A Travellerspoint blog

March 2012

Day 182 – Bandits or not, we're leaving Kenya

22nd March 2012

There are two routes out of Kenya into Ethiopia one travels through Turkana country up alongside Lake Turkana. It’s longer than the alternative but far more scenic and far more rugged and is so remote that driving alone is not advisable. Also, according to most reports, it is currently where the highest risk of banditry lies. The alternative is a quicker route, tackled in two to three days driving through Isiolo, Marsabit and onto Moyale. The route has had its fair share of stories but the most recent ‘serious’ incident was a French guy being shot in the face last year. Whilst everyone tells us its currently fairly safe and we obviously think it is, no one can give guarantees, you have to take your chances, drive aggressively over some of the worst road surfacing in Africa and hope it’s not you they’re after.

From the extensive knowledge garnering we’ve done gaining information from lots of people who’ve travelled the road it sounds quite like the bandits are opportunists; they are predominantly cattle rustlers stealing each other’s cows using guns as their threat. We’d decided that there were a lot of advantages to tackling the route alone; we wouldn’t need to hang around for the slow folk, or rather, they wouldn’t have to hang around for us. We’d avoid being in amongst a dust cloud for two long drives, we’d avoid attracting attention being just one vehicle and we could dress Redvers down by splashing water and then dirt onto him. We could also drive aggressively choosing our leaving times early in the morning to get a head start on the locals. However despite this we had one more option. Clare who we’d met at our ‘croquet weekend’ was in Isiolo doing more research and would be travelling the most dangerous part of the trip on the 25th March. By her side would be an armed guard and in the car in front would be another. She’d kindly offered that we could join them and we’d decided we’d be foolish not to accept. With that in mind we asked Lian if we could stay with her for two nights once more readying ourselves for the journey ahead.

Posted by ibeamish 07:59 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Day 181 – “You’ll Need to Speak With the Warden”

21st March 2012

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We woke before sunrise to make the most of our last safari. We said farewell to Sentero who insisted on having his picture taken with Laura and we drove down into the park with Jackson for our game drive. Jackson wanted to head to town so we left him at the gate and we drove around the park, the highlight being a pack of wild dog lazing near the road.

Our ticket allowed twenty four hours in the park and so we knew we had to leave before 11.30am. We did leave and just outside the gate I pulled over to get a fresh shirt from the back of the car. It was then that a park officer approached us with our tickets stubs and asked where we’d stayed the previous evening, we told them that we’d been in the village and they got annoyed that we hadn’t taken advantage of their $25 per person campsite. We were fairly irate with them when they suggested we had to pay for another days entrance and we ended up speaking to the park warden, where we sat down and told him about our fantastic evening and that the Kenyan Wildlife Service was doing foreign visitors a great disservice by charging so much for access to parks and for accommodation within them. We left with him apologising for any dampening effect the episode had had on our experience but we felt sorry for the reprimanding Jackson would in all likely hood receive for reducing the parks income.

We drove back to Nairobi stopping to try on some white sheepskin hats, (think 80’s Russian ladies on the French ski slopes,) only to find they didn’t fit. We bought a sheepskin rug instead and continued back to town, straight to the Yaya centre and straight to the DHL office. Our passports still hadn’t quite arrived, but they were somewhere in Nairobi and their arrival was imminent. We decided to go for a bite to eat before collecting them. Finally after twelve days of international phone calls, we had our Ethiopian visas.

That meant we could head back to Jungle Junction to see if there was anyone that wanted to form a convoy across Northern Kenya. We pulled in to a ghost town; where bikers and overlanders had filled the camping area so tightly on our previous visit, there were now just empty spaces. We stayed for the night but there was no one that would be of any use travelling north, we’d reached decision time.

Posted by ibeamish 07:58 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Day 180 – Sleeping With The Maasai

20th March 2012

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We left Crater Lake to enter our first and sadly last Kenyan National Park. We were confronted with a dichotomy of National Park and geothermal power station fighting it out for space as water pipes encroach, creeping alongside the park’s roads and steam outlets form plumes of billowing white rising from the acacia bush. The chemical smell of sulphur hung in the air as giraffe wandered alongside huge steel pipes suspended two metres above the ground.

We stopped at the rangers post and met a Maasai chap named Jackson who was a community guide. He offered to guide us through the gorge to see the gorge, its ‘hot rocks’ and natural vents. We wandered through a steep walled gorge desperately trying to overtake a large party of Iranians as they helped each other up the steeps sections. (I’ll never tire of watching fat men try and climb steep walls: their arms can’t reach beyond their belly with any strength and their knees don’t come higher than mid thigh, which is normally where the most dependant section of gut hangs.)We passed them eventually and our sociologist/geologist ratio flipped. The soft limestone rock had been engraved by visitors passing along it but is washed clean every rainy season. Small streams of water flowed down the rock walls, water that was hot enough to scald your fingers when touched. Bright grass-green algae grew on the walls in the heat of the water, vents surrounded by bright red deposits and bright yellow sulphur roared their steam into the sky. The ground was peppered with deep black, shiny obsidian rock; a remnant of the lands volcanic nature.

Along the way back we passed through Jackson’s village and visited the school, eventually arriving at the topic of where we’d be staying that evening. Jackson suggested that rather than leaving to go to back to Fishermans Camp we could stay with him in the village. We accepted his offer and suggested that first we would go on an evening game drive and then retire. He agreed and craftily suggested that we slot in a trip to the shops too. We couldn’t really decline the suggestion and so we headed out of the gate on a quick food run. AT the shops we found the ‘Travellers Butchery’. A small lean-to hut attached to the side of a building; on the inside was a man with a knife, a set of scales, a couple of blue bottles and half a cow strung from the ceiling. He wanted £2.40 a kilo and so I asked for the fillet which I could see was untouched. It came in at about 600 grams and cost a princely sum of £2.40, apparently you have to pay a bit more if there are no bones.

We got back to the village and set up the tent amidst keen onlookers. We started offering ‘tours’ and soon had three or four kids on the roof, climbing in and out of the tent. Downstairs we began cooking, butternut mash, pasta with tomato and bacon sauce (from a packet) and fillet steak with salt, pepper and a little garlic. We’d suggested a ‘food share’ and so now we were cooking for eight; Jackson’s father Sentero, Jackson, Jackson’s son Jacob and three other young lads as well as ourselves. The ladies were staying indoors as this was an all male affair, Somers permitted, and the elders had already instructed the children to light a fire. We’d met Sentero earlier; he was born in 1944 long before his home had been declared a national park and long before geothermal power stations had starting drilling deep below the surface of his land. We’d been shown the levelled area where Kengen, the power company, had planned to drill yet another channel into the landscape, but the villagers had fought them off and retained their right to stay in their homes. As a semi nomadic people, they’d leave eventually, but they weren’t to be forced. In fact, Kengen has bought them more land around twenty kilometres away and so when it comes to moving the Maasai village will simply be relocated to the new plot.

Sat above the gorge we’d earlier walked through, the sun was setting and the fire starting to crackle. We sat around talking football and schools, power stations and traditions, tribal tendencies and government prerogatives. Sentero spoke a little English, himself having visited France, Spain and England in his sixty eight years but he elected to speak Maasai to us with his son translating as his eyes held our focus and we listened closely to his intonations long before we knew their exact meaning. He blessed us, he blessed our journey and he told us that we were welcome to be with him in his home. It was beautiful, if heavily clichéd, it was what every white man idealises as an ‘authentic African experience,’ but it was a truly wonderful experience. Eventually our food was ready and we all shared plates of butternut, pasta, fillet, ugali (maize meal,) salted beef and spinach. We were told that the Maasai eat lots of meat and that their tradition of drinking their cow’s blood is now reserved for women immediately after giving birth and for those who are very sick. The procedure involves using a sharp spear to pierce the cow’s jugular vein and then around one or two litres of blood could be collected before packing the wound with soil to staunch the bleeding. One cow could be bled around twice per year. Sentero suggested some chai was in order and so we retired to his hut where we sat around the fire and drank sweet, spiced tea. It was around this time during a period of brief but ear-piercing silence that I involuntarily let out a little sharp crack of a fart. I was mortified, everyone had heard it. Our guests were far too polite to acknowledge it; that is, until they realised that although the hut was silent, Somers was in fact splitting her sides with laughter and only now was her laughter starting to become more vocal. With that, Sentero, Jackson and Jacob burst out laughing with Sentero sagely adding, “That’ll be the ugali.” Conversation soon resumed and eventually, exhausted, we retired to bed, thanking our hosts for a brilliant evening: Ashe oleng. Oleng, oleng, oleng.

Posted by ibeamish 07:56 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Day 178-179 – Naivasha and the Crazy Dutch

18th-19th March 2012

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We woke, climbed aboard Redvers and ventured out of Nairobi and travelled North West to Lake Naivasha. Naivasha is flower country. Huge greenhouses occupy hectare after hectare making use of the sun and its warmth and the readily available fresh water from the lake to produce blooms that are distributed the world over. Wepulled into the Fishermans campsite which was a nice enough place to escape to but the weeds had grown high obscuring the view of the lake. We entertained ourselves by watching the monkeys steal food from some fellow tourist’s tent and spoke to a couple of crazy Dutchies who have had experiences may of the same problems but have taken to dealing them with aggression. Every time the police had stopped them, the girlfriend Raine, who incidentally confessed she needs anger management lessons, began foul mouthing the constabulary whilst getting out of the car and storming away up the road, still cursing, whilst the boyfriend, Mika, is left telling the cops “Why do yoush all want my f#*king money, you craishee poh-leesh jusht want to rip ush off!” They’re trying to curb their enthusiasm now that they’re in Kenya but the four letter f-word seems to be their preferred method of communication in all affairs with the law. They’ve also been to some of the big game parks and found that not only were they very expensive they also had silly rules like a US$500 fine for killing an animal in the road. With that in mind they’d stopped at the park headquarters on leaving the Maasai Mara to report that they needed to pay a US$1000 fine for the two mosquitoes that they’d swatted against their windscreen. The warden was apparently less than impressed.

We still hadn’t shaken the budget demons and so we sat down again and did some more accurate sums trying to take into account every eventuality. Working from our ‘worst case scenario’ we realised that we’d need substantial reserves in cash by the time we arrive in Egypt to make sure that no one is left behind. Sadly, Uganda and Rwanda had to be axed and with them the chance of seeing Gorillas for a bargain basement price of $800 for an hour. We’d had a lot of fun further south and with so much uncertainty further north, something had to give.

The following day we said goodbye to the heroes from the Netherlands and we drove around to another spot called Crater Lake which is an extinct volcano with a lake in its crater. We stopped on the way to see Flamingos in their tens of thousands lining the shores of Oloiden Lake. We went for our penultimate safari spotting some giraffe, eland, Thompson and Grants gazelle and plenty of warthog.

Posted by ibeamish 07:54 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Day 172-177– Damned DHL and Two Hour Visas

12th – 17th March 2012

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The ensuing ten days were spent in the luxury of Lian’s house whilst calling DHL Nairobi, the Ethiopian Embassy in London and DHL UK. Nairobi had no idea what was going on. Despite the embassy having cleared our passports within two hours of receiving them they had now lost them in the system so that they weren’t retrievable within the five minutes that the DHL collection bike gave them each day he came. DHL were useless, we couldn’t get a story from them that matched the embassy’s and we were left not knowing who was telling the truth. As the saga played out we soon realised that the five day turn around promised was going to be at least ten.

With passports and visas somewhere in the system we took some time out to act like full blown tourists in Nairobi. We watched orphaned elephants with at least seventy other white crazies all seemingly identifying with the elephants more than the others. It was brilliant though, and they did cool stuff and one even looked at me; like, really looked at me, I think he was trying to tell me something.

After that we did the next best tourist thing which was to visit the giraffe ‘sanctuary.’ Seven Rothschild giraffe hang around being fed pellets by humans stood on a platform at giraffe head height; just like in the wild. Naturally we put the feed in our mouths and got ‘giraffe kisses’ whilst taking photos.

In an attempt to once and for all fix Redver’s electrical problems we stopped by at the fancy garage, Schumacher’s, who reckoned at worst, the ‘fix’ would cost £200 but since he couldn’t fit us in until the next day we carried on our way. Twenty minutes later we’d found a back street garage in Karen, the wealthy Nairobi suburb, and a chap named Julian fixed it for twelve quid. It turned out that there was a faulty earth connection beneath the car; it was that which was responsible for the clicking relays. The radio now works independently of the headlights and the indicators indicate independently of the radio. Redvers was in perfect working order.

With no passports we wouldn’t be leaving Kenya anytime soon but we found more than enough entertainment amongst our new found friends. We had a board games evening where we played our first game of ‘Risk’ and were comprehensively trounced: and when TJ invited us to her toga party we promptly turned a kikoi and a sleeping bag liner into two quite superb togas and headed off beers and wine in hand.
On our penultimate morning Laura and Lian went horse riding in Karen and enrolled the horse vet on a mini tour of duty for later that afternoon. A quick lameness investigation and a foal with a swollen knee served to remind me of what it is I do when employed and also halved the price of the morning’s riding. The local expat bar was the Rusty Nail, the rugby was on and we were drinking again.

The DHL saga continued as useless Edna handed us over to stressed Anne who became more stressed as we suppressed our anger. By Friday, one week after sending our passports and four days after DHL had been asked to collect them, our coveted travel documents were still ensconced within the walls of the Ethiopian Embassy. They advised us that they would be collected on Monday and delivered on the Wednesday, twelve days after sending them. With that in mind we decided we’d have one more night in Nairobi before we went to try and see a bit of Kenya.

Posted by ibeamish 07:52 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Day 171 – A Spot of Croquet?

11th March 2012

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Hangovers and bleary eyes led to fresh coffee and American pancakes prepared by TJ. But what better to cure a hangover than more gin and tonic and a lunchtime game of croquet? Fulfilling every requisite of colonials abroad we stood with our collective pink skin sweating beneath our wide brimmed hats under the heat of the African sun. The land dropped away from the garden affording views across the savannah if the Great Rift Valley whilst our sun cream plastered arms and legs trundled around an ill kept croquet lawn and we fumbled balls through hoops becoming ever more competitive.

Somehow, certainly not by skill, Somers and I won, but it really didn’t matter. There were no prizes and no winners’ ceremonies. Instead we had a ‘team photo’ posed with sternly serious faces in front of the thatched summer dining area. In black and white the picture could go down in the annals of history as the inaugural Kapiti Plains Open Croquet Championship.

Somewhere amongst the fun and games of the night before Lian had offered us a place to stay whilst we awaited the return of our passports. She had asked us again during the croquet and that had sealed it. We thought that it was a fantastic idea and accepted her offer gladly. After another hair-raising drive back to Nairobi we pulled into Lian’s driveway that afternoon to see a Rhodesian Ridgeback, a German Shepherd and a bear of a dog; Charlie, Zuka and Squidge were there names. The driveway led to a huge house set amongst expansive gardens that gave temporary residence to three tortoises and a marauding group of monkeys. We settled into our palatial accommodation, had another gin and tonic and watched a DVD before it was time for bed.

Posted by ibeamish 07:51 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Day 170 – Ex-Patriot Games

10th March 2012

sunny 27 °C

We enjoyed one more leisurely morning before the effects of our austerity cuts were to be felt. (We’d bought all our nice food the day before.) Will called to say that he and his friend Clare would only be leaving at around one o’clock and so we had another little tidy up and relaxed amongst fellow travellers at the ‘Junction.’

An hour after setting off we were still stuck in Nairobi traffic outside of the football stadium. There was football match on where the local Nairobi side, Gor Mahia, was about to exit the CAF Confederations cup. They were entering a game 4 nil down from the first leg, they’d need five goals to progress and instead they fell to a 1-0 defeat. They’d lost 5-0 to a Mozambican side called Ferroviaro. The low quality of Kenyan football aside, we were stuck in traffic. Whilst queuing we enjoyed our most varied range of hawked goods yet, Del Boy would have been proud. In our hour on the road we could have purchased: the usual warning triangles and steering wheel covers, beaded car seat covers, ice-creams and vegetables, crisps and cold drinks, sunglasses and hats, t-shirts, skirts, socks and boxers, any of a choice of board games, Monopoly, Risk and Scrabble, football t-shirts and scarves from any major league, windscreen washers and sugar cane sellers and to top it all we could have bought rabbits, kittens and even puppies, the latter available in a variety of breeds.

Once out of the traffic we endured another forty minutes fighting for our lives along a road driven by some of the worst drivers we’ve ever seen. Overtaking was a game of chicken, vastly underpowered and overloaded vehicles pulling out into oncoming traffic, goading them, willing them, literally forcing them to move off the road and allow the manoeuvre to be completed. Undertaking, overtaking, anything goes, and surprisingly there was very little use of the horn. Preference it seems is given to aggressive light flashing. This worked in our favour as it turns out that our ‘relay replacement scheme’ to fix Redvers’ electrics has been fairly unsuccessful and we are intermittently without a horn.

After a little misunderstanding about what equates to ‘two kilometres’ we found Will and Clare parked next to police officer at the turn off onto Kapiti Plains Farm. It was really more of a ranch enclosing a vast acreage of golden yellow scrub with sparse hardnosed green acacia holding firm amongst the dried grasses. We pulled in and met the rest of our fellow gatherers: Ravi, Annie, Lian, Emelie and Tatjana (TJ). All, in some way connected with an organization named the International Livestock and Research Institute (ILRI.) The weekend getaway was in celebration of Annie’s birthday and we settled in quickly before readying ourselves for a brisk walk to the top of the hill that backed onto the farm house to watch the sun rise whilst we drank chilled sauvignon blanc. The vista was stunning and the walk besieged by an endless onslaught from a booming population of ticks. Every two hundred metres or so there would be a group stop whilst we de-ticked ourselves. In our socks and on our legs, all looking for the places where the skin is thin, the air is damp and the temperature warm. Groin and armpit are ideal spots and so the challenge was to stop them before they made it, bit down and started transmitting juicy tropical diseases to our immunity lacking bodies. It was a bit of sport really, I scored around twelve, Somers had insecticide sprayed herself and scored seven or eight, but some of the others were rubbing tens of them from their arms at a time.

The sun sets quickly in Kenya and we were soon marching back down the hill thinking of gin and tonics and food. Lian, a fellow vet carrying out a PhD on porcine tape worm, had prepared our meal of Thai Green Curry. It was bloody brilliant except for the fact she’d overdone the chillies by about three fold. The dinner table conversation came with hilarity through watering eyes and running noses; gin and tonic consumption increased rapidly in a fruitless attempt to extinguish the raging infernos that had been unleashed on our senses. The music came out and the dancing began; we even learnt our first steps of tap; albeit less impressive when you’re wearing leather soled loafers and standing on the soft green lawn.

The evening was saddened when we discovered Nairobi had suffered another grenade attack. Apparently the Somalia based Al Shabaab (the Mujahadeen Youth Movement, or the ‘Al Qaida Kids’ now they’ve earned their first terrorism badges) were responsible for the four grenades, six deaths and sixty seven injured. (There is a conspiracy theory that the grenades attacks are Kenyan government ordered to keep up public support for Kenyan military interventions in Somalia.) The threat of terror was in the air in Nairobi, we’d be avoiding the centre during our stay.

Posted by ibeamish 07:50 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Day 169 – The Budget Review

9th March 2012

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Before we made plans for traversing bandit riddled landscapes and dodging their rusty AK-47s and Martini-Henri rifles we needed Ethiopian visas and like good little boys and girls we headed straight to the DHL office at the western style mall called The Yaya Centre. DHL saw us coming (they see everyone coming) and charged us a hundred and ten quid to ship our passports to the Ethiopian Embassy in London and then return them to Nairobi. We managed to get the price down a little bit when they took off the insurance and the ‘express’ delivery option but they still took us for close on ninety quid. Still, there was little else that could be done in our situation and we managed a smile as we handed over our passports to Edna, deliberately ignoring the sign stating ‘It is illegal to send money.’

An hour later we were back in the office, and Edna was pointing at the illegal-to-send-money sign whilst we opened our parcel and took our payment in cash out of the envelope; who’d have thought DHL had x-ray machines! It was Friday afternoon; Edna informed us that the passports would be in the embassy on Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning. For the last six months, Laura had been teeing up a chap at the embassy named Yared and he’d assured us a rapid issuance of both visas. We reckoned that by Wednesday or Thursday we’d have our passports in hand. If we were paying through the nose at least we’d be getting a decent service.

We’d been in touch with an old mate from university called Will who was doing a PhD out at Busia, a Kenyan town on the border with Uganda. He’d told us that he and a few friends were planning on going out to a farm for the weekend just an hour from Nairobi and had asked did we want to come along. We did, and we told him so, and then we sat back to enjoy our new surroundings at the Jungle Junction campsite in Nairobi. It was about that time that our first serious budget crisis started brewing.

We’d started with a budget in US dollars per day and had been nicely underneath it so far, but, our initial budget had only really been estimated to cover around six months on the road rather than the eight the trip appears it will eventually take. Day to day costs had been easy to account for, the price of food, beer and accommodation were all relatively cheap; we were camping nineteen days out of twenty and shopping with a budget in mind. But the real problem, we were beginning to realise, was that north of Kenya everything becomes a little bit grey, especially on time scale, visas and ferry services. First was our problem of obtaining an Ethiopian visa, a feat only possible from the embassy in your home country. We were onto that, the unknown would be known in one week’s time. But that was only our first issue. Our second issue would be obtaining a Sudanese visa. This is easiest to obtain in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, when ascending Africa, but we’ve no idea how long that’ll take and we’re informed it’s not cheap, especially when we’re paying David Cameron for a letter to say our passports are real. Our third issue will be the ferry across Lake Nasser from Sudan to Egypt. It runs once a week, it doesn’t hold many vehicles and the passenger ferry leaves before the vehicle ferry. There is a brand new road alongside the lake but the Egyptian government owns the ferry, and it’s expensive, and it’s busy; with this in mind there is no border control along the road, just soldiers. The only border control point is at the ferry terminal. The ferry costs we already know, but the costs of ‘fixers’ to arrange visas and ‘guards’ to look after Redvers whilst we’re on another ferry and in another country are more difficult to predict. The very idea of leaving Redvers behind is frightening.

Our fourth problem is by far our biggest; our exit strategy. At the end of this trip we need to leave North Africa; an area that hasn’t seen so much political and civil unrest since the British were ‘doing their thing’ not far from a hundred years ago. The ferry from Egypt to Italy has been suspended indefinitely because it goes via Syria, and Syria is having a bloody inconvenient ‘moment’ in its national history. Our Plan B was really our original Plan A and was to drive through Libya. Eighteen months ago tourism was building nicely and you could drive the road that passed alongside the Mediterranean visiting coliseums and battle fields along the way. From Caesar to Rommel and, more recently, from the UK to the freedom fighters, there’s some history in those sands, but anyway, our plans were scuppered when Gadaffi was suddenly declared persona non grata. That trans-Libyan route would have led us to Tunisia and its capital, Tunis from where we could have sailed to Italy and driven home to the UK in just a few days. (This incidentally is still our preferred exit route at the time of writing, but will require a very careful argument with Libyan officials in Cairo when requesting a transit visa.) If Plan B goes wrong then we have to think about cargo ships; Alexandria in Egypt to Turkey is apparently the only real route we’ve heard about and that anyone has been able to use, but its hellishly expensive for Redvers and we’d need airplane tickets, otherwise, maybe we can drive to Israel and find a boat. The original Plan C had been a jaunt through Syria, but, well that’s not ideal anymore either. Still more extreme plans are to drive back south and choose any port from Port Sudan in Sudan, Mombasa in Kenya or Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. If budgets didn’t exist we could even drive into Saudi Arabia, on into Oman, catch a ferry across the Gulf of Aden into Iran and then get out through a something-istan and into Turkey. There is also chatter about ferries from Israel, but we’ve only found passenger ferries so far. All in all we have lots of options but costs on each route vary and none are cheap, none are straightforward and none are easy. The only easy aspect of it all is seeing why leaving Africa is our biggest stress.

With our budget altered a little and our fixed costs calculated there didn’t really seem to be a crisis, we cut our days planned for Uganda and Rwanda, cut ‘big spends’ on climbing Mount Kenya and tracking Chimpanzees and set out targets for Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt: then we had a cold beer because, after all, we were still on holiday.

Posted by ibeamish 09:34 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Day 168 – Looking like Idiots

8th March 2012

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Our most straightforward border yet traversed us from a land of painfully annoying cops with new toys and an attitude to match, to a land of extremely pleasant cops without the toys and with a far more pleasant disposition all round.

As was our custom, we slowed down on approaching a checkpoint. A normal situation involves us slowing down well in advance and in doing so showing a certain respect for the officers. In return as we approach the officer will normally respond by waving us through. However one particular cop kept his eyes fixed on Redvers and his hands by his side as we slowed towards him. His lack of movement meant our deceleration was maintained until finally we stopped next to him. A rather bemused looking Kenyan officer asked “Can I help you?” as we suddenly realised we were essentially stopped dead in the centre of the lane on a national road. We quickly realised we looked like prize idiots and fabricated some questions about speed limits before driving off again. We left a bewildered police officer stood in the road watching our red faces disappear into the horizon.

Our journey towards Nairobi took us onto a ‘motorway’ with three lanes in either direction. This was sheer bliss. We now had easy access to overtake slow lorries and dilapidated coaches. The only problem was that not a single driver had any clue about where they should be in the road with so many lanes to choose from. Lorries seemed to quite like the outside lane, the opposite to the UK, but not all lorries. Coaches didn’t appear to see any white lines and fast cars just dived in and out through impossible gaps using the hard shoulder as a fourth lane as and when required.

Lucky to be alive, we pulled into Upper Hill Campsite in the north west of Nairobi. A very pleasant spot but was very quiet and had no other overlanders, for their company, and the formation of a convoy through the bandit country of Northern Kenya, we would need to visit Jungle Junction, a campsite just down the road.

Posted by ibeamish 09:29 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Day 167 – Transiting Tanzania

7th March 2012

Our next point of call on our highway across Tanzania was Arusha. The northern city of Arusha is a fairly well developed city with an international airport that is the first point of call for most travellers hoping to branch west to the Serengeti and the Ngorogoro Crater or east to Kilimanjaro. For us it was just another overnight stop. The prohibitive costs of visiting Tanzania, and indeed East Africa’s National Parks would mean that wild animals would be off the sightseeing menu for the foreseeable future. (The cost of the Serengeti was: $50 per person per day, plus $150 per vehicle over 2000kg per day, plus between $30 and $50 per person per night to camp. Our cheapest Tanzania Parks option would have cost $310 per day!)

Sadly the low lying cloud meant even a distant view of Kilimanjaro was out of the question and we pulled into Arusha mid afternoon where we did some food shopping before settling in at Maasai camp and readying ourselves for the drive to Nairobi the following day.

Posted by ibeamish 09:28 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Day 166 – Goodbye Dar

6th March 2012

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A quick whip around the embassies represented in Dar es Salaam gave us a clearer understanding of our future bureaucratic hurdles and how best to tackle them. We’d obviously performed a fair amount of research and had bolstered this knowledge with new for other travellers, but nothing is ever quite as juicy as hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth.

A Sudanese visa is best applied for in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia or Cairo, Egypt; in these two places the embassy can issue visas to foreign nationals ‘on the spot’ (maybe within a week), avoiding a protracted process involving sending passports to Khartoum and waiting on unanswered e-mails. It will however require a ‘letter of introduction ’from the British Consulate. Such letters are readily available at all British embassies because they’re a fantastic money spinner at forty-five pounds each. That’s forty-five quid, per person, for our own government to print off a standard letter with our name and passport number on; no wonder its now just the British Embassy and the ‘Great’ has disappeared. We also confirmed that our passports would need to be sent to the UK from Nairobi in order to get hold of our Ethiopian visas. The visas were a very reasonable twenty two English pounds each. We didn’t want to think about what the couriers would charge.

From Dar es Salaam we headed first west and then north stopping at the White Parrot in Korogwe where we camped overnight. Police Engagement number-who-knows-what, was routine.

Posted by ibeamish 09:19 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Day 165 – “The Ferry is Full, But I’ll Get You On”

5th March 2012

sunny 31 °C

It was time to return to the mainland. We found our dala-dala and raised our adrenaline levels slightly for a return leg in which our minute by minute probability of death or serious injury soared. But, by the grace of someone more powerful than we, our journey was successful in that no injuries were sustained; though a small child did manage to vomit over the man who had kindly offered to look after him. Back in Stone Town we had an idea that we could make the ferry which was due to leave in forty minutes. An easy task assuming firstly that we didn’t want to rush off to buy the art we’d seen and secondly that the ferry would have space on board.

We marched through the narrow alleys of Stone Town, politely declining the advances of the artistes and shop owners along our way. We found our art shop, bought our piece and bit our nails as the gentleman took it from its frame and slowly wrapped it in brown paper before rolling it into its card board transportation tube and insisting on sealing both ends meticulously.

We were at a quick step when we reached the gates of the ferry terminal only to be told that the ferry was full. There was, as always, someone who could make sure that ‘full’ wasn’t a problem and he agreed to fix it for us as long as we offered him some compensation for his time. Our new found friend had a gift; he walked us through security, and waved them off; he followed up by waving us through customs and immigration, this time with a few respectful words, though never breaking his step, and led us eventually to a small plastic prefab hut with an air-conditioning unit that had created a mini Siberia within the hut’s four walls. We had ten minutes before the ferry departed and once more we were being overcharged. The ferry company officials had invented an exchange rate to bolster their income by five dollars per person. We argued and the ferry official backed down; we didn’t have sufficient money left to overpay him anyway. We handed over the notes expecting four thousand shillings change. We told our fixer that the change was his, we made sure that the ferry official understood this and we ran for the ferry.

Two minutes after taking our seats, the fixer had found us again and was telling us that the officials were keeping his change. There was little we could do, we weren’t about to start a compensation fund for locals who screw each other over.

We made it back to dry land after watching a Tanzanian ‘budget’ movie about a drug user who convinces his old man to join in and they have the time of their lives before mother finds out and makes father respectable once more. The acting was as shockingly bad as would be expected and the cameraman clearly stopped concentrating periodically as the action would move half off screen before the camera would hurriedly pan to catch up ten or fifteen seconds later.

Back at the camp site we ate dinner and enjoyed the imported Guinness which is ridiculously fizzy and, at 6.5%, is strong enough to start wars. We settled our bill and Isaac told us that his shift was ending and he wouldn’t see us again. He came over, gave us almighty hugs and said goodbye.

Posted by ibeamish 06:45 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Day 163-164 – White Sand, Turquoise Water and Tourism

3rd-4th March 2012

sunny 33 °C

Having wallowed in the touristic delights of Stone Town with its ornately carved wooden doors and frames and Indian influenced carved lintels it was time to leave it all behind and head to the beach for a few days. We’d got it down to two options: Nungwe in the North offered white sand, turquoise water and plenty of accommodation and bars or, our second option, to head north and then west to Matemwe, which offered the same sand and water but with far fewer places to stay and far fewer bars. We’d selected the former; the latter could be explored when we return one day.

We wandered through town to find the dala-dala (minibus taxi) station and informed our conductor on the number 166 that we’d be paying 2000TSh each, he argued that the fare was 3000TSh but after a short standoff he ushered us on for the standard (true) rate of 2000TSh each. This was our first dala-dala of the trip, we were officially cheating on Redvers.

Minibus taxis are great fun as long as you pretend that you can’t possibly die whilst aboard one. The whole journey is about getting from A to B as quickly as possible whilst collecting as many passengers as possible along the way. Harsh breaking and rapid acceleration are accompanied by a driving style that even Formula One drivers can’t match. Oncoming traffic will get out of the way if they drive fast enough at it, and if they don’t, the row of vehicles they’re overtaking will be forced to make sudden and dangerous manoeuvres to allow the dala-dala into the their ranks. If there’s an off road path around a speed bump then take it and don’t worry about speed limits; it would seem that dala-dalas are expected to break the law.

We left the coralline rock buildings of Stone Town and one hour and several near death experiences later we arrived at Nungwe. A local guy kindly escorted us to the Jambo Brothers Guesthouse and we settled in to our vastly overpriced triple room with sparse furnishing and even more sparse paint on its bathroom walls. At the north western edge of Zanzibar, Nungwe had clearly been a poorly kept secret. A talcum powdery white sand beach was the affront to an ocean of crystal turquoise water. But, along almost the entire beach are lines of large thatched buildings supplying accommodation, food and drink to the masses. The beach was stunning; the water was as warm as a bath. It was a great opportunity to kick back and relax, we felt like we needed a holiday. Books were ploughed through and hours whiled away, interspersed with swimming, milkshakes and visits to the local eateries for octopus curry, frozen mango juice and fresh bread.

The following day was spent in a similar fashion bar finding the energy to wander along the beach to the turtle sanctuary, a rehabilitation centre for all species but realistically covering the green and horn billed turtles native to Zanzibar. We fed the turtles by hand, some weighing one hundred kilograms or more and had a tour of the sanctuary. “We do like to be beside the seaside, oh we do like to be...”

Posted by ibeamish 06:38 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Day 162 – Ten Thousand Pieces of Art

2nd March 2012

sunny 25 °C

It was as difficult getting out of bed as it was finding Somers on the far side of a mattress whose size eclipsed our diminutive, but equally comfortable, roof tent mattress. For the first time in a long time we’d had to snuggle down beneath a feather duvet to avoid the dry cold of an air-conditioning unit deliberately turned down to ‘Arctic’ on the dial. But breakfast was only served between seven thirty and nine and nothing comes between Somers and her belly.

The dining room was open sided and positioned on the top floor to allow us a view of the surrounding buildings, all of varying heights, shapes and roofs, but the majority sporting a corrugated iron roof at various stages of rusting decay. Fresh fruit, toast and cereal with superb coffee and Kenyan tea served with a smile by our exotic maitre d’ who was a woman that blended several races, predominantly Indian, into an object of sari adorned elegance.

We and several thousand other tourists spent the day wandering Stone Town, exploring its back streets lined with a thousand stalls all of which inexplicably sold variations on the same product. Mass produced art depicting jumping Maasai combined with the Tinga-Tinga cartoon-art could be found everywhere as shop owners repeated their mantra that ‘looking is for free.’ Looking was for free; but so was the owners’ onslaught of ‘best price’ and ‘how much you wanna pay?’ as the screws were turned on the assumption that walking away should not be without taxation. Mass produced Indian textiles either untouched or subsequently crafted into handbags, scarves, slippers, dresses and shirts were just as abundant as well as a new experience for us, that of the spice sellers. Ten minutes spent at one of these stalls just smelling and touching fresh nutmeg, vanilla pods, cinnamon sticks , ginger, cardamom seeds and more was as sublime an experience as you can have at a market stall.

Of all the bazillion pieces of art on the island we took particular fancy to one piece, but told our purveyor, the artist’s brother, that this would be one for us to think about. In fact, by the end of our discussion we had sort of agreed, in principle, that if we had enough money left when we returned from the north of the island then we would complete the purchase.

It is a telling indicator of the mass tourism Zanzibar receives that so many people can exist in businesses specialising in tat. This was a stark contrast to the islands we’d previously visited: Ibo in Mozambique had only just been receiving an electricity supply and Ihla De Mozambique, whilst far ahead of Ibo, was pleasantly a thousand miles behind the consumer tat quagmire of Zanzibar.

We ate at Forodhani Square again and found that racism works both ways when we drank tea and ate cake of sorts at a price that was 250% than the local chap sat next to us had paid. When we pointed this out to our previously smiling vendor he swore that the price was correct. We dropped our new found friend in it by using his words against the tea seller who then became very angry with our new found friend. Our friend began to back track saying that his tea might be different and he hadn’t eaten cake (as he rubbed the crumbs from his lips.) It wasn’t worth arguing over and we felt our point had been made; a tactical and financially diplomatic retreat was in order.

Posted by ibeamish 06:31 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Day 161 –Passports?

1st March 2012

rain 21 °C

The rain had been coming since the middle of the night, not heavy, but consistent. We awoke at six and it had still not abated; it would be another hour before it began to pass. Whilst the tent had kept us dry its canvas was now sodden. We’d decided to leave the car at the campsite whilst we travelled to Zanzibar; we decided that the tent would remain erect to avoid returning to find a mildewy, mould ridden damp mess of canvas and aluminium.

Somers decided that in addition to stripping the bedding out from the tent and leaving it standing we could park Redvers beneath a tree for a little extra shelter. The reality of this involved a slightly misguided reverse bay parking which placed the tent physically into the tree. Canvas versus wood could result in only one winner but fortunately the fifteen inch tear was confined to the flysheet. We gaffer taped it feeling rather silly and boarded our awaiting Tuk-Tuk and were chauffeured by Kim the Maasai past the queuing cars, past the ferry ticket office, past the security guards and straight onto the boarding area for the car ferry across to Dar es Salaam.

From the port on the city side it was another kilometre or so along the river front to the Ferry Terminus where we waited for an hour, and tucked into a half kilo of cashew nuts, before boarding the Kilimanjaro 3 and spending one and a half hours skipping across the Zanzibar Channel.

It was about half way through this mildly nauseating ferry journey that we started reading the guidebook for Zanzibar and noticed, rather importantly, that Zanzibar was seen as some sort of separate political entity to Tanzania and that as such, we would require our passports to enter. Our passports were securely stowed in the safe inside Redvers a good eight hours swim away and we weren’t getting any closer. Since there wasn’t much we could do about it we opted for Plan A which was immigration and customs evasion. We were spectacularly rubbish at evading anybody, probably drawing more attention to ourselves, and we were pulled up immediately and asked to go back to the desk to have our passports stamped in. Plan B was to squeal; to tell all and plead for leniency. Naturally leniency comes with a price and we weren’t the first Muppets to arrive without documents. A kind officer printed out two ‘no passport’ forms which we duly filled out and then paid our 20,000TSh each for the privilege of entry.

We left the port and began our wandering, trying to explain to our would-be guides that we didn’t want to be guided. After an hour or so we’d reluctantly learned that these guides actually operate on commission from the many hotels. All they want is to be the individual that led us into a hotel where they would then earn anything between two and ten dollars per person. Sadly by the time we discovered this we’d booked our accommodation over the phone, but we told our persistent fellow that if he led the way to the hotel we would tell the manager that he had suggested that we book there.

The accommodation, as the guidebook said, was all overpriced relative to the main land and so we elected to enjoy a minor upgrade from the $30 a night basic hotels to the far more comfortable $50 per night Kiponda Hotel, complete with air conditioning, en-suite facilities and king-sized four poster bed. Now that was living.

We wandered the streets for the rest of the afternoon before eating at the Forodhani Square market where we could buy a myriad of sea food based culinary wonders; on offer were skewers of various species of fish, lobster pieces, crab claws, shrimp and squid, supplemented with chapattis and naan breads and washed down with a fantastic drink made using pressed sugar cane juice and ginger; hello taste buds, goodbye teeth.

We wandered back through the streets to find a hotel with a roof top bar before heading back to our hotel where we spent half an hour sat on the door step discussing Zanzibarian life with the manager.

Posted by ibeamish 06:22 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

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