Sunday, March 11, 2012

Overall impressions in Africa

With Jon and my time coming to an end here in Africa I wanted to talk a bit about how we have been traveling and some of the not-so-happy things we have seen.  While I could ramble on forever I will try to be direct.

First, our travels have all been by public transit with the exception of renting a car for one week in northern South Africa to visit Kruger National Park and the Drakensburg.  Public transit here is cheap, fairly easy to use, and allows a traveler an opportunity to meet locals and experience local life.  The primary form of transit are mini-vans that are registered to carry 14 passengers but more often carry around 20.  One might ask how - answer: people are crammed everywhere and there is no aisle.  Where the aisle was they have seats that flip down and people sit.  It is hot and uncomfortable and at times very wearing on one's patience.  Additionally, because Jon and I are obviously travelers they often try to over charge us.  We fight.  They give in.  They laugh, because they see it as a game, and we try to not have chip on our shoulder.  The "stations" are pure chaos most of the time.  People try to drag you to their van despite you wanting a different destination and you must really watch your things.  However, the most startiling thing we have discovered is how fast/ reckless people drive here.  It is breathtaking - in the worst way.  And by far the most dangerous aspect of travelling in Africa.

Second, corruption.  The corruption of the governments here is obvious.  At home our corruption is somewhat hidden, while here it is in your face.  By far the worst country was Zimbabwe, but we have seen it everywhere.  Traffic cops stop the minivans often, recieve their bribe and then we continue.  It happens mutliple times on a trip over an hour and at times the cops delay us for 30 minutes or so.  However, in Zimbabwe they actually made us turn-around, go back to the police station, wait for over two hours, and then let us drive.  At this point we had to drive in the dark which makes the reckless driving more intense.   There are billboards and propoganda encouraging citizens to refuse to pay bribes, report abuses, ect.  From what I can tell, these resources aren't used.  The citizens talk openly about how corrupt it is, how it should change, but feel helpless at making progress.  The exception again is Zimbabwe, where citizens do not speak openly and less directly refer to "better times".  Insulting President Mugabe and therefore his pawns could lead to intense punishment and the citizens are well aware the risk. 

Poverty is everwhere.  We have not posted many pictures of the people here because often times the moments we feeled moved by someone is because their strength is so apparent through their struggle.  It simply feels wrong to photograph. That being said, shanty towns surround every major city and are vast.  While we were in Nairobi, one was being bulldozed as they are considered "illegal dwellings" and the city had plans for building.  In reality that meant thousands of people being displaced who are already in a dire situation.  Other than the shanty towns, there are other daily reminders of our fortunes.  Clean water is a luxury.  The schools here often have wells out front where the kids (if their lucky) use a lever to pump water, or a bucket to dip into the water.  Of course those are the lucky schools, many do not have water and even more true is the lack of children attending school at all.   Children are required to wear uniforms to school and pay school dues.  As a result, many do not go.  There are children living on the streets in the city or working in the markets everwhere.  If a child is sent to school it is almost always the male child despite their age among the other children.  Its assumed the girl will marry and live with her husbands family so will be little benefit to her own.  Whereas a male will bring his wife to his home and is therefore a better "investment".   The homes here are often built from the natural surrounding materials.  Mud, bamboo, metal scraps, and leaves are the most common building materials.  Houses are often decrepit and are always very small. 

Racism.  People have asked what it is like to be white and traveling here.  In the north children, and some adults, would yell "mzungu" everywhere.  This translates to white person or rich person depending on who you ask.  Kids would run out of schools and at times just burst into tears.  However, we felt very little prejudice on a whole against us.  More common we felt we were treated like royalty when in actually we are just dirty backpackers travelling people thought of us as "wealthy Americans".  I guess to them its fair to say both are true.  White privelage was apparent and at times embarrassing.  However, here in South Africa the feeling is very different.  Apartheid may legally be over but its effect is like a punch in the face.  The seperation is distinct, repressive and racism on both sides obvious.  As whites we feel more vulnerable because we percieve ourselves as being viewed as the oppressor.  I told a white south African that we were traveling with the minibuses and it took him several minutes to understand.  Then he clarified "with the blacks? and your not dead yet".  However, that being said we have met nothing but nice people here, with the exception of the occassional white, racist piece of poop.   

More later....

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Preview of Kruger National Park

Our latest National Park adventures


Mosi Oa Tunya

Jon and Carrie soaked at Victoria Falls
After leaving Lusaka, we pulled into Livingstone, which is right outside Victoria Falls on the Zambian side.  The falls, formed by the Zambezi River, is split between Zambia and Zimbabwe.  We stayed one night at a backpackers hostel and then the next morning we went to the falls.  The park on the Zambia side is named Mosi Oa Tunya National Park.  It is the native name for the falls and means "The Smoke that Thunders."  It is a very good name.  We could see the rising mist, looking like smoke, before we even entered the park.  Once inside the park we started hiking along the edge overlooking the huge chasm that the Zambezi pours into, stopping at the many viewpoints along the way.  Since we were there nearly at the peak of the rainy season the water is high and the falls are very big.  To say they thunder is almost an understatement.  That thundering of the water hitting the bottom of the gorge produces such a spray that not only towers high into the sky, but also makes it like you are walking in perpetual rain as you walk along the edge.  Views of the falls are great, if you can see the falls through all the mist.  Sometimes you only know the falls are there from the thick sheets of "rain" and from the incredible roar of all that cascading water.  It was unbelievable.
Banded mongoose
From Victoria Falls we caught cheap transport in a shared taxi to the Botswana border.  There we crossed the Zambezi River, which is the border, on a barge and entered Botswana.  After dealing with Immigration we caught a minibus into Kasane and found a place to camp for a couple nights.  The next day we were up to meet for a game drive at 5:45 a.m. into Chobe National Park.  We expected more people on our truck as we heard there were 16 going.  They were all put on one truck and we lucked out and had a whole truck and driver/guide, Moses, to ourselves.  Driving into the park there was elephant scat all over the road and we caught a glimpse of a hyena.  Then we entered and started our drive down the River Road.  There we caught a glimpse of a small herd of elephants on the Chobe River, which is the Botswana/Namibia border.  As we drove on we saw many impala and baboons.  They hang out together as the impala have a good sense of smell and can help alert each other and the baboons of any danger.  The baboons can obviously climb into the trees and therefore have better views and can help alert the impalas.  It is neat to see them together.  Then we saw many hippos out of the water and in the water.  The morning was cool so they could still be seen outside of the water.  There was also a small crocodile and cape buffalo.

Hippo along the Chobe River

We turned away from the river and drove through the brush for a bit.  There we caught a glimpse of a lion.  We had Moses back up and we confirmed that it was indeed a lioness.  We watched her through our binoculars, excited to be seeing her alone.  Moses pulled up to another spot for a better view and we saw that she was not alone.  There were two more lionesses and two cubs of about one year.  One lioness maybe only raised her head once while we were there.  One of the cubs was a male and we could see the very early start of his mane.  While we were watching the lions some impala came into the area, unaware that the lions were there.  The cubs perked up, able to watch and not be seen.  The main lioness crouched, lowering even her ears as to not be detected.  The impalas sensed danger and froze and sniffed into the air.  Eventually it was more than the female cub could handle and she jumped up and chased the impala.  There was no chance for her as she had not learned yet how to be patient long enough.  The impala made an easy escape.  After some time of the cub standing in front of our truck she went back to her mom and rubbed faces with her, almost apologizing for not waiting long enough.  Her mother forgave her and licked her as she fell onto her mother's front paws and gently batted her head.  It was an amazing sighting.  We traveled on as the lions started moving off into the bush to hide from us and the heat.  As we drove we saw more buffalo and hippos down by the river.  There were also three or four more lions we could barely see hiding in the shade from another truck.  There were many more impalas and baboons and we saw some kudu and giraffes.  Another highlight was that we saw many mongoose.  They were the banded mongoose and they are a very social creature.  They live in large groups and we saw maybe three or four groups and probably more than 50 individuals.  That evening we did an evening boat cruise and saw many more hippos mostly.  There were other animals but being on the river the hippos were the most visible.  We had wanted to see elephants in an area we heard were many elephants but they were away from the river at it was the wet season and water and food was readily available in many parts of the park and not just around the Chobe River.

Giraffe drinking
The next morning we caught a ride with three people from our boat cruise.  They took us to the Zimbabwe border and we all did what we needed in Immigration on the Botswana and Zimbabwe sides.  We were happy to have a ride as there didn't seem to be any public transit on the Zimbabwe side.  Greeting us on the Zimbabwe side, however, was a large troop of baboons.  There were also impala and less than five minutes from the border we saw two elephants.  They were right next to the road and we watched them until they seemed angered by our presence.  We carried on down the deserted and beautiful drive and saw some ground hornbill.  It felt like we were still in a national park.  Then we were dropped of in the town of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

Male impala

Devil's Cataract and the main gorge of Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe side
The next day we walked from our hostel to Victoria Falls National Park.  It was similar to the park on the Zambian side but was surprisingly better funded.  There were actual informative signs telling about the history of the falls.  Even the entrance seemed more official than it had on the Zambian side.  The trails and the views of the falls were the same, though.  Like in Zambia, we had great views of the falls, especially near the edge.  As we walked further along the edge to the different viewpoints and closer to the Main Falls the spray took over and we were again soaked and left with sporadic views through the mist.  We walked out to Danger Point and had exhilarating views from the unfenced point.  The wind and the "rain" were strong and we stood on a rock with unobstructed views into the gorge.  What we could see of the falls was incredible.  What we couldn't see of the falls was incredible.  Again, when we couldn't see the falls we knew they were there by the perpetual "raining" from the spray and the extremely loud thundering that produced that spray.  We were in awe of one of the Natural Wonders of the World.  An incredible three-park adventure.

Stay tuned for what is now our latest National Park adventure: Kruger National Park in South Africa.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Into the Bush to Visit Andrea and Neal

Jon and Neal outside the Nsaka
Jon and I arrived in Zambia after a 15 hour bus ride from Lilongwe (capitol of Malawi) to Lusaka (capitol of Zambia).  We were very excited as our friend, Andrea, has been living and working in Zambia for the Peace Corps for the past year.  We met Andrea and her boyfriend, our new friend, Neal, in Lusaka and made plans to leave the following day for the village where Andrea has been working and living.  After an evening of celebrating our reunion in Africa, we woke up early the next day and started our journey north to the Mkushi district.  We took a bus about 3 hours and then were able to hitch a ride for the remaining 50 kilometers.  We were very lucky that the man giving us a ride was curious to see Andrea's village so drove us all the way to her house rather than us having to walk from the main road for about 45 minutes in the mid-day heat.   In total the trip took us most of the day because, despite it  being only about 150 or so miles north, transportation is not a smooth process in Africa.
Andrea's house

When we arrived at Andrea's home we were greeted with big smiles and warm handshakes by her Zambian family.  Andrea's Zambian family are polygamists, having two wives, and also many children on their family compound.  However, several of the children are their nieces and nephews as most of their children are grown.  Many of the children shook our hands while simultaneously bending down to one knee as is customary when greeting someone older than you here.

We settled our bags into Andrea's hut, a small brick building with a traditional grass roof, and rested from the journey.  Next, Andrea showed us around the family compound which consisted of several other small buildings where the family lived, open air huts for cooking and lounging, pit toilets, a watering hole and lots of chickens.  The water hole was a five minute walk where we lowered the empty jug into a pit and raised it to fill the larger water jugs.  Then we lifted the heavy jugs onto our heads and brought them back to the house.   This process was repeated several times daily.  Andrea also had a round, open hut with a grass roof (called a Nsaka) that her and Neal had constructed for cooking and lounging.  It was cooler than the house and allowed you to see the events taking place in the family compound.  This is where we spent a lot of our time. That night Andrea's family invited us for dinner.  We discussed our days events and talked about Zambia qualifying for the African cup of Nations finals! They were so warm and friendly and were happy to have Andrea and Neal return.  After dinner Neal and Andrea played guitar and Jon and I joined in vocally for a nice musical session, it was such a treat to be with good friends again!
The avocado tree planting ceremony

 The next day we did chores around the compound.  I started on laundry which had been long neglected and was was filthy from Mulanje.  Its not easy to hand wash clothes and meant fetching the water even more often.  It was an all day event.  Jon, Andrea, and Neal worked in the garden and planted trees around the compound, including papaya and avocado trees.  It was a leisurely, great day.  We also cooked and ate well.  Cooking was over a brassier, which are tin or clay and hold coal or wood, and then can have one pot placed on top.  Ours was a tin brassier with coal that Neal had perfected in starting.  Again we stayed up late and caught up on time passed.  Again it was just awesome to be with friends again and to be in this small African village. 

Brassier
We spent three more days in the village and with Andrea and Neal.  We also visited the closest  town one afternoon and a neighbors farm. Andrea and Neal work closely with the local population to teach then about Conservation Farming techniques. This neighbor had adopted several of the principles and was excited to show off her results.   It was a great few days and Jon and I could have easily stayed longer had our time in Africa not been slipping past so quickly.  On day five we said our see-you-laters.  It was sad to say goodbye but a bit of a consolation that Jon and I headed next to Victoria Falls.

Mount Mulanje: Malawi's Island in the Sky



Chambe Peak
So we spent five days on the Mount Mulanje massif.  It was an incredible five days.  It is not something to be underestimated and I must say we did take the first day's short (7 km) hike a bit for granted.  It is supposed to be the rainy season, but we were able to time our visit perfectly.  It had dumped rain for two weeks before we came and had dried out for four or five days before we began our journey.  Despite some of the warnings to "not go up there," we found our experience to be very enjoyable.  It did rain on us every day, but we also had some great weather that allowed clear views of some of the amazing peaks. 

Our first day entailed a late start and a stiff climb up to the Chambe Basin and a stay in the Chambe Hut.  We were the first people to stay there in at least five days.  Right as we made it there in the waning light the rain started.  The watchman came over and started us a fire and we made a nice dinner in our own luxurious hut as the watchman and our guide spent the evening in their own hut. 

Jon on one of the steep climbs

The next day woke clear and sunny and a climb revealed the beauty of Chambe Peak and Chambe Basin even more than the evening before.  We were again surprised by the difficulties of the trail that did not switchback as we were accustomed to but rather climbed straight up one hill to go straight down the other side.  I found myself huffing and puffing as we climbed to a small pass and dropped down to the Chisepo Hut, where we were also the only people.  Again no one had been there for some time; maybe two or three weeks.  As we made it to the hut around 11:00 a.m. the clouds, which were already lowered all around us and the rocky hillsides, opened up and let out rain for the remainder of the afternoon.  In the evening we had a wonderful sunset.



Sunset view of watchman's hut from Chisepo Hut
We woke early the next morning to try to climb the highest peak on the massif, Sapitwa.  We had a fairly early start but we made it to the more difficult section and found wet slabs.  They weren't too hard to get up, but we were slipping a bit.  We knew that if it rained it would be much harder to come down.  It had rained by about 11:00 a.m. the day before and the clouds were already building and starting to lower.  We asked our guide, Edwin, if the route was any harder higher on the mountain.  He said it became a bit easier for a while and then was even tougher than what we had already passed.  We climbed up through to the easier section and then came to a difficult step still below the hardest part.  As we were already in and out of the clouds we decided it would be best to turn around and not take any chances.  By the time we would make it to the top we would have no views and it would rain on us, making the slabs even more slippery and dangerous.  It was hard to turn around, but we had still made it to a beautiful spot.  We learned the true meaning of Sapitwa;  "Don't Go There."  We climbed back down to the hut and made our way to the next hut, Thuchila, where we pulled in right as the rain began to fall.  We again had the place to ourselves.
Carrie and Edwin on the trail
On the fourth day we left the Thuchila Hut and began a longer and difficult hike to the Sambani Hut.  It started out on difficult trail, which was just steep, angled, wet slabs.  After a long climb we were rewarded with incredible views of the interior of the massif.  We dropped to the Chazama Hut for lunch and saw leopard scat all over the trail.  The hut was perfectly situated surrounded by mountains.  We wished we were staying there for the night.  But we carried on over one final hill and then had some of the easiest and loveliest hiking high on the plateau with mountains jutting up in all directions.  We hurried through this section, however, as the rain had come in hard and was accompanied by a lot of lightning and thunder.  The waterfalls, birthed of rain, started flowing everywhere we looked on every mountain.  At last we pulled into the Sambani Hut, where the watchman came over and started a fire for us to dry our clothes and to cook.
The heart of the Mt. Mulanje massif
The next morning was clear and sunny again with no trace of the rain from the evening prior except some mud and puddles on the trail.  We crossed a couple of rickety bridges on the way to the top of the last climb.  Then we made our way down the long, steep descent to Fort Lister forest office.  Someone had been through in the previous week or two, but no one had stayed in Sambani for over one month.  We had seen no one else on the trail.  We only saw our guide, Edwin, and the four watchmen in our five days.  We did see signs of cedar poachers and did see one guy off the trail with his dogs poaching the rock hyrax.  Other than that, it felt like we had the whole massif to ourselves.  It had been rainy, but our timing had been so good that we really only were wet from the rain once in the five days.  It was a beautiful place and I hope that someday we can return.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Jon's misfortunes in Malawi

Swollen, smashed thumb
I have thoroughly loved Malawi, but I'm not so sure the feeling is reciprocal.  Since coming to Malawi I have suffered one thing after another.  On Chizumulu I started feeling a sore throat.  We moved to Likoma and things started.  I tried riding a board like a surf board that had a spot for my rump and straps for my feet so I could sit while I paddled.  This was hard.  Not even one minute in I was thrown by a wave and put my hand down as I was falling.  There I smashed my thumb on some rocks.  The thumb became swollen and I might still lose half of the nail. 
Not long after this the sore throat developed into a cold.  A cold in the summer is not fun.  I am still recovering from this.  After the cold was confirmed I woke up one morning and had spider bites on my neck.  We killed the spider and I woke up with more bites the next morning.  Thankfully the third morning revealed no more bites.
Spider bites
The next thing I noticed was a rash in Cape Maclear.  It was on my back and most likely from not changing into fresh clothes frequently enough with the hot, humid weather.  This was minor and was fixed with a shower and a change of clothes.
On a matola ride between Cape Maclear and Liwonde I stood up so someone could take their tin roofing out of the back of the truck and they pulled it across my toes.  I had cuts on one big toe and two large cuts on the other.  They were gushing blood and I had to clean them and tape them, holding up the truck.  I sat in pain the rest of the rides and still struggle to walk without a limp as they heal.
Liwonde got me with one of the meals I ate at the lodge.  I started to feel bad two days ago and then yesterday it became worse and worse.  I took a pill that we have for just such an occasion and struggled through a painful night as I was nauseous and sweating through the night.  My fears that I might have malaria (from the stomach pain, nausea, aching, and fever) were relieved when I woke up feeling decent this morning and had an appetite.
Hopefully Zambia will be nicer.

Malawi

Wow!  Already in southern Malawi.  It has been a whirlwind.  We were in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania staying with our new friends from this trip, Jamie and T.J.  We left them on the 15th at about 6:00 a.m. and caught a taxi to the Ubungu bus station, where we boarded our bus at 6:30 and left by 7:00.  It was then 13 hours later when we arrived in Mbeya, Tanzania.  We bought bus tickets and got a place to stay just across from the bus station.  
The next morning at 5:45 a.m. we boarded the bus and started making our way to the Malawi border.  There had been some misunderstandings between us and the guy who sold us the tickets, James Blunt as he called himself.  We thought we would get off the first bus and meet someone who would walk with us to the Tanzanian Immigration to get our exit stamps and then across the bridge to the Malawi Immigration for our entry stamps and then on to the next spot, near immigration, where a bus would be waiting for us to take us down to Mzuzu, Malawi.  We made it to the town nearest the border and met many people trying to change our Tanzanian schillings into Malawian kwacha, but we did not meet anybody to take us to the bus on the other side of the border. 
We walked to the two immigration posts and realized on the Malawi side that there would be no bus waiting.  There had been a misunderstanding, or we had been ripped off.  We called the numbers James gave us and one was the wrong number.  The other was a guy who called a guy who met us at immigration with a bike.  He walked us to the spot where taxis were lining up to go to Karonga, where he said the only bus heading to Mzuzu would be.  He was able to get in touch with James through his friend and James told me we would not have to pay any more and the guy with the bike, Jeoffrey, would take care of everything and (we hope) be reimbursed by James or his friend.  
Jon on the hill on Chizumulu
We were very disappointed, of course, for letting down our guard and falling for what we believed was a lie.  We had nothing else we could do now but to believe Jeoffrey and get in the taxi heading for Karonga and hope that we would still make it to Mzuzu and then further to Nkhata Bay to catch the ferry leaving that evening by 8:00 p.m.  We packed into the taxi and flew down the road, passing three or four police checks.  At one point the driver flagged down a bicycle and had one of the passengers get out and onto the bike until we were through the check and then he paid the bicyclist and took the passenger back in the car.  Eventually we pulled into Karonga and the taxi driver said the next bus through Mzuzu wouldn't leave until after noon.  We knew we could get there faster if we took a minibus.  That is what we decided to do and the taxi driver paid the minibus guys and we boarded and waited for it to fill up.  The minibus was like all we had been on in Africa.  It was basically a minivan licensed to carry 14 passengers and it didn't leave until it was full with nearly 20 passengers.  Needless to say they are cramped.  
Carrie with the children on Chizumulu
Once filled, overfilled, we took this cramped minibus down the road paralleling the shore of the mighty Lake Malawi.  It was a beautiful, albeit, painful ride.  Part-way down the lake the road left the lake shore and climbed up into the hills.  On the climb we saw a few yellow baboons on the side of the road and the driver and a passenger had bought some small mangoes to throw to the baboons.  They would pick a mango up and chase the minibus up the road running on three legs.  It was quite a sight.  A bit further on we ran into some very heavy rains.  There was water all over the road and mini rivers, full of mud, crossing the road.  The driver even stepped out and tested one before driving through it.  Before long, the rains passed, and we made it safely into Mzuzu, where we stopped for something to eat.  
After some food, we caught another shared taxi, tearing through the hills back to the shores of the lake at Nkhata Bay.  The ferry was there and we bought tickets and boarded and celebrated our nearly impossible feat.  We expected with the uncertainties of Africa that something would go wrong during one of the long days of transport or that the ferry would have left early or be leaving on a completely different day altogether.  The ferry left nearly on time, sometime between 8:30 and 9:00 p.m. and we took it to Chizumulu Island.  
St. Peter's Cathedral
Before getting there, the rain started and being on the top deck we became quite wet.  Then our stop came and we prepared to get off around 1:30 a.m.  We proceeded to wait for at least two hours before they let anyone off and we eventually climbed off the large, swaying boat onto a much smaller rocking boat in the wind and rain.  It wasn't as bad as we had anticipated, though, and we were quickly to the shore and set up our tent in the dark and rain by 4:00 a.m.  We had pulled it off.  We had made it to the island from Dar es Salaam in 45 hours.
The next few days on Chizumulu were great.  We mostly read, wrote, and rested (a common theme for our time on the islands).  There were a couple small villages on the island and we could walk from one side to the other in about 40 minutes.  There were no cars and the pace of life was slow and refreshing.  We contemplated snorkeling but there had recently been a crocodile shot nearby as it had killed a dog.  Nobody was sure if the right crocodile had been killed and we didn't want to take the chance.  Instead, we climbed up the only hill on the island and spent the rest of our time relaxing.  We also managed to walk around the village and find many children playing football (soccer).  We stopped and played with them.  I impressed them by spinning a ball on my finger, which they maybe hadn't seen before, and Carrie sparked their interest by drawing some hopscotch in the dirt and jumping around with them. 
View from our campsite on Likoma Island
After a couple days on Chizzie, as the people at our lodge called it, we took another small boat through some large wave over to the larger, Likoma Island.  There we stayed on a very nice stretch of beach right on the lake.  We spent much of our time on Likoma relaxing as well, but we did do the 45-minute walk to the other side of the island to the main village there to get food, to watch a girls' netball game--much like basketball--and a football match, and to see and go to a service in the large St. Peter's Anglican Cathedral.  At the service all seven of the azungu (white people) were called up to be introduced.  Somehow Carrie and I were lumped in with the girls from Belgium there to help in the schools and we didn't have to talk in front of the large congregation.  We didn't understand much of the service, but the singing was very beautiful and moving. 
The ferry we took, the Ilala
After a few days on Likoma we walked back to the village and boarded a small boat, which took us out to the ferry (it made the trip down the lake once a week).  By noon or so we were on our way south, heading for Monkey Bay.  That trip was great.  We were again on the top deck.  This time we set up our tent, and that is probably the reason that it didn't rain.  We slept one night on the deck and pulled into Monkey Bay around 2:00 p.m., 26 hours after leaving Likoma Island. 
From Monkey Bay we caught a ride in a matola (pick-up truck), which was very overloaded, to Cape Maclear, where we camped for two nights.  It was beautiful but we didn't stay for quite as long as we would have liked to.  There was a cyclone hitting Mozambique and we were experiencing some wind and rain associated with that, and worse than the weather, the "beach boys," who will not leave you alone, trying to get you to go on a boat ride, snorkeling, a walk...  It gets tiring.  We wanted to go for a walk in the Lake Malawi Marine National Park, but they kept telling us we needed a guide so we wouldn't get lost or robbed.  When the rain picked up, we left instead of walking and made it to the more relaxing and much more remote Liwonde National Park. 
A male bushbuck in Liwonde National Park
In Liwonde, we camped a couple of nights just inside the park at a remote and mostly empty camp/lodge.  During the day we could see warthogs, vervet monkeys, turtles, monitor lizards, and slender and banded mongoose around camp.  At night we could hear large hippos thundering past our tent.  It was a wild place.  On our last day we went on a game drive into the park.  We were a bit disappointed to not see the elephants the park is partly known for, but we did see many other animals, including almost 30% of the park's population of the large and colorful, ground hornbill.
After seeing Liwonde we traveled to Blantyre, Malawi's second largest city, where we are now.  We will catch up online, recharge our batteries (literally and figuratively) before heading further south to near the tip of Malawi to climb in the Mt. Mulanje massif.  We are excited for this and hope the weather will hold nice as it has for the past couple days.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Zanzibar

We made it to Zanzibar.  What a place.  An island paradise is one way, albeit cliche, to describe it.  Today we did a Spice Tour.  Here are just a few photos from our island adventure.  More to come.  Starfruit, Nutmeg, and a view from the ferry from Dar es Salaam of Stone Town.  The ferry took us about two hours or so from Dar (as everyone calls it) to Zanzibar Island out in the Indian Ocean.  On the Island and in the heart of Zanzibar Town lies Stone Town.  It is a maze of roads not wide enough for cars.  You can try to find your way on foot, occasionally dodging bikes and mopeds and others who know their way better through the streets. 

Monday, January 2, 2012

Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater

The Serengeti!  What a place.  We were worried a bit because with how expensive it is to get a vehicle and a guide and pay to go into the Serengeti--and Ngorongoro Crater--that we could only afford a day in each and that we would miss some of the animals.  This turned out not to be true.  As soon as we entered the gate we started seeing animals.  There were wildebeest and zebra herds interspersed with many impalas and Grant's and Thompson's gazelle.  We even saw a hyena within the first five minutes.  We could barely make out its face in the tall grass and then she stood up and walked into some bushes.  We knew this would be a great adventure.
We went in the wet season.  This didn't exactly mean it would rain the whole time, but it was overcast in the mornings and it did sprinkle on us a couple times.  What the wet season meant was that the grass was taller and the animals would be harder to see, especially the carnivores that need to hide to catch and kill their prey.  But the prey, the herbivores were widely dispersed and we saw many of them.  We did a count and by the time we had left the Ngorongoro Conservation Area we had seen 30 different animal species, not counting any birds.  For herbivores that meant Grant's and Thompson's gazelle, impala, hartebeest, wildebeest, topi, reedbuck, dik-dik (I think the smallest antelope), eland (the largest antelope--bigger than a buffalo), warthog, water buffalo, zebra, giraffe, and elephant.  I may have left some out accidentally.  We went to the Grumeti River and saw the water species; hippo (also a herbivore), crocodile, and a monitor lizard.  We went to the central part of the park near Seronera and saw leopard and lion.  In the east, we saw the wildebeest migration--largest land migration in the world--with hundreds of thousands of wildebeest with many zebra and gazelle along.  Lazing around, probably fat from feasting were two hyena.  There were animals everywhere.
We left the Serengeti and entered the Ngorongoro Crater and saw a cheetah.  The grass there was shorter and we stood in our pop-up-top vehicle watching it as it contemplated running after some gazelle.  They either caught wind of what was going on or luckily stayed too far away for the cheetah to chase them.  We traveled around Lake Magadi in the crater and saw the eland, which we were told was the largest antelope, weighing in at more than a water buffalo.  Lastly, along with all the other game animals in the crater, we saw black rhino.
So everybody wants to see "The Big Five" when they come to these parks/preserves.  "The Big Five" are water buffalo, elephant, rhino, leopard, and lion.  Of course we wanted to see "The Big Five" but unlike other people we weren't just driving around looking for them, from one to the next.  We were excited with every animal from the largest elephant to the tiny dik-dik.  Early on within the park we saw herds of water buffalo.  We had seen them before, but there were some large herds here, and they are such large animals that it is nice to see them but from a safe distance.  We later saw a large, lone bull elephant.  He happened to just be off a side road and our guide, Vincent, drove down it near him (first photo).  He was not as excited to see us as we were him and he charged a bit at our truck.  Vincent took off.  We had also seen elephant, but it was amazing to see one so big and so close.
When we made it to the central part of the park Vincent spotted a leopard in a tree.  It was napping and with our binoculars we could see its coat and tail.  It was facing the other way so we went around to the "road" on the other side of the tree, where we had a better view and could see its face.  After watching for a bit another leopard came down from a higher branch where we could not see it before.  It stopped by the first and then found its own branch before walking down the large, broken branch to the ground, where it disappeared.  Vincent told us it was rare to see two leopards together like that.  We eventually left and drove not more than 100 meters down the road and stopped to look where we had seen some vehicles stopped earlier.  There was another leopard in a tree not far from the road there.  We watched it for a while and then moved on.
Vincent then took us toward some rock outcrops and we drove around in the setting sun looking for lions.  At the third or fourth outcrop we spotted two lions (one with a collar; photo) lazing around on some rocks.  As it was nearing the end of the time we could be driving around we looped back around to some other rocks and there we saw a male lion lying on a rock.  Vincent also said that was rare as the males are usually not out in the open as much as the females.  We had had a great day and had seen four of "The Big Five."
The next day we were up early for a game drive before heading to the Ngorongoro Crater.  We saw some large families of elephants.  One family was quite close and we saw two young elephants.  They are so neat.  Tiny little packages of their giant parents.  After that we drove around a bit without seeing much.  On our way out of the park we saw another lion on a rock near the road.  Then we made it to the gate, still 18 kilometers from the border of Serengeti.
In the area between the gate and the border we saw the migration.  There were literally hundreds of thousands of wildebeest with so many zebra and gazelle.  We stopped to watch as a large herd crossed the road in front of our vehicle.  It was incredible to witness.  The photo and anything I could write would never do it any justice.   
After seeing the migration we drove for a while and then entered the Ngorongoro Crater.  I had heard of this place and was excited to see it for myself.  There were animals everywhere.  Like I mentioned, we saw a cheetah.  Then we carried on around the lake and we saw two lions.  One was watching some wildebeest and was crouching, trying to sneak up on them as they rested.  Its efforts were thwarted, though, by a hyena, who thought she would try her luck just approaching the wildebeest.  This was unsuccessful and one easily chased her off three times by lowering its horns and charging.  This roused the wildebeest enough that the lions gave up.
Continuing on around the lake we saw the eland.  Vincent again said how lucky we were as people don't normally see these large antelope.  Little did he know how lucky we were about to be.  Further around the lake we saw the black rhino.  It was the last of "The Big Five."  Not only did we see one, but we saw two.  They were lying down together.  As we looked more with the binoculars, Vincent said something about the three large animals just a little further.  He couldn't tell if they were buffalo or more rhino.  I looked with my binoculars, and sure enough, it was three more black rhino.  We watched them all for a bit and out of a depression came two more rhinos we didn't see.  There in front of us there were seven black rhino, possibly just under half of the endangered population in the Ngorongoro Crater.  It was incredible. 
I could go on and on about all the amazing things we saw and add photo after photo, but this will have to do.  You can see more on your favorite nature show, or better yet, plan your own trip and book your flights.  You will not be disappointed.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year

Hello to all of our friends.  The New Year is quickly approaching (in less than five hours) here in Moshi, Tanzania.  We hope that all of you are well and have plans with your families and/or friends.  Be safe and be well.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Genocide Museum in Rwanda

While in Kigali, the capitol of Rwanda, Jon and I also visited the Kigali Memorial Center.  It is a very modern museum that discussed the history of Rwanda and the events leading up to, during, and after the genocide in 1994.  It was very informative and heartbreaking all at once.  Some of the more interesting things we learned include: the Tutsi who were the target during the genocide had actually been considered the more "elite" group in history.  It wasn't until they began to challenge their colonial leaders that the mentality was intentionally shifted by the French rulers to have the Tutsi seen as inferior.  The genocide lasted only 100 days but is approximated to have killed almost 20% of the Rwandan populations.  The genocide was essentially orchestrated by the Hutu government and military and while it primarily targeted the Tutsi, they also murdered thousands of Hutu if they were suspected of having any compassion towards the Tutsi.  Anyone married to a Tutsi was seen as a "traitor".   Children and women were targeted equally to men and women were systematically raped by HIV positive males in order to subject them to a longer death - the women are still suffering these affects today.  There were photos and video interviews from witnesses that explained the brutality in detail.   There were rooms full of body parts and personal items that were uncovered from mass graves found around the country.  In one room there were thousands of pictures of victims that were displayed in order to put a more personal touch on the experience.  There was also a room dedicated to the other genocides around the world.  Perhaps the most interesting fact there was the the US had still not recognized as a government the Armenian genocide of 1915 that killed between 1 million and 1.5 million people.  Maybe this has changed since the memorial was built, but to be honest I doubt it.  The most upsetting of all the rooms, however, was the room dedicated to the children who were victims.  They had large pictures of  children and then told personal details like favorite food, song, and best friend followed by how they were murdered and at what age.  It was impossible not to get emotional.  The museum was an amazing experience in its own right.  As Jon and I traveled the around Rwanda we saw numerous memorials where mass graves were discovered.  We also saw an amazing recovery in a country with such a bleak past.  The people were very friendly, happy, and the cities clean and organized.  Rwanda is a very interesting place to be and we to have visited!

Rwanda Gorillas

Wow!  Gorillas!  Every amazing thing you've ever heard about seeing the gorillas is absolutely true.  The hardest part by far was doing the legwork to get our permits.  It involved wading through the paperwork in the extremely unorganized Rwanda Development Board.  Once that was accomplished and we made it north from Kigali to Musanze we had to organize transport to the Parc National des Volcans.  It cost $80 a day but would be more if we went to the Susa Group.  That was just the group we wanted to see.  There were a few reasons; it was the largest group at 34 individuals including three silver backs, and it was the hardest group to get to.  We told the rangers on the morning of the 22nd that we wanted to hike to the Susa Group because we wanted a long hike.  They asked if we were sure a couple times and then put us in a group of seven total including an out-of-shape couple with the gentleman wearing a collared shirt and sweater and the woman with her leather purse.  No rain gear or food or water.  The other three were a slightly more prepared family--father and two late-teens/early-twenties children.  Chucks and jeans and no food and not enough water.  Then the fun began.
We took an hour drive up an awful road (I guess that 4X4 was necessary) and then started our hike.  It was steep, but not Glacier-steep and we were held up in the first five minutes as we climbed through community land past small homes, farm plots, cattle, sheep, children.  At the painfully slow pace the group had to keep to stay together it took quite awhile until we reached the stone wall and forest marking the entrance into the park.  Then the real hiking began.  It was a brief section through some thick bamboo, which led to faint trails through the thick brush.  After about two hours of that--which could have been covered much more quickly--we reached the trackers.  There we left our packs and walked the two minutes, if that to where the gorillas were.
The next hour is impossible to explain and actually give you any idea how incredible it was.  There was a mother and baby in a tree.  They came down and walked right toward me.  The guides had to tell us a number of times to move this way or that to avoid getting in the way of the gorillas.  Shortly after the mother and baby passed we settled in a group to watch their group.  A black back, a not fully matured male, walked past where the head silver back was hidden from view.  He must have done something because the silver back charged out from under his cover and my heart dropped to my toes.  I had never seen such a large animal move so quickly, so swiftly, with such absolute power.  He could have ripped the arms off three or four of us before the armed guards could have done anything.  But he just wanted the black back to know his place in the group.  
After this brief interaction the silver back retreated back to his hidden throne and we settled back down and watched the dynamics of the group.  It was incredible to watch the juveniles play with each other, chasing one another around a tree or wrestling in the flattened brush.  It was amazing seeing the mothers care for their little ones, to feed them, to groom them, to let them go on their own.  It was beautiful watching the babies walk on their own, to flip and roll, to walk over to their relatives and wrestle and play.  It was unbelievable when the third silver back of the group came over and laid on his back and all the others around him did the same before he sat ten to 15 feet from where we were watching.
In the end right before our hour was up, the top silver back came out and interacted with the third silver back and they walked right by me as I shot a video.  I even had to move and they disappeared into the brush, followed by at least ten others.  It was so incredible it brought tears to our eyes.
I would love to show the video but it takes too long to upload so here are some photos.  The third silver back, a mother feeding her baby, and Carrie and me enjoying our stay.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Merry Christmas

With Christmas less than a week away and the uncertainty of internet access, we just wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas.  Hopefully you are with family or friends and that you will have a wonderful day.  We miss our families and friends dearly and will be thinking of all of you.  I must say that it hardly feels like Christmas down here just south of the equator.  I still dream of snow and hope you have a white Christmas (if you want). 
We are spending our final day in Uganda today and are about to head down to Rwanda this afternoon.  We're trying to figure out the best way to get in on a gorilla trek and aren't sure if we head directly to the park and try to set up with a tour company or go to the capital of Kigali.  Either way, Rwanda is looking to be expensive and we probably won't be there too long before we head into Tanzania. 
Hope everyone is well.

Merry Christmas,

Jon and Carrie

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Queen Elizabeth National Park


We didn't know we were going to spend any time in Queen Elizabeth, but we met a Dutch couple, and they recommended we track chimps there.  We realized that tracking chimps, although touristy and a bit expensive, was an experience we did not want to miss.  Camping was limited in the area as there are mostly expensive tourists lodges.  However, with a little luck on our side we found a spot to camp right outside the park and the view into the park was spectacular.  Within the first few minutes we spotted an elephant grazing in the distance.  The man there, Meddie, helped us set up the tracking as well as the rest of our day touring around the park on a boda-boda (motorcycle) seeing many elephants, buffalo, and hippos.   In the morning we went to the southeast corner of the park where the chimps are primarily in a gorge.  We set out to do our tracking in a group and spotted the chimps after about one hour.  In total we saw about 5 individuals out of the twenty that live in the area.  We were lucky to see them at very close range, the detail of their hands and feet were amazingly similar to our own.  They allowed us only about 25 minutes but it was a spectacular experience.   The second half of our day we explored the northwest part of the park.   Riding around the park, three of us on one boda-boda, with the wind in our hair and breezing past countless elephants, warthogs, buffalo, and more was a great way to explore the other parts of the park.  At one of the lakes there were hundreds of elephants and buffalo.  It was an amazing day!  Here is a shot of B.J. the chimp, who we saw at close range...enjoy!  We tried to get up a video, but it took way too long to upload.  We put in this shot to help protect the chimp's identity.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Blog to follow

Hey everyone.  While we're here in Africa, our good buddy, Ben aka Jammin, is leaving Dec. 6 for Argentina and Beyond.  Please also check out his blog at http://benjaminpolley.blogspot.com.

The last week in Uganda

Wow!  It has sure been an active week in Uganda.  Last Sunday Carrie and I started our trip with the German Red Cross volunteers for four days on Mt. Elgon.  We were successful in our climb of the highest point, 4321 m (14,259 ft.) Wagagai and 4165 m Jackson Summit.  After a safe return, although we were wet and muddy--very muddy--we made our way from Mbale to Jinja.  Instead of actually staying in Jinja we instead opted for the beautiful Bujagali Falls right along the Nile River.  We spent a day in Jinja and went to the source of the Nile, where it empties out of Lake Victoria.  The next day we went rafting along the Nile.  It was called Class 5 and the waves were big.  From what we heard and discovered first-hand, this was unlike other Class 5 rivers in that they seek out the difficult waves and try to flip the boats as it is so deep and relatively safe.  I was nervous after seeing some of the photos of the flips until our first and then I realized how "safe" it actually was.  We flipped a number of times in huge waves and rafted down the river in the rain.  The water was warmer than the air and we swam in the Nile--thankfully no crocodiles!  We purchased a CD of photos, but if you want to see 2-3 photos of our trip now, check out Nalubale Rafting on Facebook.  The third from December 4 is the biggest action shot.  Maybe we can add more later.
Hope all is well back home.  I'm dreaming of snow but loving all that is happening here.  Take care.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Photos

Hello everybody.  We have added a photo or two to a couple of the old posts.  Check them out and we'll add more if and when we can.

Mbita

17/11/11

Yesterday was my 33rd birthday.  It was possibly the first birthday that didn't much feel like one, but I enjoyed the day.  Carrie and I had breakfast at the Elk; mandazi, an egg, and tea (yes, I had tea--not too bad), and then we walked to Rusinga Island, which is connected to Mbita by a causeway.  On the causeway there was a Police check and an officer called us over and welcomed us as we spoke a bit in Kiswahili, which we said we knew very little.
Just after that we met Carolyne, who invited us to the Adams Acadamy where she worked with orphans.  We agreed to meet her this morning to go there with her.  She pointed us down a street, where we found we were in neighborhoods where the children came and yelled, "Mzungu!  How are you?" to us.  I shook their hands but felt a bit shy as we were off who-knows-where with who-knows-whose children.  Eventually we turned back to the main street.  We followed it to the Little Jewels Schoool, where the children ran to the gates and greeted us.  We walked over and were asked inside.  We sang with them and then they sang to us.  We were asked insid eht school where they sang a bit more.  We left for some treats to bring back.
We went to a store and bought some candies, one bag being Obama pops.  He sure is popular here.  We caught a boda-boda (motorbike) back to the school.  They sang for us again and we photographed and videorecorded them and then gave them the treats.  School let out and many of them walked with us, holding our hands, one boy coming as far as our hotel only to turn around when we left.
We had a nice dinner in an interesting hotel and came back for a couple drinks.  We met two fellow North Americans, Kurtis from B.C. and Gabby from Boston, and had a couple beers with them and then went to bed tired.

19/11/11

On the 17th we met Carolyne in the morning and walked with her to the Adams Acadamy.  Once there, the children went crazy and came to greet us.  Even the children taking exams dropped what they were doing to come see us.  We sang "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes" and other songs with the children and listened to their songs and a couple poems.  Then we distributed the Obama pops, which were huge hits.  They were also whistle pops, which the kids discovered quickly.
Carolyne asked if we would return after lunch as it was lunch time and the children didn't want to leave because they were afraid we wouldn't return.  Our plan had been to go to Mfagano Island after seeing the school but I saw how much fun Carrie was having (I was too) and how excited the children were to have visitors so we said we would return.  We walked back for a small lunch and a coke and some passion juice--which is amazing.  Carrie left to get a couple of books to read in the afternoon.  Just before she returned, Lilian, one of the teachers, came to collect us for the afternoon.
We walked back and when the kids saw we were coming back they ran and ran around the building, laughing and shouting.  We entered, greeted them, and then sat and read the books.  The first book kept their attention, but by the second they were losing focus.  They were much more excited when Carrie would run around with them playing a form of "Simon Says."
After going outside for that we then made a circle and sang songs and played games.  They sang some of their songs, my favorite being, "I have a ball, I put it here, I play better, I play better, I play better," and we taught them the "Hokey Pokey," which they really enjoyed.  We played a game that was very similar to "Duck, Duck, Goose."  After the day we walked back with many of the chilren, Peter (the chairman), Lilian, and Carolyne.  We commited to seeing their farm/garden on Sunday after a couple days on Mfagano.
After getting back, exhausted, we realized w did not have enough money to stay until Sunday.  Lilian had offered to go with us to Mfagano and show us around and in the morning yesterday, the 18th, when she came, with Peter and Carolyne, we told them our situation, apollogizing for comitting to more than we could.  They understood and walked with us to the boat.  Carrie, Lilian, and I boarded and had a tight, uncomfortable ride, smashed onto wooden-plank seats.  It was beautiful, though, and we were happy once we reached Mfagano, after calling in to Takawiri Island first.
Once there, Lilian took us to meet her grandmother, who was upset with Lilian for not informing her there would be guests coming.  She would have prepared us food but instead gave us two Fantas and a Sprite for Lilian.  After leaving Lilian's grandmother, we stopped briefly to tour the power plant, powering Sena and possibly the whole island.  From there we carried on to where Lilian was born and sat briefly on the beach admiring the fishing boats and the lake (and the children, of course--always the children).  Then it was on to see her house where she grew up.  I snapped a photo of her and Carrie on the porch. 
After that we went to Carolyne's husband, Wilson's house.  He stayed there with his mother, whom we also met.  He prepared a lunch for us and then accompanied the three of us to the museum.  Having read nothing more about the museum except that it was there, we were surprised to hear it was Ksh 250 a person and said we couldn't afford it.  The woman offered to show us quickly for free, as we were also rushing to catch the last boat back to Mbita.  It was interesting and had some great historical artefacts.  From there we rushed to the last boat back in Sena and waited as it was late.
We caught the boat back, once it came, but were too late to see the farm.  Instead, Wilson invited us to dinner at his and Carolyne's place.  We came and brought some tea and milk to contribute as they had already given and done so much for us.  Dinner was an appetizer of bananas, pineapple, and oranges and a main course of fish, sukawiki, ugali, and another vegetable similar to the sukawiki.  It was delicious.  We ate our fill and then Syndi and Donna--their children--recited some poems and sang some songs.  As they sang their "Farewell Song," the lightning and wind really picked up and we left to not get rained upon.  Carolyne, Wilson, and Lilian walked us home and there was an incredible electrical storm over Lake Victoria.  We made it home before the rain and went to bed.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Nakuru

15/11/11

Yesterday Carrie and I slept in a bit, had a sandwich at the restaurant, and then caught a matatu to Naivasha.  From Naivasha we caught another to Nakuru.  They had us pay for a seat for our bags as well as our own and we spent Ksh 600.  At Nakuru we decide we were hungry and ate at a restaurant.  I learned again that the chips (fries) were not very good.  By the time we were wrapping up we decided it would be too late when we made it to Kisumu so we got a room in the New Mt. Sinai Hotel.  We paid Ksh 600 for two beds, a bathroom/showere on the top/5th floor with views from the roof of the city.
We dropped our bags and went out in the city, into the market for fruit and eventually to an internet cafe.  After spending time onlne we walked home and decided to check out the bar, Olkegei (or something like that) for a drink or two.  As soon as we walked in, every eye turned our way and we heard mzungu this and mzungu that followed by laughter.  Carrie saw someone, a woman, blow us a kiss.
We ordered and the bartender, a woman, set two chairs for us at a table where two guys sat drinking.  They were quite friendly and tried to make us feel welcome, saying, "Karibu."  Others, however, were quite scary.  Carrie was tapped on the shoulder and starred at by a guy next to us at the next table until one of our new friends told him to quit.  The starring never quit.  Another guy came up to me and shook my hand and said something about not showing any fear and then demanded I give him 100 dollars.  I said no and tried to ignore him.  Our friends told him to beat it.  At one point in our conversation he sat and looked at me saying, "God forgive, God forgive."  This too I ignored and th brtender turned him around in his chair and then pushed him out of it.  Our friends could sense our fear too and told us to relax and feel welcome.  They bought us a second beer, but we didn't want it.  We drank it anyway, having a nice conversation with Oke, George, and eventually Sammi.  I sat there sweating and nervous, trying not to shake as I poured my Tusker into the glass.  These three men were great, but we eventually paid up and said our goobyes.  They were worried we had far to go until we told them it was just across the street.  We left the bar and bee-lined right for our room.  Once up on our roof, which our room was on, we relaxed and looked out on the city.
This morning we were up not too early and caught a matatu out of town.  It is mayhem trying to catch one, with everyone swarming you trying to "help" you.  We negotiated a price and once aboard were charged for our bags, which we stood strong and only paid half.
It was a cramped ride over mostly dirt, bumpy dirt, roads (at least in the middle section) from Nakuru to Kisumu.  In Kisumu we had fish stew (with a whole fish) and ugali, and then we caught a bus to Luanda Kotieno.  The bus was great as we had more room.  Once we exited the bus we walked to where the ferry picked up in an hour but were able to get right on a boat that took us with about eight others to Mbita.  In Mbita we found the Elk Guest House and relaxed the remainder of the evening.  We're excited to be on Lake Victoria, Africa's largest.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Public transport in Kenya and Uganda.

Jon and I have been traveling primarily by matatus which are public minivans that are meant for 15 people.  They are available in all towns we have visited thus far and generally cost about $1 or $2 for an hour trip.  The roads here are mostly unpaved and they drive on the opposite side of the road.  The roads that are paved have no lines marking the middle.  There are also very few sidewalks which mean there are many people riding bikes, motorbikes and walking along the sides.  The men who drive and collect the money earn more money if they make more trips per day on their route.  This means they drive very very fast with little regard for what side of the road they are driving on.  With 15 people on board the seating is quite tight as there is generally also bags of a grain, a chicken or two, and a mattress pad or some sacks tied to the top.  In Kenya there are police checkpoints to ensure the law of fourteen passengers is being followed and that there is nothing strapped on top of the van.  We went through countless check points but never had an officer stop us despite blatantly ignoring the rule.  I did however witness the money collector hand the officer a large bill or bribe but it was discrete.  When we crossed the border to Uganda the police were less discrete - that's all I will say for now as I am still traveling here.... The matatus in Uganda we have learned are the same size but carry 20 people.  Jon usually has his knees to his ears in these vans while it is not so rough for me.  Its also a great way to chat with people from the local area and learn about what you see around you.  When lucky we can sit in the front seats, which are also referred to as the death seats as they are the most unsafe, but by far the most comfortable.  Overall, the public transport while not very comfortable is a great way to get around! More on buses later.

Funny signs along the way

While only in our second country in Africa Carrie and I have seen some funny signs.  In a hotel in Nakuru, Kenya, there was a sign on the bathroom door, "PLIZ FLASH THE TOILET".  In an electric plant we toured on Mfangano Island on Lake Victoria, Kenya there was a sign about charging phones and for people not working there it was "OUT OF BOUNCE".  Coming to Mbale, Uganda on the taxi (minibus) we saw at a stop a "BARBER SALOON".  I asked the man next to me if that meant you could get a beer while you had your hair cut.  He said "no," and laughed when I explained that in America a saloon was another name for a bar and that they had probably meant to have it read "SALON".  Last is on our breakfast menu at our hotel in Mbale, Uganda you can order "SCRUMBLED EGGS".  Maybe they're better than scrambled.  A little humor goes a long way.  Hope everyone is well.

Arrived in Uganda

Yesterday we traveled from Kenya to Uganda.  We were very excited and happy after a long bumpy ride to arrive in Mbale.  We were looking forward to climbing Mt. Elgon, but today we went to the Park Headquarters and found some disturbing info.  The price had nearly doubled over the year.  It is now $90 US per person per day, which covers $25 per person per day entry fee, a ranger guide, and hiking experience.  A ranger guide and "hiking experience," whatever that is, cost $65 per person per day.  We requested no guide and said we already had hiking experience, but the guy in the office could not be persuaded.  We told him there was no way we could afford nearly $1000 total for the 4-5 days it would require for us to climb up and down the routes we had researched.  We also asked if we could talk with someone about lowering the cost or volunteering to lower the cost.  We have to write to someone and by the time all that goes through it's bound to be a couple weeks we imagine.  Oh well.  We may have to go back to Kenya to climb it or make other plans.  Elgon was supposed to be one of the more inexpensive treks in Uganda and now we may have to just travel through Uganda and go to Rwanda and see some gorillas.  Time will tell.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Around Fisherman's Camp and Hell's Gate National Park

14/11/11

On the 12th, we had a nice mellow day.  We walked up to the little "town" an bought some melon, and orange (which are green outside; let's call them greenges), a mango, an avocado, and two tomatoes all for 60 Ksh--that's 60 cents for all you back home.  We walked down the street looking at the shops.  We then headed back to camp and shared a couple beers, Tusker (the local Kenyan lager), while we read about what to do the next day.  After that we wlked back to town and had an early dinner at the Acacia Cafe.  There seemed to be only one option, a bowl of peas with a whole potato and some cabbage.  We had some chapati (almost like thick tortillas) with it.  The food was pretty good and we watched some TV in the corner while we ate.
After eating we went back to camp and hung out on the picnic table with our neighbors, Sam and Gloria, a couple from Nairobi.  They were celebrating one year from their first date.  The camp had filled up a bit, as had the bar and we enjoyed our time away from it talking with them.  Eventually we sparked up the fire and moved there to continue our visiting.
They were very interesting and fun to talk with.  At some point Gloria brought out smokeys for us to heat on the fire.  Carrie declined but did eventually take a bite, her first meat in some 20+ years.  The night was very nice and calm.
The next day we woke pretty early and had a mango, melon, greenge breakfast.  We hired some bikes and prepared to bike to Hell's Gate National Park.  Before we left we met Darren from UK and he asked to come with us.


The three of us biked off for Hell's Gate.  We entered at Elsa Gate and within the first km we saw six or more ostrich.  They were a little way off and we peddled to Fischer Tower where some people were climbing.  There we turned and started up the Buffalo Circuit.  We climbed slightly and saw some giraffes and zebras and another hoofed animal we did not know.
We back-tracked a bit from the zebras and did another circuit.  It brought us up to some views and we saw more ungulates and some carnivore tracks along the road.  Then we dropped back to the Buffalo Circuit.  There were quite a few animals; zebras, giraffe, impala, gazelle, and others.  As we climbed we saw vultures landing and walked off the road to see what they were doing.  Many flew off and we discovered the old remains of a zebra.  It smelled bad.  We walked our bikes most of the way to the highpoint of the road as it was very hot (to us anyway) and humid, and I wasn't feeling very good.
We had a pleasant, steep coast down to to where some boys were herding sheep.  We stopped and said hello and carried on.  We made it to another spot where there were giraffe and zebra and Darren and Carrie convinced me to rest.  I was feeling heat exhaustion coming on.  I rested while they walked toward the zebra.  From there it was a short distance to finish the circuit and then 2.6 km to the Ranger Post and the start of the walk down the Lower Gorge.
We stopped and ate the avocado and some snacks while watching a monkey and some baboons, pumped some water--thankfully there was some there as Carrie and I didn't have enough--and hired a guide, John, a local Masaii to take us into the gorge.  Options were short, medium, and long, and we went for the medium walk.
The gorge was pretty and reminded us of canyons we had seen in Utah.  First we went up a side canyon to a sheer-walled pour-over.  On the way to this spot we had a couple of spots which required some climbing moves, one next to a large chockstone, and both with some foot/handholds that had been carved into the rock.  It was a bit more intense than I had expected and our guide, John, made it up and down with the greatest of ease.  He led the walk 3-5 times daily so we weren't surprised.  He was very helpful to us getting up and down.  When we made it to the pour-over he scrambled right up the 20-30 foot wall.  That is where I decided "no more," but he was only showing off.
We turned around and went down the main canyon.  Within we were shown a couple hot springs.  It started thundering and raining and we went down one steep step and then another tight squeeze, which I was afraid to climb back up.  Fortunately we exited the canyon another way.  John stopped and showed us a little hole that had red mud that he said the Masaii used to paint their hair and faces.  He put some on our cheeks and foreheads.  We walked back to the start with thunder, lightning, and fairly heavy rain.  It felt great, though, with how hot I had been before.

We then got back on our bikes after most of the rain passed and biked home.  We walked a ways as our bottoms hurt from so much biking.  We saw many animals, with some new ones from earlier; warthogs mainly and what I believe was two separate secretary birds.  They were big.  As we were biking back to the gate there was a whole troop of baboon.  There were a lot of babies holding onto mothers as they walked, youngsters, and the large patrolling male or two.  We made it back to camp, had dinner at the restaurant and passed out early, exhausted after 40 km biking with a short walk in between.  Hell's Gate had been great.