...images from planet Earth
Saturday 17th February - Nairobi
After a delayed flight from London via Brussels, I arrived at Nairobi airport at 1am. a little nervous. I was surprised to find that it was almost deserted. Someone from the New Kenya Lodge was there to meet me and I was driven to the hostel.
Sunday 18th February - Arusha
The shuttle picked me up at 7:30. It was a bumpy and uncomfortable journey that took us through some nice scenery, such as acacia trees which, for me, had conjured up images of the east African plains. After stopping at Namanga to get our visas, we proceeded to Arusha and arrived at 12:30. A guy from Meru House Inn was there to meet me. Met the people from Victoria Expeditions and discussed the safari. Even though I had planned it months before over the internet (7 days with 4 days in Serengeti) I was persuaded to change it to six days with two in the Serengeti because of the location of the migrating animals and the fact that they wouldn't be able to find anyone else who wanted to do the same safari as me. I was alone so I wanted to join up with people so I had to be flexible. I wish I was told this earlier though. I went for a walk in the town to see if there were any other safaris starting tomorrow but I found nothing so I went ahead and booked with Victoria. I had my first decent meal (there is a restaurant service at the hostel) and I got a much needed early night.
Monday 19th February - Arusha - Lake Manyara
During breakfast I was told who would be joining me on the safari. I met them shortly afterwards. A Canadian guy, Brett and a Dutch couple, Ludo and Marrielle. I was quite relieved to have been joined with such nice people and we got on well throughout the safari. They were all travelling for six months, Brett from Cape Town to Cairo and Ludo and Marielle in the other direction. Again, I seemed to be the only one on a two week trip. We arrived at Jambo campsite in Mtu Wa Mbu village (translates to 'river of mosquitoes') near Lake Manyara before midday. We dropped off our bags, had some drinks then went for our first game drive. We saw a huge herd of about 30 elephants eating, lots of giraffes, a big baboon troop of more than 50 and several herds of zebra. It was a good start to the safari. When we reached the shore of Lake Manyara, we saw more elephants and we got out the vehicle to get a better view. The park is very bushy and more foresty than I expected, so a lot of the time you're driving without seeing any game. But the game that you do see makes Manyara a worthwhile park to visit. On the way back we were very lucky to see three lions asleep in a tree. We knew that Lake Manyara is famous for its tree climbing lions but we never expected to see them. Our guide had never seen them here.
Tuesday 20th February - Lake Manyara
We got up at 5:30 so we could leave for an early game drive but our guide didn't show up till later because he thought that there's not much to see in Manyara in the early morning. We arrived at the park at 7am and we didn't see the abundance of elephants we saw the day before. Obviously we had been quite lucky yesterday. At the shore of the lake, we saw only hippos. We took a road deeper into the park and saw giraffes, impala and zebra and we heard an angry elephant in the undergrowth as we were leaving. We got back to camp at 1pm. We were supposed to stay at Karatu camp tonight, a couple of hours on the road to Ngorongoro but there was an outbreak of cholera there so we thought we could go to the Serengeti tonight instead but the guide wasn't having any of it. So we stayed another night in Jambo campsite. It was a shame to waste the afternoon so I wanted to do some exploring in the village. A young guy from a crafts shop near our camp, Latifu, show me round the village. Being white, I attracted a lot of attention and shop owners were very eager to have me look around in their shop. Saying no is hard but it was something I had to get used to. The villagers were very friendly, everyone asking were I was from and what I do for a living; they were genuinely interested. That evening we had carrot soup, rice and vegetables. Performers came to our campsite. As well as dances from different Tanzanian tribes, there were circus acts and fire eating. Went to bed at 11ish. Brett mentioned that he would probably go to Uganda after this safari instead of going to Kenya.
Wednesday 21st February - Serengeti
Woke at 6:40 and left at 7:30. The road out of Mt Wa Mbu was a steep climb and, as we approached the Ngorongoro crater, the vegetation became more dense and quite heavily forested. We stopped off at a lookout point where we got a nice view of the Ngorongoro crater. It was hard to imagine there being so many animals in there (300,000 they reckon) from where we were. We drove through Maasai villages and at one point we stopped amongst a group of about 20 Maasai and I paid them $5 to pictures of them. A we neared the park, we saw plenty of gazelles grazing, then under a tree, we saw four lionesses. We drove on and began to see part of the migration; huge herds of zebra and wildebeest. It seemed to go on forever into the horizon, black spots as far as you could see. We saw a hyena, then our guide saw something and drove off the road. It was three young male lions in their prime with two lionesses nearby. They looked awe inspiring. They were panting like they had just been hunting but they were probably just hot. This was just before the park gate. We got to the park office where we paid $10 for a permit for Gol Kopjes, a controlled zone where there was a chance of seeing cheetahs. We drove quite a long way without seeing much, apart from loads of storks. We were driving on the grass and, as we approached some rocky outcrops, I was expecting to see leopards or cheetahs. After circling them a couple of times, we still hadn't seen anything. We drove on and still nothing, then we found another truck which had stopped next to something. We got closer and saw it was a cheetah. When we got close we saw that it's belly was bulging so it must have just eaten. It was a long way back to camp and we saw our first leopard sleeping in the tree in the distance. Back at the camp site, behind the toilet, I saw an elephant just a few metres away. It got within a few feet from us, then an angry ranger came over and told us we had to pay a fine because we have to stay 200m from the animals. Our guide sorted things out. For dinner we had noodle soup, and spaghetti with lentils. I had flies and moths in mine so I was eating with my Maglite in one hand and a fork in the other.
Thursday 22nd February - Serengeti
Woke up during the night because of the rustling noises I was hearing outside. I was convinced it was an animal so I woke Brett and asked him to go and check. Turned out it was the wind, though I saw a lion's footprint next morning. Woke at 7am and went on an early game drive. We saw elephants, hippos, a troop of baboons, giraffe, topi, zebra, banded mongooses and lots of guinea foul. We saw another leopard in a tree but this was even further than the one we saw yesterday. At 10am we got back to camp and had breakfast. We drove back to the park office and as we drove out of the park we saw part of the migrating herd. There were many gazelles (both Grant's and Thompson's) but we didn't see as many as yesterday. We stopped to change the brake disk on the truck and were met by a couple of young Maasai. We drove on to Olduvai Gorge, where which is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. Fossils and remains were found from nearly 2m years ago. We were given a short lecture by one of the rangers. As we drove towards Ngorongoro, we saw several Maasai in black robes with black and white face paint. These people have to remain in seclusion for three months before they can become real Maasias. We arrived at Simba camp site at about 5:30 and set up the tents. The four of us sat and talked in the tent as we waited for dinner, which was mashed potatoes and fried vegetables. I was beginning to suffer from meat depravation. We chatted for a while and went to bed at 10pm.
Friday 23rd February - Ngorongoro Crater
It was cold that night and I woke up several times. We got up at 5:45, had a quick breakfast and left at 6:30. The drive down to the crater floor was longer than I expected, but it was still quite dark by the time we got down. The first thing we saw was a Grant's gazelle being eaten by a Golden Jackal right by the road. A lion must have killed it earlier and been frightened away by the passing trucks. This part of the park consisted of woodland, and there were lots of elephants scattered around. Soon after, we saw two black rhinos and we had now seen the big five. We drove to the lake where there were seven lions resting, three males and four females. One had a big wound on his side, and was covered with flies. It was sad to see him like that, especially when he threw up. Further down, there were buffalo at the water's edge, with hundreds of flamingos in the lake and this, together with the forested walls of the crater provided a beautiful backdrop. Two more male lions were relaxing not that far away from the herd of buffalo. We drove along the road and saw more rhinos, this time a group of four. As we continued along the road, close the edge of the crater, the vegetation changed from grassland to thicker shrubs where huge herds of zebra and wildebeest were grazing. Gazelles, mainly Thompson's, were in abundance throughout the crater. We left at 11ish and had lunch at camp. When we arrived in Mtu Wa Mbu, we were swarmed by Maasai selling gems and bracelets through the windows of the truck. On the way back to Arusha, I was giving serious thought to going to Bwindi with Brett. When I flew into Nairobi, my plane stopped in Kigali in Rwanda, and I was certain that it would have stopped there on the way back to Brussels as well. That would save me a day because I could go to Kigali after Bwindi instead of travelling all the way back to Nairobi. We got back to Arusha late so we had no time to go to Arusha park tonight, so we stayed at Meru House instead. We had dinner, which was spaghetti (with meat at last). I had a much needed HOT shower and then ordered more food, a burger (a steak in bread) and chips. I went for a short walk about 10pm. I was contemplating whether or not I could do a two or three day safari in the Maasai Mara before going to Uganda. I was desperate to go there but I knew I probably wouldn't have time for both.
Saturday 24th February - Arusha National Park
Woke at 6:45am after a good night's sleep. I had diarrhoea, and I later discovered that the others did too. Something we ate? We left for Arusha park about 8:30. The drive to the park was longer than I expected. It was 45 minutes to the gate and another 45 to the start of the trail. We saw Twiga campsite just before the gate and we were glad we didn't stay there because, like Jambo, it was well outside the park. We saw giraffes at the gate, followed by buffaloes and wart hogs. We At 10am we started our walking safari, accompanied by an armed guard. We saw buffalo, wart hogs then went on a detour to see the waterfall. We continued with our hike, which took us up steep slopes. We saw several giraffes staring at us suspiciously in the distance. It was a tiring hike and the heat made it worse. About 1pm, we arrived back at the park headquarters and went on our game drive. We saw more giraffes, buffalo and reedbuck. There are seven lakes in the park, the largest of which is Momella Lake which we drove around. We then drove towards Ngurdoto crater. On the way, we finally saw colobus monkeys. It was quite a large group, but it was dark and difficult to photograph them. The only thing you could see well was their bushy white tails hanging down from the branches. We got out briefly to look down at the crater. With binoculars, we could make out baboons, buffalo and reedbuck. There were no people down there and that made it more special. We arrived in Arusha about 5pm. We had a farewell drink with our guide. He told me that the Mara would be just the same as the Serengeti and, with the grass being long, I wouldn't see much game. This helped me decide to take the risk and go to Uganda. I would have to leave the Mara for another visit. We had dinner at Meru House and, later that night, a guy came into the hostel after just having been attacked in the street. And I was just thinking how safe it was the night before. I went to bed at 11pm, shattered.
Sunday 25th February - Arusha - Nairobi - Kampala
Woke at 6:40 and had breakfast. Ludo and Marielle were leaving for Dar Es Salaam. We said goodbye and me and Brett left Arusha at about 7:30. By about 1pm we were in Nairobi. We had decided on the Ikbar Hotel because the LP guide said it was secure. Loads of taxi touts surrounded us as we came out the shuttle but we walked to the hotel. We relaxed for a while in the room, then went out to take care of a few things. We went to a travel agent to enquire about tickets to Kampala. I phoned up Sabena and they told me the plane did not stop in Kigali after all. I could still make it but it would be a lot harder than I thought and more risky. We would have to go to Kampala tonight, and the Maasai Mara was out of the question. We went for some food. While we waited, I designed an itinerary and decided I should go for it. We went to the travel agent and booked the tickets for the overnight bus to Kampala, leaving at 9pm tonight. We walked around the city, and saw there were nice places as well as bad in Nairobi. We went to the park then to a restaurant for fish and chips. I couldn't believe we were going to Uganda tonight. Three countries in 24 hours. We got a cab to the bus station, and the bus left just after 9ish. We were told it was a luxury bus but it was far from it. There were beetles crawling on the ripped seats and it was very bumpy.
Monday 26th February - Kampala
Didn't sleep well at all on the bus. I woke at Eldoret sometime in the early hours and we got off to stretch our legs. Our next stop was the border. When I told the immigration officer I wanted to see the gorillas, he said I would need more days. The bus stopped at loads of places and we eventually made it to Kampala at about 11am. People were selling grilled chicken on sticks through the bus windows from the road. This was new. I had some for breakfast. I was feeling rough from a horrible journey. We met someone on the bus who worked at a travel agency and they recommended the Tourist Hotel so we walked there from the bus stop. Kampala is a bustling city, with crowded streets. And almost everywhere we looked, people were selling shoes laid out on the ground. It was quite a long walk and when we got to there we were told it actually cost 35 USD for a double. The porter recommended the Royal Hotel and showed us the way. This place was only 15,000USh, the rooms were spacious and there were hot showers. We went to a travel agent where the person we met on the bus worked to enquire about gorilla permits and arranging transport there. We decided on Bwindi because at Mgahinga, the gorillas may be across the border in Congo so it would have been more risky with the time I had. The earliest we could get permits for was Thursday. We could either hire a car and driver to take us all the way there, or we could take the bus which is much more difficult because it has to be done in stages and we have to find someone to hitch a ride with for the last part to Bwindi. We decided to go by bus because a car would have been to expensive. We paid for the permits and ended up paying an extra $25 for changing the shillings to dollars. They didn't tell us that when they told us we could pay in shillings. We could either go to Kisoro or Kabale, then arrange a lift from there. It wasn't an easy journey and I wasn't looking forward to it. We decided to take the route to Kisoro, as this was known to be more scenic than the route to Kabale. When that was all sorted, Brett wanted to see some of the churches in Kampala, so we hired budu budus (motorcycle taxis) to take us. While we were at the first, the sun was setting, and the drivers waited as we walked around enjoying the views of the city below. We went to another church after that, then to a Hindu temple. We must have spent about two hours altogether, and it was fun riding through the busy, noisy streets on the back of a bike. We walked round looking for a place to eat but couldn't find anywhere. Eventually, we found a place called Sax (I think) which was a restaurant/bar. Everything came with chips and I ordered beef. We stayed for some drinks before going back to the hotel.
Tuesday 27th February - Kampala - Bwindi
Woke at 5:30. I wanted to go to the main bus station so I could buy my ticket to Nairobi for Saturday. Got there at 6:20 but the station wasn't open yet. Then there was a huge queue. When I was eventually served at 6:45,I was told I couldn't buy a ticket in advance. I was late for our bus to Kisoro, which we were told left at 7am. Got to the hotel at 7:05 and rushed to the other bus station. As soon as we got there, touts swarmed around us, asking where we were heading. This time I was glad to see them because I thought we wouldn't be able to make it this morning. We boarded the Kisoro bus and waited there in the heat for about 20 minutes while it filled up. It was OK once we were on our way. It was pretty fast and comfortable when on the tarmac. Once we got onto the dirt road, the journey became uncomfortable. I was flying out of my seat, breathing in dust, it was hot, and I was feeling sick. I wanted off the bus. We passed Mbarara and Kabale before reaching Kisoro at about 3:30. A guy led us to the Virunga Hotel, named after the Virunga chain of volcanoes that form the backdrop of this scenic town. It cost only 5,000 and it was a nice place too. I ordered spaghetti carbonara which cost 3,000USh. At the table, I met Barbara who was from the Yukon in Canada. She was a physician who had been working in Mbarara for two and a half years. We spent ages talking about her travels and her work. She told me that you couldn't actually get to Bwindi easily from Kisoro. Again, we had been misinformed; Kisoro is used as a base for Mgahinga national park. We would have to get a bus back to Kabale tomorrow morning. I went to the Mgahinga and Bwindi park office to ask if I could change our permits so we could go to Mgahinga instead (we were told the gorillas were currently in the Ugandan side of the border). We couldn't change the permit, but the guy there explained to me how to get there. I was not looking forward to it. I could not afford to mess up. From Kabale, we had to find a pickup towards Kihihi and get off at Kanyantorogo. From there, we would find another ride to Butogota, then get a lift or walk the remaining 17km to Buhoma which is where Bwindi is. Earlier today, Barbara had been hiking up one of the volcanoes. It was a nice place and I wish I could have stayed here longer. I wanted to make the most of it, so I went for a walk with my camera up towards the volcanoes then along the main road for about an hour. The three of us sat out on the veranda till about 10pm.
Wednesday 28th February - Kisoro - Bwindi
We left at 6:15 for the bus stop. We got on a bus straight away. The views on the route to Kabale were amazing; miles and miles of cultivated terraces. At 9am we had reached Kabale. There were lots of pickups waiting to leave and again it wasn't difficult finding a vehicle to take us to our destination. At 10:30 we boarded a pickup which would take us to Kanyantorogo. From there we would hitch a ride to Butogota or the all the way to Bwindi. There were 23 people in the back of this truck when we left. Further down, we stopped a few times to pick up some more passengers and we ended up with 30. It was difficult to get comfortable and in the end you just had to get used to the idea of sitting on someone or using them as a cushion. The worst thing was the dust, and it was made worse because we were at the back. It was a tough 4 hour journey, probably the most shattering I've ever made, but it was also a good experience, allowing us to see the sort of thing the locals have to go though on a regular basis. We got off at Kanyantorogo. The pickup was continuing to Kihihi and we arranged for the driver to pick us up when he returned to Kanyantorogo and take us all the way to Bwindi for 20,000USh. There were some guys who were offering to take us to Bwindi for less, but we later heard that they were dangerous people. While we waited, we got some food and soon we were on our way again. This journey was more comfortable because we sat in the front (we had paid more than the other passengers). We arrived at Bwindi at about 5pm. We met a Canadian guy, Frankie who brings people to Africa on volunteer schemes. He was a funny guy, and had been travelling all round the world for many years. He had been to 26 countries in Africa and said that Bwindi is the nicest part of the continent. Bwindi is very green and lush, with the forested hills towering over the campground. For dinner we had chicken with chips. We went to bed early, and Frankie told us a few stories about his travels.
Thursday 1st March - Bwindi
Woke several times during the night and got up at 7:15. I met Jenny from the States who was in my group, the other members of the group were from Sweden. We were going to be tracking the Habinyanga gorilla group. There was a quick briefing before we set off. When we entered the forest I noticed it was thicker and more lush than those I had seen in Malaysia, more what you'd imagine a tropical rainforest to look like. At 11am, we had found the spot where the gorillas were yesterday. After this, the trek was tough because we had to go up and down the slopes, following the trail of the gorillas. Occasionally, we would see the gorillas' dung along the trail. The trackers ahead of us had found the gorillas at about 1pm and soon after, we had got our first look. They were quite far away and the vegetation was thick so we didn't get clear views. A lot of them were in the trees and starting making their way down when we approached them. They all seemed to be moving away from us and we began to follow them. We had found them as they were on the move, looking for food. There were two silverbacks in the group and at one point, one of them started to charge, stopped then snarled at us. It was quite dark and difficult to get good shots, even with the fast film. We had to leave them early, after about 45 minutes, because it was getting difficult to carry on following them. We had lunch at 2:30, then made our way back. I was exhausted by the time we got back at around 4:30. Jenny had come with a driver and asked me if I wanted to join them when they drove back to Kampala tomorrow. That would mean I would stay another night in Bwindi. I was glad to. The driver, Jeffery, said that we could be in Kampala by 2pm, which would mean I could catch the bus to Nairobi and be there by 3pm then next day. I thought I might even have time to go to Nairobi national park. I was desperate to squeeze in another game drive if I could. We had spaghetti bolognaise for dinner that night and went to bed at 10pm.
Friday 2nd March - Bwindi - Kampala - Busia
I got up at 6:15, and didn't order breakfast because I didn't think I had time; I was supposed to meet Jenny at 7am. I said bye to Brett and I left with Jenny and Jeffery at 7:30. We made several photo stops along the way and stopped at Lake Bunyonyi where we walked along the market. We were soon on our way again and it was becoming obvious I wouldn't make it to Kampala by 2pm. We had a lunch stop at a posh motel and I read in the paper that the election had been postponed by a few days. We finally reached Kampala at 6pm. Jeffery said I could still make it Nairobi by tomorrow morning if I took matatus. So he dropped me off at the huge taxi park in the centre of Kampala. I got into a matatu and we left for the border town of Busia at 6:45. From there I would catch another matatu to Nairobi. The driver was a maniac. I wanted to sleep but was too afraid. We got to Busia in three hours, but the immigration office was shut, so I couldn't go any further until the morning. Jeffery didn't mention that to me. I bought some Kenyan money from a bloke on the street, unaware that they rip you off, and only got 350KSh for my 20,000USh, about 450KSh short. I was an easy target because I was too tired to do any currency conversions in my head. I went to the gates and had a lengthy talk with a guard who advised me to stay here tonight. The place looked dodgy but I didn't have much choice. He said it would be safer if I stayed this side of the border. A boy with a budu budu showed me to a lodge. The room cost 5,000USh. It was very basic and the showers and toilets were infested with cockroaches.
Saturday 3rd March - Busia - Nairobi
I woke while it was still dark, unaware of the time. I had the rest of my bananas for breakfast and went to the immigration office, then looked for matatus to Nairobi. I couldn't find one that took me straight to Nairobi, so I took one to Kisumu. They said I could take another one from there to Nairobi. The roads were really bad and I got to Kisumu at about 11am. They dropped us off near a BP station which served as a major bus station. It was full of buses and taxis. I arranged to take a Peugeot taxi and paid 50KSh extra for the front seat (700KSh). They told me we would be in Nairobi by 4pm but we waited ages for the car to fill up. We eventually left at 12pm. We were driving fast but because it was daytime, it wasn't as dangerous. It was an OK journey despite the long distance. We stopped in Nakuru for lunch, where I had burger and yet more chips. As we drove eastwards towards Nairobi, the vegetation became less dense as we descended down to the flat plains of Kenya. We arrived at 5pm and I told the driver I wanted a taxi. It was obviously too late to do a safari of any sort so I figured I should just go to the airport and wait there for my flight. The Peugeot driver found a taxi for me and I was at the airport before 7pm. My flight was at 00:35. I went to the Simba restaurant for a meal and wrote a couple of postcards. At the check-in desk, the computers were down and they couldn't give us boarding passes. The flight had been overbooked and we thought we wouldn't get on it, and that I would be able to do a safari in Nairobi national park after all. But they finally issued us with passes and we departed Nairobi at 1:30am.