Around Arusha

We stayed with friends on the edge of the Arusha National park, thank you Richard and Jules for letting us use your wonderful house. We loved the pet snake under the cooker ( was it really the first poisonous snake in the house ever? )
Richard is one of Africa’s top independent safari guides and he took us on a fascinating walk in the bush.
Richard Knocker Professional Guide
Two of our intrepid friends Bruce and Madeleine joined us for a couple of weeks

they will be camping in a tent whilst we have our luxury van!
We visited the park which although small has the most wonderful variety of habitats we saw giraffe, warthog, buffalo,monkeys and antelope as well as a huge flock of Flamingo on the lake

and walked for miles in the foothills of Mount Meru. The fields were full of maize under planted with everything from beans to sunflowers.

We also back tracked a bit to see Lake Chala which is a beautiful caldera and walked down to the lake itself to have a swim whilst colobus monkeys crashed through the trees around us.

Oh and thanks to Robs Magic in Nairobi your shocks for Africa are crap. Less than 1000 miles and they are shot…. what use a years guarantee or 10,000 miles if they are designed to fall apart when you leave the country?

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Across to Tanzania at Taveta and on to Kilimanjaro

We drove back to Voi along the infamous Mombasa road….another interesting experience coming out of Mombasa which is like a complete bomb site, construction everywhere. We crossed the Tsavo West National Park keeping pace with a herd of elephants moving in the same direction

and reached Taveta in the early evening to find the Eco camp we were aiming for long closed and abandoned. We decided to push on to the border which was wonderfully efficient on both sides and we sailed across both borders in the pouring rain in a record time of just under 2 hours. Believe me that’s fast for Africa, but even with that efficiency we were still forced to drive in the dark for about an hour to reach the Merangu Hotel campsite in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. The next day we set off up into the foothills through the coffee plantations to find an extraordinary Catholic cathedral and seminary way up in the cloud line. Although the mountain has lost a reputed 80% of its ice cap since it was first measured in 1912 it still looked majestic poking through the clouds.

Kilimanjaro is in the background…if you look carefully.

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The coast Mida Creek,Watamu and Malindi

Lovely drive up the coast road from Kilifi to Malindi stopping off to check out Ocean Sports in Watamu for lunch. Malindi was a bit of a pit and having tried our luck again with the Kenya Wildlife Service who really don’t like independent travelers and wanted US$ 50 for us to park ….we ended up in the Red Cross car park for the night.
We noticed signs for an Eco camp on our way up the coast so we decided to retrace our steps to Mida Creek Eco Lodge which was wonderful. The only resident was an Herpetologist who had been there for a couple of months and had Malaria…well if you will go off into the bush looking for frogs in the rainy season what do you expect?

We were soon joined by a group of 7 Africa Asia Venture students who were enjoying a real “gap yeah” lovely crowd who we had seen at Ocean Sports earlier in the day.
From Mida Creek we went to visit the ancient Swahili ruins at Gede

and did a wonderful bush walk through the Cashew forest ( I didn’t know the cashew grew as a single nut on the end of a small soft fruit).
Hassan our local guide was incredibly knowledgeable, we saw a stunning variety of birds and butterflies as well as Baobab trees in full flower. ( I didn’t know Tartar came from the seed pods of the Baobab either!)

We returned to Ocean Sports for the weekend and Gail (pronounced Jail by the local staff) let us stay in the car park for one night before moving into our banda on Friday.

Lucy had stayed at Ocean Sports 30 years ago with her parents and had fond memory’s of a lovely holiday. Its still terrific and has a strong local following. The bar was buzzing most nights the local Hockey club played on Friday and they have curry lunch and live music on Sunday!

Ocean Sports

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Nairobi to the coast

Having heard so much about the trucks on the Mombasa road we decided to brave it early on Sunday. Great idea the road was fairly quiet and we only saw 4 or 5 crashed trucks, although one accident which we couldn’t see had completely blocked the road, and we had a tortuous diversion on tracks through the bush which didn’t seem to slow the trucks down at all!
We stopped at Sagala Lodge close to the railway station made famous by the Man Eaters of Tsavo, a pair of lions who chomped their way through upwards of 135 construction workers in the 1880′s when the coast railway was being made.
After a night camping in the grounds of the lodge Anna who owns the lodge arranged for us to visit a Masai village and school close by. Two of the tribesmen had recently been ill and she had looked after them, so they were happy for friends of hers to visit the village.

I had a go too…surprisingly easy.

Extraordinary Masai pogo dancing

How many Masai can you fit in a van!

From there we cut off the main road and headed to Kalifi an interesting short cut which was blocked by rubble and earth works within about 500m but that didn’t stop us…

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On the road again!

We decided to have a couple of weeks off (after nearly 7 months on the road!) so nipped back to England for an Easter break, Pippa’s 21st Birthday and a wedding invitation we couldn’t refuse ….thank you IM’s… the weather was beautiful and it coincided with a very wet patch in Kenya.

The van was serviced whilst we were away and is now looking and sounding perfect. Thank you Chris at Jungle Junction, who is quite simply superb and I cant recommend the camp too highly either. Next stop the coast near Malindi

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Lake Naivasha

Wow! stayed at a gorgeous campsite, Carnelleys, right on the shore of the lake a beautiful site with wonderful facilities…unfortunately we ran out of steam and gave up on dinner after waiting nearly 2 hours for a Crayfish salad!
met up with Ven and Anita who are traveling the same route and who we met in Addis Ababa earlier in our trip.

Ven and Anita
Took a boat trip in the late afternoon in the hope of getting face to face with some Hippo…..

beautiful scenery and a night filled with the grunting noises as family of Hippo grumbled in the reeds on the edge of the lake. Glad to be in the van and not in a tent!

On our way South we came across an interesting bus.. I must presume they know and were waiting for a well known Scottish family from Alyth.

The Ogg Wed bus

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Fishing and Tea

Wonderful couple of days with Robert and Melanie at the Kenya Fly Fishers Northern Camp which is near the Aberdare National Park. Beautiful sunny days walking in the tea plantations which line the trout streams and then roaring log fires in the evening we had trout for dinner twice and even had a bridge lesson!

From there on to Kericho which is the center of the tea growing area, we popped into the famous Tea Hotel which has more stuffed animals on its walls than you can imagine but is like so many of these colonial era landmarks “way past its prime” We stayed at Antoinette and Hugos lovely fishing banda at the Finlay Tea plantation which was beautifully tranquil during the day

but the noise of the frogs at night made it impossible to sit outside !

Finlays is part of the Swire group and a beacon of sustainability being self sufficient in timber (heating the furnaces to dry the tea) and power.

Lucy having a look around

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North to Naivasha and Nakuru

After a few days in Nairobi whilst we had the van sorted out we went north again to Lake Naivasha and crater lake where we had our first real experience of the Kenyan bush.

We saw wildlife in its natural habitat for the first time Giraffe, Buffalo, Zebra, Monkeys, Baboons and numerous types of deer. We walked to the crater and looked over an amazing natural amphitheater and listened to animals moving and calling. We had lunch in the van in the middle of the bush and watched as a herd of Zebra came to investigate.

From there we headed further north to Nakuru and Rongai where we stayed with friends in the most beautiful colonial home.

Tristan and Cindy run an amazing safari business and Stan is one of Africa’s top safari guides.

it was wonderful to go with him to Nakuru National Park and hear anecdotes about the animals and birds

We were luck enough to see both Black and White Rhino as well as masses of other game…..did you know that both types of Rhino are basically the same colour and white is a bastardisation of the Afrikaans word weit, which means wide and refers to the size of the mouth… anyway its the second largest land animal on the planet and about the size of a jeep!

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Nanyuki and across the equator to Nairobi

We had a wonderful couple of days at Kangoni camp in Nanyuki at the foot of Mount Kenya

and tried without success to get our van sorted. So set off with soggy shocks ( we really should have had bigger ones fitted before leaving England) to Jungle Junction a well known overlanders camp site in Nairobi.

We crossed the equator just south of Nanyuki
The road was great until about 10k’s out when it turned to hell….they are digging up all the approaches from the north so traffic is horrendous and road conditions unbelievable.

The recent rain made matters worse. Jungle Junction was brilliant and the team at Ndovo said they could sort out the van, we made plans to get new “Robs Magic shocks for Africa” fitted, it was only afterwards that we heard all the jokes, tragic magic and of being robbed by Rob ( lets hope its just a pun on the name). We also had a new leaf spring made so hopefully all set for the next leg!
Lovely phone call on our first day from an old army friend, Stan, who invited us to the Muthega club for supper. I wore a tie for the first time in 6 months we drank and ate too much and had a great evening!
We did the tourist trail of the Elephant orphanage,

David Sheldrick Elephant orphanage
the giraffe sanctuary.

and then Melanie gave us a couple of “must do’s” Matts bronze and Kazuri beads we bought some wonderful things including a huge bronze tobacco leaf.
On Friday night we moved from “the junction” to stay with Melanie and Robert on Redhill for the weekend, they invited us racing at Ngong for the Kenya Derby and to have lunch in the Muthega Club tent

we had a wonderful weekend and were overwhelmed by how friendly everyone was. Mary, who had lunch with us, had several horses running and had two winners, which made the day even more special. Lucy who looked the part was invited into the enclosure with the owners before one of the races and the horse “Woodlands” won quite comfortably.

Melanie and Rory

A very tall Lucy with Mary in the paddock

Yes we did have a flutter!

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Marsabit Road (The Road to Hell)

Well it was billed as the worst road in the world ( and one of the most dangerous) all we can add is it really is a nightmare two full days 10hrs + at 25kph …. bone jarring driving with the occasional HUGE rock or HUMP or HOLE the whole thing linked by corrugations we hit one bump at about 40k’s were airborne for a while and landed with a hell of a bump….no damage we thought but another smaller bump the next day did for our front driver’s side shock luckily the huge clearance on the tyres meant we could continue without too much trouble. Lets hope we can find a replacement or a repair in Nanyuki….. it might look inviting stretching into the horizon but the reality is a nightmare!

We started in lush countryside dropped into the Chalbi desert and then hit the big red earth of the plains north of Nanyuki and the lush countryside around Mount Kenya

We saw masses of game en route and people wearing the most wonderful tribal dress

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Addis and down to the Kenya border

Although Addis is a huge city (the 4th largest in Africa) we didn’t find much to do except walk miles through the congested streets have a day of luxury at the Sheraton and visit Lucy….. the 3.2 million year old one in the National Museum!

Whilst we were in Addis we bumped into Brian Thompson who despite being paralyzed from the waist down is driving the length of Africa in his landrover supporting Help for Heroes…. that puts things in perspective….

Brian Thompson
If you would like to support H4H please visit Brian Thompson

We sorted out the paperwork for the next leg south to Kenya and the Marsabit road and headed off through the most beautiful countryside with constant stream of humanity all over the road at least they were vaguely predictable and walked more or less in a straight line.

The animals on the other hand were everywhere and completely fearless…with inevitable consequences ..thank goodness for a large van and bull bars.

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South to Addis from Gondar

We decided to go via Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile and Bahir Dar. Magnificent mountain scenery green fields and pine trees another world from the arid North African Landscape that we have been traveling through for the last 3 months. We bought honey and drank local beer but unfortunately we couldn’t enjoy the scenery because we were mobbed every time we stopped.

I did an experiment to see how long it took people to appear when we stopped in an apparently deserted spot and it was about 30 seconds on average! A south African couple we met who were traveling on motorbikes gave up on their modesty after a couple of abortive “pee stops”
Bahrir Dar was as the guide books describe it Ethiopias riviera …wide tree lined boulevards

the lake was beautiful and to give an idea of size it takes a day and a half by boat from Bahir Dar to Gorgora on the North coast!
We hired a boat and visited a lakeside monastery

and went to the point in the lake where the Blue Nile starts its course to the sea and saw a family of 4 hippo “Mum, Dad, Aunty Glad and a Baby” beautiful.

We saw amazing birds and a huge flock of pelicans.

The road on south to Addis was more of the same, beautiful, but huge potholes scattered liberally around to keep the concentration level high. The well recommended Wims Holland House.
Wims is a sanctuary in the middle of this busy city but we are really glad to have our own beds… their rooms are very basic but the beer is cold and the company (Ven and Anita going north and Larry and Sharon going south) a treat.

Ven and Anita

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Southern Sudan and cow carcass road to Ethiopia

Hundreds of miles of desert littered with dead cattle, and cattle and goats on the move as the rains approach…huge herds being driven to pasture.

Very very hot and heavy military presence…police some in uniform… some without…. AK 47′s and heavy caliber machine guns on the roadside and on vehicles.

Complete change of pace having hit the mountains of Ethiopia and the rain.
We had a good look round the bizarre castles of Gondar ( which we had seen before on our last trip) there has been some very good repair work done by world heritage, or whoever they entrust the work to.

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Festival of the Nubia Mountains

By luck we stumbled across the most amazing dance and culture festival whilst driving around Omdurman…. about a hundred tribal groups were celebrating their culture and diversity with a riot of dance and pageantry. The emphasis seemed to be all about retaining their tribal identity and not allowing their roots to be swept away in an overwhelming drive by pro Arab Government initiatives. Interestingly its the same feeling we came across time and time again in Egypt with the Christian minority.

Again we were the only tourists and despite invitations apparently being sent to all the major Embassies and the UN mission we seemed to be the only foreigners and found ourselves ushered into very plush VIP seating!
It was beautiful and a real touch of the Africa we had come to see.

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The Lonely Planet Guide describes Khartoum as a “boisterous, modern, flashy city with an ever increasing number of glass tower blocks” well the last bit is true.

The Sudan Club which I remember from my childhood is long gone and is now the Ministry of Foreign Affairs…(there are literally hundreds including the Ministry for Ministers and a ministry for the Chamber of Ministers.) The swimming pool and half the gardens are now the sight of a bridge across the Nile. The Blue Nile Sailing club home to Kitcheners gunboat the Melik

is still running and I suspect completely unchanged over the last 40 years ( The loos certainly haven’t been updated…. or cleaned )
I asked at the 5 star Burj al Fateh hotel what we should see if we had a spare day in town and the receptionist said, with a lovely smile, there is nothing to see. Not quite true but the sentiment was right. The Mahdis tomb

the Khalifa’s house the confluence of the Blue and white Niles and the Omdurman souq were all done in a day.
Our tourism was completed when we found the Bugger Specialised Hospital.

We had breakfast at the Acropol hotel who found George to mend our fridge, which couldn’t stand the desert heat and now has twin cooling fans from a computer!
After a couple of days at the sailing club we were luck enough to be invited round to friends for dinner, the use of their washing machine and an air conditioned bedroom. Thank you Chris. The small world syndrome kicked in on our return to the sailing club when a very tall ( too fat to be a Dinka) English man called Adam walked over to our van and said “yes I do know Colin, he’s stuck in a meeting but will be down later” sure enough Colin appeared, I was in the army with him and he is here on a 6 month UN tour and had heard through the grapevine that we were in town!

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Northern Sudan and south to Khartoum

Did you know there were 228 Pyramids in Sudan ( three times as many as the Pharaohs put up in Egypt) We set of with Erkan ( aka Mustapha) from Turkey on his motorbike

and Tarmo from Estonia in his van into the desert south of Wadi Haifa.
Desolate, barren, completely empty and HOT,( did I say HOT!!) between 45 and 50 degrees depending on time of day…Our fridge couldn’t stand the heat and George from Falcon Engineering had to sort us out with an extra fan…

we followed the Nile south aiming to get about 100k’s from Wadi Haifa towards the temple of Soleb on the West bank ( the road is on the East bank) and stopped in a lovely looking palm grove by the river ….only to be overwhelmed by millions of flies

and have to beat a hasty retreat back onto the road and look for a camp site away from the river.
The desert was dotted with mining camps and men with metal detectors hunting for gold, we spoke to one man with a bulldozer who had found 4 ounces that morning..

The twin tombs at El Kuru with their beautiful wall paintings and the pyramids at Karima and Meroe were amazing.
We found the petrified forest, I remember it so well from my childhood in Sudan a special weekend camping with my father, when he was military attache.

We splashed out and stayed at the Meroe tented camp
an oasis of sophistication in the desert with fantastic views towards the pyramids and wonderful international food but sadly no wine!

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Aswan to Wadi Haifa

It should have been simple, we drive to Aswan put the van onto a barge on Monday and drift slowly down Lake Nasser past Abu Simbel

unload the van on Tuesday morning and drive off into Northern Sudan…….we had not counted on the mass repatriation of thousands of Sudanese construction workers who had been working in Libya.
The boat which usually has 50 or a 100 people on board and on which we had booked a first class cabin…. had 580 ( on the manifest) and was piled high with freight and everyone’s worldly goods that they had managed to salvage from Libya, every nook and cranny including the life boats were full

and our first class cabin…. was a broom cupboard …filthy dirty, baking hot no window and it stank of stale sweat!
We did get a state welcome from the Governor of Northern Sudan with the media in attendance. There was no sign of the barge and the vehicles ( Erkans motor bike, Tarmos van and Lance and Maurice’s landrover as well as our van)
Lance managed to get hold of “a fixer” in Wadi Haifa on his phone who booked one of the few remaining hotel rooms not taken by the construction workers whilst we waited for the vehicles. Magdi Boshara turned out to be a bit of a shark the hotels weren’t full, the place he put us in was a flea pit and our room like a prison cell and we never managed to get a breakdown for the various taxes and duties we were required to pay…feel a bit ripped of ….but hey its Africa! The van and other vehicles eventually turned up on Thursday, last time we pack the bare essentials when we leave the van. We both stank!

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Luxor and Aswan

Mind boggling is the only expression that my limited vocabulary could come up with …until you have seen the scale and complexity of these sites with your own eyes you just can’t comprehend what the ancient Egyptians did around 1400BC that’s to be absolutely clear 3411 years ago…. ( Stonehenge according to Wikipedia dates from 2400BC)
We visited the Valley of the Queens and the Valley of Kings, sadly photography is forbidden so only a couple of furtive photos.

Ramses the IV and Ramses the VI get the votes and Tutankhamun although disappointing (its very small) has a certain something just because of the history!

We also saw the Temple of Luxor

and of course the Amun Temple at Karnak.
Down from Luxor to Aswan a fantastic drive along the green banks of the Nile past the temple of Horus

to Aswan the van is booked on the ferry, a first class cabin confirmed and tomorrow to the High Dam and to the Nubian beach

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Hurgharda and across the desert to Luxor

We decided to have the van serviced by Mercedes Benz in Hurgharda to ensure all the parts were genuine after 10,000 fairly hard miles….big mistake….. HUGE…..

If you have a blue Mercedes overall you must be a mechanic!

They overfilled the engine, broke the fuel line and then fitted a fuel water/separator so badly it took two days to sort out and its still a bodge….. because they didn’t have the right spare parts. We now have a permanent engine malfunction light on the dashboard but apparently “its nothing serious” just telling us that the fuel line is non standard….
Anyway enough of that…. the diving was superb and the reefs deserted the team at Emperor divers say they regularly had 20 boats anchored on the best sites but we saw no one else.

After Hurgharda we went south along the coast stopping at a couple of dive sites camping alfresco

view from the bedroom window!

and spending more time in the water and sun.

Amazing drive across the Red Sea mountains

and desert from Al Queser ( one thing about the current lack of police in Egypt is the closed desert roads don’t seem to be high priority at the moment so we just turned right) and blasted across to Luxor.

The markers must mean someone is going to build here….

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Cairo and the Eastern Desert

Now we are safely lounging in the Marriott in Hurgharda preparing for the next leap down to the Sudan I thought a summary of our trip round Cairo and through the Eastern Desert was needed.
We decided to try and do the run through Cairo in a “oner” as the tourist attractions in Cairo were all closed…. we were at the height of the troubles!
Set off on the Alexandria Desert road early morning past the usual tanks and road blocks…

fuel was in short supply so we filled up everything we could before setting off.

About 150 miles into the middle of nowhere we found a broken down van and gave them a pull for about 30 miles….not great for our fuel consumption but they were happy. Hit the outskirts of Cairo at about noon and immediately all the signs which had been in English and Arabic turned to just Arabic! We got a bit lost and came across several crowds of protesters and signs of rioting… stones, broken glass, etc, all over the road.

We also saw a crowd round a dead body suspect it was an RTA but could easily have been a looter who had found local justice….. Eventually broke free of Cairo and set off south towards the pyramid of Meidum and Beni Suef a very poor and rather frightening provincial capital which had been the site of serious unrest in the 90′s. We crossed the Nile and got into the Eastern( Arabian) Desert itself

and set off towards the Monastery of St Antony reputedly founded in the 4th century…where we hoped to find secure parking.

Sadly we were refused entry so spent the night far off road in the desert where we judged we would be safe. We returned to St Antony’s early the next morning and had the most wonderful tour escorted by Father Ruwais

amazing coptic wall paintings from the 13th century and earlier and a fantastic atmosphere of peace and tranquility. On again to Hurgharda and a touch of luxury at the Marriott

and some diving in the Red Sea.

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