It think the rangers call him Scarface.
What a successful drive it’s been. Heidi and I have dinner together, she’s traveling alone too so it’s great to have the company.
It’s 6am the following morning and I hear a soft voice, “Morning Madam”. It’s Charles, my ‘chalet host’ bringing me a coffee wake-up call. This is standard operating procedure in the morning whilst you wake slowly from your slumber; Charles comes into my tent, turns on the small bedside light and sets up a small table next to my bed. He lays a mat over the table and places a plunger of coffee, jug of milk, sugar bowl and two biscuits on the saucer. He quietly slips out, like a ghost in the darkness, before I’m really aware he’s been there at all. How lovely!
I have my coffee and get to the truck at 6:30am for our morning drive which starts off incredibly well. Not far from Governors at all, we come across a lion kill with the young ones still attacking the carcass. An unfortunate wildebeest has met it’s demise at the claws of this hungry pride. It looks like daddy’s had his full, he’s lounging around (typical). Mum comes over and gives him a whack across the head with her paw (typical) and the teenagers are all fighting over the bloody scraps (typical).
Our driver gets some sort of call on the radio and before we know it, we’re racing rally-style across the plains followed in close pursuit by a dozen other vehicles. I expect the wildebeest are about to cross at some point on the river. The cavalry arrive and skid to a halt, quite a way back from the side of the river. The drivers have to wait as far back as possible until the first wildebeest takes the plunge and once the flow of swimming beasts has started, they can all move forward.
We wait, camera’s ready. I have my SLR Canon big lens for photos as well as my small Canon on video, poised to capture this momentous event, and we wait. A group of wildebeest trot down, nose the water, get skittish and flee back up the side of the river. A single wildebeest gets brave, trots down to the waters edge, gets skittish and flees back up to the group… and so it continues… for two and a half hours! Most of the other safari vehicles have left and we’re one of a handful that remain.
Eventually (and maybe he was pushed), one wildebeest takes the plunge and the flow doesn’t stop. One after the other they follow, hurling themselves into the river, swimming as fast as their little pin legs can go, and pushing up the other side in between all the safari vehicles, and onto the plains beyond. A few zebra join in. They’re the smart ones, waiting for the wildebeest to start the process before taking the risk themselves… Unfortunately, this is an unusual crossing point so there were no croc attacks and I’m surprised that not one wildebeest broke a leg as some were jumping down from the steep banks on the side. Simply incredible. Not one carcass at the end of it all! This incredible natural migration movement is what I’d come to see, and by the most amazing stroke of luck, I’d seen the best part!
Heidi left camp after lunch to catch an afternoon flight out to Zanzibar and so I joined the two Japanese ladies again that afternoon for another game drive. You get to a certain point with game parks, once you’ve seen a migration crossing, a lion kill, a lion stalking it’s kill, more lions than you know what to do with AND a cheetah, an average game drive just seems like a bit of a waste of time. How spoiled am I? We see more elephants and pass a hyena den full of mums with pups, but the heavens open up again and so we head back to camp a little earlier than usual.
With Heidi gone I’m dining alone this evening. Half way through my cordon bleu a lovely man comes over to ask me if I would like to join him and his company for dinner. He’s caught me with my mouth full and so I politely decline from behind my serviette and tell him I’ll join them for coffee at the end of my meal, which I do. I hadn’t realised initially on sitting down with this group of four, that I had joined the managers Philip and Kate, along with their balloon pilots Sanjay and David. What awesome people!
Before I know it, I have forgone my 6am game drive and am being woken at 4:30am instead, this time by Charles who comes flying into my tent following a massive commotion outside. Elephants have completely destroyed the barrier between the river and the tents, and Charles and the guards have spent the better part of 15 minutes trying to get to us to wake us up. Charles stays with me in the tent until the rangers have chased the elephants away (apparently Doom bug spray works best?!). So up at 5am, waiting for the coffee to kick in and eyes still at half mast, we drive a short distance to Little Governors and take a small boat across the river. The balloon launch site is just past the Little Governors camp and as we come around the corner, two massive balloons lie deflated on the grass. I stand and chuckle to myself at the obligatory safety briefing, given by David Chipping in the queen’s best English – health and safety is high on the agenda (as you can imagine). All I take from it is the part where we have to sit down and hold on for the landing. I’m not going to hop out the basket in mid air so everything else seems trivial.
With the sun coming up over the horizon, we watch the balloon fill with life as it’s inflated from the side with large burners. As the balloon rises with hot air, and the basket rights itself, we clamber in and before we know it, we’re watching the camp get smaller and smaller – skyward bound! What a sight… With the sun rising over the Mara, we float along in the morning breeze. The only thing that breaks the silence are the burners which David opens up every so often. We fly low, literally a couple of metres off the ground at times. David tells me that we need to stay in this low channel for a particular wind system as it will eventually slingshot us around the up-coming bend of trees and allow us to fly over the Mara river. Any higher and we join a different wind system which will take us off into the escarpment to the right – and then we’ll have problems – no safe flat landing there… I trust his judgement! We sail over the grassy plains, watching wildebeest scatter beneath us, and for a short while, we get to cruise over the tree-lined river watching hippos and crocs completely unaware of our presence in the waters below.
For the final ten minutes David cranks up the heat and we rise up high for our final view of the Mara plains below. Coming in to land, we all sit down and brace ourselves for the ‘bump and drag’. The landing is less than smooth, we kangaroo hop several times and plough through the tall grass until we come to a stop. David tells me later there was some other wind current near the landing sight that they hadn’t foreseen, which made the landing pretty technical… we had no idea. At least we didn’t hit an anthill!
Collected in safari trucks, we are whisked off to a breakfast banquet in the bush. A beautifully laid table in the middle of nowhere, adorned with eggs, bacon, sausages, fruit and champagne! They even have a pancake chef to one side. It all seems a little surreal. We finish off the morning by taking a long game drive back to the camp.
I fly out from the Mara that afternoon back to Nairobi where I catch my evening flight out to the UK via Dubai. Westgate Mall has been attacked by terrorists today. It’s a horrific and unnecessary act which leaves me wondering what the hell these people are thinking…
Yes I’m in Nairobi, yes I could have been in the centre at the time, but I wasn’t and so I shall continue to travel to these countries despite random attacks because you never know where next and it would be the greatest shame if we all stopped going places ‘just in case’.
And so to the UK and Italy for Lizzy’s wedding – can’t wait to see my guys and girls again!
28th Aug – 2nd Sep 2013
From my previous stay in Naivasha, I had heard about the Rift Valley Festival, happening just after I was due to fly back from Uganda. I had been in touch with my friend Boris from Diani as he was headed up from Diani to Naivasha see our old pals at Carnelley’s. We sorted out diaries and worked things out so that I would arrive in Nairobi as he was passing through and we’d go together. I’d waved goodbye to Boris a month previously after staying with him whilst getting the Beast sorted out and so it was super to see him again! We popped into the Karen Hospital to get my bloods taken, and to have an x-ray on my neck. Since the accident, my neck had got progressively more stiff, and I don’t think it helped I engaged in a spot of light white water rafting in Jinja shortly thereafter… Anyhow, the bloods were fine and my x-rays revealed nothing of substantial concern. I was sentenced to a few sessions of physio and traction (think William Wallace on the torture bed, neck shackled, feet shackled, being pulled in different directions…)
The Rift Valley Festival in Naivasha draws musicians and bands from all over Africa. It’s held at Fisherman’s Camp, next to Carnelley’s and is right on the water’s edge. Set up with a camping area, tented food stalls and full on stage, it draws Kenyans from all walks of life and it was great to see everyone living it up in such a fantastic setting. With music pumping late into the night, the Naivasha gang gathered on the steps of the bar each night to get a good view – Chrissy, Lovat, Mwezi, Karen, Mikey, Johnny, Marcus, Paddy, Andy & Fleur. This crowd love a good party and boy did they shake a leg! Most of them didn’t sleep for two days and partied straight through. Me, being the sensible type, partied hard but made sure I got my much needed beauty sleep… On the second night, Andrew Doig got hold of me, Lovat and Boris, and took us out onto the lake with his small boat just before sundown. Crate packed high with beers, we set off for a good three or four hours, careful not to knock hippos on the head with the propeller (in the dark of night, this is a very real possibility), we were all on lookout. Under the influence of a little bit of booze, we tried to sneak up as close as we could to the shore on various properties but were only chased by guards wielding guns – not the wisest idea of our times… On our way back, we docked for a short time off the shore of Fisherman’s Camp to watch the festival from the water. We joined everyone a short while later and had another fantastic night. Boris’ friends from Diani, Riccardo, Valentina and their girls Sole and Sara were in Naivasha for the weekend and so we took them to Crater Lake to have lunch on a floating restaurant. The girls were fascinated by the wildlife in the area, which are in abundance and tend to cruise around without a care in the world. Boris and I left Naivasha after a rain soaked festival experience, and headed back to Nairobi for the night at Wildebeest Eco Camp before running the Nairobi-Mombasa road gauntlet…
DIANI BEACH, KENYA
3rd – 20th Sep 2013
I spent the next two and a half weeks living the life in Diani. Boris’ house is right on the beach and is just a little piece of paradise. He lives by himself on a large property with villas for his brother and father, and a guest cottage at the back. There’s a beautiful garden with a swimming pool just before the fence and then you’re on the beach. His place is just south along the beach from his Kite Surfing School at Kenyaways. The awesome little boutique resort, Kenyaways, is run by Lindsay and good friend Bruce runs the restaurant Madafoos. It’s where I spent many hours chewing the fat with all the wonderful people I got to know!
Travellers and residents alike, this is where the fantastic little community of Diani comes together! Most of our lives revolved around Galu Beach, the beach adjacent to Diani where Kenyaways is situated. I spend my days going out on ingalawas with the surfing crowd – Boris, Bruce, Pepe, Lindsay, Wes and Olive – and taking Boris’ dogs, Pluto and Scooby for long walks on the beach. There is a fantastic German lady called Maria who does reflexology once a week and I found myself on her table more than once – I attribute the rapid recovery of my neck to her, hands down! One day my friend Reed called us up and asked us if we wanted to go deep sea fishing with her (this is just typical of the life these people lead in Diani…), so Olive, Wes and I hopped on board and we sailed the big blue trawling for dorado for most of the morning. Just love this lifestyle!
Most of Boris’ friends are resort owners or run their own businesses in the area so there was always someone up for a spot of lunch or dinner, and I got to see the most incredible resorts along the Diani strip.
Most notably, my favourite restaurant was Sails at Almanara which serves amazing food by chef Luke Doig, for the most the most ridiculously reasonable prices. Ric and Valentina, from Italy, own Water Lovers, a spot that they built over 5 years ago. It’s gorgeous and has so much charm. Filip and Ida, from Sweden, are the owners of the sprawling Kinondo Kwetu in the South and have had the King and Queen of Sweden to stay! They have riding stables and take the horses out on moonlight rides once a month. Filip has had a skate park built at the back of their new home and was kind enough to take us all out to Funzi on his boat, so that the boys could surf and SUP. Kinondo Kwetu Trust Fund are also heading up quite a few community projects and under their trading label Mailaka Cotton. I spent many a morning twisted like a pretzel at their yoga classes with Ida and Lindsay on the cliffs overlooking the sea. Claudia and Richard run Nomads, a larger resort on the Diani stretch which also has an adjoining school – this is where all the kids of these friends go. Mark owns the microlight business and twice, when I was supposed to join him in the air, it rained buckets and the opportunity to see Diani by air was cancelled… Anina runs the local art gallery and Dan runs a farm up in the Shimbas. Everyone is a piece of this multinational and brilliant little resort town – and I love it! …and when friends from Cape Town and up-country grace us with their presence… there’s no other place to go but 40 Thieves for a BIG sweaty party…
TOUR WITH SAFARI WILDZ
Kampala (blue) to Jinja (red) – 50 miles (1.5 hours easy driving) – see my rafting post here
Jinja to Bwindi Gorillas (green) – 340 miles (16 hours, roadworks for half the way…) – see my gorillas post here
Bwindi back to Kampala (blue) – 290 miles (15 hours, roadworks, don’t try do a 16 hour and a 15 hour journey within 3 days, it’s no fun)
TOUR OF UGANDA WITH SAFARI WILDZ
22nd – 23rd August 2013
With my trusty steed in Land Cruiser hospital, I hop on a plane and fly to Uganda…
I’m in Kampala! I spend a pretty average evening at Red Chilli Backpackers just outside the capital and am woken up at 4am by my super considerate bunk mate who’s just climbed into bed. I wake up a bit later and decide to hit Kampala to see what treasures it holds – but not before I contact O2 by internet chat to try to find out why they’re still charging me a monthly fee, 2 months after I terminated my contract. This takes an entire day and so I don’t go anywhere. Out in the camping area my heart skips a beat, I see the Beast! Same cruiser, same colour, same roof rack, same tent – alas… it belongs to two fellow overlanders, Oyvind (from Norway) and Sheelah (from South Africa) who started coming down from Norway to South Africa, via West Africa, before realising that it was just too dangerous and not worth the risk. They shipped their cruiser from Senegal to Cape Town and have made their way up through Southern and East Africa to Uganda. They are an awesome couple and it’s so good talking to them after following their blog for months! You can follow their trip here – Kapp to Cape.
My stay at Red Chilli Hideaway is less than noteworthy, it’s a fine spot to stop over in Kampala and they serve up a good pizza but that’s about it!
I spotted a Millfield team player a little off the beaten track… wonder if he made the game in time?
24th – 24th August 2013
The next day I’m due to get at transfer with the rafting company in Jinja. Somehow I miss this and end up flying about the place trying to make a plan to get to Jinja, over 80kms away for my day of rafting… Luckily someone phones a rival company and they agree to take me in their bus instead.
My day of rafting starts with the obligatory health and safety talk done African style; one rule and one rule only – listen to your guide before each rapid and you’ll live. Surrounded by tour parties who have already subdivided themselves into little cliquey groups, I get shoved into the group of mismatched stragglers, a father and son, another older man and they grab a young boy training to be a guide to balance out the boat! We get spun around, bent in half, churned and spat out. The river claims it’s first victim and a chap from another boat ends up dislocating his shoulder. I drink more than my body weight in river water each time we flip – sometimes it’s not so nice getting thrown out at the start of a rapid and riding the grade 5 sans raft. The waves are higher than a man and completely engulf me time and time again. I’m normally so calm in water but I must admit I spend a couple of unnerving moments wondering if I could possibly drink any more river water…
I spend the night in Jinja at the Nile River Explorers‘ Camp and meet the manager, Nash, who’s got the most wicked and crazy afro – should take a photo to remember him by but I’m absolutely shattered and head to bed at 8pm.
25th – 27th August
I wake up for a 6:00pm pick up, and hear someone calling through the window of the camp. It’s my guide for the next three days from Safari Wildz. Cosmos is a big burly Ugandan with a deep voice and a good sense of humour. We drive a short distance in the company Land Cruiser before collecting the three remaining members of our little party – Charlotte, her brother Harry and their friend Ed. They’re from the UK and turns out, are blady good fun!
We’re headed for Bwindi, a small part of the Inpenetrable Forest on the west side of Uganda. Our mission; to trek and search for the biggest primate in the world – gorillas!
The journey takes us back through Kampala and towards the equator where we stop for the obligatory water-spinning science experiment, conducted by a local man on the side of the road. You do know water spins one way in the Northern hemisphere and a different way in the South, right? Apparently the experiment is a complete hoax as the equator line actually runs a little further to the south but the line was painted nearer the shops as it was deemed more picturesque… We take photos under the fake equator line marker and head off again.
After a super slow 550kms, 15 hours and a hairy last 30kms of windy windy on dirt road, we arrive at the Mountain Lodge near the park gates and hit the sack early.
Up at 6:00am, we drive to the park gate for briefing with the head guide before being introduced to our guide, Wilbur. Driving a short distance up to a different starting point, we were met by approximately 30 porters, all looking for work. Despite not needing porters for our lightweight bags, we decide to hire two porters at the cost of USH50,000 each (around £25). The rest did not get work for the day and we feel awful for not employing more.
We set off… Wilbur ahead, two armed guards and the two porters, trekking to meet our scouts who are already hours ahead, tracking our family of gorillas from the place they were last seen the day before. Mostly, groups of up to 8 clients trek together but it is just the four of us which is great as it means we can move at our own pace. The forest is hot and humid. Climbing in and out of deep gullies is stunning but hard in the heat. Wilbur keeps in touch with our scouts via walkie talkie. Two hours into our trek on pretty decent paths, the call comes through – they’ve found the family. We start heading off into the thicket and down into a valley, following our guides who are hacking away at the vines and growth with machetes. We eventually come to a small natural opening in a wall of foliage – and staring us in the face, a mere 4 metres away is a silverback, munching on some greenery – dear lord he’s HUGE!! At least he seems pretty relaxed and we all jostle for space to get a good snap of this massive cone shaped head. Before we know it, we see a very young little dude come from behind the silverback. He’s curious and spends around ten minutes rolling towards us, hesitating for a bit, munching on a stalk or touching one of us before doing a few somersaults back to the safety of papa G. Eventually the silverback moves away with his offspring, and we struggle to get close enough to them again. The guides try to hack another window in front of the silverback, but he’s busy stuffing his face with leaves and pulls down an entire branch in front of him, basically giving us the finger and signalling that the shows over. We see glimpses of the rest of the troop but the forest is super thick and all we catch are fury shapes moving in the undergrowth. Sadly we’re only allowed an hour with the family and have to head back.
The hike back is tough. The day has warmed and the humidity levels are sky high. We leave the park boundaries and give our porters, scouts and guides a tip before being picked up by Cosmos. Back at Mountain Lodge, the local orphanage has something in store for us – a 30 minute display of dance and stories. The kids are incredibly upbeat and have a great sense of humour. They have us in stitches so it’s worth the donation we make to their home.
We wake up at 6am, have a quick breakfast and set off again. We stop off for some local Ugandan cuisine and are treated to a table full of kaunga (posho/sadsa/pap), yams, sweet potato, “Irish” potatoes, rice, millet and four bowls of luuuurverly animal stews – goat (offal), chicken (boiled), fish (full of bones) and beef (bearable). Not my cup of tea but what an experience…! Further down the road we stop for beef kebabs and chicken on a stick, made on the side of the road over fiery drums – African favourites, super tasty and often seen being thrust into bus windows if you’re travelling by public transport. I get dropped off at Entebbe, at the Airport Guesthouse – an incredibly smart and reasonably priced lodge just near the airport, ready for my pickup at 3am the next morning.
Uganda has really impressed me. With it’s clean, clear streets and friendly faces, Uganda seem to take an enormous amount of pride in everything it has on show. From the ladies dressed in their best church wear with fashionable pointy puff sleeves and men in suits on bikes, down to well built and neat local farm stalls and lean to’s in the middle of nowhere – everything has been built, tilled, grown and worn with pride. What a brief but pleasant visit. It’s such a pity I didn’t have the opportunity to drive through this amazing country myself – I feel like I might have missed out on a lot more…
LAKE NAIVASHA, KENYA
10th – 15th August 2013
Following my crash I spent a week on Lake Naivasha at Mikey’s place. He’s got a nice big farm-style place just on the lake and it’s the perfect place to just sit and crunch through admin – mostly phone calls and emails with my insurers, all of us scratching our heads as what to do with the Beast. I don’t think they deal with too many accidents of this magnitude… in Africa…
I spent most evenings with the Naivasha crowd, hanging out at the Carnelley’s restaurant, which was the start of a downward spiral weight wise! Chrissy has that kitchen churning out the most amazing culinary delights, there is no point trying to resist… “Small Lake” soon became a favourite spot for watching flamingos whilst sipping on gin, watching the sun go down followed by gatherings round bonfires, talking late into the night and fending off territorial hippos. I got to spend a bit more time with the hilarious and fun-filled Andy and Fleur, taking boats onto the water for day trips out to remote spots along the lake. Breaking down with Mikey at the helm only added to the adventure. Everyone was so welcoming, and I got to know the entire Carnelley clan – Tommy, Annie (Lovat’s parents) who own and live at Camp Carnelley’s, Mwezi (Lovat’s sister), a beautiful bohemian nymph who’s recently left a life in Zanzibar to live back in Naivasha, and her boys Tristan and Arlo who are rough and tough little blonde headed boys.
Mike and Lovat recovered the Beast from the flower farm to Mike’s yard. Knowing the steering arm was broken, Mikey and I set off with a towing “A bar” (these boys know their thing so I just nod and go with the flow). We wired the A bar to the front of the Beast before Lovat arrived with his Land Cruiser. It took us the better part of an hour to turn the Beast around in such a small space – it’s heavy and the wheels kept turning the wrong way when Lovat was pushing it out in reverse. With brute force, tons of revving, wheel spinning and smoke, we finally got it rolling behind Lovat’s cruiser. Unfortunately, with all the strain on the A bar, secured only with a bit of wire, it eventually yanked my bull bar right off near Mike’s gate and the Beast rolled into a shallow ditch… We reversed the Beast out and Mikey brought two metal bars to turn the wheels manually. The last 300m of windy driveway I inched slowly forward, with Mikey and Lovat on each front wheel levering the tyres right and left. Just as we came through the gate Mike misplaced his bar, it slipped out, he flew backwards and put his back out… The very next pull, Lovat’s pipe slipped and cut a slice into his stomach. Moving the Beast from less than half a kilometer down the road has taken two hours!
Beware of helping me out folks. Karma’s not playing nice and chances are, you’ll get a nice slap in the chops for your trouble… Luke’s Probox had a small run in with a matatu the day after he rescued me from the accident scene, Mikey was rendered immobile and Lovat sliced himself open whilst moving the Beast. Sorry boys!!
I managed to get most of the insurance process started and the recovery of the Beast back to Nairobi was arranged within the first 5 days. It took almost a full day to unload the Beast of all it’s boxes, unbolt the roof top tent, unscrew the awning and just about gut the entire thing in preparation for it’s trip to Nairobi. All safely stored in Mikey’s store room, I knew it would be a lot safer there than in a panel beater’s yard!
I sent the Beast off with a full tank of diesel, it didn’t have a drop left when I got it to the panel beaters…
15th – 22nd August 2013
I wasn’t feeling great and decided that it might be a good idea to follow the Beast to Nairobi and get checked over at a hospital in Karen. Luke was around as he was working with horses in the area, and was leaving for Nairobi the afternoon the Beast was collected, so I got a lift back with him. He was heading up to Meru that evening and so kindly offered his place to me for the following two days. He lives in a stunning little wooden hut in a small compound surrounded by trees and horse paddocks.
Two days later, Luke and Chloe were back at home and so I moved to Karen Camp down the road where I spent a miserable week dealing with insurance issues. The Beast had been taken to Toyota Nairobi who quoted me over 2.2 million KES (around £16,000 for repairs) which was completely ridiculous. Before yanking the Beast out of their clutches, I got their assessment and was pleased to hear that the axle and chassis were all good, which meant that the Beast could be repaired! I found another local garage in Karen used by many of the expats and got the Beast moved there instead, not before realising that it had been drained of almost 80 litres of fuel whilst sitting in their compound.
Karen Camp is a dump – do NOT bother going there, I was paying $10/day for the smallest, darkest room with no bedding (all my sleeping stuff was folded up in the roof top tent). For 3 days I was the only guest at the camp, and with not much to do in Nairobi, this was not the best part of my trip. Was super chuffed when Luke and Chloe got back from their trip up north and spent a great couple of nights with them, Chloe’s cousins Sean and Tanith, and their friend Haz – the red wine flowed and Que Pesa didn’t know what had hit it by the end of the night!
I had been given information for a good tour operator who was able to help me organise Gorilla Trekking permit in Uganda. This all came together nicely and, knowing I might not be able to continue my journey (at least not round Lake Victoria as planned), I hopped on a plane and flew to Uganda for some rafting and trekking. Not sad to see the back of Nairobi…
NAIVASHA TO MASAI MARA, KENYA
9th August 2013
I leave Camp Carnelley’s with a heavy heart. It reminds me a little of Kariba and I don’t feel like I’ve stayed long enough. Time is short though and today I head back towards Nairobi and turn off, bound for one of the greatest shows on earth… the wildebeest migration in the Masai Mara!
The journey down to Narok is straightforward and on good roads. Narok is a local African town; full of life with the comings and goings of daily safari operators. It’s also the last stop before hundreds of kilometers of absolute wilderness so I fill up with diesel and grab a few essentials before my three day camp in the bush. I also manage to find a gas cyclinder and new regulator to fit my two plate stove, which I haven’t even cooked on yet.
I’m about 8kms outside of Narok in the middle of nowhere when I realise I’m headed to Talek. Talek also leads to the Mara, but the route I intended on taking starts at another gate called Sekenani. I have missed the turning just outside Narok. I’m pretty sure I’m on the wrong road but decide to consult my trusty GPS and guide book. With a few farms on my right I check ahead for a suitable farm road I can come off onto, to head back to Narok if necessary. I see one coming up in the distance. So I indicate, slow down, check mirrors, bus behind me coming full speed, move over into oncoming lane, start turning right and BAM. I get knocked sideways in my seat, there’s glass flying everywhere, I can’t see much as there’s just grey in front of me and things are flying up at my shattered windscreen. I feel the Beast crashing through a ditch, thank heavens I leave the steering and let it run it’s course. I try the brakes but they’ve failed. Eventually I come to a standstill, in a cloud of dust, on the right hand side of the road next to a farmer’s field. What the hell just happened? I look across to my right, and wedged in a tree and mangles in farmer’s fence is the bus…
“What the hell were you trying to do, overtaking me whilst I was turning!”, I shout through the dust with my hands in the air. He shouts back at me and says I shouldn’t have turned.
There’s not point arguing such a stupid response.
I do a quick check. The windscreen is smashed but intact, my driver side window is completely out, my door and the area at my feet have caved in and has squeezed my legs against the gear stick… I’m bleeding. I can feel it on my face and neck and look down to see it running down my chest.
Suddenly I’m surrounded by local bus people. I feel hands prodding my head and reach up only to be given a bloody tissue by one helpful mama who’s trying to mop up the blood on my head. The man in charge from the bus comes over and tells me that he has phoned the police and that I should go to hospital. I want to stay with the Beast. There is no way I can leave it here, with it’s windows and windscreen smashed out, and expect to come back later and find anything left. I have heard horror stories of local people taking things from crash sites before the bodies have even been taken away by ambulance – I will be cleaned out.
Crap man! What the hell do I do now? Bus man is telling me that he will get a taxi to take me to hospital. There is no way I’m going to the local hospital in god-forsaken Narok! I’m 150kms away from Nairobi, how long will it take an ambulance to get here? Do I need an ambulance? I check my head. There is a massive bump on the right side, probably hit the window or door… As far as I can tell, it’s the cut on this bump that is bleeding, and after a quick pat-down, I realise everything else is ok.
I try to phone my friend Boris in Diani to ask him what I should do but he is on a fishing trip in the middle of nowhere, so I’m not holding out too much hope that he’ll get back to me anytime soon. Maybe I should phone Lovat? Then I remember that Lovat had to bail Alex out of trouble the day before. He had driven to Narok to rescue Alex’s safari truck with a bust gear box, and recovered it all the way back to Naivasha… He’s the last person I want to inconvenience. Luke seemed like a sensible guy with lots of contacts and, as he’s the last person I was in contact with this morning, I decide to call him in Naivasha and see what he thinks I should do.
“Luke, it’s Shara from last night. I’ve had a bit of an incident with a bus and don’t know who to call or what to do”.
“Pole (sorry) man, how bad is the car and where are you?”
“A bus hit my side, I think it’s a write off… I’m 8kms outside Narok on the road to Kisii”
“I’m going to make a few calls. Are you hurt?”
“Head’s bleeding but I’m ok.”
“Hang tight, I’m on my way.”
With that, I put down the phone and have a little cry…
Luckily I have all my paperwork in a bag just behind my seat and so I get my insurance papers out and call the company in the UK. They clearly aren’t much use but tell me to call them once I get to hospital. I gather all my belongings in the front of the Beast and shove everything I can see, everything from the glove compartment and under the seats into a cotton bag, before phoning Mike Diesbecq in Naivasha, He tells me Luke has left and is on his way.
A well dressed mama comes to my window. She puts her hand on my arm and tells me that she is the owner of the farm next to us and that she will look after me. She shows me that she has posted her three sons around my car to make sure that they keep an eye on things for me. She asks if I want to go to hospital and that she will take me and her sons will stay with the car. I tell her I’m ok and that my friend is on his way. I have another little cry.
I get a text from Luke to let me know that he has managed to get hold of a friend who lives in the area and they are sending a mechanic to me as soon as possible. I decide to get out the car and have a look around. My door is completely crunched in and there’s no budging it, so I climb over and get out the passenger door. I take photos of the poor Beast, the damn bus, and the carnage from the point of impact to where the vehicles both stand; strewn metal, severed plastic and crushed aloes.
The Beast is wounded… my door and front panel totally crumpled, bonnet buckled, front drivers wheel completely flat. All I can think about is the fact that my trip, that I’ve spent almost two years planning might be over.
The police arrive after an hour and tell me to go to hospital. I tell them I’m waiting for my friend and don’t want to leave my vehicle. They put me in the back seat of their car and take a statement from me. Jack the mechanic arrives with a small team and they go to work assessing the damage. They remove the flat tyre and put my spare one on.
Not long after the police arrive from 8kms down the road, Luke arrives all the way from Naivasha – he must have done some serious low flying to get to me this quickly. I run over, give him the biggest hug and have another cry… (that’s the last one I promise). He checks my head and we go over to the cops who are getting a statement from the bus driver. The police want me to come back to the police station in Narok and they want to keep the Cruiser in for observation.
Luke jokes with me a few days later, saying that he was disappointed to see I wasn’t in worse shape as he was hoping to put his first aid skills to the test after doing a course the week before… 🙂
Luke argues with them. As no one has been injured, we should be allowed to recover the Cruiser back to Naivasha instead of leaving it at the police station. He’s sure there will be nothing left of it if we do. The cops agree to us taking the Beast back that same day, but I need to go back to the station in Narok to do the paperwork.
I walk over to Kamal, one of the farm lady’s sons and quietly give him some money for the family to say thank you for their kindness. He looks at his fence and asks he for more money… I explain that I’m not liable for that damage. It’s the bus that has destroyed the fence, and therefore he should take that up with the bus company.
After replacing the flat tyre with the spare, Jack the mechanic starts the car and actually drives the Beast out and back onto the road. There’s talk about driving the Beast all the way back to Naivasha…! Really?
Almost immediately, the Beast comes to a halt. The steering arm, obviously hanging on my a thread, has snapped and has given way, leaving the steering wheel spinning freely. We manage to get a local tow truck out from Narok pretty quickly and leave Jack to sort that out for us whilst Luke takes me and Kamal to the police station in town.
The cop shop is up some back street over 4×4 rocky terrain. It’s a tiny corrugated iron hut no bigger than 5m by 3m and seats 2 policeman and their desks. Shelves hang onto the walls for dear life. There must be over 20 years worth of paper work, all yellow and bundled together, stacked high to the ceiling. The shelves bow under the weight. After about half an hour of photocopying, signing and stamping, I have my ‘abstact’ and we are free to go.
We head back towards the main road and meet the recovery truck as it’s coming into town. The Land Rover is crawling along at 2km/h with it’s front tyres literally off the ground under the weight of the Beast. It’s a funny sight, Luke and I had to laugh! There is no way this vehicle is going to get the Beast back to Naivasha, 130kms away. We park near the petrol station and immediately draw a crowd of drama-hungry watu. As the window is gone and the Beast doesn’t lock, there is still the very real possibility of things growing legs, so Jack the mechanic is posted on the one side of the Beast and I watch the other. Luke heads off down the road to a group of trucks to look for a suitable one we could load the beast onto. He comes back with a driver who is willing to do the trip for KES 25,000 (£180). One logistical problem, how the hell do we get the Beast loaded onto the back of the truck?
Luke decides the best way would be to find an embankment high enough, park the truck underneath and roll the Beast off the embankment. Just our luck there is a place not far out of town with something that might work.
Luke had negotiated with the recovery truck driver on a price of KES15,000 but just as we are about to load the Beast, the driver wants another KES5,000. Typical. It’s getting pretty late and all I want is to get this Beast back to Naivasha. Despite Luke’s 15 minute rant at this guy, he doesn’t budge and I end up paying him KES20,000 (£150) for towing 10km.
We find the spot and, just our luck, the embankment is the perfect height. With the truck in position, an audience of watu, Jack driving, Luke yelling in Swahili, the recovery vehicle backs up and rolls the Beast onto the truck with few problems. It’s a snug fit and the Beast is slightly too long for the back so Luke and I head back into town to buy chains and locks to secure the tailgate which we can lift to around 45 degrees.
With the Beast firmly in place, Kamal (the farm lady’s son) offers to ride with the truck to Naivasha to keep an eye on my stuff. We give them some money for dinner on the way and Luke and I head off back to Naivasha.
It’s dark now and we stop at each road block. At each one Luke tells the police to expect the truck and to let them though. I have also given the driver a copy the accident abstract and a copy of my driver’s licence with a signed note saying I have authorised the recovery of my vehicle. The last thing I want is for the damn thing to be held up by the police. I’m in contact with Mike the whole way back to Naivasha and he’s waiting for us on the road, it’s 9:30pm. We go to his neighbours Andy and Fleur and wait for the truck to come in.
It’s after 11pm when we get the call from the truck driver to say he’s down the road. Another stroke of luck, Mike has a ramp on his flower farm, built for loading rally cars onto trucks – and that’s where we will unload the Beast. The tailgate is slightly higher than the top of the ramp but we prop it up on bricks. The Beast is still able to drive forwards, but without the steering wheel, the guys have to use poles and lever the front wheels to turn it wherever necessary, a slow and labourious process. We cover the Beast in my tarpaulin and I give Kamal some more money to say thank you, he asks for more, so Luke give him the jacket he’s wearing.
Mike lives in a big old farm house and has plenty of space to take me in for the night. He offers to have me stay for as long as I need.
What a day! And what amazing people these guys are. No matter how many times I thank him, Luke might never realise the extent of my gratitude. I am humbled by his kindness; coming to the rescue of someone he barely knows. I guess, after living in London for so many years, with everyone far too busy with their own lives, I just didn’t expect that someone would go to that extent to help me out. I could so easily have been stuck on the side of that road for hours with no help, possibly spending the night in Narok (where there are no muzungu hotels), potentially having all my stuff stripped from the Beast, I might even have slept in the Beast until I’d sorted myself out – that would have taken days!
But that wasn’t the case, thanks to this legendary and kind person, who shrugs the whole ordeal off like he’d do it all over again tomorrow. Luke Davey, you are a saint!
Absolutely exhausted and too tired to even contemplate having a shower to wash my matted bloody hair and body, I go straight to sleep.
NAIROBI TO NAIVASHA, KENYA
7th – 8th August 2013
Upper Hill Campsite, Nairobi – I wake to the news that Nairobi airport is on fire, no flights in and no flights out. The guy staying next to me at the campsite is getting married in Uganda in a few days time and is due to leave today… of all the things that could delay a groom, Hollywood couldn’t make this shit up!
I spend the morning organising the Beast a bit better. After some time travelling in a confined space, you soon realise that the packing system you had in your head before setting off was not the packing system that is most convenient. I have a bit of OCD and like like with like… However, despite the fact that similar things SHOULD go together, they just can’t. It’s impractical, for example to have all your toiletries with you at all times, so I devised a few pantry areas where I will store all those non-daily items. Certain things need to be in easy to reach places and some can get shoved to the rear of the boot behind everything else. Things I need every day move to the front boxes, like dust cloths, the torch and toothpicks.
I ordered some flag stickers in the UK before I left, for all the countries I will be visiting on my way down. I clean the back window and decide on how to fit all the flags on in a nice sequential order. Vitalis, my handy mechanic at the Engen garage, has the morning to find me hubcap that will match my other three (have no idea where one of them ended up, but thought it might be a good idea to get one on with the amount of dust my Beast churns up). I have numerous cups of tea in the Upper Hill lounge and use the time to upload a few photos to Facebook, but find myself pulling my hair out with frustration at my pre-paid “wazi wifi” which is super slow and unreliable. Vitalis has the part by 2pm so I collect that and set my Garmin for Camp Carnelley’s in Niavasha.
Coming out of Nairobi, I end up driving through the most god-awful slum to get out to the main road. It’s streets are absolutely filthy, rubbish piled high, dilapidated roadside shacks with vendors, and precarious moments at every turn. Chickens running for their lives, bicycles weaving in my path, matatus pulling out with no indication, unobservant children running after a ball, it’s a miracle no one got a bull bar nudge.
The main road to Naivasha is just as dangerous as all the rest. There is a steep climb out of Nairobi which brings you to a pretty breathtaking drive down into the escarpment. It’s a single lane so inevitably you get your usual drama with lorries trying to overtake other lorries, in oncoming traffic, with a sharp death drop to one side… standard Kenyan driving. At one point we actually had a second “climbing lane” on our side. A truck was trying to overtake another truck at at fraction of a kilometre faster, so cars just started overtaking through the middle of the two trucks.
Near the top of the escarpment I drive past a typical traffic road block (polisi looking very official, standing round chatting). They don’t indicate that I should stop so I carry on without slowing. I notice one or two along the way showing me the universal arm waving up and down to slow down, and it gets more frantic as I pass. I’m not even going at pace so don’t take much notice. A few minutes later, heading down the escarpment, an old banged up white car, boot almost touching the tarmac, overtakes me at high speed and slows right down in front of me. I see four guys inside. A hand with a radio comes out the passenger front side and signals for me to pull over. Bear in mind, I’m currently driving down an escarpment road, with a sheer death drop to my left and now I have this unmarked, dodgy vehicle swaying in front of me to slow me down… I saw a few wooden curio stands, built precariously on the edge of the road (above death drop) and stop there. These four guys jump out of the car, all in plain clothes, brandishing radios and guns on their hips and come running over to the car – police or hijacking? Ready to go into fight or flight mode, I brace myself for a quick getaway… could the Beast run them all over if I flawed it now, ramming their car off the edge of the cliff for good measure?
Still unsure, I keep my window up as they start shouting at me through glass. They say my jerry can has come off the roof and has hit one of the traffic cops on the side of the road. I must get out the car and take a look at my roof to see it’s missing. At this moment, all my survival instincts kick in… similar to the “you have a flat tyre” con, they’ve seen my jerry can on the roof and they’re trying to get me out the vehicle to check! I stay put and have the sense to ask them for ID. One whips out a worn, laminated card with his picture on it – man, I could have made one of those on my home PC, so how the hell do I know that it’s genuine?
I keep on with the same line, pleading remorse, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean for it to fly off”.
“You need to come back”, the main guy demands.
“I don’t want the jerry can, I have spare. You guys can have it”, I just want to get the hell out of there and do not want to go anywhere with these guys.
“You need to come and see the injury our fellow officer sustained…”, no man come on! The jerry can was an empty light plastic one, surely can’t be that bad?
“Please tell your fellow officer I’m awfully sorry”
Eventually they resign themselves to the fact I have no interest in trusting their plain clothes, their scrunched laminated police IDs, or their clapped out mode of transport (they probably flagged down a passing car to chase me). There is no moving me from the vehicle, and no getting me to come back with them, so they give up and leave with final words to reassure me that they are genuine polisi and that it will be safe to get out once they leave and check that the rest of my roof cargo is properly secured. With that, their banged up car shoots a plume of black smoke into the air, and with the bumper dragging sparks on the road, makes a U-turn in the face of oncoming traffic and speeds back to where it came from. I take a moment to compose myself and get out the Beast. Checking the roof I realise that my jerry can is missing… and can myself at the thought of this white plastic container flying off and belting one of them on the head! Eish! How many road points do I get for that?
Just down the bottom of the escarpment, Boris had told me to look out for a small Roman Catholic Church built by his grandfather and other Italian POWs in WWII so I stop and take a look around. I spend time chatting with the groundsman who is mighty proud of his garden.
Nearer Naivasha, as I’m turning in off the main highway onto the South Lake Road, I pass Steve Halton on his bike. He had been with me at Upper Hill Campsite and I had convinced him to come and stay at Carnelley’s on his way up to Turkana. Bear in mind, he is CYCLING! I can’t believe he’s done that massive escarpment climb and incredibly dangerous road on a bike! He’s carrying almost 60kgs of gear! I had a hard enough time using my foot on the accelerator to get up the escarpment road! I stop him briefly for a chat and take some photos of him with his camera (when else does he ever get the opportunity to photograph himself riding?). Steve follows behind and gets to Carnelley’s an hour after I do.
Arriving at Carnelleys, I park the Beast and take a look around. This amazing campsite is right next to Lake Naivasha and is full of beautiful trees. I take a short walk up to the bar and restaurant and meet Chrissy who is flying about, preparing food for a small party later that evening. Lovat and Chrissy Carnelley are great friends of Boris and Bruce. They have insited I come to the lake to see them and assure me it will be a fantastic stay!
I set up camp near the water and go about my daily routine of opening up the rooftop tent and pegging it down. Steve arrives a little later and we go over to the restaurant, where I proceed to order a lovely indulgent meal (you’ve never tasted food so good!). Steve chats to me briefly before leaving to go and make himself noodles for the tenth night in a row, he’s on a budget, I feel awful… Lovat Carnelley comes over and to say hi and I see another friend of Boris’ called Alex is here with the Carnelley’s too. Steve comes back later and we get chatting, I don’t get the opportunity to talk to Alex, and before I know it, he’s gone to bed. Apparently Alex has a big safari tomorrow with guests he needs to collect and take around the Masai Mara for a few days – he’s getting an early night!
Carnelley’s Campsite, Naivasha – I wake up to the most amazing sound of wild birds on the lake, what an incredible view from my lofty mesh window with the sun rising over Lake Naivasha.
Steve Halton is heading off and we have a brief chat over some weetabix. He is finding biking on the main roads impossible due to the number of close shaves with buses and matatus, and has decided to take the longer, unpaved and rougher tracks to get from place to place. He’s headed up to Turkana and will do the less-travelled Western side. When you think about how much water you need on a daily basis for drinking, cooking and cleaning, you can only carry so much on a bike, and the fact that the Turkana is in a desert, it’s absolute madness to me! He’s going to push on through Ethiopia and Sudan where he believes water is stored in clay pots along the desert routes – I wouldn’t chance it – he’s got serious balls! Good luck Steve – wishing you safe travels!!
Exploring the area, I visit “Elsamere”, Joy Adamson’s house on Lake Naivasha where she spent her latter years. It’s been turned into a small museum full of all sorts of personal effects she and George shared.
You get to watch a documentary of Joy before enjoying tea on the well manicured lawns overlooking the lake. George’s Land Rover sits under shade. It’s the one he was shot dead in, by poachers, and is a stark reminder of how much these pioneers put on the line for wildlife… and it’s still a battle our conservationists fight daily!
Continuing along the Southern road to Crater Lake Park, I drive headlong into an abundance of herding animals – giraffe, wildebeest, buffalo, warthog and zebra as far as the eye can see. As the name suggests, this park is set on the side of a crater and is extremely dusty under-tyre with ash from it’s eruption a zillion years ago. This soft, fine, white dust gets in everywhere and I fear my old electric windows might seize up with the amount of winding up and down I have to do between taking photos and driving… There is a short climb up to a stunning view point which overlooks the lake inside the crater. I spend a bit of time up here before setting off down through a massive troop of baboons – shouting at them to bugger off and wielding a stick like a light saber, they scatter, glancing back with jaws completely ag(ape)…
That evening, I set up camp all over again and head on over to the restaurant. I had been in touch with Mike Diesbecq since meeting him at the Mombasa party with Boris and Bruce a month earlier. He lives next to the Carnelleys and comes over to say hi. Lovat, his dad Tommy, Mike, Johnny Keith, Tarique and Luke Davey are all at the bar and we have a great evening together. Sitting next to Luke, he is the unfortunate one on the receiving end of my stories about the trip and my many plans ahead. As I am going around Lake Victoria to Uganda and Rwanda, Luke mentions that he is a horse dentist who travels regularly around the lake to see various polo and riding horses, and and kindly offers to get details of some of his contacts to me in the morning. As his phone is dead, I should sms him the following day, and he’ll send details on to me. There’s nothing like a good recommendation from friends, and so I thank him for the kind offer and head off for another comfy night’s rest in my lofty hideaway.
Little did I know just how kind and heroic young Luke was going to be in the very near future…