Elephant Antics & Monkey Business – Zambia

Facebook has all the photos for this part of the trip – click here to have a look.

Chipata, Zambia

9th – 10th December 2013

Tea Farms between Malawi and Zambia

Tea Farms between Malawi and Zambia

Having left Lilongwe that morning, I had crossed the border without any hassle. Passing acres of neat tea rows, the tar was smooth and the drive was easy going. I arrived in Chipata on the Zambian side and was greeted with a plethora of western shops and take aways (Debonaires in the middle of nowhere!). I hadn’t been grocery shopping since leaving Arusha in Tanzania and dashed into Spar to restock on basics, a few luxuries and some ice! I also took the opportunity to grab a Zambian sim and airtime – my first priority in any country.

My stop for the night was a small camp just outside of Chipata on the road to South Luangwa Game Reserve. Mama Rulas (nice play on the name – clearly owned by South Africans…) is a favourite stop for all travellers who find themselves in Eastern Zambia, and the night I arrived, it was absolutely teeming with a German biking enduro crowd who were on their way up to Malawi from Cape Town. After finding a nice quiet spot and doing the usual routine of setting up camp, a lovely young girl bounded over to me to have a chat. It was Estelle from Germany. She was travelling with her husband Chris and their friend Ryan from American, from Cape Town back up to Stuttgart, in a converted 1970’s German army ambulance called “Hano”- top speed 80km/hour… on the downhills! They were also headed for South Luangwa, and we made a plan to meet at one of the camps the following day.

South Luangwa, Zambia

10th – 12th December 2013

Road between Chipata and South Luangwa - decent!

Road between Chipata and South Luangwa – contrary to reports, it was quite decent!

My batteries have been giving me trouble and I can only assume that the deep cycle battery which runs the fridge/freezer is draining the main batteries. The fridge isn’t working now (which is an indication that the batteries are low) and Chris and Ryan took a quick voltage reading and it’s low at 6v, which is why the fridge isn’t working as it needs a minimum of 11.8v to run. Not wanting a repeat of the flat battery incident in Chintheche in Malawi, I took a quick drive back to Chipata as I’d seen a Kwik Fit (yes, this town has everything!) on my way in. They would need at least 3 hours to charge the battery. I didn’t have 3 hours to wait and took the decision just to disconnect the fridge, pack it with ice, head for South Luangwa and hope for the best.

The road up to South Luangwa has a bad reputation for being torn up but I was pleasantly surprised to see fresh tar under the wheels for most of the way. The final 30-40kms was still under construction which meant taking sand tracks through a few villages to get to the park camps. I had been in contact with the German Army Ambulance brigade and we met at Croc Valley Camp, found two shady trees overlooking the river and set up camp before hitting the swimming pool for a much needed dip!

As South Luangwa issues day passes, it was pointless us trying to get into the park that afternoon. The river forms a natural boundary between the park and the rest of the bush so animals are free to roam south of the river and we decided to take a drive in the immediate area and have our own little sunset game drive. I bundled everyone into the Beast and off we set, with some Savannas in hand. We didn’t have to go very far before driving into the most incredible herd of elephants grazing under a tree in an open expanse. It could have been someone’s garden. The sun was setting, and I couldn’t have imagined a place I’d rather have been at that point in time…

Back at camp, we had been warned by the park wardens that the local elephants were a bit cheeky and that 15 vehicles had been damaged over the past few months by elephants trying to get at food left in the vehicles. We moved all of our food stores over to the bar/lapa area where everything was under lock and key. Lugging all my food across the lawn was a bit tedious and I must admit to thinking “what are the chances, surely the elephants don’t come every night, I’m sure we’ll be fine, this all seems a tad overboard.”

Well well well, did we have an interesting night… taking the advice about nocturnally roaming beasts to heed, I hadn’t pegged in my guy lines for fear of some hefty animal charging through, getting caught and ripping my tent from the roof (a bit over the top I know, but I wanted to avoid collateral damage as much as possible). Shortly after going to sleep, I was lured from slumber by the repetitive sounds of munching and peering through my mesh window found the most enormous hippo grazing next to the Beast. Now fully awake for over half an hour and not able to sleep with the disturbance down below, I started needing the toilet. If the damn hippo didn’t move on soon, I was going to have to swing my naked butt over the side of the tent and taking a leak on top of it if necessary!

Elephants by the dozen – South Luangwa, Zambia

I must have fallen asleep eventually and was woken again by the clap of thunder in the distance. Africa doesn’t know how to do drizzle and I knew that there was a strong chance we could be in for a storm, which meant, I needed to get down and do the guy ropes as the waterproof fly sheet needed to stay taught to do it’s job of protecting the inner canvas lining. With my bladder near bursting point, I checked to see if I could find the hippo, got down and had a quick wee next to the Beast before finding the mallet. In complete darkness, I brought in my washing and set about hammering the guy lines in to secure the tent in record speed, whilst on constant lookout for the hippo.

Tucked back up in the safety of my tent, I was just about to fall asleep safe in the knowledge that the hippo was going, my washing was in the Beast and with the guy lines secure, I would withstand the approaching storm. Not 10 minutes later and an entire herd of elephants made it’s way into the camp, picking branches off trees, grazing on the leaves and generally snooping around. Ryan, the American friend who had been travelling with Estelle and Chris, had chosen to sleep outside. He had hooked his mosquito tent up to the roof of the small open aired lapa and was asleep on top of a table when the elephants arrived. Watching from my window, I saw one of the elephants start trunking his leg through the mozzie net. I shouted a whisper down to him to tell him not to move. He was completely aware of what was going on and had made the smart decision of pretending to be asleep. The elephant lost interest in him after a short while and moved on. Estelle and Chris had also had a visitor… Lying asleep in the back of their cab, they had woken to find two ivory tusks and a trunk emerge through the open door. It was sweltering that night and they had left the door open for ventilation. Slightly panicked, they watched as the trunk explored the inside of the cab, probing at the pots and pans, rummaging through packets and bags and giving a really good long grope of their leather walking boots. Thank the African gods we had put all our food away, we had side stepped a potentially destructive situation.

The night guard came and shone his torch and banged on a pan to move them off. The troop left eventually but not before completely destroying the bar area near where we had horded our food supplies, breaking plates and throwing stuff on the ground. I can’t help but imagine that they know where the food is and are frustrated at not being able to reach it.

None of us got much sleep, but as always in Africa, we rise with the sun (and the heat), so at 6:30am we all had breakfast. I packed up my tent and we all bundled into the Beast for a big day of game viewing. We were not disappointed!

One might be mistaken for assuming I was back in Richmond Park…

With it’s short grass plains, South Luangwa looks like it could be the back of someone’s large garden or a tree lined golf course at times. We weren’t short on elephant sightings and alerted, by another safari vehicle, to a leopard lying in the dappled light of a tree next to the side of the road. The the ranger pointed her out to us and she stayed there for a while, in the cool of the shade before climbing down and heading off into the bush. We were incredibly fortunate to see a second leopard hiding in the shade of another safari truck, ready to pounce on a herd of impala. In the heat of the day, it was a half-hearted attempt and she came back to lie down in the shade of a tree near us. She got up and moved down the road and we followed her for a while before she disappeared into thick bush. After heading back to camp for a midday swim, lunch and a nap, we set out for an afternoon game drive as we’d heard whispers of a pride of lions in a particular area. The afternoon game drive was quiet on the animal sighting front but the sheer beauty of the landscape has us all spell bound! Heading out of South Luangwa, with a storm on the one horizon and the setting sun on the other, I vowed to tell the world about this gem of a game park!

We’d had such trouble with the blady vervet monkeys in camp too. They were everywhere and would take every opportunity to get into your supplies and help themselves. You literally had them waiting in the trees just out of reach and with every step you took away from your vehicle, they would advance one towards it. Start walking towards them and they’d just retreat – like a game of tug of war. It became a huge problem as you had to keep all the car doors closed at all times – which, when living out of a vehicle is near impossible. At one point I was carrying the gas burner and some food out to make breakfast and before I knew it, they were in the Beast grabbing whatever they could find. I watched as my precious tortilla chips were being handed out in tree tops… My tolerance levels had maxed out and I resorted to running straight at them flapping my arms and screaming like a banshee. Only to find that, having left my post, a second battalion was being sent in from behind me to raid the food I was preparing. It was a futile situation and I wasn’t going to win, so I packed up and made do with some dry crackers instead.

Chris, Estelle and Ryan in

Chris, Estelle and Ryan in “Hano” the 1970s German army truck.

[Chris and Estelle’s journey back to Germany is now complete – read all about their adventures here.]

After saying farewell to the Hano crew, I drove back to Chipata through one hell of a storm and took my deep-cycle battery to Kwik Fit in town and left it with them to charge through the night. Everything was soaked and the last thing I felt like doing was unpacking a tent in the driving rain, and so I treated myself to a small room at Mama Rulas – it has to be done every now and then!

The next day, I collected my battery which they had kindly charged for free (incredible generosity all the way through Africa – amazing!) and I set off in the direction of Lusaka. I knew it would probably be a really long day if I chose to drive the entire way. According to a few sources, Bridge Camp seemed to be the only half way stop and there is nothing in between. A 4 hour drive saw me pull into Bridge Camp and I immediately regretted not leaving earlier and trying to make the 7-8 hour journey in one go, but it was too late in the day to push on. Bridge Camp was a huge disappointment. The “camping area” was a barren earth car park, guests who were staying in rooms found their beds occupied with an army of ants. The owner’s wife sat with me for over 2 hours and complained miserably about how awful her life was, how their marriage was on the rocks and how she hated being there – a little awkward. Anyway, I would make the journey all the way if you can, it’s not worth staying there…

View at Bridge Camp is easy on the eye, shame about the actual camp.

View at Bridge Camp is easy on the eye, shame about the actual camp.

Lusaka, Zambia

14th – 15th December 2013

It’s easy cruising in Zambia. The main road from Chitimba to Lusaka is a breeze and I found myself in the capital in no time. I was to stay with some South African friends who, having met through mutual friends in London, now lived in Zambia. Sarah and Rich live just out of town on a bushveld plot in the most gorgeous house complete with pool. In true African style, I arrived on a night with no electricity and no water but as we all know, having lived in Africa with these minor inconveniences, you just have to make a plan. There’s something so comforting about seeing old friends again. I felt close to home and was grateful to have had the opportunity of catching up over a braai and a Savanna or two. My stay was short though and I was off in the morning, bound for one of my favourite places in Africa, one that holds memories right the way though from childhood – Lake Kariba.

Chasing the King to Tanganyika – Tanzania

Facebook has all the photos for this stretch of the journey – click here to check them out.

Nairobi & Naivasha, Kenya

15th – 18th November 2013

What Accident?

Complete overhaul… what accident?!

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.

Getting expedition ready with Mikey in Naivasha

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.

Saying goodbye to the fabulous Lovat, Chrissie and Mikey

Arusha, Tanzania

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.

Spiral Cable Repairs, Arusha Tanzania

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!

With buddy Justin in Arusha

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.

Brad & Kingsley – Thomson Expedition [Photo Credit: http://www.facebook.com/kingsleyholgatefoundation%5D

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.

Planning Sesh

Route Planning – bring on the maps, books, compass, GPS – we need them all…

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!

Early morning drive out of Arusha

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…

Tabora’s Zimbo Tobacco Farmers

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!

Repairs in Tabora, Tanzania

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

Tabora runners out for an early morning run.

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 through the Tanzanian heartland.

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…

Wild muzungus of the forest – on our way to Tanganyika.

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…

Hippo Huddle – Katavi National Park, Tanzania

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.

Road through Katavi and on to Tanganyika, Tanzania

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!

Ngorongoro & Serengeti – Tanzania


10th – 14th October 2013

Click here to check out all the pics for Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti

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.

Arusha, Tanzania

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.

Zebmobile – BatterCtCPoint Expedition Vehicle

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

Tanzania Crew

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, Tanzania

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.

Maasai Men

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!

Serengeti, Tanzania

Gate to the Serengeti, Tanzania

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!

Leopards in abundance.

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.

No Bra Day – doing our bit for cancer

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.

Maasai Mara – Kenya

Governor’s Camp, Maasai Mara

21st – 23rd September 2012

Click here to check out all the rest of the snaps on Facebook

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.

Love flying – always a pleasure!

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!

Marsh Pride – Maasai Mara, Kenya

Governor’s Camp, Maasai Mara Kenya

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.

Governor’s Camp, Maasai Mara Kenya

Mara Game Drive

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.

Lions in abundance, Maasai Mara Kenya

Topi on the plains of the Maasai Mara, Kenya

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!

I spotted a cheetah!

Hippos in the Mara River

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.

A young hyena emerges from the grass after a storm.

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.

Lioness hunting a warthog, Maasai Mara Kenya

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.

Marsh Pride Scarface, Maasai Mara Kenya

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).

The cubs tear their wildebeest meal to shreds.

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.

Hundreds of thousands of wildebeest pass through the plains of the Maasai Mara and Serengeti each year.

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.

Risky business avoiding crocodiles during river crossings.

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!

Safely on the opposite bank, their march on to sweeter grasslands continues.

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.

Governor’s Balloon Safaris, Maasai Mara Kenya

Governor’s Balloon Safaris, Maasai Mara Kenya

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.

Ballooning over the Mara River

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!

Chippy, my skilled balloon pilot

Breakfast on the Maasai Mara plains

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!

Rafting the Nile and Walking with Gorillas – Uganda


22nd – 23rd August 2013

With my trusty steed in Land Cruiser hospital, I hop on a plane and fly to Uganda…

Red Chili Hideaway

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?

This Millfield sportsman is a long way from home…

24th – 24th August 2013

Click here to check out more crazy rafting photos on Facebook

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…

Into the drink… Rafting the Nile

About to eat surf…

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

Click here to see some incredible photos of the gorillas on Facebook

Roadside breakfast with Safari Wildz guide, Cosmos

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.

Stalking the silverback – Bwindi, Uganda

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.  Intrepid Explorers Charlotte & CoBefore 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.

Curious George

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.

Entertainment by the children from a local orphanage

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…

Chicken on a Stick – our favourite!

Fruit sellers, desperate to sell their goods.