KENYA 2016 & 2010
BORDER TANZANIA TO MASA MARA
Welcome to the world cup of wildlife, the Wildebeest Migration!
One of the main attractions of the Masa Mara in Kenya is the Wildebeest migration. One of the “Seven New Wonders of the World” . It is incredible, it is magic, it is indescribable, and it is WOW! Nowhere in the world is there a movement of animals as immense as the wildebeest migration. Over two million animals migrate from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to the greener pastures of the Masa Mara National Reserve in Kenya during July and August.
The wildebeest must cross the Mara River in the Masa Mara where crocodiles, lions, cheetah, leopards and hyenas will prey on them. Around 1.7 million wildebeest, 400000 gazelles, 300000 Zebra, the main part of the herd, together with another 250000 other animals cross over the Mara river in the Masa Mara. The Masa Mara is a land of breathtaking vistas, abundant wildlife, and endless plains. The Masa Mara lies in the Great Rift Valley, around 270KM south West of Nairobi or around 60KM North East when entering from North West Tanzania. The Rift Valley is a fault line 5,600km long, from the Red Sea through Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi into Mozambique. The park is not fenced hence there can be as much wildlife roaming outside the park as inside. Most important bush camping outside the park is free, or if you like the security of a campsite, at less than 10USD per night. While inside the park you pay between 30 and 50USD per person per night. Like Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater the Masa Mara is overrun with game vehicles and tourist minibuses who contact each other on the 2 ways to advise each other of the next lion, leopard or cheetah kill or sighting. Hence for us the main attraction was the Wildebeest migration, and this will be something we never forget.
There are an estimated one million Maasai living in Kenya and Tanzania. They are perhaps one of the best-known people of Africa due to the facts that they have a very interesting culture and that they live near many of Africa's most popular tourist attractions, as well as their characteristic traditions and dress-style. The Maasai are a semi-nomadic group of people living in Kenya and northern Tanzania. The governments of Tanzania and Kenya are trying to sway the Maasai into abandoning their semi-nomadic traditions, but so far most of the Maasai kept true to their ancient customs. Away from the tourist traps you are made very welcome without any cost and they are happy to give you a taste of the local culture, traditions and general lifestyle. The Maasai warriors are renowned for competitive jumping. The warriors create a circle and, one by one or two by two, perform precise jumps in the middle of them. One of the most popular customs of the Maasai is the piercing and subsequent stretching of earlobes, in which the females sport a range of beaded decorations. Cows are crucial to the Maasai survival, providing milk and blood for food, hides for mattresses and clothes, excrement for plastering manyatta (hut) walls, and urine for its sterile medicinal cleaning qualities. Strangely, the meat of the cattle is hardly ever taken for food, but will sometimes be used in ceremonies. The cows are also a sign of wealth and are exchanged during the process of marriage. Other animals such as goats and sheep are also reared within the Maasai tribes.
Between our first visit in 2010 and today no improvement has taken place regarding road building! One wonders what happens to all the money? It does not end up with the Maasai or local villages as the government or local high-end lodges will tell you. The Maasai villages are as poor as 6 years ago during our 2010 visit, many communities still do not have enough clean and safe water, health facilities are poor or non-existing and education is of very low standard. Equally important the Maasai people are no longer allowed to graze their cattle in the park which they have done for hundreds of years. If cattle stray into the park they are charged 200USD to recover the cattle. This is despite the lodges promoting community help which does not happen, and the money disappears in the pockets of many corrupt officials and lodge owners. To make matters worse the Masaai People have very poor or no compensation when animals kill their cattle. This money-grabbing "rip of the tourist" mania is done by the Tanzania and Kenyan authorities. If the money would be poured into the Maasai community directly I possible could live with it, but infrastructure has not improved and camping fees between 30USD and 50USD per night per person do not even offer water, toilets, or firewood. Just a grassy patch. Fine for bush camping, in fact perfect, but not when you must pay 30 USD to 50 USD per person per night. We camped around 10Km north of the gate in Kimana Camp. Next morning it was off to Nairobi on the C12. In 2010 we were told the money from the parks would be spent on doing up the road? Well in 2016 nothing has changed not for the village of Sekenani and not to the road. It still is in the same abominable shape as in 2010, resulting in many game vehicles driving next to the road destroying vegetation.
Nothing in the world beats the sight of thousands of wildebeest crossing the Mara River. But if you arrive at any other time of the year, spend your money for wild life watching in the Parks of Southern Africa at a fraction of the cost of the parks in Tanzania and Kenya.
Example a San Pass, covering many parks in South Africa and Swaziland costs 2750 Rand for 12 months (2015) Including Kalagadi, Addo, Kruger, Hluhluwe National parks to name a few, offering superb facilities, great wild life and cheap bush camping.
MASA MARA TO NAIROBI
Next destination Nairobi, we need to get our Ethiopia Visas organized and were looking forward to catching up again with Chris Handschuh and his wife Diane who own and operate Jungle Junction overlander campsite in Nairobi.
This must be one of the most popular campsites for most overlanders visiting Nairobi. It offers Wi-Fi, laundry, hot and cold showers, long term storage for cars, trucks and motorbikes and most important after many of the poor maintained roads mechanical repairs, all at a very reasonable price. The property is secure with 24-hour security. We had some great happy hours with our new overland friends from the UK, Vince and Jackie, and Lisa and Jason. Nairobi is the capital of Kenya and with nearly 4 million people the largest city in Kenya. The city is not only the largest and fastest growing city in Kenya, but also the second largest in Africa after Dar Es Salaam. The word Nairobi derives from a water hole known in Maasai as Enkare Nyirobi, which means "cool waters”. The whole area around Nairobi was a swamp area. I have to say roads improved a lot in and around Nairobi since 2010, however, the city is still traffic logged. Nairobi has a nickname "Nairobbery" and this does little to help the image of Kenya's unruly capital. For us Nairobi is like any other major city in sub-Saharan Africa, from Lagos to Accra and Kampala and Dar Es Salaam, with crime, scams and other urban hassles. But for the first-time visitor it can be scary. And so would be the matutus. The matutu drivers are as mad as they were in 2010. A matutu (public minibuses/commuter buses) is used for traveling between the suburbs and Nairobi. Matutus vary in size, between small 14 seat vans to 50 seat buses. But to have 22 or 25 people in a 14-seat bus is also possible. To become a matuta driver or bus driver you must have no fear or family and complete disregard for your life and that of others included children. Drivers passing on curbs, speeding in school zones, speeding along busy shopping strips, ignoring pedestrian crossings, passing in oncoming lanes while cars are oncoming, is all quite okay and so is overtaking in curves. Matatus are involved in a high number of accidents every day. Matutus carry more people than seatbelts and are dangerous if involved in accidents. On each matutu a guy will hang out of the matatu and call out a price and the suburb the matutu is driving to.
Nairobi’s largest slum area Kibera is also the largest urban slum area in Africa with an estimated 1.5 to 2 million people living in the area according to our driver. (Official figures show just 170000!!!)
Most of the Kibera slum residents live in extreme poverty, earning less than $1.00 USD per day. Cases of assault and rape are common. There are few schools, and most people cannot afford education for their children. Clean water is scarce. Diseases caused by poor hygiene are prevalent. A great majority living in the slum lack access to basic services, including electricity, running water, and medical care. Not an area you like to venture on your own but only with a driver. Unemployment rates are high. Persons living with HIV in the slum are many, as are AIDS cases. The Government it appears has initiated a program to replace the slum with a residential district of high rise apartments, and relocate the residents to these new buildings upon completion.
Despite many stories to the contrary it only took us 2 days to get our Ethiopian Visa. Yes, a lot of hard work, a lot of bureaucracy, a meeting with the ambassador and being very nice to an Ethiopian consul who was not nice at all, in fact very difficult. Even after we got the approval of the Ambassador she wanted to know in what suburb we would stay in Addis Abeba and the names of the people plus telephone and email address. Did she ever check? NO
After rotating the tyres, oil change, general check of the truck and shopping it was time to leave Nairobi for our next destination Amboseli National Park and the Indian Ocean for 10 or more days R&R on a white sandy palm fringed beach.
NAIROBI to AMBOSELI NP
From here it was back to Nairobi to repair a leaking diesel tank, and at no better place than Jungle Junction. It must be one of the most popular campsites for most overlanders visiting Nairobi. Chris and his wife have made this an incredible meeting point for all us overlanders heading either North or South. Jungle Junction repairs and services trucks, 4X4 and motor bikes. It has an extensive workshop with two mechanics with a good knowledge of every type of 4 x4 and motor bike likely to be travelling Africa. After a week at Jungle Junction it was time to do some more sightseeing around Kenya. First stop Amboseli National Park and Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak at 5895m. Amboseli National Park is one of Kenya's most popular parks. Mainly because it is so close to Nairobi and easy to get to. Big-tusked elephants, Africa's best Mt Kilimanjaro views, lions, wildebeest and zebras, and rich birdlife makes it very popular. The image of elephants wandering across grass plains with the snowy peak of Mt Kilimanjaro in the background is one known even to armchair travellers. Amboseli National Park highlights the stark contrasts Africa has to offer. Amboseli is renowned for its elephants, who may be seen in herds over 100 strong drinking from the surface springs. There are so many of them that their penchant for pushing down trees is destroying the habitat that sustains them. Big old bull elephants carry some of the largest tusks to be seen anywhere in Africa and is a renowned feature of this park. Also, happily roaming the grasslands are buffalo, wildebeest, zebra, giraffes, impala and warthog. Attendant carnivores include lion, leopard, caracal, cheetah, jackal, and hyena and serval cat. Unfortunately, any rhino is long gone from this area after intensive poaching. Unfortunately for us we never saw the top of Mt Kilimanjaro during our stay this time, but we did in 2010 and 2 months ago when we visited the Tanzania side. Surrounding Amboseli is where the Maasai live and share land with the wild life. We were told wild life avoids the village areas due to too many people and the grazing has already been eaten by the Maasai all-important cattle.
AMBOSELI NP to the INDIAN OCEAN
We passed Tsavo West and East National Parks but due to the high entry cost we decided not to enter. (we visited Tsavo East in 2010) Tsavo East is Kenya’s largest National Park.
Next was the short (in km) but long, long drive to Mombasa following the Mombasa road A109. Like in many other countries in Africa the most dangerous game is driving. Shabby potholed highways, careless motorists and decrepit cars cause one death for every 71 vehicles on the road. And the A109 is among the most dangerous and unforgiving roads in the world. Bus, truck and matatu drivers with complete lack of conscience, respect for life and children, race at high speed through villages, overtake in corners and on the straight stretches forcing oncoming traffic of the road, (or not) resulting in head on collisions and cars being pushed in ditches.
Warning triangles are mandatory in Kenya and most other African countries, BUT look out for the vines or branches used as Kenya-style traffic warnings. These strange symbols on the road means a truck has broken down or a truck or bus has overturned just around the hairpin corner! Slam on your brakes, and cross your fingers in the hope that the tailgater in the swayback pick up behind you has any brakes left at all. And all this despite the many police road blocks, weigh bridges etc. The newspaper headlines tell the stories about horror accidents. A local told me: “In Nairobi, we pray before we drive. We get in our cars, and we hope we survive the system of bad, potholed, washed out, crumbling shoulders, decayed and chaotically overcrowded roads. Bad cars and bad drivers is a deadly mix. But you could argue because the drivers are arguably worse than the roads--and the dilapidated condition of an average Kenyan vehicle is worse; despite all the police presence they make traffic jams even worse with their road blocks and achieve nothing. You also need patience with the driver who stops in the middle of the road to talk to a friend or take on passengers, patience with the character who appears on the wrong side of the road, patience with the queue jumper whose car is covered with battle scars, patience with the policeman who stops you on the only road for 100 miles around and asks where you are going, patience with the donkey and the cart that slows you to crawling pace up a long hill, patience with the driver who indicated right and turned left." Kenya has 160,886 kilometres of roads. Just 13,900 kilometres of this are paved, and with paved they mean some type of surface. Driving towards Mombasa we noticed the standard gauge railway being constructed. Wouldn’t it make more sense to first expand the two-lane Mombasa Road which is supposed to be a highway – to have a side lane for the slow-moving trailers? However, following the road there are interesting views as we cross Tsavo East and West National parks. The changing landscape and vegetation, a few zebras grazing lazily by the road, bars upon bars upon restaurants arranged in little towns along the highway, clustered mud huts and tiny house structures covered with nylon which remind you of another part of Kenya you only see on TV. Or locals riding to their destinations on their local metal bicycles, the women with lesos tied around their waists selling sacks of charcoal by the road side. Just on dark we arrived at the outskirts of Mombasa (scary). Hundreds of trucks try to get into the port, blocking roads, giving us no option but to get off the road narrowly missing shanty huts and food stalls to get towards the city centre. By now it was dark. Trust me this was not fun driving in a city with no traffic rules. Around 8PM we arrived at the Likoni ferry taking on board 25 cars and around 1000 people to cross the river. After arriving at the other side, at Likoni we notice lots of open markets, and even more open dumpsites. It did not look pretty in the dark. Another 25km later bad tarmac and around 6 kilometres on dirt roads with low overhanging trees (Poor Truck) we arrived at the beach after a long, long day at 9.30PM. Waking up the next morning the long day driving was quickly forgotten. A white sandy beach and swaying palm trees; it could not have been a better way to wake up. After breakfast and a swim in a warm Indian ocean we moved our truck closer onto the beach and this was our campsite for the next day or 10. The beauty of Tiwi Beach is that to get there you need to drive off the tarmac and with only one resort there is not a lot of entertainment; it is Kenya like it used to be 40 years ago, mainly simple beach bungalows. Due to the lack of tourists there are no beach boys (irritating hustlers) who try to make a living from tourists. They all are in Diane Beach.
We do get daily visits from the locals to sell us fish, vegetables etc. A perfect reef on our door step made for great snorkelling. Kenya may well be one of the safari ‘capitals’ of the world but it has some unspoiled beautiful white sandy beaches. Fringed by swaying palm trees on one side, and the warm Indian Ocean on the other, the shoreline is lined with coral reefs. Hard to leave this place. In 2010 we visited Diane Beach perhaps the best-known beach in Kenya. There’s a lot happening, lots of places to eat, to drink and party a little. But like everywhere else in Kenya tourism is down due to the high cost and terrorism treats.
Driving back to Mombasa we had to cross the Likoni Ferry again. The ferry is a slow ride and we wondered about safety procedures as we had to share the ferry with at least another 1000-foot passengers. It’s too bad we weren’t allowed to take photos or videos, but we still managed to take a few. The island city of Mombasa, surrounded by creeks and East Africa’s biggest port, is shabby and dilapidated, but not lacking in atmosphere. It’s fun to visit 16th-century Fort Jesus, built by the Portuguese, and a must is to shop in the alleys of the old city. But don’t expect a Middle-Eastern-style warren of souks. Mombasa is the second largest city in Kenya, lying at a coastal area along the Indian Ocean with an estimated population of about 2 million people. Mombasa's situation on the Indian Ocean made it a historical trading centre, and it has been controlled by many countries because of its strategic location. Mombasa has a cosmopolitan population, the major religions practiced in the city are Islam, Christianity and Hinduism. Many immigrants and traders have settled in Mombasa, particularly from the Middle East, Somalia, and the Indian sub-continent. The Mombasa Tusks are an essential stop in Mombasa. These symbolic representations of entrance into the heart of the town were built to commemorate the visit of Queen Elizabeth in 1952, as they lay directly on the path from the port to the town. Ivory was an exquisite commodity during the time and the tusks were meant to welcome and embrace the Queen and the British Empire. In all we had a great time and the coast feels like a different world from the savannahs of safari country. Low-lying and sandy, indented by mangrove-lined creeks, and shaded by coconut palms, the coast blends the bright light and colours of the tropics with the sparkling azure-blue of the Indian Ocean, where you watch traditional lateen-rigged dhows sailing out beyond the coral. Please note not all photos are taken by us.
MOMBASA to LAKE BORGORIA
We followed the A109 back to Nairobi and arrived late at night after 14 hours of driving. The following day we left for Western Kenya. The drive out of Nairobi up to the top of the escarpment and the scenic views across the Great Rift Valley are a perfect start to the day enroute to Lake Naivasha, climbing to around 2400 meters before the road drops gently down the side of the escarpment, with views of the lakes and dormant volcanoes. Our first stop was Lake Naivasha a freshwater lake, outside the town of Naivasha amidst many Dutch flower growers and their hot houses. The Name Naivasha is from the local Masaai name Nai'posha, meaning "rough water" because of the sudden storms which can arise. Hippos, giraffes, buffaloes and zebras are just a few of the species that thrive at the lake and its surrounding swamps and grasslands. The Colobus monkeys, and you see lots of them around the lake shore, survive on flowers, fruit and leaves and are normally seen in a group of 4. One male and 3 females. Colobus have a black body and white shoulders, backs and beard. A nickname, "Messenger of the gods," comes from the monkey's habit of climbing high in trees and facing the sun at dawn and dusk. Unlike 2010 this time we did not stop at Lake Nakuru due to the high cost of visiting the park. Due to the high concentrations of algae in the water, there can be anything up to a million flamingo, and from a distance it looks like a pink crust frosting the lakeshore.
It was a compulsory stop at the Equator before heading into the Northern Hemisphere to Lake Borgoria a saline, alkaline lake that lies in a volcanic region. The lake is also famous for geysers and hot springs along the bank of the lake and in the lake. Lake Baringo we did not visit this time, but we did in 2010. After Lake Turkana, it is the most northern of the Kenyan Rift Valley lakes, with a surface area of about 130 square kilometres.
LAKE BORGORIA to BORDER ETHIOPIA
During our short stay in Nairobi we also revisited (we loved it in 2010) Carnivores the must do eating experience in Nairobi. Every type of meat imaginable is served including a selection of meat roasted over charcoal and carved at your table. The food, service and atmosphere are strikingly different from anything ever seen in Kenya. The Carnivore is a meat specialty restaurant and it is referred to as 'the ultimate 'Beast of a Feast'. Next door is the Simba saloon; this place is well known for hosting some of Africa’s best musicians. It was time to move and explore northern Kenya towards our next destination Ethiopia. We visited Mount Kenya (5,199 meters) the highest mountain in Kenya and the second highest in Africa after Mount Kilimanjaro and just 150 kilometres north of Nairobi.
We spent a few days in the Samburu area and a nice camp spot on the banks of the Ewash Ngiro River near Archers Post. A few days in this area gave us a great inside to the Samburu people, bright bead collars, mud make-up and cow's BLOOD for breakfast!!!! Rather gruesomely, their staple food is cow's blood, drawn using a special arrow that pierces the vein without killing the animal, mixed with milk - a protein-heavy diet that helps them survive in one of the harshest environments on the planet. The Samburu of north-central Kenya are related to the Maasai. The Samburu are semi-nomadic pastoralists who herd mainly cattle but also keep sheep, goats and camels. Men wear a cloth which is often pink or black and is wrapped around their waist in a manner like the Scottish Kilt. They adorn themselves with necklaces, bracelets and anklets. Women wear two pieces of blue or purple cloth, one piece wrapped around the waist, the second wrapped over the chest. Samburu women have their necks encircled with beads, their chins painted red with ochre and with massed bracelets jangling on their wrists, the women of Kenya's Samburu are a colourful sight. The elaborate jewellery is more than just decoration. It also reveals subtle clues about status and wealth as well. 'Samburu girls are given strings of beads by their fathers from a very young age. The first layers of necklaces are usually red, as it means the girl is engaged which takes place at a very young age. Before getting married, teenagers enjoy a degree of sexual freedom and wear heavy beaded necklaces given to them by their boyfriends. Each girl is given a house by her parents where she can entertain her warrior openly, while the men spend up to $100 - a huge amount of money for the Samburu, on elaborate necklaces. As a result, scraping together the cash to pay for a necklace can include some illegal business. This includes stealing cows with friends from the neighbouring tribes and the cows will be sold to get some money. It was time to leave and head towards the A2 to Marsabit and Moyale according to all reports the road is now sealed. This was a horrendous journey when we followed this road in 2010. Taking over 20 hours to cover 500KM or 2 long days of travelling. Today it is a breeze and the new road would allow those travellers doing East Africa in 6 months to drive from Nairobi to Moyale in one long day. (Missing many highlights along the way) Marsabit is a melting pot of cultures of 14 ethnic communities. Lake Turkana, just 200 kilometres up the road is the largest desert lake in the world, measuring about 5000 square kilometres. The water body with an estimated 500-kilometre-long open shoreline contains some of the largest salt-water crocodiles in Africa.
Border Tanzania to Mombasa
We decided to follow the coastal tracks North to Tanga and then on to the Lunga Lunga border post in the far North East of Tanzania. At one stage, 60km took us 3 hours and 20 minutes and we reckon this has been the worst road in Africa so far. But the villages we travelled through made it worthwhile. We followed the coastline, and the Indian Ocean is picture perfect. We were told it was going to be tough and slow, so we left early as recommended at 6am just on sunrise. We covered 350km and arrived at our campsite just south of Mombasa at Diani Beach Backpackers, just before dark. Our truck just fitted into the drive way and a German lady was kind enough to move her tent so we didn`t block the driveway. Within a minute of arriving a couple of German and Dutch overlanders approached us and wanted to know if we are travelling north to Ethiopia. You guessed it - they are unable to get a visa. Like us, they are now looking at the options. Sudan through the Dafur region is possible but it is not very safe. However, it maybe our only option. The news is getting more disturbing as the Dragoman bus driver also told us that Ethiopian visas are no longer issued in Nairobi for overland travellers. Khartoum (Sudan) and Kampala (Uganda) have followed suit and the reason we have been given is that it is a new policy. So, we need to get this sorted out as soon as possible. We finished with a few beers in the lively bar and we had an early night after a long day driving. It was time to enjoy Diane Beach and come up with a plan to enter Ethiopia, Sudan and Saudi Arabia. After a few days we decided to explore the coastline north towards Malindi and Lamu. But first we explored Mombasa a city of around 1 million people. The city is separated from the mainland by 2 creeks. The city is cosmopolitan with a majority of Swahili and Mijikenda population. The major religion is Islam, Hinduism and Christianity. Mombasa is looked upon as a romantic port and it is built on a coral island. It has retained much of its 12th century charm. It has a floating market and this market has a population of around 500,000 people. We were curious to see so many middle aged European ladies with black African boyfriend’s half their age. It is the age difference that stood out the most. During our visit large demonstrations took place hence we did not spend a lot of time in the city.
In Mombasa we were hassled for the first time with a lot of anti-American sentiment and we were told about the hero of Al Quaida, Osama Bin Laden. That`s a worry. We were in a traffic jam and it became a little scary as no one seems to care! But it was the first time I had the stun gun at the ready. As seems to be the case everywhere in Africa, buses are never full, nor is the ferry. However, the ferry we were on was so overloaded that it got stuck on the ramp and people had to get off! Lifejackets are under lock and key.
Mombasa to Lamu
Driving North along the coast the beaches were so nice, white sand and palm trees all along the coast, compared to what we saw at Diani Beach. Even more surprising was the number of European holiday makers staying in 5-star resorts, and cooking all day in the sun, trying to get this African tan before flying back to Europe. All European newspapers are on sale here. The drive to Malindi was beautiful. While enroute to Malindi we did some shopping at the markets; 8 bananas, 6 oranges,8 mandarins, 2 avocados and a cucumber for the huge sum of AUD2.00 or Euro 1.30. We also organized our entry permit for the remote entry point in East Tsavo National Park. After we visited Malindi, we drove further north towards Lamu to find a nice secluded spot on the beach overlooking the Indian Ocean. The locals delivered firewood and even lit the fire for us. The Lamu Archipelago has some of the best diving in East Africa. Lamu is a ninth century settlement of cobbled streets and flag-stoned courtyards. Like Mombasa, it is a mix of Islam and Swahili and offers a glimpse into old Africa. We are now only 4 degrees south of the Equator.
LAMU to NAIROBI via East Tsavo National Park
After 5 days we continued towards East Tsavo National Park. The start was good with some corrugations but as we continued, the road in was a shocker and we just realized that we did an average of 19km per hour to cover 99km. By 5.30pm we arrived at the remote gate (closed), but we were unable to find a campsite. We were invited into a little village and in no time the locals had a good look at the truck and realized that we had our own power-water (hot and cold) kitchen, shower and toilet. Many of them had none of these facilities. A few of the locals took us to the river where they teased the crocodiles out of the water and for a minute or, so I felt like the Crocodile Hunter. (No-one knew him here.) We were shown the village toilet, but we decided that ours was a very good alternative! We decided to stay close to the river, so we could watch the crocs, hippos and elephants as they came to drink. We were warned not to walk at night as lions, cheetahs and elephants roam the village!
3am - Clary`s voice broke my sweet dreams. "Robert wake up, wake up!" There was a lot of noise and yes, we had elephants thinking the truck was a tree and they were rubbing themselves against it! What do we do now? I thought to myself. Take a photo?
No this will scare the elephants and who knows what would happen then. Get out of the truck? No, that's a no brainer - it will charge! So now we are stuck in the truck knowing that the elephants tusk could easily go straight through the truck and he would be able to lift and roll the truck over. We could do nothing but sit tight and hope for the best. After around 15 minutes the elephants moved on. Bloody hell - go back to sleep. In the morning we were told this is normal and sometimes the elephants destroy the houses in the village. We were also told that the lions were in the village, but we never saw them, but we did hear them roaring. The following few days we explored Tsavo East National Park, which we are planning to cross from the North East to the South East, crossing the Galana River, which cuts through the middle of the park. The Galana River is one of Kenya's largest rivers. The Northern Part of the Park is not yet completely safe and has a poaching and banditry problem. During our trip we had no issues, but we were warned to be careful. In fact, at one place, we were not allowed to camp as they were not able to guarantee our safety. Tsavo suffered from poaching in the 1980s - 1990s and the elephant population was decimated from 45,000 to 5,000 animals. Nearly all the rhinos disappeared. The rangers told us the poaching is on the rise again. They are blaming Somalis crossing the border. Once we arrived at the Galana River, the scenery was superb, and we followed the river for a while. From there we followed the track to Aruba Dam and Kanderi Swamp. Both are known for the large herds of elephants and lions. At this stage Clary had had enough of the corrugations and wanted to set up camp. Paying USD 120 and USD 10 for the truck for a 24-hour period, we assumed this included the camping fee. Not so - this cost another USD 50 per night and with no facilities except a long drop and a cold shower. Not sure what is happening in Eastern Africa, but the prices charged for foreign tourists are over the top. I suppose when they see us coming we must look like millionaires. I wonder what happens to all this money? They do not spend it on the roads.
TSAVO NATIONAL PARK – AMBOSELI and TSAVO WEST NATIONAL PARKS
The last day we decided to drive an extra 8km and we bush camped 1km outside the park for free making a saving of USD 50. We left early today for a loop around Amboseli and Tsavo West National Parks. The main reason for our trip, Mount Kilimanjaro, was not to be seen. This, despite sunny warm weather. Amboseli was very dry and wildlife concentrates around the one waterhole left. Amboseli is a top destination for a Kenya Safari operator. Indeed, one of the classic images of East Africa, let alone Kenya, is that of a herd of elephant strolling across the plains with the snow-capped peak of Kilimanjaro in the background. It is to catch this sight on memory and on film that people flood to Amboseli National Park, while Kilimanjaro is across the border in Tanzania, Amboseli has a perfect view of this world`s tallest freestanding mountain, rising an impressive 5 kilometres above the plains. The best time to view the majestic mountain is at dawn and sunset, when the clouds lift, and the light is both clear and soft. In our case we had no luck tonight so hopefully tomorrow morning (early rise at 5.30am). Unfortunately, the accessibility of the area, and the rich wildlife, has led to Amboseli`s downfall. It seems that it is only a matter of time before the animals move on to greener grasslands thanks to the perils of safari popularity. Too many minibus and jeep drivers veering off the roads in pursuit of a good look at the game have turned the delicate grass plains of Amboseli into a dust bowl. Stick to the roads to protect the park`s fragile ecosystem and avoid making the situation any worse is the messages but those in charge and making the rules probably only fly in as the roads are so bad. You have no choice but to drive next to the road to avoid the massive pot holes. As we have said before, we are now a little gamed out and the cost of visiting parks in Tanzania and Kenya is ridiculous and for less than a quarter you can see all the wild life and more in Parks like Etosha-Chobe and South Africa. All we really want to see at this point is Mount Kilimanjaro. The world largest free-standing mountain. This resulted in two 5.30am wakeup call as we wanted to see Mount Kilimanjaro. By 6am it was daylight and yes there she was. As we were camping at 1780 meters, the 5800-meter mountain only looked as high as an Austrian Mountain. But, this is a free-standing mountain and that makes it spectacular. We saw the east side of the mountain early in the morning and later, the north side. The cloud came and went but later the sky cleared, and it was as good as we could have hoped for. Amboseli is a small but well-established national park of 392 sq. km. It borders on Tanzania and is 240km southeast of Nairobi. The name comes from the word 'empusel', which in the Masaai language means 'salty dust'. It derives this name from when Kilimanjaro erupted some thousand years ago and covered the area with dusty volcanic ash. Amboseli`s landscape of open plains trampled by hundreds of animals still looks dry and dusty today. However, it is well-watered thanks to the ice cap on the top of Kili only 25km away. This constantly feeds two springs in the middle of the park even through periods of drought. We are told there are 900 elephants in the park, which are reputed to have the biggest tusks in Kenya. There`s also an abundance of plains game, and cats include lion, leopard and cheetah. Sorry we were only interested in Mount Kili as the locals call it. From Tsavo west and Amboseli Nat Park we headed to Nairobi.
Without realizing it we climbed to over 1700 meters. The road to Nairobi from Voi was perfect and the Kenyan drivers are a lot better than those we witnessed in Southern Tanzania and Zambia. The last 3 hours we drove in the dark and rain. which would not be a real problem if the roads were properly lit and the cars would use lights. But it is dark and cars and busses drive with no lights! To cut a long story short, it was raining, slippery and cars overtaking on both left and right - it was like a nightmare. Around 8.30pm we reached Nairobi and 2km before Jungle Junction we came the closest we have been to a real disaster! We missed a Police roadblock in a dark street (slum area) and within centimetres (Clary reckons millimetres) we came to a stop at the spikes thrown over the road! What the hell is this? The police officer came to the truck he said, "You are destroying government property." Clary quickly replied, "No, you are destroying my tyres!" The officer then said, "You must not have been watching but talking". Clary responded with, "No we were not. What is this road block for anyway in a dark street?" (We did not dare say Slum area). They were chasing armed robbers and criminals he said. Then I chimed in with, "Mate we are tourists, half the bloody city drives with no lights, there are no street lights and you are worried about me not stopping at your road block". In the mean time we became an attraction as the people living in the slum area all gathered around the truck. And traffic ignored the police and the road block and found a way over the foot path. I told him we are going, and we were not going to wait. When we took off nothing happened and off we went. That was close. Clary told me it was 1cm and 2 tyres would have been destroyed. Worse still, we could have knocked down the police officers.
If that had happened no doubt we would be spending Christmas in Nairobi and maybe the next and the next. I doubt if they would have been too impressed if we had flattened a couple of their officers. Nairobi is a city of around 3.5 million people and has the nick- name Nairobbery. From what we have seen so far it is a cosmopolitan city, blessed with the most wildlife in the world, making it a great safari destination. Known as the 'Green City in the Sun', Nairobi is the largest city as well as the capital of Kenya. Nairobi gets its name from a Maasai phrase Enkare Nyorobi meaning "the place of cool waters". Furthermore, it is the most populated city in East Africa, and the fourth largest city in Africa. We used a driver to get around Nairobi while shopping as parking with the big truck is a nightmare. The driver Peter was knowledgeable and interesting. The traffic in Nairobi and Kenya for that matter was a lot more civilized that in some of the other African Countries we have been through. But still you wonder what the roll of the police is as no-one seems to care. Nairobi`s history dates back to 1899 when the first railway depot was built in an African swamp occupied by the Maasai, a nomadic tribe, and the Kikuyu people. In 1900 the place was rebuilt due to an outbreak of the plague. Later in 1907, Nairobi turned into a commercial centre and became the capital of the British East Africa by replacing Mombasa. Nairobi flourished under the British rule and became a home for many Britons. In 1919, the British declared Nairobi a municipality. Nairobi lies only 90km south of the Equator, but you won`t believe how cold it gets here. We were cold and required our doona overnight. The altitude of Nairobi is 1800 meters. Our passports returned from Europe including the Ethiopia Visum hence our next stop became the Sudan Embassy. So off we went with our driver Peter to the Sudanese Embassy. After the usual paperwork (everything in duplicate i.e. written out twice) we had to pay 8000 KES (Kenyan Shillings) $120 AUD. But we didn`t get a receipt. The reason being, they had run out of receipt books! We weren`t too happy to leave our passports behind as the filing system was one large pile of passports, but we had no choice. We were told to come back tomorrow at 3pm. Next, we embarked on much needed shopping as the fridge and freezer were both nearly empty. Nairobi, being a very western city when compared to the cities we have visited so far in Africa, has some huge supermarkets and shopping malls. Nairobi has plenty of choice and we visited the Nakumat. The city is the largest and fastest growing city in Kenya. In the recent past Nairobi has had a severe car-jacking problem, but because of increased police check-points it is marginally safer these days. Traveling during the day reduces your chances of getting car-jacked as most car-jackings occur after dark. Anyway, we were told it was safe to drive but to keep the doors and windows locked. When in Nairobi, the place to splash out is called Carnivores. Carnivore restaurant with its charcoal grill pit is ranked among the Top 50 restaurants in the world. It is a must for anyone who loves barbeque. Not sure if it was worthy of being in the Top 50 restaurants of the world but we gave it 10 out of 10 for a great atmosphere and friendly staff. The Carnivore is a unique experience. This open-air meat specialty restaurant has become a standard stop on the safari and Coca Cola trail. Every type of meat imaginable, including four choices of wild game, is roasted on traditional Maasai swords (skewers) over a huge, visually spectacular charcoal pit that dominates the entrance of the restaurant. The waiters carry the swords around the restaurant serving unlimited amounts of meat. The famous Dawa Cocktail was served (in Kiswahilli, it means medicine). Well all feeling went after drinking it. Whole joints of meat - legs of lamb and pork, haunches of venison, rumps of beef, sirloins, racks of lamb, spare ribs, sausages, chicken wings, and skewered kidneys. The meats are constantly basted and turned until perfectly cooked; the meat is succulent and well flavoured. This is a barbeque with a difference in that not only do they serve your normal beef, pork and chicken, but Game meat as well; giraffe, gnu, zebra, crocodile, hartebeest and ostrich. The meat comes with special sauces, which are Carnivores secret. Carnivore is an all you can eat restaurant. Its popularity has grown, so the seating capacity has been extended to accommodate 500 diners. We were there on a Tuesday night with some of our Belgium friends and the place was packed. Anyway, a good night and we ate too much. Peter, our driver explained that Nairobi is known as the safari capital of Africa; Nairobi is surrounded by 113 km of plains, cliffs and forest that makes up the city`s Nairobi National Park. The city is filled with many things to do during the day and the night. Nairobi has an East Indian community, who are the descendants of original colonial railway labourers and merchants. While in town we visited Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, close to the Nairobi National Park. This Orphanage takes in elephant calves and rhinos from all over Kenya, which were orphaned by poaching. Very interesting and it gives you a good feeling. Next on the agenda was the Giraffe Centre, in Lang`ata right outside of Nairobi. The Centre breeds the endangered Rothschild Giraffe and has conservation/education programs for Kenyan children. Despite the fact that it was very touristy the whole reason for being there was to protect the animal. Next was the Karen Blixen Museum which is based on the Karen Blixen book "Out of Africa". Her house is now the home of the museum. But we decided to have lunch first in the Karen Blixen Coffee House/Cafe. After the huge lunch, we gave the museum a miss except for taking a photo of Karen Blixen house. A funny thing happened while I was lining up my camera. The guard wanted a 1600-shilling fee from us for taking a photo of the house. Well you can imagine where we told him to shove it.
Jungle Junction is an overlander meeting place in Nairobi, Overlanders from all around the world meet here sharing travel info. It has a great host Chris Handshuhe and it has excellent 24-hour security. They will also store overland vehicles. Tracks for Africa led us to Jungle Junction without a worry and before setting up it was onto the email (free of charge and fast) to check the email from the Visum Buro in Holland. Number One priority in Nairobi: sort out Visa for Ethiopia. The news was all good and we were asked to send our passports to Europe. Jungle Junction is a great place for last repairs, shopping and to prepare us for the long way around to Ethiopia, via Western Kenya, Uganda-Rwanda back to Moyale in the far North of Kenya All the people we have met so far have been coming south with broken shock absorbers and other problems while travelling this road. Lucky Chris at Jungle Junction has both the facilities and the know-how to fix the car problems. While at Jungle Junction we met 2 very nice English people (Adam and Chloe) both from England and both in the medical profession. Adam is a kidney researcher and Chloe a surgeon. What a great couple and what a lot of fun. Adam told me a horror story about his truck and the 7 weeks wait to have the Unimog truck repair completed being charged an 8000 pound and still not right! (which is serviced by Mercedes in Nairobi but no expertise as it appears in Unimog’s). Our last night at Jungle Junction we had a few beers with Adam and Chloe, Davie and Cath. It became a classic night with the master of ceremonies, Adam. His yarns (stories) were so entertaining that we were all in stitches most of the time. We have met some first-class overlanders. No doubt we will all to stay in touch.
NAIROBI SLUM AREA
Peter our driver drove through the middle of the second largest slum in Africa, known as Kibera and the largest slum in Nairobi with 800,000 inhabitants. The roads or pathways are littered with animal waste, garbage and human waste. Although most of the children do not wear shoes, the roads often have jagged rocks. This humanitarian disaster is unbelievable and despite all the efforts of the NGOs and other Aid agencies, improvements to the terrible conditions are not evident. Many poor people can barely afford to eat. The atrocious conditions have become a political hot topic leading to severe violence, fires, protests and riots. Most feared for their lives. If the riots and protests do not kill them then surely HIV/AIDS or the raw sewage will. The filth and sewage runoff from the Kibera slums flows thru ditches and runs into the already highly polluted Nairobi River, which is used downstream by people washing their clothes. Still even worse, most of the landlords of the slum (60%) are government officers or politicians and therefore corruption is another huge issue. One other shanty town in Nairobi, Korogocho, finally received street lighting after massive civil unrest but so much more is needed. The sanitary situation in Nairobi`s shanty-towns and slums are causing serious health issues including skin disease, typhoid and even worms. Volunteer health clinic workers told us that over 50% of the problems they see are hygiene related. One huge problem has been that poor folks with no jobs cannot afford to pay for some of the open pit latrines and instead hold it until night time and defecate into a plastic bag and throw it into the street or on a neighbour`s roof. They call these "Flying Toilets" and unfortunately nearly all the roofs leak or are in a state of disrepair. Something needs to be done soon. We wonder where all the foreign aid money ends up. Definitely not in the areas it is intended for. We would be more than happy to spend the money on the government charges to enter national parks if we knew it was put towards helping the poor people in the slum areas. One thing we know for sure, it does not get spent on infrastructure in the National parks or slum areas.
2 days later we stopped off at the Sudanese Embassy to pick up our Sudan Visa. YAHOO. Well that is what we thought. Once we got back into our vehicle, we realized that we had my passport, but Clary had an Italian Passport belonging to a male! We went back, and it was a stroke of luck that Clary`s passport was there. With two passports and our visas, we were now on our way. Finally, we had a real scare as we drove home as a speeding overtaking car made us come to a complete stop missing us by just centimetres at a speed of at least 100km per hour.
NAIROBI TO MAASAI MARA
At around 9am we drove out of the gate at Jungle Junction to join Nairobi`s traffic for the last time. I am so pleased we have a big truck with an impressive bulbar. Even the matatu drivers move when they see me, and I do not stop when they try to get in front of us. The mirror is the first thing I hit, and they hate it! They are crazy drivers. We leave Nairobi and travel to one of Kenya`s number one tourist attractions (part of the Coca Cola trial). The views over the Rift Valley are beautiful but hazy due to all the little fires. We reached an altitude of 2250 meters. Our next stop was Narok, an old dusty town west of Nairobi that supports Kenya`s economy in south-west Kenya, along the Great Rift Valley. Narok is the capital of the Narok District and stands as the major centre of commerce in the district. Narok has a population of around 40,000 people, mostly Maasai. Narok is the last major town before arriving at the Maasai Mara National Park. Just as we found a bush track, we also found 200 Maasai men all telling us they owned the land and we needed to pay. They were not only hanging off the bull bar but also off the side mirror. We found the chief and we were allowed to camp behind the school, 150 meters away from the village. They had never seen a truck like this before and as we were selecting our camp spot, the whole village came out to have a look. I was not allowed to take photos unless I was willing to pay some money to the community. We thought that was fair enough, but I had not said yes. Every Maasai wanted to have a look into the truck and I had to quickly work out how to handle a very difficult situation. They were gathered around me and I said, "Okay, this is the deal. You can all have a look one by one, and I can take pictures." Deal accepted. The following day we have been invited to meet the kids at the school, but we wanted to do the game drive. So, we promised to be back tonight. For two reasons. We wanted to see the lions again, and hopefully a leopard. Secondly, we seem to have made friends in the village and we are told we are now Maasai friends. Tomorrow they will show us around the village and the School. Tonight, we could have joined them for dinner, but I was happy that Clary had dinner ready! (That is what we politely told them.) The teacher came around and introduced herself as we had donated pens and tennis balls to the school. She brought the gifts back, so we could hand them to the School ourselves tomorrow morning. At 8am we arrived at the Gate and USD135 later, we entered for the day. Sadly, there were no maps and no brochures available. Once inside the Park it was like Tjapukai or Volendam together with around 50 other game drive vehicles (full of Europeans and Japanese). We had to juggle for the best spots. It didn`t take long before we had enough of this and it was time to turn on the GPS and Tracks for Africa Map. It was very handy and in no time, we found the Off-Road Tracks and we were alone. That is, for most of the time! Anyway, all up we saw plenty of wild life and millions of wildebeest. Unfortunately, the wildebeest were still going North, and they were not crossing the Mara River. Despite missing the Wildebeest crossing and not seeing the crocodiles catching the wildebeest the whole atmosphere/scenery was electric. And as we have seen all around Africa if you drive slow enough, you can see wildlife all day long. We saw lions at 10.30am-12 noon and at 3pm; we also saw cheetahs at 11.30pm. Disappointing was that when we reached the Mara River we were required to pay again as this part of the Mara was managed separately. With no wildebeest crossing at the moment and having already seen plenty of wildlife, we turned around and continued via 4WD drive tracks back to our Maasai friends. The money we saved by staying near the village enabled us to donate to the village and the school. The Maasai Mara National Reserve (also spelled Massaai Mara, and known by the locals as `the Mara`) is effectively the northern continuation of the Serengeti National Park game reserve in Tanzania. Named after the Maasai people (the traditional inhabitants of the area) it is famous for its exceptional population of Big Cats, game, and the annual migration of zebra, Thomson`s gazelle and wildebeest from the Serengeti every year from July to October, a migration so immense it is called the Great Migration. And we must agree it is very immense. The Sand, Talek and Mara are the major rivers draining the reserve. Shrubs and trees fringe most drainage lines and cover hill slopes and hilltops. The terrain of the reserve is primarily open grassland, with seasonal rivers in the south-east region and clumps of the distinctive acacia tree. The western border is the Esoit Oloololo Escarpment of the Rift Valley, and wildlife tends to be most concentrated here, as the swampy ground means that access to water is always good and tourist disruption is minimal. The easternmost border is 224 kilometres from Nairobi, and hence it is the eastern regions which are most visited by tourists. And did we know it. Last night and today we spent some time with the Maasai people. We learned some interesting facts. The Maasai have a daily meeting/dance at night where they discuss the workload for the next day i.e. who is responsible for the cattle/goats, who is responsible for the cleaning around the compound, who is security to keep the elephants and other wild life at bay etc. We were also told that the brush around the compound stops the elephants coming in as they do not like the brush. During the night as the dance and meeting started and finished (we were asked not to take photos as this was a private gathering and we were invited as a privilege) we heard a lot about the Maasai Warrior and their culture. The Maasai are a semi-nomadic people who travel over great portions of their territory, herding the cattle that are the centre of their economy. The society of the Maasai people is defined by age groups or sets, especially among the men. The groups are young boys, junior warriors, senior warriors, junior elders and senior elders. Men don`t move from one stage to the next at any one exact age. They shift in groups, usually every 15 years or so. When the tribe decides to create a new warrior group, all the groups shift to their next role. So, when boys are initiated into warriors, the previous generation of warriors becomes the new junior elders, and so on. One day became 2 and 2 days become 3. On the third night we were told how to enter the Masaai without going pass a gate, we were also given mud maps where to find Cheetah, Leopards and Lions. Amazingly the mud maps where so accurate and only 25km from our camp site.
BECOMING A MAASAI WARRIOR
Boys get to be boys until they are somewhere between 12 and 25, when they go through the painful rituals of circumcision to become junior Maasai warriors. Then they live apart from the village for several months, for training and further ceremonies. They continue to live in their own camps for up to 10 years, at which point they become senior warriors. The mothers of the junior warriors will shave their son`s heads, to mark their graduation to senior status. That`s when they get to return to the main village and take a wife. A warrior may take more than one wife, providing he has the wealth to support them. By wealth, I mean herds of cattle. However, the women of the tribe are also free to sleep with other men, providing they are within the same age set as their husband. If she gets pregnant, any child is claimed by her husband. The role of both junior and senior warriors is the protection of their villages and their pasture lands. While the women of the tribe tend to most household matters, the fences surrounding the villages are built by the warriors. They are well-known as fierce fighters, and once made it a tradition to raid other tribes for their cattle. One of the traditional accomplishments of a warrior, often performed as part of one of the many coming-of-age ceremonies, is the killing of a lion with only a spear. As lions can easily kill and devour a human, you can imagine how dangerous this is. This was how a junior warrior proved his ultimate manhood and the right to become a senior warrior. But in modern times, this practice has become illegal due to the threatened status of the lion populations in the Kenya and Tanzania regions. However, we have been told it still happens, this is our culture they say. The one who spears the lion keeps the tooth. For the nomadic Maasai, cattle are the most valuable and important thing they own. Traditionally, they don`t grow crops or even do much hunting. Their entire way of life revolves around their herds of cattle. Because of their importance, the Maasai use cattle as their form of currency and wealth. On average, each individual of the Maasai tribe owns around 15 head of cattle, which makes these people among the wealthiest in Kenya, if a dollar value was placed on their herds. Cattle change hands for any major transaction, specifically when a warrior seeks to marry. He must pay a bride price in cattle. The Maasai get nearly all their food from their herds of cattle, in the form of either milk or meat. Though they do drink the blood as well, it`s not really something that`s done as a regular meal-time event. They generally don`t hunt or grow their own crops. The cattle are literally their bread and butter. In each village, the cows are protected and herded by the men, but the milking is done by the woman.
THE MAASAI JUMPING DANCE
This dance is performed by the men of the village, who leap into the air to show their strength and stamina as tribal warriors. Each young man will jump as high as he can while the others stand in a circle and sing. The voices of the men get higher as the jumping increases. This jumping dance is as familiar to the Western world as the red-clad and beaded Maasai warriors themselves. In the Maasai language, this dancing competition is called the "adumu". Though the jumping dance is the most unusual and best known, there are plenty of other traditional dances that the Maasai perform. Maasai dances are very structured and are performed for certain occasions. There are dances for celebration when a lion is killed by the warriors; a dance for the blessing of cattle, and dances performed at wedding ceremonies. Most of the Maasai dances are simple, and consist of a lot of bending, but with the feet staying still on the ground. The Maasai generally don`t use musical instruments when they are singing or dancing. All their music is vocal, except for a large horn that is used for certain songs. The beads that both the men and women wear create a jingling sound themselves while the Maasai jump and dance. The women occasionally wear bells or rattles for added accompaniment to the singing. During singing and dancing performances, the movements of the head and neck are important. As the singers breathe out, the head is stuck out and then tipped farther back when they breathe in. This pattern creates a uniform "bobbing" of the Maasai`s heads as they sing kind of like teenagers at a rock concert. Many Maasai songs are sung in a call and response pattern, with the women singing one part and the men responding. The Maasai currently live in a large corridor of land between Kenya and Tanzania. As for wild life (we are a little wildlifed out) all members of the "Big Five" are found in the Masaai Mara, although the population of black rhinoceros is severely threatened, with a population of only 37 recorded in 2000. Hippos are found in large groups in the Maasai Mara and Talek rivers. Cheetah are also found, although their numbers are also threatened, chiefly due to tourist disruption of their daytime hunting. As mentioned above, the plains between the Mara River and the Esoit Oloololo Escarpment are probably the best area for game viewing, regarding lion and cheetah. Like in the Serengeti, the wildebeest are the dominant inhabitants of the Maasai Mara, and their numbers are estimated in the millions. The Great Migration is one of the most impressive natural events worldwide, involving an immensity of herbivores some 1,300,000 wildebeests, 360,000 Thomson`s gazelles, and 191,000 zebras. These numerous migrants are followed along their annual, circular route by a block of hungry predators, most notably lions and hyena. The plains are also home to the distinctive Maasai giraffe as well as the common giraffe. Late that night we arrived back in Nairobi into the hectic pace of an African city. Even though the Maasai Mara and people surrounding the area are well educated in how to get money out of tourists, if you do take the time to get a little off road, you still will see some of the Masaai in their real and natural environment.
MAASAI MARA to LAKE NAVASHA
After 6 days we moved to Lake Naivasha where we arrived late in the afternoon in the middle of a tropical down pour with thunder and lightning. Enroute we drove as high as 2760 meters (as high as the top of Mt Kosciusko in Australia). We are still around 1600 meters above sea level and just 90km south of the Equator. Lake Naivasha is a beautiful freshwater lake, fringed by thick papyrus. The lake is almost 13km across, but its waters are shallow with an average depth of five metres. The lake area varies greatly according to rainfall, with an average range between 114 and 991 sq. km. At the beginning of the 20th Century, Naivasha completely dried up and effectively disappeared. The resulting open land was farmed, until heavy rains a few years later caused the lake to return to existence, swallowing up the newly established estates. The lake and its surrounds are rich in natural bounty, and the fertile soils and water supply have made this one of Kenya`s prime agricultural regions. We were surprised to see so many Dutch flower growers in the area. The waters of the lake draw a great range of game to these shores. Giraffes wander among the acacia, Buffalo wallow in the swamps and Colobus monkeys call from the treetops while the Lake`s large hippo population sleeps the day out in the shallows. We camped at Fisherman’s Camp a beautiful campsite on the lake edge and lots of Colobus monkeys. Unfortunately, we did not enjoy our stay here as it was very noisy, with a large local Indian population who love their own music. Most must think they were still in Bombay as one yells louder than the other. In fact, I recognized the voices of many of them who must have called me on the phone a thousand times trying to sell me something special for free or a special offer on Telstra back home in Australia.
LAKE NAVASHA to LAKE BARINGO
Too busy for us we moved onto Lake Baringo, but first Lake Nakuru. The usual paperwork and another 170 USD for 24 hours including camping. Camping is 50 USD and it gives you a beautiful campsite but only 3 toilets and one shower, which we had to share with 3 Overlander busses and 50 trainees from the Kenyan Wild Life Service Training Institute! You guessed it - no water left. One shower and 2 toilets were in such a shocking state that the toilets and showers we used in Zimbabwe looked like a five-star hotel in comparison. Having visited the slums in Nairobi, I can confirm that the toilets in the slums were cleaner. Don`t get me wrong, we know how to camp in the bush and we are completely self-sufficient however when you pay 50USD per night, you expect at least the basics such as clean toilets, toilet paper and water and maybe some firewood. In our month and a bit travelling through Kenya it looks to me that they like to charge European prices but have no idea what European service is all about. Oh, and to top it all off, we were charged another 10 AUD for fire wood. Anyway, on a positive note, we did see some wild life including the Black and White Rhino and Albino Rhino. Roads were good, and the flamingos must be seen to be believed. For us, and for those visiting Africa for the wild life we suggest that you give both countries a big miss and head for South Africa-Botswana and Namibia. There you also pay extra as a foreigner, but at least they have something to offer and the prices are civilized; facilities are first class and there is an abundance of wild life. Off to Lake Baringo; enroute we crossed the Equator for the first time in our lives in our own vehicle. The GPS showed 00.00.000. This was just before we reached one of Kenya`s great Northern Wilderness areas, but first we looked at Lake Bogoria. The lake is the heart of an arid landscape, in the shadow of the dramatic walls of the Siracho Range. The soda waters of the lake attract massive flocks of flamingo, and the lake is often carpeted with the amazing image of pink plumage. The 32-sq. km lake is still volcanically active, and the Western shore is lined with spouting geysers, spurting steam and bubbling geothermal pools. Fresh water springs at the lake edge attract an abundance of birds and wildlife. The shores were lined with gazelle, zebra, baboons and we saw the kudu for the first time since South Africa. Lake Baringo is at the threshold of Northern Kenya, and its freshwaters are an oasis in the arid plains. This is the traditional home of the Njemps tribe, a unique people who are the only pastoral, cattle herding, tribe who also fish. Among other pastoral tribes such as the Maasai, eating fish is a taboo. The 129-sq. km lake is well stocked with fish and attracts many pelicans, cormorants and fish-eagles. The Lake is also well populated with crocodile. The lake itself is truly beautiful, surrounded by volcanic ranges that stretch as far as the eye can see. We camped 10 meters from the water`s edge and enjoyed the hippos coming out of the water at night and crocodile on the banks (up to 3 metres We had a beautiful relaxed day which ended like last night with a thunderstorm. After a very hot day it was a welcome change. It was hard to leave Lake Baringo and this beautiful area. No tourists and real African bush.
LAKE BARINGO TO BORDER ETHIOPIA
We travelled on the road east towards Mt Kenya and Aberdeen National Park. From here we continued to Samburu National Park. In the past couple of weeks, we have been going from the Southern to the Northern Hemisphere quite a few times. However today we crossed the Equator into the Northern Hemisphere for the last time because from here on, we will be staying in the Northern Hemisphere - at least for the next couple of years. As we descended the mountain the landscape became dryer and dryer. It also became obvious that we were in an area with a bit of trouble as we saw more and more army personnel and trucks on the road. These included convoys from Somalia. It appeared many Somali refugees had set up camp near the towns and along the roadside. Because we were unwilling to pay the 50USD to get into Samburu National Park plus 20USD for camping, we found ourselves a nice bush camp just outside a Samburu village right on the Ewaso Ngiro River. The camp spot was a beauty and it did not take long before the local village people came to have a look and they also advised us that we were camping on their land. As the money we spend was going straight back to the village we were happy to pay, and it gave us a good feeling. They even offered us a village tour for the next morning, as right now most were away collecting fire wood and minding the goats. We were shown the village toilet and shower, but we decided that ours was a better option. From here it was onto Marsabit. Again, it was slow going, rocky and corrugated. We passed a few cars and as usual, many drive too fast. Anyway, UN-NGO`s and other government cars are a dead giveaway as they fly along the rough roads. They have no worries about the cost of repairs. Bus drivers - some speed and some drive slow. For us, our average speed from where the bitumen stopped was 22km per hour. Max speed was 38km ph. We were alarmed by the amount of armed men and boys around. Until a few years ago a military escort was mandatory. This rule was eased in the last few years, because there had been no trouble for several months and because the road was well policed. At the moment we felt that we did not require an escort or an army or police officer with us. That night we camped at Swiss Camp in Marsabit. Early rise, coffee and a quick wash and off we went onto what they say is the worst road in the world. However, to be honest after having experienced Kenya`s highway for the past 3 weeks, I have to say it was not as bad as we had expected. However, having paid 140USD to cross Kenya from the Uganda border to Moyale, we would have expected a good road for that money. But like the national park camp grounds, Kenya loves to charge Mzungu`s extraordinary prices but offer nothing in return. For a country that had become independent in 1964, it has very little improvement for its people or the infrastructure. Even less so if you include all the foreign aid and the ridiculous charges for foreigners. Obviously, a lot and I mean a lot of money goes to the corrupt officials, while the very nice and beautiful people of Kenya live in poverty! Most overlanders hate the Moyale road. It has a reputation of being one of the worst roads in Africa if not the whole world! As we left the campsite we turned north, and the going was slow. It was not as bad as we thought it would be. On the way we passed two police checks and we were told that if we did not stop on the way, all should be okay. It was a long day, but we drove through so many villages along the way with beautiful people and friendly smiles. In Sololo we had the army jumping in the truck before us as security. We were told the area we were travelling through is lawless and many incidents occur in the area. However, tourists are not targeted we were told. The disputes were between different tribes. And yesterday it was all safe! Until 2006, this area had to be travelled in convoy. We arrived very late in Moyale. I know I promised Clary that we would not drive in the dark again, but the last 30km was in the dark. A safer option than staying out in the bush. During this time that we were driving in the dark, we had to navigate our way through a pass with falling rocks. In town we shared the dark streets with camels and cows, plus being Saturday night, everyone seems to be out on the street. Anyway, the border was closed so we had to stay one more night in Kenya and yes you guessed it as a Mzungu we were told 30USD for the night at the KWS campsite! Having just been driving for 12 hours, I was not in the mood to argue. To make matters worse I drove into a 2-lane street on the wrong side of the road. And yes, a friendly policeman was waiting for us to advise us of the traffic offence! I replied, "But Sir there are no street lights, no signs, only a hedge, and the town is full of cattle and camels and no traffic. We are lost, and we are looking for a camp site." The policeman was very polite, and he said he would show us the way and we should forget about the traffic offence. Back to the 30USD KWS campsite. No Showers, no water, no electricity and the rate for Kenyans was only 300 Shillings. To cut a long story short we were offered it for 10USD because the boss was too sick to come out to talk to us. Still too much but it was 9pm and we needed a meal and a few drinks. Early night and dreams about corrugations, rocks, stones and mud, 12 hours to cover 200 odd Kilometres. However, the story goes in 2014 the road will be paved by the Chinese.
Today we decided to push on to Uganda as we could not see the value in another USD 170 in the National Park, which does not even have water to flush the toilets. As we drove further west towards Uganda the road deteriorated dramatically and so did the Police road blocks. (100 shilling gets you out of any fine) Clary took some pictures of a bitumen (tar) road that looked more like a sand track on Fraser Island off Queensland. We crossed the Equator again and this time we were at 3000 meters (9100ft). This is higher than Mt Kosciusko.
The border was the usual hassle and cost USD100 for a single-entry visa and USD80 for road tax. Welcome to Uganda - they do not accept their own currency, so you must pay in USD. Further to this, there are no banks at the border so as usual you must use the illegal fixers/money exchange guys. As they say THIS IS AFRICA. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. I am still trying to work out what happens to all our foreign aid. That is except for all the brand new 100 series Landcruiser’s with UNICEF-UN etc logo clearly displayed.
Late that afternoon we arrived in Jinja. This town is where the source of the Nile River is. As we drove into a perfect campsite overlooking the Nile River, the sun was setting, and the view was like a dream. As usual the African welcome was warm and the people fantastic.
Today we visited Bujagali Falls, just about next to our campsite. We could hear the roar of the water falls all night.
From there we headed to the source of the Nile, just North of Lake Victoria. This is where the Nile starts its epic Journey through Uganda-Sudan and Egypt. During the next part of the trip we will cross the Nile River numerous times and ultimately, we will see it flow into the Mediterranean at Alexandria next year when we travel around Egypt. After this we watched orphans sing and dance for us. Yes, a little touristy but the money is well spent (they asked for a donation). Then as we crossed the Owen Dam we were stopped by the Military as we took some photos of the dam. But a friendly smile and taking the pictures off the camera was enough to satisfy them.
From here we looked for an ATM and then it was off to Kampala. Like Dar Es Salaam, a city of maniac drivers, traffic jams and pollution that must be seen to be believed. But it has its charm and it is Africa. We did some shopping, soaked up the atmosphere, got lost and got lost again, and then got lost again! The GPS had the wrong location and as we kept asking for directions, a little mini bus stopped next to us and I asked, "You going to Red Chilli?" He replied, "Yes mate, follow us". In Kampala that is easier said than done, in the first place he was pointing south, and we were pointing north. But as we now know you just push the truck in front of other cars, does an 8-point turn in a main street (block the whole street), wind the windows up so you do not hear the beeping, and just continue. The next 10 minutes looked like James Bond as we tried to follow the speeding minivan with our large truck (including driving on the wrong side of the road). But we made it and we have another story to tell. I wonder how we will cope with Traffic Rules when we get to Europe.