Scotland Roadtrip

What to do when out of Africa… you road trip… as much as you can.

April happened to be a good chance to get up to Scotland for a two week jaunt around the northern part of these British Isles.

The last time I was in Scotland was to watch the Springboks get their jerseys handed to them by the Scots for the first time in 23 years. Other than that, it had been a good 15 years or so since I set foot on thistled pastures. Embarrassing really that I hadn’t yet explored the highlands, and so this break in the school year was the perfect opportunity to get into those far flung, wild and barren corners.

I converted the back of my Toyota into a little mobile home, curtains and all, and set off on a 3500km trip.


It’s not a particularly beautiful time of year. Coming out of winter, it’s not white with snow, nor draped in colour or sunny. In fact, it’s probably the most bleak time to visit. At the moment it’s either threatening rain, or is raining. And in the odd glimpse of sun shine, I leap out of the car to capture the world bathed briefly in sunlight.

Things never go to plan on a trip, we all know that. And so this time it happened to be my camera lens. Completely malfunctioned a few days into the trip, and so I battle on, trying various techniques googled online to coax it back to life. I get one or two photos a day out of it, but it’s really not worth the time and effort, and is more frustrating than it’s worth. So onto my iPhone and long lens.

I was fortunate to join my buddy Will Copestake for a walk up two corbetts. Will’s since completed all the corbetts in Scotland – what an absolute joy to walk and spend time with this legend. And fellow adventure buddy Cheryl Boshi joined me for the stint in the Outer Hebrides.

My drive took me up from London, to Fort William (where I briefly considered walking across Scotland on the Great Glen way, thought better of it and continued on four wheels), to Inverness, up to the North Coast, down to Bad Call… it was a bad call,  Applecross, Skye and the Outer Hebrides, before heading back down south via Loch Lomond.

I highly recommend driving the North Coast 500; British Isles at it’s very best.

Here’s a round up of the trip –

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Across East Africa with Two Kayaks

9th July 2016 – Kenya and Tanzania

I touch down in Nairobi and step off the plane. I have the unmistakable smell of dust filling my senses and the warm wind on my face. Embarrassingly, my rusty Swahili causes me to mumble through my greeting with the customs official and I make a mental note to brush up before I head off into one of the remotest parts of East Africa. Steven is waiting for me outside the terminal. He’s never late. I catch his eye with a wave, heave my luggage onto my shoulder and move through the throng of taxi drivers with their handwritten signboards.

“Twende Steven”, I say. Let’s go.


Luke & Chloe – my Nairobi support crew.

I am in Nairobi for a couple of days while I wait for my paddling partner, Simon Dunshea, to arrive from South Africa and am staying in Karen with my good friends Luke and Chloe Davey.

Simon is a friend of my cousins’ in South Africa, and has decided to join the expedition very recently. Initially I had hoped to do the expedition on my own, but the sound of a practically minded farmer on board, didn’t sound like such a bad idea…

With me based in London and Simon in South Africa, everything had been arranged over the phone and we’d only just managed to squeeze in transporting his kayak up from South Africa with mine in time for our departure.

Our journey out of Nairobi and down to Tanzania should have been completed in no time at all. However, on rounding a bend only a stone’s throw from the border of Namanga, I see a large official-looking figure step into the road. Hand raised.

It’s a sight you grow to despise seeing in Africa because more often than not, you know you’re in for a tedious battle between standing your ground and paying a bribe to get on with your journey.


View of Kilimanjaro from Arusha

“These things,” he starts, tapping the blue kayak with his baton. “these things are too big. As you can see, they extend over the windscreen. You may not transport them in this manner”.

I’ve lived in Africa most of my life and know very well that carrying two kayaks on the roof doesn’t even begin to compare with the precarious loads we see on some vehicles.

“You can pay me now, or you must return to Nairobi to buy a trailer”. His oversized fingers beckon me out of the vehicle. I can’t help but notice his rotund frame. Too many years of sitting lethargically under an acacia tree with nothing to do except stop passing cars.

Knowing that the kayaks on the roof are well within acceptable limits and weight, I spend half an hour smiling and nodding at the insistent traffic officer who, without actually asking me for the bribe outright, is talking in roundabouts about my ‘overloading’.

“Sure I’ll pay you now, but I need a receipt.”

“No, you will have to appear in court if you do not pay me now.”

“If this law exists, I have already told you I will pay the fine Mr Traffic Officer, but I would merely like a receipt.”

“You will have trouble in Tanzania if you don’t pay me now.”

“Well, why don’t I take my chances and see what they say.”

And so it goes… for 45 minutes. He gets bored with my simple remarks and smiling face. This is one battle I will not lose. We set off again. Onward to Arusha.

I am due  to spend the evening at Brad Hansen’s place. He’s an old friend who runs his Safari company from Arusha. I generally stay here on my way through Tanzania and more often than not, I spend the evening looking after his forlorn dogs on my own as Brad is always on safari or expedition, and is seldom home.

As it happens, it’s not Brad’s dogs we spend the night with, but adventurer Kingsley Holgate and expedition team member Bruce Leslie.


Holgate Expedition on their way up to Ethiopia


What a night. Kingsley Holgate is an absolute delight to be around. He is large in presence and even larger in personality. Copious measures of Captain Morgan loosens the tongue and we discuss parts of Africa we love most, talking deep into the night about adventures, past and present. Bruce has us all in hysterics, recounting stories about expedition members and their antics, and then in horror when he opens up about his stabbing out at sea on the horn of Africa by Somalie pirates. All these experiences blow me away – the lengths the team will go to to really explore Africa is incredible.

“Isn’t life a great adventure” Kingsley writes in my book as we get ready to leave Arusha.

It certainly is.

Two more days of dusty driving though the back roads of Tanzania and we pass through Tabora, and onto Katavi National Park.

Katavi is one of Tanzania’s least visited national parks but is probably one of the most wonderful. It doesn’t exude grandeur on the same scale as the Serengeti but when you’re there, you feel like you’re the only person in the park. Sadly, we had to push on and only had time to drive straight through, passing by the notorious hippo pool next to the road. There was more water here than on my previous visit where the hippos were so tightly packed, one couldn’t see the water at all…


Onward to Lake Shore Lodge, my Tanzanian home away from home.

My route was largely the same as my trip in 2013. For a map of this section click here.

The Journey from Kenya to South Africa

9 months brought together in 6 minutes – enjoy the ride!

Here, have some stats…

Individual countries broken down here:  Kenya  Tanzania  Malawi  Zambia  Zimbabwe  Botswana  Namibia  South Africa

DISTANCE DRIVEN: 10,085 miles / 16,136 kms

FUEL: £2,200 to drive 16,000km = 13p per km or £13/100km

VISA FEES: £63 (I was using a UK and SA passport)

ROAD TAX (Border Fees) = £123

FOOD ROADSIDE: £165 / 9 months = £0.60 per day

FOOD GROCERIES: £890 / 9 months = £3.18 per day

FOOD EATING OUT: £1030 / 9 months = £3.81 per day

DRINKS: £385 / 9 months = £1.42 per day

TOTAL FOOD AND DRINK PER DAY: £9.14 (bear in mind 3 months was spent in Diani eating and drinking at Kenyaways!)

CONNECTIVITY (airtime & Wifi): £300

ACCOMMODATION GUEST HOUSE / HUT / HOTEL: £965 (44 nights) = £22/night

ACCOMMODATION CAMPING: £155 (27 nights) = £5.70/night

TOTAL ACCOM = £15.77/night

Expedition 2013: Kenya to Cape Town

After three years of planning, I tied up my business in London, did final preparations on the Land Cruiser and put it onto a cargo ship bound for Mombasa. That was after the Arab Spring threatened almost every route option and a handful of crippling incidences prevented me from leaving London with my convoy, dashing my dreams from driving the full length of London to Cape Town. Determined to do what I could to salvage the trip, the decision was made to drive from as high up as possible, on my own. Mombasa was the first safe port, and I was reunited with my Beast after six weeks. Loaded up and with the sound advice of local Kenyans, I headed south on a solo overlanding journey of a lifetime.

Disaster strikes more than once and a near fatal accident puts an almost certain end to the expedition. A potential highjacking, finding paradise, vehicle repairs, gorillas, rafting, near escapes, getting sick and living off mangoes – it all makes for one hell of an adventure!

This is my journey…

Whilst these posts speak more from the day to day life of the expedition, there is far more useful information for those wishing to plan a similar venture.  All photo albums can be found on the Under African Skies facebook page.

SHARA ARRIVES IN CAPE TOWN!UPDATE: 9 months after my journey started, I pulled into Cape Town. Tanned and happy, after living day to day in the most simple form, I have never felt more free, more alive and more content with life. I think about this trip and about the possibilities for more adventures daily. Dream big and go for it!

Route Through Botswana

A Ramokawebana/Plumtree Border (blue) to B Francistown (red)

B Francistown (red) to C Turnoff for Kubu Island (grey)

C Turnoff for Kubu Island (grey) to Kubu Island (green) 

Kubu Island (green) to A Turnoff to Maun (grey)

A Turnoff to Maun (grey) to B Nxai Pan (yellow)

B Nxai Pan (yellow) to C Baines Baobabs (purple) 

C Baines Baobabs (purple) to D Maun (teal)

D Maun (teal) – E Mamuno/Trans-Kalahari Border (blue)

Route to Ngorongoro and Serengeti, Tanzania


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)

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!

The Lure of the Lake & Nairobi Nightmares – Naivasha & Nairobi, 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…

Sundowners turn into Bonfire BendersI 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.

Camp Carnelleys

Mikey and Marley at Small Lake

Day out at Hippo Point

Karen & Chrissy

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!!

Beast off to Nairobi on the AA AmbulanceI 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

Luke & Chloe’s wooden hideaway in Karen, Nairobi

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.

The horrors of Karen Camp in Nairobi

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…

I Feel Like I’ve Been Hit By a Bus – Narok, 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…

2013.08.09LCAccident (4)I see an neat and official looking man open the door and get down from the steps. He must be guy in charge on 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.

2013.08.09LCAccident (25)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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

2013.08.09LCAccident (37)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.

2013.08.09LCAccident (40)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.

2013.08.09LCAccident (52)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.

Hide and Seek with Kilimanjaro – Amboseli, Kenya

Beach life has got the better of me and I’m afraid I am months behind with the blog.  Here goes to trying to catch up…  As always, Facebook has the most recent extracts of news and photos –

4th – 5th August 2013

Best photos are on the Facebook album, aptly named “Amboseli”

Amboseli Kimana Campsite; Woke up nice and early under the slopes of Kili at my basic campsite outside the gates of Amboseli. I unzipped and peered through the tent window up towards the general direction of the mountain but it was still completely clouded over.  All hopes of capturing that incredible image of elephants walking with Kili in the background was completely shattered when I realised that the “cold” season meant that the mountain would be covered in cloud, not just today, not just this week, but for months…

Kimana Campsite outside Amboseli Gates

The previous evening I had been treated to a surprisingly warm shower and had brushed my teeth in the outdoor basin carved from an old tree stump.  The sounds of African laughter and smell of burning fires from their cooking area had lulled me into a deep sleep.  I felt like I’d slept for a week.

On registration at Kimana Gate, a friendly local guide called Salim started chatting to me.  He’d seen me at Kitani in Tsavo and had driven his clients, a honeymoon couple, from Tsavo to Amboseli with the earlier 10am convoy the day before.  Salim kindly offered to have me tag behind them for the day, he knew the park and was in contact with the other drivers. After slight hesitation and not wanting to put the honeymooners out, I declined initially but his insistence left me with no option but to accept the offer and so I hung behind his cruiser for the morning.  I chowed a bit of dust in return for the favour and generally saw things I might have done anyhow. It was a nice gesture nonetheless.  Amboseli is mostly open and plains stretch as far as the horizon at times, so spotting elephants, zebra, wildebeest and antelope is pretty effortless.

Amboseli, Kenya

After a few hours, we stopped at a lovely lodge called Ol Tukai, for a mid morning break.  The honeymooners, eager to snatch an opportunity to spend a moment without their driver of four days, took off immediately and left me with the Salim. Sitting at the lodge bar, coffee turned into beer (I felt it impolite to let Salim in on the fact that I throw up in my mouth when I drink beer) and he refused to let me buy the round, insisting that he cover the cost.  One beer, going down with hooks, turned into three I started to get slightly uneasy about the fact that the honeymooner’s driver was taking time out of their game drive to have beers with a random traveller.  They seemed fine though and were enjoying time to themselves, but I did have to strongly suggest that we didn’t have a fourth before continuing on with the game drive (at £80 entry fee per day, I was also calculating how much of that I had now spent on sitting in a bar).

Amboseli, Kenya

We pushed on and saw more of the same herding animals in the wide open plains; elephants wading deep in the marshy bog, hippos spilling out of themselves on the grassy banks of the lake and various cranes strutting about the grassy plains.  We stopped for lunch at Observation Hill, a fantastic vantage point and from which one can see most of Amboseli.  Once again, the honeymooners shot off to be with each other and I was left chatting to my new friend Salim.  Conversation had soon run it’s course and turned to asking me if I wanted to come to have dinner at the lodge his clients were staying at, and that the manager was a nice guy and would let me camp no problem.  I protested a bit but my campsite was pretty basic and the thought of possibly spending the night at a nice lodge with a campsite was extremely appealing.  A little concerned that I hadn’t made any plans with the lodge manager himself, I didn’t want to commit entirely.

The end of the day was spent racing around as whispers of a lion sighting made it’s way from driver to driver. Salim dove like a rally driver and I kept up, chowing more and more dust in his wake. Eventually we found the lions just off some remote little side road and had about 3 minutes alone with them before the cavalry showed up, churning up a sand storm of fine dust.  We left as more and more trucks descended upon the lion pair, the sky now filled with fine white dust, I sure they got some great photos of the whiteout…

Lions in Amboseli, Kenya

We were late leaving the gate due to a last minute cheetah sighting, and narrowly missed a fine, we got out at 6:15pm. After a brief chat with Salim and the honeymooners, I succumbed to Salim’s constant insistence that I camp at their lodge, Elerai.  It took almost a full hour to drive down the corrugated road and then into the bush on a really dire single track; over rocks, through thorn trees and down dongas…  It was dark, dusty and I was pretty exhausted by the time we arrived, but driving into Elerai it was immediately apparent that this was an exclusive lodge and definitely not a place for camping vagabonds…

It was dark now and I was a good hour from my campsite (which, sadly was right next to the gate of the park where we left off).  The manager looked doubtful, Salim looked crushed, the honeymooners looked pitiful and I wanted the floor to open up and swallow me and my blundering rig.  Salim started enquiring about room rates and discounts, but at almost £100 per night, there was no way I was staying here.  The honeymooners offered me the spare bed in their room…

Declining all kind offers and just wanting to high tail the hell out of there, I bode farewell to the honeymooners and to the camp manager.  I asked Salim to take me as far as the main dirt road that leads to Kimana Gate. After briefly getting lost on the small bush tracks, we finally made it to the main dirt road 40 minutes later.  In the dark of the night, I pulled up next to Salim and turned to acknowledge him before I put my foot down but he jumped out of his truck and came running over.

“I have caused you too much trouble tonight.  Please can I come with you to help you set up your tent”

Uhhh, what?!  “No thanks Salim, you have been kind enough today.”

“I know it’s dusty and you need to cook”

Be nice…  “Yes Salim, it’s 8pm, it’s dark, and my roof top tent is thick with dust.  But no thanks, you have been kind enough today, and your guests need you.”

“I’m off the clock now.  Can we go and get some nyama chomma (roadside braai meat) together”

“No Salim”,  Eish! patience wearing extremely thin, “you’ve been very kind but I need to go now.”

“Ok, but we’re good friends now, can I have your email address”

I scribbled an email address down on a scrap of paper and shot off into the night.  Good luck to whoever is receiving emails from Salim…

After a day of driving, and all that drama, there was no way I was going to unpack my roof top tent, thick with fine powdery dust.  I skipped dinner altogether, lay down a kikoy, crawled onto my back seat, covered myself with a towel and got a pretty shitty night’s sleep…

Misguided kindness – it’s all around you in Africa – knowing when it’s happening is the hard part!

2013.08Amboseli (269)The next morning there was a frantic jostling for space in the park just near the gate as hordes of game viewing vehicles piled up on the side of the road.  It was Kili opening up for a brief moment.  The clouds had separated just enough for you to see her glacier capped summit, and to top it all off, we had a group of pachyderm grazing roadside.  Now, anyone who knows anything will be able to tell you that happening upon a herd of elephants in the foreground of your Kilimanjaro shot is one of the most coveted photos – and comes with huge bragging rights… Unfortunately the elephants had inconveniently chosen to hide behind the most unattractive vegetation and you could barely see Kili’s white peak amongst the clouds of a similar hue.  No matter, we all screeched to a halt, heads popped up through vehicle roofs, cameras cocked and aimed, recommencing another round of lens showboating.  I don’t even have a decent picture to add to this blog it was such a poor scene.  Gutted!

Kilimanjaro, above the clouds – from Amboseli

I took a drive into uncharted territory in search of more elusive game.  My GPS marked the route as “off road”, and I soon understood why.  I ended up on the worst track imaginable and to throw a spanner in the works, the Beast was clunking on every small rise and fall.  It sounded like the shock at the back was going to fail completely.  For over 3 hours I crawled over martian rocky landscape, following an imaginary path guided by my GPS.  I limped passed a Masai village and eventually ended up back near one of the larger lodges where tried to get a mechanic to look at the problem. He couldn’t find anything, tightened a few bolts and told me I’d be fine. On leaving the lodge, I went over a small speed bump and CLUNK, nothing fixed… so I decided to leave the park and head back to Nairobi as soon as I could to get it looked at.

On my way out, I was super lucky to see Kili open up again, just in front of a herd of zebra and wildebeest – you can barely see the summit but it’s there…!  (See photo above – you can just make out Kili at the top!)

Corrugations, what’s not to love about them?

It took ages to get up to the northern gate at Eremito.  The roads are in pretty bad condition in the park, and worse was to come on the 20kms from the park gate to the tar road.  It felt like an eternity on this hellish road with some of the deepest corrugations yet.  I felt myself being shaken to pieces and was worried about back shocks but couldn’t hear anything over the noise.  Once on smooth tar, the shocks seemed ok but the trade off was more typical crazy Kenyan driving and near misses.  I couldn’t believe the traffic leading into Nairobi and was so grateful for my Tracks 4 Africa map on my Garmin.  Without a navigator, and not a single street sign, I would have been completely lost.

6th August 2013

I found Upper Hill campsite no problem, and immediately drove to Engen where they took over an hour to wash car out and wipe down inside.  My fellow car campers at Upper Hill were Bruno, who had been traveling the world since 1989 in his Land Cruiser, and Mike and Carol on their way up from SA.  I also met Steve Halton, an English guy who was cycling from Cape Town to wherever up north…!  Always admire these cyclists – they carry just what they need and live on next to nothing.

Upper Hill Camp in Nairobi

It was super cold in Nairobi.  At 17 degrees, my one warm jersey just wasn’t enough so I wore layers of what I could. I had a hot shower, scrubbed the earth off my body and rinsed 6 days of dust and bush from my hair.

I got the car looked at Engen again the next day and we found a massive bolt missing from the roll bar at the back.  The mechanics were amazing and spent half the day driving around looking for the right bolt.  They gave everything a check, cleaned out the air filters and checked my tyres – everything came to just under £15! Bargain Kenya – asante sana!

Next stop: Naivasha and then hunt for flamingos!

Declining Escorts in Tsavo, Kenya

2nd – 3rd August 2013

See more photos on Facebook here.

The next morning Dan, Ivan, Anneloes and Fay went off for an early game drive and I stayed behind to sorted out a few bits and pieces not quite right with the packing arrangement in the Beast. (It would take me almost a week of fiddling with the boxes and equipment, moving things around so that the most used things got priority at the top of boxes and easily accessible places – clearly remnant of some childhood tetris addiction).

I continued on along to Voi gate where I added some more money to my safari card and bumped into Dan and Ivan, back from their early morning drive and attempting to do the same. Amazing what a process it is adding money to these cards.  It’s a bit like having an Oyster Card in the UK, but not as swift.  We we were all there almost a full hour… You can’t enter the parks without enough credit on your card – supposedly to reduce the accepting of hard cash at the gates (it’s reasonable to assume the KWS cottoned onto the fact that the number of visitors didn’t add up to the amount of cash in the till at the end of each month…)

I took the scenic route, a stretch of road heading north, parallel with the main road, up toward Mudanda Rock. A 1.6km single hunk of rock, it which acts as a water catchment and has an enormous dam below it. I and stopped to take a look. One single giraffe stood splayed legged at the distant edge with it’s head dipped in the water. The lack of animals didn’t detract from the view though and I took a few selfies (one drawback to traveling solo). The road down to Manyani Gate
was awesome, with the earth dropping away to a vast plain of yellow grassland, and opening itself up to tons of wildlife. I joined the main road and entered Tsavo West at Tsavo Gate a little further down the road.

KWS lady at the Tsavo West gate, “You alone?”, I look over my shoulder (again), ensure there really isn’t someone I’ve forgotten (still), and shrug, “I guess so”.  Eish her bosom bounced up and down as she laughed in disbelief and waved me through…

Tsavo West is dense in bush and shrub so animals are a lot more difficult to spot. The scenery however, changes every five minutes and is completely different and dramatic. I found myself resisting the urge to take photos around almost every bend. Sadly, I have completely mistimed this day. My accommodation for the night was right over the other side of the park and I had planned a route passed some significant points of interest along the way, which followed a slightly less direct route, past a massive waterhole (nothing) and up to Roaring Rocks lookout which was almost a 360 degree view of the land below. I drove on past the usual suspects, antelope, zebra and a few elephant but the land is just so think with bush. Probably find I drove past tons of herds and troops who all spotted me and the Beast instead – game viewing in reverse.

With dusk drawing closer, I had one spot I wanted to see before heading to my room for the night Mzima Springs – a small oasis of perfectly clear water that rises up from the Chyulu Hills and produces 250 million litres of water per day, most of which heads downstream to Mombasa. My run with crappy animal spotting didn’t change much and I failed to see one of the many hippos or crocs that reside in this spring…  I did sit and look at some fish in the underwater viewing chamber which was quite cool.

Kitani Bandas, Tsavo West

My room for the night was a cute rondavel at Kitani Bandas, a more affordable little camp a stone’s throw from it’s the luxurious counterpart, Severin Lodge. My ‘room steward’ Alex showed me the ins and outs briefly, mentioning that I should let the water in the shower run for a bit as it needs time to warm up. Well I stood naked and goose-bumpy in that shower for a good 8 minutes before giving up on the hot water and taking a quick 2 minute scrub down under cold water… Africa’s not for sissies.

Severin Lodge, Tsavo West

I decided to dine at Severin Lodge to indulge in the luxury of wifi, good food and wine. Drove down the road in the dark and on pulling into the car park, a fair distance from reception  (bare in mind these camps are unfenced), was greeted by a Masaai who suddenly materialised from the dark of night, teeth was all I saw. He was in full get-up, spear and all, and his sudden manifestation scared the living shite out of me. He laughed, apologised and made polite small talk before walking me by torch light to the reception area  (personally, I think he gets a kick out of that and does it to all new guests, ensuring that his tribal stalking through stealth abilities are still in tact).   I went back the next morning for a cup of coffee and heard that during the night, lions had snuck into camp and completely torn apart one of the loungers outside a luxury hut – justifying my freakout with the Masaai man.  Africa’s not for scardy cats…

The staff at Severin were amazing, their English impeccable and their manner with guests incredible. I went back the next day and was greeted by name at least two of the staff – that’s touching. Dinner was a four course menu of the finest foods – the small but delicious kind. Dining by myself, I do feel a bit spare at times but the Planet often feels Lonely too, so this resourceful book accompanies me to dinner at times.  As I’m driving much of the day, I don’t get to research for the day ahead and so dinner’s often a good time to get stuck in. This night I ate under the stars, with my flickering candle, seat facing bush-ward towards the spot lit area. The chef even came over for a little chat to see how I’d enjoyed his food – top service!

3rd to 4th August 2013

Tsavo West waiting for convoy to Amboseli

The plan was to go to bed fairly early and wake up before sparrows to do a quick game drive and then join the 10am Amboseli convoy from Chyulu Gate. Well it seems my phone battery died sometime during the night and I woke up 10 minutes to the 10am checkout / convoy time!  I’d slept for almost 11 hours straight!  Clearly wasn’t going to make the 10am convoy then, and would join the next one at 2pm… I took a lengthy game drive and made my way over to Chyulu for 2pm to join the last convoy of the day only to be told that there weren’t any other cars going.  I would be a convoy of one, and would I like an escort?  Shame man, now this escort (AK47 accessorized) would come all the way to Amboseli only to have to mission the way back again (how, I don’t know.  There are no busses really so I guess he’d have to wait to come back the other way with someone else in my situation and heaven knows how long he’d be waiting at the other end – I didn’t pass a SINGLE vehicle going my way or the other way to Amboseli!).  So I politely refused on pity grounds.  AK47 man was also very short on English, and in response, my Swahili is woeful at the best of times, so can you imagine the 2-3 hour silence – no thanks… I love to sing, at full throttle whilst driving and his presence would rob me of this vocal freedom.

Driving out the gate and on towards Amboseli you pass the Shetani lava flow, a 50km squared area of black volcanic rock – pretty awesome and very black.

The road up to Amboseli was hectic with corrugations, and took around 2 hours. With dust flying up behind me, I passed local Masaai villages and had to wait for dusty bovine trains to cross before I could continue on with my journey. At one village a boom halted my progress. I sat in the car not knowing what to expect when I saw an armed soldier beckon me over to a small wooden hut next to the side of the road. Hopped out the car and went over. Friendly greetings didn’t seem to be his cup of tea.

“You alone?”, I look over my shoulder, ensure there really isn’t someone I’ve forgotten (still), and shrug (yet again), “I guess so”.

“You can’t pass”, he informs me with eyes dark and yellow, “All vehicles must pass me by 2 o’clock and it’s 5 o’clock now”.
Well I laughed, and then quickly stopped when I realised he wasn’t the joking kind. My tone a little more serious now, “But the last convoy only leaves Amboseli 50kms down the road at 2 o’clock, and by the way, it’s only ten past four”.
“Where is your escort?”
“I don’t need an escort.”
This was his little window for a chance of me ‘parting with something’…
“Where do you come from?”
“Tsavo West” (thought we’d established this…)
“NO, which is your country?”
“South Africa.” (I’m positive they think people from the UK are all millionaires so I avoid telling them I’ve actually come in from England – South Africans are Africans and therefore must be slightly less well off)
“What have you brought me from South Africa?”
“Hmmm, nothing.” (honestly had nothing to give the man, other than the cash bribe he was after)
He kept me there, took my details and continued to ask what I had brought him from South Africa. I didn’t have a thing… After 5 minutes of being completely difficult and wasting my time…
“Go and buy something from those people there”
I looked around to the three local Masaai hanging around my drivers side door.
“But I don’t want anything today thanks”
“You go buy or you won’t pass”

So I purchased a KES2000 (£15!!) bracelet for KES500 from an old Masaai lady with stretched earlobes and the boom was finally lifted.

Kimana Campsite outside Amboseli Gates

Kimana Campsite was where I was headed and I arrived at around 5pm, too late to enter Amboseli for the day, so I set up camp in this pretty stark campsite. I spent at good amount of time trying to clean the inch of dust the outside of the Beast and tent before opening it up. (When you’re the one washing your own clothes by hand, you do everything possible to try to keep the few items you have clean!). I even wiped down the inside dash and back-end boxes which, after 3 days of chasing round the bush, were all covered in a fine layer of dust. Leftover meat from the braai in Tsavo made for great steak and cheese sandwiches. and I hit the sack at 9pm, keen to get going early the following day and see Kili looming above in the morning light…

Broken Buckets and the Joy of Coincidental Reunions – Shimbas and Tsavo, Kenya

1st August 2013

Check out more photos on Facebook here.

After stocking up with last minute snacks and food at Nakumatt for my 4-5 day game drive, I headed down the long sultry coast road of Diani. Past the ladders above the road for the Colobus monkeys, the dreaded unannounced speed bumps, Shakatack and the sign down to Forty Thieves – how does one grow to love a place so much after such a short stay?

The earth up at Shimba Hills is a stunning red colour and the forest feels like it’s on top of you at times.  It’s just spectacular. Rolling along the red track, taking in the views as the road winds it’s way through the hills and villages, past some farmers fields and livestock along the way then CRACK… I nearly jumped out of my frikkin skin! It sounded like lightning, but the windscreen was suddenly covered in water (like he heavens had opened up, but just over my car, in one truckload of water). I realised my 50l shower bucket on top of the roof rack had come loose, fallen forward onto the windscreen and smashed. I’m so fortunate the steel tap didn’t shatter or even crack the windscreen (this Beast is a toughie).

My home-made shower kicked the bucket – Shimba Hills

I stopped the Beast and got out to check the damage… my shower had most definitely kicked the bucket… At this point, a truckload of locals pulls up over the horizon from behind. The driver starts shouting at me with his hands in the air, annoyed at having a vehicle in his path. I pointed slowly to my broken bucket, gave him sad eyes, and toed the area where the water had soaked into the earth (there was a full on river!). The driver’s tune changed when he saw my misfortune, and pitiful cries of “pole” were heard from the traveling onlookers as the truck rolled slowly by.

“Pole pole” is the Swahili word used for “slow”, but at this moment in time I realised that “pole” (in singular form) must be the term used for “ag shame”.

The drive through the Shimba Hills was magnificent, it’s so lush and beautiful. I carried on through a couple of small villages, waved at the passers by, old men on bikes, children walking along in groups, herdsman… but no one waved back. Then it dawned on me that my side windows were tinted and that they couldn’t see my enthusiastic greeting. I made a mental note to wave from the windscreen area in future.

Villages on the way to Tsavo

I turned left at the end of the dirt road and made my way up onto the Mombasa-Nairboi road (the section on driving this road just about needs an entire post for itself). The driving in Kenya (as mentioned previously) is pretty horrendous and this road, in particular, serves as the only route for ALL import and export for the whole of East Africa. The railway line for cargo is just about non-existent so everything arrives and leaves by truck – every single goddamn container-baring one of them, heading up and down this road…

Driving this road takes nerves of steel, eyes in the back of your head, timing, advanced driving skills and a massive helping of pure luck. It really is a matter of leap frogging your way around the caravan of trucks, with each overtaking opportunity resembling something like this…

  • drive at 50km/h (with nothing in your windscreen but truck)
  • ear on the side window for an additional 4cm viewing range, pull out slightly to the right to check the road ahead, pull back sharply to the left as oncoming trucks approach,
  • repeat x20,
  • ear on the side window for an additional 4cm viewing range, pull out slightly to the right to check the road ahead, see a 100m strip of clear tarmac ahead,
  • check wing mirror and blind spot just in case you missed a sneaky matatu (taxi) and to ensure you’re not being overtaken from five cars behind,
  • foot flat and turbo boost to 100km/h,
  • eyes wide, heart pounding as truck bares down lights flashing (even though a reasonable distance away),
  • hard left quickly back into the 7m gap left between the next two trucks,
  • rapid deceleration to 50km/h again (with nothing in your windscreen but truck)
  • continue to repeat the process whilst witnessing the most horrendous driving in your life; trucks overtaking cars, the slow overtaking the even slower, the fast overtaking anything and everything… on blind rises, over solid lines, on the dirt next to the road, five cars in a row past seven trucks in a row – I could go on and on.

Talk about a crash course (!!) in East African driving…

I turned off the road at Buchuma Gate at the southern point of Tsavo East. A buffalo skull welcomed me at the gate and the lady behind the counter took some time to absorb the fact that I was indeed on my own and wasn’t hiding a small companion in my cruiser.  Maybe they get lots of cheapskates trying to get into the parks for free (which isn’t without just cause at $65-$80 per person per day).

I have had this many times over since… “You alone?”, I look over my shoulder, ensure there really isn’t someone I’ve forgotten, and shrug, “I guess so”.

Dry and parched landscape of Tsavo East

I drove up the hot and dusty track towards Aruba Dam with not much game on the way. I did spot some elephant in the distance and, as you tend to do when on your first game drive after a leave of absence, shot around 20 photos of the reddy grey lumps in the distance. Aruba Dam was dry which was a bit of a disappointment as the guide book had really bigged it up. I took a smaller road down next to a river and saw more elephant, a little closer this time (cue another 30 snaps of distant reddy grey lumps). The sun was hanging low in the sky so I pressed on to the public campsite for my first real night of camping. Stoked to finally have the opportunity to camp out in the bush with no one about (I didn’t pass a single car the whole day!), I drove into the almost desolate (but for one other bakkie) campsite.  I was leaning, elbow out my window, reading the do’s and don’ts on a signboard when from the bush I heard my name being yelled. Could this be the sad deluded voice of loneliness calling me in my head? I turned to where I thought the voice had come from, lifted my sunnies and squinted to get a better look.  Running towards my car is none other than Dan Sorrell (my fellow Saffa and total trouble maker from Mombasa Backpackers)!

Sundowners with friends in Tsavo East

TTC 5: I had no idea Dan was planning on coming to Tsavo, he had no idea I was either.  We had said our tearful goodbyes days earlier in Mombasa… I was there for one night and one night only, and we were the only two cars in the campsite.

Dan was camping with Ivan, Anneloes and Fay so I came over and set up camp near them. We had sundowners in a dry river bed accompanied by a guide who Ivan chatted away to happily in Swahili.  Watching the sun dip below the horizon whilst sipping on Patron – what a way to end the day! We had a braai in the presence of the Captain until the early hours of the morning. Awesome first night!  If only I could have a chance bumping into of friends every night on my travels, I’d be so chuffed!