Zambian Droughts and Draughts

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Hot. Zambia is hot. The Luangwa river – the only perennial water point in South Luangwa National Park – was very low and the hippos were struggling to find deep enough pools. Our campsite up the sandbanks seemed to be an elephant highway, where you were strongly advised to lock your food away in case it was sniffed by a long trunk… And then searched for by tusks!

 

We sadly never found the time to meet the South Luangwa Conservation Society team – supported by Tusk – but nevertheless made the best of the stunning park by treating ourselves to a game walk, following spoor to find out about the previous night’s activities.

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Sunset over the Luangwa River

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Locals crossing the river

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Just another day at the office

 

Having read Christina Lamb’s The Africa House, we were desperate to reach the Great North Road, but a detour via Lusaka was out of the question. Having paid for the park fee now made it cheap enough to drive through the park, however we were told “it is not advisable to drive through the park in December. The rains may have started and if you get stuck, no one can help. Some Germans were stuck for 3 days some time.” Yes, well the park is dry as a bone, and we would just turn back if the rivers further north were in flood. We promised them we’d radio in from the other side, and went off on our little adventure.

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Well deserved breakfast after our walk

 

It was a beautiful drive, with the ever astonishing trees turning red and dropping their leaves in the ‘spring’. The further we went from the river, the less habituated the game was. From being skittish, the game became altogether absent, there really was no water. But that was good for us! We crossed a few very sandy 200m wide river beds, hoping rain hadn’t fallen upstream. It was risk well worth taking, but we didn’t know that the adventure was only just starting…

 

Having missed the rains and crossed the park, we still had to get up the Muchinga Escarpment, a climb we had somewhat underestimated. First gear, low range, slipping, sliding, bouncing, we got half way to the top. Then bend number 15 got the better of Mulungu, there was no way around the rocks, and the sand provided no grip. Out of solutions and with the sun fast disappearing, I called it a day, hoping we’d see the problem in a different light the next morning. We parked on a flat-ish bit of the ‘road’, put up the tent and boiled water for pasta. Just when the adrenalin dropped and Emma had finished exploring all the possible worst case scenari, we heard an engine. It was coming from the top, we could see the beam of lights and hear the voices. If other cars could make it down, we could make it up! I waved them down and was relieved to see the Frankfurt Zoological Society logo on the side of the 4×4, we were on the same team. Some four rangers, a lady with a questionable profession and the driver all greeted us and offered their help with glee. The driver claimed to go up the escarpment twice a week and offered to drive our up for us, ‘your car can do it, but you are a poor driver’. Thanks.

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Struggling up the Muchinga Escarpment

 

We packed up again, put dinner in tupperwares, and got into the car. How was he going to deal with this treacherous bend? Simply by flooring it. Never have I ever witnessed an overloaded Land Rover go so fast over rocks in such low gear, hanging on to the dashboard for my life and Emma not even daring to open her eyes in the back. Through sheer momentum, our guardian angel carried the car over the biggest boulders it had ever seen. 45 minutes later we had reached the summit, not quite sure if we still owned a complete car or just bits of it…

After profusely thanking our driver and seeing him and his armed friends walk back down the hill, Emma and I looked at each other in disbelief. Mulungu was intact, we were out of harm’s way, we didn’t have to pay to cross the park again and risk the rains. In an ironic twist of fate, we sat down to eat, physically exhausted and mentally drained, when the heavens opened. The rainy season was finally here! In absolute hysterics, we scrambled onto the roof to put our tent up and eventually got back into the car to eat our pasta, soaked to the bone. Had we stayed the night half way up the hill and the rains started, we would never have been able to make it up the next day, and even less cross back through the park in full flood. We would have been stuck for months!

 

After possibly the best night’s sleep we’ve ever had (with a river flowing under our car), we were back onto normal roads again. Heading north, we reached Shiwa N’gandu in just a few hours and stayed at the magical Kapishya Hot Springs for a very restful three days. The legendary English manor house in the middle of the African bush was worth the detour, if only to gain more of a feeling as to why Stewart Gore-Brown fell in love with the place.

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Shiwa Ngandu – The Africa House

 

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Two years drive from Ndola to Shiwa Ngandu through the forest

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stingless bees

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Kapishya Hot Springs

 

I could have stayed in the hot springs forever listening to Mark’s stories about his grandfather SGB, but Emma heard about the bats. Off we went to Kasanka National Park, not really knowing much about the fruit bat migration. At 5.30pm sharp, we were up a tree, waiting. The sunset provided a spectacular warm up show for what was to come. At 6.10pm on the dot, a bat flew out of the trees to our right. At 6.11pm, the sky was black with wings and the stream of bats pouring out of their roosting place didn’t slow down for half an hour. It is possibly one of the most underrated wildlife happenings with over 8 MILLION big furry fruit bats going through this whole process twice a day every year at the beginning of the rainy season. The gentle swoosh of wings overhead and as far as the eye can see is magical, stopping as suddenly as it started. The moment had gone, it was almost dark, only Venus was visible in the sky and the full moon rose bright red behind us.

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Kasanka Fruit Bats

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8 Million Kasanka Fruit Bats

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Emma hadn’t done laundry in a long time and our car was getting pretty smelly, when eventually we correlated the stink with the mouse-traps not going off anymore… Was Jack The Mouse dead? Following the stench, we unpacked the car, almost taking all the seats off before finding the source… Jack The Mouse is dead, our car smells better now, and our food doesn’t get eaten anymore. However, it turns out Jack was not a mouse… but a rat. After hitching from Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia, he must have got too fat and thirsty in Zimbabwe. RIP Jack.

 

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Just a happy frog

 

 

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Malawian Mouse-traps and Money Changers

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We have realised that 24hours in one place gives you just enough time to put down your things before you set off again, therefore leaving you feeling not very rested. Wherever possible we try to stay at least 2 nights so the packing and unpacking of our humble abode doesn’t get too frustrating. From one paradise, we set off to what we hoped would be another. Beginning our day’s driving with going through a national park puts us both in a very good mood. This was swiped relatively quickly from our mindset as we found ourselves on a corrugated road for most of the afternoon in search of Pangani, on the Northern Coastline of Tanzania. Having handed over the driving to Tristan (to save us all from my wrath … ‘don’t bait the bear’ as some might say) we arrived in thank god, another paradise.

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Pangani – Peponi

 

An enormous long beach along the Indian Ocean is where Peponi Resort sits. Here we ate overindulgent amounts of seafood costing us peanuts, drank coconuts under the very palms they grew from and lay in hammocks watching the dhows sail by. To make the world feel comfortably smaller it turned out we had met the daughter of the owners back in the UK!

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Boots on the beach

 

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Indian Ocean

 

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Dhows in the storm

 

As it turned out Mulungu needed that stop as much as we did. Within 20km of leaving, we found ourselves with another mechanic under his bonnet wondering how we had made it that far, this time outside someone’s home not in a garage. Marcel had found us on the street and offered the help of his family’s mechanic, this turned out not to be a quick problem but an overnight stop with an incredibly hospitable family. We wiled away the hours chatting endlessly exchanging stories, whilst our limping donkey was turned back into a sturdy steed. African hospitality really never fails! Thank you Paul, Dolly and Marcel!

Two more uneventful night stopovers took us through to the border with Malawi. The EASIEST border so far! Through within 45 minutes and without spending a penny! Of course it included my favourite part of border crossings, the money changing.

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(Perfectly legal) money changing

 

From a mile off you are honed in on by a large group of men each waving wodges of cash in front of your face saying ‘we give you best deals’. As with most things over here this needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. They give their rate from one currency to another, you listen carefully to the explanation and then… give them your closer to the truth rate, backed up by the currency converter on our phone (a godsend) usually cuts to the chase and stops the bargaining in its tracks. This however, is only the beginning. Each money exchanger has a plus-one who carries more money and another calculator. So out comes the cash you wish to exchange which is counted by you, verified by the exchanger and then verified again by the plus one. The amount is then pressed into the calculator by 3 people (Tristan included) who simultaneously turn their calculations around to show how much of the next currency will be given to you. Usually there is one person who needs to recalculate as theirs seems to be an anomaly. When everyone has a matching number the process goes the same the other way, the changer brings out the money for the neighbouring country, it is counted and verified by 2 more people until finally this ‘quick’ and easy transaction is completed all under the watchful eye of the policeman. Everyone leaves pleased with what they got. Tristan has got ripped off half as badly as he should have done and the money changer of course, made lots more than he should have done too.

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Roadside African markets

 

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Too much driving for some

 

Malawi was everything we had hoped for. For the sake of less driving we decided to stay only in the north and enjoy working our way really slowly down to Lilongwe before crossing into Zambia. Driving through, it is easy to see why it has got the reputation for being the friendliest African country. Lots of smiles and waves from the villages as you pass through and when stopped at a check point by the police, we were asked if we possibly have a magazine they could have to read! A nice change from being asked for your passport and driving license! It is clear to see though that there is very little money trickling down through society, sadly due to the high levels of corruption and poor leadership, an age-old problem on this continent (and others!) I was however astonished to hear that 90% of all energy comes from renewable sources. The devil’s advocate of course pointed out that most people don’t have any electricity, so it then becomes less of a staggering fact.

The further south we go, the more tourists we find and the harder it is to get off the well trodden path. Malawi has the most beautiful beaches and of course weather and plenty of bars, making it a perfect combination for many people. This we realised on our first night having been for a walk on the beach to come back to find 10 tents pitched ever so carefully exactly in front of ours, rather changing our view of the lake. It can only be … Overlanders. This phenomenon is quite something. You buy your ticket from A to B, anywhere between Cape Town and Nairobi, and hop on the converted lorry as it drives through all the major tourist destinations on the map. Each truck can take up to 20 people, has a driver, cook and leader meaning you can just sit back and watch as Africa whizzes past your window. For some it is the perfect way to meet other people from all around the world and have a party for a couple of weeks. This was the first of many trucks we have found ourselves next to!

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Being a man and fixing stuff

 

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Chitimba Beach

 

Having had enough of seeing people (I’m struggling to adapt…) we headed up the escarpment towards Livingstonia, named after a very famous Scot. Here we stayed in Lukwe Eco Camp. Having been lured in by word on the street telling us you could eat ‘proper salad’, we were amazed by what we found. Endless views over the lake and mountains and the most incredible permaculture garden. Started 18 years ago the garden has grown and grown and now provides all the fruit and vegetables for the camp despite it being on an area of soil which most Malawians will tell you doesn’t grow a thing. For those of you like me who don’t know about permaculture, here are a few very basic principles. Meaning ‘permanent agriculture’, its practitioners have returned to how nature does it by cutting out pesticides, fertilisers and all other chemicals. This is a movement with very little impact on the surroundings where beds are planted and replanted with all the vegetation needed to put nutrients back in the soil and by using particular species as insect deterrents for example, this method really does work incredibly well. Everything is recycled and used in whatever way possible. Lukwe runs permaculture courses for people from the surrounding villages and all the way from Europe too! Aleck the Gardener is such a wonderful teacher and spent the morning helping us to understand the basics, leaving us with so much to think about and both of us with plenty of ideas on how we could incorporate it into what we do or would like to do!

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Permaculture-ing with Aleck

 

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Trying to remember Aleck’s 10 Permaculture Principles

 

The food was delicious and there really were PROPER salads! From the camp you can wander your way around to the tallest waterfall in Malawi. This we did at 6 in the morning, getting back to the camp to be asked why we were up so early. A little surprised by this, we checked our clocks to say it wasn’t that early, it was 7.30. A big laugh followed with the answer, “no it isn’t, it’s 6.30”. We had – we think – since the beginning of Tanzania, been an hour ahead of ourselves. Whoops. We did wonder why we had been seeing so many sunrises!

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Lake Malawi from the Rift Valley escarpment – again

 

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Lukwe Waterfall at 6am – or 5am – not too sure

 

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The days flew by in Malawi staying in beautiful place after beautiful place, never without a view on the lake and smiles all round. What a treat it was to be in such an easy and relaxing country! Next is our 9th country, Zambia, for which I have very little knowledge or preconceived ideas. Hopefully that will make for another wonderful week or so!

To finish off this post I will leave you with the news that we have gained a passenger that has become quite a challenge. Whilst we sipped our coconuts on the beach in Tanzania a little mouse who has been named Jack, decided to join us. He has found himself on an all inclusive holiday package deal, where he is supplied with more than he could possibly wish to imagine. We have found him to be rather partial to bread, sweet potato, Land Rover seats and loo roll. I have a feeling that he may butt heads with the other male on this trip, which might cut his journey a bit short…

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One last one for the road

 

 

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Mkomazi Magic

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Tanzanian internet is not at its best this time of year it seems, apologies for the delay in updating.

The further south we go, the more of a burden Emma becomes… On a South African passport, I’m crossing borders for free whereas Emma still has to pay $50! It was an easy enough drive from Lake Kivu to the border with Tanzania, although it took us a little longer than planned, and it was another smooth border crossing, it was a little too late for my liking once through. At 5pm, the sun starts going down and suddenly all the little things that you cope with easily in daylight become a worry. Emma had been complaining about Mulungu’s steering, and the fan belts started squeaking. The road obviously got awful as the sun went down, and there was only pot holes and bush all around, the nearest town a couple of hours away.

 

Having not broken an axle or resorted to camp on the side of the road with the truckers, we got to the ‘town’. At the checkpoint, we asked the kind policeman if he knew of a campsite. He thought long and hard, asking all of his colleagues where this Mzungu might be able to spend the night in peace, and eventually pointed us to the ‘Paris Lodge’. Well the only similarity it bore with the French capital was the smell of sewers… After some expert sign language communication, we were allowed to camp in their car park, and woke up to quite a crowd. The fan belts were crying for legitimate reasons, part of our engine had broken off… Nothing a couple of bolts of brackets can’t fix though! As good as new, off we went again!

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Tanzania started getting a little more populated after Nyakanazi, and 8 more hours drive got us to Nzega. Tourist accommodation being limited, I thought we should try out asking for hospitality in the church grounds – an overlanding classic. That worked too well, the fathers were too generous and offered us dinner and a bed for the night. I suspect that an unmarried couple sharing a tent by the Catholic church wouldn’t have gone down too well though, but it did lead to some very interesting debates around the Church’s role in Africa.

 

The third day in Tanzania took us back to the Rift Valley, smiling Maasai pop out of the bush, tiny boys herd the family’s wealth, women sell red bananas and tourist watch them jump. We couldn’t quite see Lake Manyara’s flamingos from the top of the escarpment but the Valley wall and volcanoes are a spectacle in their own right. Had it not been on the map though, we would never have known that we drove past Kilimanjaro the next day, as it was very rainy.

 

After four days of driving 8 hours a day to get to Mkomazi National Park on time to meet the Fitzjohns, we arrived in Same to realise that a huge miscommunication meant that our hosts wouldn’t actually be there. African hospitality shone through however and we were told to be there early the next morning was 5kg of carrots and we’d be shown how our fundraising for Tusk helps them.

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Tusk and Mkomazi

Off the Northern Tanzanian circuit, Mkomazi is part of the greater Tsavo ecosystem and it was a huge privilege to be invited there. Plagued with charcoal pits, illegal grazing and worst of all poaching, the game was rather depleted before Tony Fitzjohn got to Mkomazi. Hard work, vital support from Tusk and smart outreach campaigns have resulted in a blooming conservation area. Unlike the teeming planes of the Serengeti, the mountainous region bordering Tanzania and Kenya is somewhat harder to monitor, and local support is essential. A smart commercial truck was converted into a people carrier with a Tusk logo on its door, to collect children from the local schools and bring them to the bush school. Elisaria – Mkomazi’s number 2 – teaches them about the bugs living in the dead wood lying on the ground, the snakes and lizards living off the bugs, the birds living off the lizard. He explains how the smallest bush is food for the smallest buck as well as the mightiest elephant bull, and how they in turn feed predator population, rounding it all up into the beautiful life cycles of the bush. Their questions are pertinent, yet their surprise is total. When told that the last rhino was killed decades ago, they are appalled and ask who it was.

 

‘Your grandfathers’

 

Silence.

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When the elders are invited, their distress is even greater as they had no idea that the game they were killing for meat or money wasn’t sustainable, and could be so beautiful and such a source of renewable income through tourism. One particular chief broke down into tears and on Elisaria’s questioning said:

 

‘I know who killed that last rhino. That man is still poor and his family still goes hungry. What good was it?’

 

Ignoring all academic naysayers, Tony Fitzjohn also initiated a Wild Dog breeding program to bring them back into the East African parks. Universities said that hand reared pups would never rehabilitate into the wild and that the project was doomed. Empirical evidence shows otherwise, as tens of dogs were reintroduced into the wild and were hunting within hours of their release. Although gruesome hunters (disembowelling their prey on the run), they are fascinating creatures. Nothing will ever tame them. Captured as nearly weened puppies, they are brought into the bomas and divided up into breeding packs, each with their own Alpha female, the only animal allowed to breed in the very strict hierarchy. Even habituated to humans that young, they try and eat their carer most days.

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Visiting the Wild Dogs

 

Mkomazi is a very special place, and we would have loved to stay there longer. Elisaria was a magnificent host, and we felt extremely grateful to Tusk (and John Rendall) for facilitating the visit; I suppose it could only have been better if we had met the legendary T. Fitzjohn. Unfortunately, he still has to fly the world over to fundraise at the age of nearly 70, in order to finance the war against rhino poaching. Mkomazi is a war front, and support is always needed; Tusk supports a project taking their work very seriously. Good to see.

 

Why did we have to bring carrots? For Mr Tembo! Elisaria had a wicked look on his face when he asked Mr Tembo to join us over the short-wave radio, and Emma’s face was priceless when Mr Tembo came around the corner. Who knew that baby elephants loved carrots so much… Emma’s childhood dream was granted at Mkomazi, as we blew into his trunk and scratched behind his ears and let his long nose grip our fingers and sniff our faces.

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Rapid Rwanda

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Leaving Bwindi felt like waking up from a dream, and I expected it to be more like falling out of my bed. Rwandan authorities are notorious for almost strip-searching you looking for plastic bags (illegal in the country), forcing you to unpack everything you own. Ahead of the game, I’d put all of them into our bin, ready to drop it all off outside the boundaries of the national park and make friends with Rwandan officials for being such a good boy.

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It was an uneventful drive retracing our steps to Kabale from where we followed trucks with Rwandan number plates to Katuna. And Congolese plates! Clearing Ugandan formalities was easy as pie, same old, immigration, police clearance in three different offices to be allowed to drive the car over the rope, customs where the carnet was duly stamped and off we went into no-man’s land. Well I walked as Emma thought it was an appropriate moment to pull the age old trick of driving off as I reached for the door. I proceeded to walking at stalling pace in front of Mulungu preventing her from speeding through the border. We were really looking forward to saving some dollars as UK and SA citizens don’t have to pay for a visa in Rwanda, or so we thought. Mug’s Law predicted that the rule changed 6 days before we got there! Nonetheless, all was going smoothly and before we knew it we were handing our ‘Gate Pass’ to the policeman at the barrier asking if our luggage had been checked… Here it comes, I thought. And I’ve still got the bin!

‘No? Ah. They should have checked you, but I trust you, welcome to Rwanda!’ Off we went with our kilo of plastic bags!

 

The Genocide Memorial is a stern place. Beautiful gardens at the top of one of Kigali’s hills surround the building, where detailed explanations on the causes and consequences of the ’94 massacres are given. Although I tasted a bitter political flavour in the explanatory texts, the mix of global and local symbolism and proverbs offers a peaceful resting place to the thousands of people buried there, still being brought in to this day.

 

We had a chance encounter with Julien, a young Rwandan educated in Canada who’s come back to be part of the rebuilding of his country. He claims that the diaspora has kept strong links with home and families all speak kiyarwanda abroad; the government now offers tax breaks to whomever would like to return. Kagame is no flawless leader, but upon taking over the country he had no natural resources and no tourism industry to pick the country back up. All was bet on human resources Julien claims, and today Kigali is a buzzing capital with a certain financial and diplomatic leadership in the region. Having ditched French in 2008, they’re slowly back-pedalling as their markets reach into francophone Africa and specifically their huge Congolese neighbour.

 

We’d seen the gorillas, and Rwanda doesn’t have a huge amount else to offer, but we couldn’t just leave! Off we went to Lake Kivu on a stunning road winding through impeccably terraced hills – the country of a Thousand Hills should definitely be that of a Million Hills. Kibuye isn’t on the tourist map due to its particularly dark history during the days of the genocide, but it is a stunning place. Shooting stars flying through half your field of vision, whilst over Mordor (Democratic Republic of the Congo) lighting never stopped, flashing through the night. We had a real rest day, reading, writing, eating, doing old fashioned laundry scrubbing, a real treat. Little did we know that would be our last real rest for a while…

 

 

TFD

(aka Tuff, no one can pronounce my name around here)

PS: Erratic internet is proving a barrier to uploading more photos, will try and put them up somehow soon!
PPS: Can you believe we’ve raised 1400GBP?! Follow the links below to make it to 2000!

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Getting back in the Groove with the Gorillas

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It’s amazing how easy it is to become complacent when you travel for long periods of time, particularly when you get ‘out of your groove’. Having stayed with family in Kampala we found ourselves slipping back into European ways; a restaurant for lunch followed by popcorn and the cinema. Pierce Brosnan even makes it to Kampala! This, although really VERY welcoming at first soon begins to create a block in your mind. What on earth are we doing?!

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Ugandan family

‘I think we have got a bit complacent’ – WHAM. Yes, and it was time to move on, feeling enormously grateful for the western comforts and therefore, the reality check that we didn’t come all the way to Africa to watch Pierce Brosnan wooing a beautiful woman.

Once we had realised this simple little fact we booked our spot for Gorilla Tracking in 2 days time and left Kampala. The first night we stayed in beautiful Mburo Lake, here we found a tiny little community run campsite where we slept back in our comfy tent in the bush listening to the noises around us. I happily spouted the name of the animal to match the noise heard:

“That is a warthog” – ESS

“No, that is an impala” – TFD

“Ok that is an impala too” – ESS

“No … that is a zebra” – TFD

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Fine Scot at Lake Mburo (the whisky)

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Other local animals: Anchole cattle

This left me feeling thoroughly un-bush-educated! The next morning we opened up the tent to see all the noisy culprits (including Zebra) from the night before surrounding us. The following night we spent on the dreamlike Lake Bunyoni. This meant paddling our way in a dugout canoe to one of its 29 islands, Itambera. On the way we took shelter at one of the many tiny jetties so as not to be engulfed by the waves under the torrential rains. Our ‘Geodome’ hut was open fronted and made of thatch, this made for the most STUNNING morning wake up which included more self identification of birds, this as you can imagine was very successful. However the open-frontedness did not help with warming up after the coldest shower you can imagine. Pay more for a hot shower…? NOPE I’m a Scot.

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Not standing on the branch you’re sawing

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Bilharzia free Bunyony

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John’s very fresh crayfish for cheap

Now for Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the gorillas. It is hard to explain the excitement that we felt. When you enter the park having driven up into the mountains you cross over a very definite border; one side small subsistence farming patchwork fields, the other (with no fence in between) thick tropical rainforest. Before people this rainforest spread from Lake Edward to Tanganyika, now it has been cut back into much smaller individual forests. On the day scheduled you arrive at the registration office at 7.30 am to sign in and be split into groups for the briefing and then your journey into the forest. Each group consists of no more than 8 paying customers, 2 armed guards (for the unfriendly wild animals they say), a guide, ours named Augustine, and the 2 trackers you meet later. Our motley crew was driven for 20 minutes, there we parked and climbed over the edge of the road and began our descent down the side of a very steep mountain. Your feet often slip from beneath you and you find yourself sliding on your bum until you can catch yourself on a hanging vine, which hopefully does not have thorns in. The forest is filled with all the stereotypes you imagine, humid, damp, sweet smelling, the earth below made up with layers of decaying plants and trees from above that didn’t make it up to find the light. This makes for spongy, slippy, hot walking! Some people have to walk up to 5 hours to find the gorillas, we found them within just 15 minutes, a bit of a relief for some…

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Unfenced but Impenetrable

We were sent to find a family of 22 gorillas, including 2 silverbacks and 4 babies known as the Oruzogo Group. For one hour you observe quietly the goings on of what feels like very private family time. Toddlers playing together as they hang upside down in the tree, silverbacks watching quietly over the group grunting noises of disapproval when someone steps out of line or irritates them. Mothers sitting peacefully watching their babies play, whilst they nibble on plants and us less hairy gorillas gaze in awe. Technically the guides will not let you get closer than 7 metres, this seems to be forgotten straight away as you could, if you wanted, put out your hand and touch the Mumma walking past you. The guide and wonderful trackers push and pull you further into the group until you are literally right in the middle. The size of the frighteningly human group is surprising. The babies are roughly the same as humans but the silverbacks shoulderwidth gets up to around a meter. Pretty much like us, the mothers are pregnant for 8 and a half months then breastfeeding their little ones until they slowly begin to wean them on to plants. The constant communication between the group and then also with us was incredible, the trackers replying with what needed to be heard clearly, as there was never anything more than a bit of chest thumping and grunting.

Sitting with this extended family was such a treat and it will definitely be a highlight of the entire trip. I couldn’t believe it when the guide told us we had only 7 minutes left, I would have loved nothing more than to sit as an observer in that family all day. Then return again the next day. As it stands they believe there to be about 800 mountain gorillas which can be found in only 2 places, Bwindi in Uganda and the Vuringa mountains shared between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Amazingly the gorillas are one of the only endangered species to be increasing in numbers, so much so that they believe that if it continues the way it is they are going to have to start replanting more forest as there will not be enough space for them all. What a happy change it is to hear that!

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Wowed

Now we are back in our campsite on the edge of the park, getting ready for leaving and crossing the border into Rwanda tomorrow. We have just done all our washing, hung it up and surprise surprise the rains have started. Nothing however, not even rain filled laundry, will make me feel miserable today. We saw the gorillas and if you ever have the chance you must go too!

P.S. We have now raised over £1000, thank you to everyone who has donated… I wonder if we will make it to £2000?!

P.P.S. Tristan can now tie his hair up…

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Our border crossing day was one of those uneventful ones with only minor incidents too easily forgotten such as Emma locking the keys in the car… And subsequently finding out how easy it is to get back inside with the help of the local ‘mechanic’ (with dodgy hobbies). Of the two land border posts, we were closest to Busia, which happens to be the busiest one. An interminable line of trucks supplying the whole great lakes region with goods from Mombasa queues up for days at a time before being let through. We thought Mulungu was a big vehicle, but he felt positively minute amongst those crowds! Soon enough, the wazungu (us whites) are spotted by some ‘official international clearing recognised customs clearing agent’ who will help us if we buy him lunch… The paperwork was no big deal, we’re almost getting good at it now, but we must admit we would never have found our way through the traffic as he shouted at truckers to make a tiny path for us to the government buildings!

 

Uganda was never a colony, only a protectorate, maybe a reason for the inane African sense of hospitality flagrant once across the border. We felt hugely welcome. Within a couple of hours we had reached Jinja, where we camped by the Nile which we had last seen a few thousand kilometres ago! No time for bungee jumping or white water rafting to Emma’s dismay as we had a morning appointment at the Lively Minds Uganda HQ.

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Lively Minds Team

 

The Ultimate Travel Company – our generous sponsor – supports this charity here, focusing on early childhood education and thus falling directly in our own awareness goals. Josh and Grace, two of the eight members of the organisation, were going to take us to visit one of their new centres that afternoon.

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The Ultimate Travel Company sponsored play centre

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Half the group plays outside…

 

Just another charity building schools in Africa I hear you say? Get out. Lively Minds goes deep into rural areas, at the request of local chiefs, and sets up voluntary teams of women holding play groups once a week with children under the age of 5. Fifty children out of their mothers’ hair, playing (weirdly Montessori-like) educational games, getting their young minds going at that age when all skills are sponged up!

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… while the other half works hard

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Five groups of four

 

Community spirit takes on a whole new dimension in these relatively unspoilt African villages, greetings have far more importance than in the West. They aren’t vague polite enquiries, no one will take offence if you don’t enquire about the whole family, but these mothers will certainly want to know that you are well, that the weather has treated you well and that you have eaten well. No one is ever welcomed with bad news either, only good news can be given when meeting someone, and when addressing a group, these age-old exchanges are sung communally, punctuated with those wonderful deep African hums.

 

Having observed the gentle way these women have with others’ children, how they ever so softly guide them towards the solution to a game or to the next workshop, Grace and Josh took over. The children went to chase the chickens in the maize crops while the grace and courtesies were performed. With the same gentle manners expected for the children, Grace gave constructive feedback on the running of the day – we had no idea it had only been their second time in charge! As a teacher, Emma’s praise was even more appreciated – countless ‘ASANTE SANAS’ and shrieked blessing were given in chorus after that! They probably thought we were The Ultimate Travel Company and had funded their centre and it was hard to explain that we were actually also recipients of TUTC’s generosity but their humility was touching.

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Uganda

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Spectators

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Whilst others have other duties

 

What that day showed me is how a little goes a long way, how easy it is to get the small things right and make a difference. A smile and a caring enquiry will show respect, giving an afternoon to these play centres has given women a voice and dignity, Lively Minds has given time to training them and see rewarding results and The Ultimate Travel Company shared their resources to enable such projects to take place. Weirdly we have also benefited from this, but we are learning to do the same in exchange. Keep an eye out for Lively Minds, and support our own cause for similar ends.

 

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Volunteer mothers sponsored by The Ultimate Travel Company

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and trained by Lively Minds

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The writer on a well deserved retreat

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PS: We have raised over £1000 everyone, thank you so much. Please keep donating on the link below to continue supporting the amazing work we are witnessing and sharing with you, can we get to £2000?

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Corner of Hope

 

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Our time has come to an end in Kenya. We have stayed in the most wonderful places, with thanks to the Henleys, Andrews and Brooks for allowing us to be part of their lives and see sunsets in different and beautiful places. Not only have we seen incredible sunsets, we have sat and observed snippets of life from the animal kingdom. Elephants bathing in dust, buffalo grazing, giraffes picking the best leaves from the acacia trees and most excitingly so far, a leopard on his way to find supper. What a treat it has been to experience this example of Kenyan life.

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Climbing Mount Longonot

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Longonot Crater, highest point in the Rift Valley.

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Colobus Monkey at Naivasha

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Tea plantations near the Aberdares

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El Karama Ranch Waterfall

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… with the leeches!

 

Before we left there was another example of life we went to visit. Corner of Hope Montessori. Situated in ‘Pipeline’ Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camp on the outskirts of Nakuru is a community of 600 families. Having left their homes after the troubles of the 2007 general elections, they have begun creating a new life. The families have formed a co-operative and now own their land inside ‘Pipeline’, visiting small patches of farmland every now and again to try to create a small amount of food for themselves and possibly to sell with the hope of being able to earn a modest income. Too frightened to return back to where they belong in fear of more ethnic violence, the 600 families have made this new camp home. Many of the children, and certainly the 120 we met, have grown up thinking of ‘Pipeline’ as home.

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From the age of two and a half until they reach about 7 they are welcomed into a very special community. A place where they long to come to school, somewhere they care more about – possibly – than most of us care about our homes. It is amazing to see the difference in children who have none of the usual toys or TV’s when it comes to how much they want to be there, compared to the average child in the West. The day starts as early as 7, as the first child comes to the gate. They take part in the dusting and cleaning, taking great pride in making sure the 6 classrooms and the surrounding area is ready for the day to begin. From there, slowly the classes fill up until all 120 pupils are there by 8.30.

I’ve explained the basics of Montessori before here for those still confused (CLICK HERE).

To the children however, it is clearly very easy to comprehend. The room has a calmness you would find in most yoga studios with the addition of an underlying air of busyness. Lots of little people, doing their own work, with what seems to be a total understanding of where they are going next. Some were so enthralled with a particular piece of maths, for example, they didn’t even notice us walk in. The children here, help each other, rush back to pick up something they accidentally knocked over, become absorbed in an activity for long periods of time and take enormous amounts of care with everything they lay their hands on. Tristan, having never been in a Montessori school, could not believe his eyes and sat grinning like the Cheshire Cat. I am extremely lucky to have witnessed this Montessori phenomenon before, HOWEVER to see this level of understanding of Montessori in the setting of an IDP camp was pretty unbelievable to me too.

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Milcah and Emma

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Maths before 6

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… and loving it!

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Working together

The women who work there are supported and trained by Association Montessori Internationale (AMI). Over 2 years they grapple with the theory, read books, write out essays and all the hundreds of presentations and make every single piece of material needed in a classroom, by hand. This is all done in English, and for most of the women, English is probably their 3rd language. In London we make 4 of the hundreds of pieces of material needed and we find that challenging enough! The 60 women training this year will then take what they have learned and their prized, premade classrooms to their local communities and set up shop, as they say. Mentorship continues with the help of wonderful Sister Veronica, who trained with me, to make sure that the women feel supported and the children are getting the best possible Montessori practise.

This is a project that supports and empowers whole communities. Steps are being put in place to give the families of the children at Corner of Hope opportunities to earn a living. Using the skills they learnt and put in practise when building the school for their own children, they will look forward to creating and selling crafts. This will therefore give them back a chance to be able to support their families once again.

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Sister V welcoming us at the training college

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The next generation of teachers making their own material to bring to the schools where they will work

I asked Sister V – as she was known at college – what happens when the children have to leave the school when they have become too old.

“It’s hard, they join a government school and get very frustrated because they are being taught things they learnt years before”

For exactly that reason it has been decided to begin the Montessori teacher training for 6 – 12 year olds. The next step being, to look at opening a school for 6 – 12s in January 2016 with the first set of newly trained teachers. Forward thinking and working towards solving the challenges that continue to present themselves, is what comes to mind.

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Hoping for a Montessori elementary

So this is the point where I say to you, please do donate a small amount of your money to help support this charity. They really are self sufficient, using AMI money only to get them to the next step and then continuing to do a large amount themselves. This is not a project that is ‘sponging’ off foreign aid. They care, the staff care, the children care, it is part of their life and they definitely don’t want to lose it or compromise on the quality. Go on, give up a fiver to help them continue to support women going back into the community giving back to their own children and villages.

(click on the Virgin Money Giving link below to donate)

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Absorbing Shocks

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In French we say that only idiots don’t change their minds, so Emma and I must be this generation’s Einsteins because not one of our plans has lasted more than 6 hours recently…

In Addis, we were strongly advised not to go to Kenya via Turkana as it was deemed unsafe in the UN’s latest security report. Bureaucratic judgements like these aren’t my cup of tea but I was a victim of our own little referendum on the matter. ‘No’ won by 66.6%, so off to Moyale we went.

To appease my frustration Emma suggested we went to a beautiful crater 3 hours from Addis, where she will one day build a community run eco-lodge funded by her yoga retreats. The old volcano stands at 3000m (this is a metric expedition) and Lake Wenchi is totally isolated from the world, another little corner of paradise.

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Wenchi Crater

Mulungu’s offroad abilities were put to the test on the way out though, with the last mile covered in an adrenaline filled 45 minutes. Video to come soon.

Born Free hyena pup, Ethiopia

Born Free hyena pup, Ethiopia

Having scrapped Turkana from the itinerary, our second best option was the Bale Mountains. Once in view, they were so thick in cloud that we decided the Ethiopian wolf on his Sanetti Plateau could wait for a sunnier day, we weren’t going to go trekking for days in the rain!

On we went South, watching the green mountains turn to red dust, avoiding pot holes. Actually, that would imply there was more road than pot holes, but I think we were trying to avoid the bits of road and staying in the holes. Thin nosed highland ‘habeshas’ gave way to festive Oromos in their beaded head-pieces and then finally to the Southern tribes, far more Kenyan than Ethiopian.

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The Lion King setting in Southern Ethiopia

 

Moyale is just another one of the plastic covered schizophrenic border towns where children cross the imaginary line daily to go to school. Ethiopia is the last African empire, and lines were really drawn on a map by greedy Europeans sharing the big African cake.

We ended up in jail on our way to dinner. Motive: not standing to attention for the lowering of the flag 100m further down, thus “not respecting Kenya’s sovereignty”. I wasn’t going to pay a bribe, and they didn’t want to look after us for the night so we were released on the grounds that we hadn’t finished “reading the Kenyan laws in the two hours we had spent in Kenya”.

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Emma can now fall asleep anywhere anytime, breakdowns preferred

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Our Hercules technicien hitch hiker, Julian

The Moyale road is known to be horribly corrugated, but we didn’t think it would unscrew our pot of honey or burst our fire extinguisher… Or snap our break pipes! Luckily we had a Kiwi Airforce technician on board who got (very) dirty, and did some quick repairs to get us out of the Chalbi Desert. A Defender isn’t much different to a Hercules he assured us. Julian, thanks again for getting us out of that rut!

I suppose the corrugation has preserved this region from donated lycra trackies and the herders in the North of Kenya still wear beautifully coloured bead work around their arms, necks and chests. The Chinese road having made it 150km further North than we thought was a great surprise for our shaken bodies, but I do wonder what the tarmac will bring. Schools and health care? The Samburu and Galla people’s traditional values will have to withstand yet another wave of globalisation.

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Timau River

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We had to do it!

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Mount Kenya

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Taming birds

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Sangari Reserve

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Kenya Highlands

 

 

We have been on the road a month and finally covered enough ground to really slow down. We have two weeks in Kenya to recover, have hot showers, eat three meals a day, drink Tuskers, and spot some wildlife. Next up is Corner of Hope, where we will tell you how our endorsed projects are faring. Please continue to donate for us to approach these people with a helping hand and not just words:
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A Lindikhaya Clandestine

 

 

 

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So this was it, the end of the road for me. It had begun on the Nile in dusty Khartoum and finished here in a small corner of chaotic Addis Ababa in a gracious home with a sheltered jasmine scented garden alive with honey birds that once had belonged to an Ethiopian Princess. My motto, “live the moment, plan but don’t project” was failing me. I could hardly bare to think that the times I had just lived and shared between these two burgeoning African cities, averaging 80km an hour over 2500km, were already memories. But what extraordinary memories they are and never will I forget how we hugged and laughed and marvelled in disbelief at finding ourselves in a hotel lobby in the right place at the right time just as we had planned so long ago from the cushy comfort of home in Chantilly. It seemed insanely improbable and I have to admit to looking braver than I felt when constantly told I was crazy to let Tristan and Emma drive down Africa and even crazier to fly alone to such a dangerous country as the Sudan and drive with them to Ethiopia, that is if they ever got out of Egypt alive.

“Why? Pourquoi?” came the constant mantra.” Well if you can’t beat them join them,” I chanted back with a frisson of excitement knowing I’d never get the chance again and I could count myself lucky to be accepted on board. So, diligently ignoring the constant scary vibes from all and sundry – the French Government included – here I was thrilled as a teenager on her first trip abroad, sitting bolt upright for six hours in probably the only seat on Ethiopian Airlines than didn’t tilt backwards. I missed breakfast and, parched as a camel I wandered through the small town airport with international ambitions seeking something to slake my thirst and a screen that might indicate my departure gate to the unknown. Unsure of how things would pan out, I had taken the precaution of calling the hotel I had found on Internet then but had received neither confirmation nor prices or instructions on how I could get there from the airport. Inshallah, God works in mysterious ways.

On the short connecting flight to Khartoum I got chatting to young Ahmed, a Sudanese businessman on his way home from a team building trip sporting a red cap with Beacon, embroidered on it. This became his nickname. Below, the panorama of tributaries meandering like satin ribbons through lush wetlands gave way to hectares of husbanded squares and rectangles of agriculture, Sudan’s main export since losing its petrol in the South. Then the patchwork frayed and faded and my pulse started to race when I spotted the somnolent serpentine body of the Nile uncoiling nonchalantly out of the desert haze. It had ample time to steady again as, slow as Nile mud, we inched towards boarder control. Having stood naively in a queue marked “For Non Sudanese”, unaware that the officer had volatilized never to return, I side-shuffled self consciously into one of three parallel queues all destined for the same passport stamper. A tedious two hours later my beacon was waiting to help me reclaim my suitcases from the unclaimed baggage pile, change my money, buy my local SIM card and have me driven in the company minibus to my quaintly old, colonial hotel on Nile Avenue by a jovial looking chap with a beard, whom he described with a grin as a terrorist who wouldn’t shake hands with him let alone a female. Reception had no recollection of my booking but reassured us that there were two rooms available. Beacon took his leave promising to meet up later and miraculously soon afterwards the dust coated overlanders stumbled into the lobby exhausted but jubilant after three days crossing the Nubian desert since leaving Aswan.

Never had a hotel lunch, a vast comfortable air conditioned room, hot shower and crisp clean sheets seemed such an overwhelming treat so it was more miraculous that I managed to coax them out that evening. Mulungu deserved respite so we clamboured into a tuk tuk direction a “peoples” open air pavement restaurant for dinner. Emma and I were the only women – white at that – sticking out like sore thumbs yet annoying barely turning heads. Baffled as to how to proceed we were rescued by a well dressed young student who approached Tristan asking if we were French. Delighted with the affirmative reply he found us a table and ordered us ful (beans), soup with a sheep foot afloat in it like Kitchener’s steam boat – the closest we ever got to finding it – and a plain roast chicken. Midnight found us on a brightly lit Nile ferry with Beacon and his well healed young cousins sipping ginger flavoured Ethiopian coffee. Never before had they socialized with visiting foreigners but like most typical city boys from any given metropolis, they struck us as being more interested in enhancing their own careers than caring much about the affairs, past or present, of their country. Television, they said, had brought progress and change both good and bad. Local dialects were being forgotten but not the custom to entrust finding a wife to their mothers. “You ask for them to be intelligent and pretty?” Emma suggested. “Oh no, we don’t care at all!” Next morning while in the throws of convincing reception to bend the rules (about which no one warns you) and take my credit card, a message came in from Beacon to Tristan saying he hoped that one day they might work on a project together in Sudan. Waiting for us at the gates of Khartoum University, as agreed the previous evening over supper, was Mohammed and his Francophone friends negotiating with the guards to allow us to visit. The unsuccessful process gave us time to observe the passing students and oddly it was in this place of learning that we saw the blackest burkas.

Once out on the road the stately, strikingly beautiful women wrapped in long gaudy cotton shawls swayed elegantly like exotic flowers on fine ebony-black stalks. The schoolgirls, dressed in white, clutching tatty pieces of cardboard to write on, resembled banks of delicate desert lilies while the men, attired in white djellabas and waistcoats, a quite surprisingly active part of the work force nonetheless enjoyed the privilege of string beds judiciously close at hand in case of sudden fatigue. Heading East to “Soupia” as the Sudanese call it, we passed through check point after check point, with a wave and a grin and if we were stopped it was usually out of curiosity and for a chat to while away the time. Royally ensconced in the back of Mulungu in my comfortably be-cushioned space , admittedly somewhat reduced by my twice 23 kilos of bags (thanks Ethiopian) I   observed with satisfaction the non invasive curiosity aroused by Emma’s fresh beauty and natural smile and Tristan’s bush of red hair, confidence and easy authority.

A random stop at a roadside market intrigued us with the quality and fine display of its fruit and vegetables, you have to ask yourself who buys it all, also the willingness of old and young, men and women alike to be photographed asking nothing in return. It also provided us with an excellent supper cooked with aplomb under the light of the Milky Way. Not wanting to push through to Gallabat, the pronunciation of which we never mastered as it changed each time we asked directions, we chose to bump down a dirt track through flat green fields of sorghum and verbena escorted by drone-like squadrons of dragon flies to a spot among thorn trees we felt safe to free camp. Safe that is until the orange sun plopped down behind a nearby hill of round, russet coloured rocks piled high as heaps of elephants and bright bobbing lights encircled us causing Emma a jelly-leg anguish attack until Tristan proclaimed with authority that they were giant fire flies! An uneasy sleep ensued, not helped by my blow up mattress arched over the hump in the road. I emerged at dawn feeling crumpled as my kikoi to be greeted by hornbills and a grinning Moussa, who having spotted us from his firefly tractor the night before had come to pay his salaams, share a glass of water and inspect my tent with awe and wonder as did his old father whose wrist flapped like the legs of so many donkeys we’d seen disabled from un-splinted injuries.

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Trundling on eastward after a sticky porridge breakfast we felt nostalgic for the barren lands and straight roads littered with macabre milestones of sheep, goat and cattle carcasses with few scavengers to enjoy the pickings. The border crossing demanded patience and good humour but was hassle free and ably handled by our now experienced and well organized overlanders. At a leisurely pace we trailed behind self appointed guides through muddy puddles and discouraging heaps of plastic detritus until all the necessary forms had been filled and passports stamped in dilapidated offices increasingly devoid of light bulbs. These formalities apparently applied only to foreigners, the locals traversing the porous frontier constantly and freely often with important herds of fine Ethiopian cattle much prized by the Sudanese. But it was the squalor, the filthy European clothes ,the in your face prostitution twinned with challenging attitudes of out work youngsters which shocked us after the harsh, brutal beauty of Sudan and its people who had gone out of their way to be welcoming and friendly.

Going up to the Gonder plateau

Going up to the Gonder plateau

Climbing and winding steadily up into the heavily forested Simien mountains it was Mulungu who was now challenged and when the fog engulfed us he got grumpy and overheated forcing us to make a pit stop. The side of a steep road in the dark was an improbable place to dine but the table was duly laid, dinner cooked, enjoyed and washed up under the curious stares of villagers passing by silent as spectres. Strange people these ferengi (foreigners) we guessed they were shouting down the valley. Hours later we were hugely relieved to spy the glow of lights of Gonder but we were equally despondent to drive into a hideous concrete conglomeration, a feeling exacerbated by the tuk tuk taxi driver who guided us to a fully booked hotel and then ripped us off. It was here that Emma’s spoonerism ,” landing feet up” became part of our vocabulary as we quickly found another that was cheaper, cleaner with cheerful and helpful staff. Ethiopians have in common with the North Sudanese an undemonstrative and un-boisterous disposition giving with grace only what you ask of them. Having never been colonized they are naturally arrogant and beholden to no one. Delicious local meals of Injira (teff flour pancakes ) ful, chick peas, split peas, lentils, chillies and vegetables in turn regaled and revolted my stomach. Imodium became my new best friend.

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Gondar, the Camelot of Africa

 

Refreshed by a good nights sleep, big breakfast and internet catch up we walked under the watchful eyes of circling hawks and Lammergeier vultures the17th century ramparts of Emperor Fassil’s crusader like castle which the Portuguese Jesuits helped him design and build to ward off the Sudanese Dervishes. To thank them he briefly converted from Christian Orthodox to Catholic. His reign endured 200 years ending with the twenty year regency of Queen… Romantic gardens, baths still used annually for religious ceremonies, ebony floored banqueting halls and double sided fire places built to heat two rooms at once must have been truly glorious in their day. Occupied by the Italians under much hated Mussolini, the castle was bombed by the British and spoils, including priceless manuscripts from the library, carried back to London. Also only one astounding round church out of 44 has survived intact, the others having been destroyed 300 years earlier by marauding Muslims despite it being written in the Coran that they should never attack the Ethiopians, God’s own people. The rich murals and painted ceilings tell New Testament stories depicting horrendously gory scenes of smiling saints being hewn asunder, impaled or boiled alive have been declared intangible treasures by Unesco.

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Tree people at the Gondar public baths

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XVII century church, the last of 44 destroyed

 

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Women go through the West door and cover their heads

The relatively short four hour drive to overrated, overpriced Bahir Dar on lake Tana, (jumping off point for visiting the blue Nile falls and the island monasteries) was a bucolic eyeful of bullocks laboring through chocolate dark earth and ancient terraces of rippling lime green teff fields treacled over with lashings of golden yellow Meskel flowers, the sign of the end of the rainy season. Here summer and winter don’t exist, only the wet and dry season. Ethiopians are known to be incredible runners but their well fed, independently minded donkeys incredibly also run, usually with their owners behind them. These free spirits when not on their own mission spend their leisure time in the middle of the road or on roundabouts in the company of the odd sheep, cow or camel. Luckily for them only 10 million of the 90 million population (a frightening 40% of them under 16) own cars and the high speed taxis and buses tend to give way to this mixed bag of jay walkers. It was in Bahir Dar that we stopped to question a man as to a cheap hotel where we could camp. He was peeing but quite unfazed he indicated directions with a wide and constant arc of urine illuminated by the last rays of the sun.

 

 

Homing donkeys

Homing donkeys

 

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Driving to Lalibela, named by the King of the same name in the 12th century is like climbing up to heaven. Round stone huts are replaced by chalet type wattle and daub buildings with stabling for the animals underneath. Imported eucalyptus trees are blight to the eye but a blessing for fire wood and cheap building material. Hillsides were dotted white with egret like gatherings of people swathed in traditional hand woven white gabbies crouching around priests in bright robes standing under hand held orange, green, red and gold umbrellas. The last 64 kilometers on a bone shaking dirt road between rocky fields ,thorn trees and flowering aloes was slow but   “feet up” salvation came fast in the form of “7 Olives Hotel”, the towns first, originally owned by the Royal Family and now by a fairly corrupt priesthood.

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7000 members of the clergy in Lalibela

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but taking photos of the Ferengi is far more entertaining…

At 6.00 am accompanied by the obligatory guide, we tumbled down the hill to be absorbed into the cacophony of beating drums, blowing horns and chanting priests that had gone on all night . How lucky to be there for the Meskel ceremony of the Finding of the True Cross perpetuated since the 14th century by setting light to a huge pyre around which the religious dignitaries circled. Lucky too that the Chinese have not yet completed the road which will render one of the world’s last unspoiled wonders more easily accessible, for few were the tourists visiting the 11 totally impressive monolithic churches carved out of red volcanic tuff. By the end of the day we were churched out, out of breath, our leg muscles were aching and we were being pestered for money by the young boys who had so sweetly offered us wooden Ethiopian crosses that morning. Dollars too easily parted with lure them from school but if caught by the police they are jailed.

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Up to the nines for the Meskel festival

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not a painting

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The monolithic rock-hewn churches of Lalibela

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10th out of 11 churches in Lalibela

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… entirely carved out of the rock

Our return trip on the same dirt road through the rocky valley of desolation where undernourished, trapezoid headed children with demented eyes leapt in front of us shouting, “you, you ,you!!” and shaking their shoulders demonically. Others, living scarecrows posted in nests, slung their shots at us instead of at the birds, Mulungu over heated 4 times in 4 hours. At each stop the dirty urchins, victims of extreme poverty, surged out of the bushes smelly and begging for clothes yet the gift of just one T-shirt was like throwing one bone to a pack of vicious dogs. A disturbing experience. A jollier one by far was our final unplanned ” feet up” at Haike an untouched lake, birders paradise , where unwittingly we became part of 3 wedding celebrations, were offered leaves of the too popular mild narcotic khât to chew, ate fish freshly caught and slept like babies in a circular bamboo hut guarded by men with rifles.

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Breakfast at dawn on Lake Lake

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Ornithologist’s paradise

So tonight I fly back to Paris crammed with stories to tell of the scent of frankincense, sandalwood and myrrh floating over a country of women blue tea pots in hand and goats on leads, dignified old men on ponies in full panoply, pelicans and reed canoes, ” technicians” with free advise to crowding under Mulungu’s steaming bonnet, parrot green plastic sandals on every foot from Metema to Addis where concrete and glass glitter high above unspeakable shanties and roads so potholed that a small car could be swallowed up, garbage dealt with by a thousand hyenas, lions and cheetahs at the Born Free Institute saved from life imprisonment in potentate’s cages, coffee ceremonies, smart and interesting EU dinner parties. Tristan you can be rightly proud. I have dreamed so long of Ethiopia .Travel on well Lindikhaya, looking forward to hugging you both again in Cape Town. You’ll have driven from tip to tip of our extraordinary continent but I guess you’ll still be wanting more. Count me in please.

EADoumen

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The team, good of you to open your eyes Emma…

 

 

 

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