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Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

It was very wet and muddy with most fields running excess water into roadside gutters.  Large puddles were everywhere.

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Puddles, puddles, puddles  P1260005  DY of jtdytravels

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…and more puddles  P1260008  DY of jtdytravels

It is partly overcast as it has been nearly every day since my arrival in Africa.

There is a head cold developing on the bus, I hope I don’t catch it or be the carrier to the next group.  I’m OK so far.

Today we retraced our first day back into Nairobi.  It was foggy most of the way once we got to the high pass where we looked down into the Rift Valley on our way out of Nairobi.  The road is nearly all, if not all, downhill for nearly 3000 feet.  It is a long way down under brakes. We made it OK and so came to the end of a memorable African sojourn.

Thanks for coming along with me on an armchair ride!

Now it’s time to move on to my next adventure.  D

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My tent has a flap on each of its four sides.  I roll these up for some air movement as otherwise the inside gets rather stuffy.  I’m in a tent on my own so can’t imagine how unpleasant the air must get when two people share a tent.  It started to sprinkle rain at 05h00 so there was a mad scramble to get up and drop the flaps before I got wet inside.  Whilst this was being done a bloody mozzie got inside so no further peaceful sleep resulted.  I got up 45 minutes later, and as usual, was the first, or one of the first, to be up and about.  I had my tent cleared out and packed up and on the truck before some others were up.  There was plenty of time to help some of the others, but isn’t it strange how it seems to be the same ones every time.  Some just disappear into thin air and wait for somebody else to chip in and achieve a quick pack-up.

We crossed from Uganda back into Kenya this morning.  The exit from Uganda was no problem.  I had to get another three day ‘Transit Visa’ to get into Kenya, but as I had done my homework this time, three days was all I needed.  Mind you, I used each of the three days!  It took us over an hour to clear both borders.  Again, there were trucks as far as the eye could see waiting on the Kenyan side to clear immigration and customs.  I counted 88 but didn’t start doing so until some way along the line.

We arrived in Eldoret at 16h45, rather early, but pleasant.  This is the same camping ground as last time.  I decided not to upgrade this time, I rather like my tent and because last time I had to squat under a low tap in my shower to get any water.  The communal shower was wonderful with water that hot I needed to use some cold to make it useable.  A thunderstorm had been brewing all afternoon and broke just as I started to dry off.  I waited until the worst of it passed before I made a dash back to my tent.  When I got there I found a river flowing beneath it.  It wasn’t as though I’d chosen my site badly as all the other tents were in a similar position.  I could feel the water flowing under the floor.  Thankfully the tent is completely waterproof and everything in it, including me, stayed dry.  It is interesting to look back on the whole trip to realise that we didn’t have to put up or take down our tents in the rain.  In fact, the only rain occurred when it didn’t really matter too much.  We were either on the road, eating under cover or in our tents when it rained.

My real comfort is the last of my ‘medicinal’ whisky and some peanuts.  With only one more night to go, I think I did pretty well eking it out to run out with only one night to go!  There will be some more bought in duty free at Abu Dhabi airport for the next leg.  If I get it on the way in I can pack it in my checked-in baggage as I have an overnight stop in Abu Dhabi after my flight from Nairobi.  Saves any possible confiscation of my litre of whisky by some nasty security person!  I can also decant the precious golden liquid into my metal water bottle to save both the weight of the glass bottle and to protect it from breakage.  Can you imagine me trying to suck my clothes dry should the unthinkable happen?

Juma gets a night off cooking tonight as we are being catered for by the camping ground.  They have a pleasant dining area next to the bar and as it is still over an hour before dinner and I’ve run out of whisky, I just might have to start warming a seat in that area.

The thunder storm turned out to bit more than a passing event as heavy rain settled in for an hour or two.  Again, we escaped an unpleasantness while eating our buffet meal.  After the meal, which had an African theme, one which I’m not sure I could get used to as it consists mainly of ugali, a maize based thick goo, and even more carbohydrate in the form of a yam-like root vegetable.  There were plenty of vegetables and tough meat to choose from to make the carbohydrate palatable.  Fond farewells were made as this was to be the last night the group was to be together.  Tip envelopes were handed over and the crew seemed to be happy – as we were with the whole trip.

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Our driver, Mbuthia  P1250984  DY of jtdytravels

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Our camp cook, Juma  P1250988  DY of jtdytravels

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A Tusker beer surrounded by the group!  P1250992  DY of jtdytravels

The trip kitty was reconciled by Ingwe and three of our group and after paying for dinner there was just over $5/PAX left over.  I think this is pretty good.  It was decided that anyone who wanted their $5 could have it in cash, otherwise the balance was put on the bar for all to enjoy.  It only paid for a couple of drinks each so nobody was able to go mad.

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The group at the fire  P1250998  DY of jtdytravels

I was well and truly snuggled up in my tent by 23h00 and asleep soon afterwards.  As would have it, a nature call was required some hours later.  The ground was really muddy and very slippery as a result of the earlier rain.  Over I went, down on my bum to dirty my clean undies and hands.  Thankfully there was a nearby tap which could wash the mud of my hands but my undies are still muddy and will have to wait until I get to Copenhagen to be washed.  My dignity didn’t suffer as there was nobody around.  Back in my tent I had to zip up my sleeping bag for the first time.  Until now I’d been warm enough just using it as a throw-over to my sheet sleeping bag.

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Today was the adrenalin day for the younger people of the group.  There was white water rafting (up to Grade 5), bungy jumping, a river cruise on the Nile and/or one could join a community aid project and paint a school.  This sounded OK until the thought of getting paint all over our clothes was taken into account.  The Nile and Jinja hold a significant place in the geography of the region as it is said that the Nile starts where it flows out of Lake Victoria.

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Brad about to jump  P1250899  DY of jtdytravels

I may have been enticed into doing something silly but bungy jumping for the ‘token grandfather’ of the group was not on.  I rather like my ball and socket joints the way they are.  The other thing that irked me was that the camp site only took Visa card.  This is the first place I can remember where, if credit cards are accepted, that both Visa and MasterCard are accepted.  Add to this anomaly, the blighters added a 5% surcharge on the use of the Visa card.  I’ve had to stomach up to a 3% surcharge on credit card usage, and maybe 5% on Diners or American Express, but not 5% on the two most common cards.  My protest was not silent as I told Ruth, the camp manager, that it was just another way to add an extra cost to the activity.  A captive audience, a captive market!  I just spent a quiet day in camp doing some washing and catching up on some writing.

There were some long-tailed macaques roaming around the camp taking every opportunity to grab any discarded food.

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A long-tailed Macaque  P1250952  DY of jtdytravels

One poor individual had a piece of twine tied tightly around one wrist which rendered it useless.  I don’t know if it got tangled up in the twine or if someone had tied it on to tether the animal.  The way the animal wasn’t able to put the hand down indicated that the circulation to the area had been cut off.  I can only assume that the hand will eventually drop off!

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This individual had twine tied tightly around a wrist  P1250948 DY of jtdytravels

There was free WiFi in the bar area so I took full advantage of this and talked to my sister Helen in Melbourne, son Peter in Newcastle and Jennie in Bangkok when she happened to log on while I was writing.

The Olympics start in London tonight – and although we had a ‘sporty’ day …a world away from here!

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Along with the gorilla and golden monkey treks, this morning’s walking safari was a special experience.

Godson our armed ranger   P1100641 DY © for jtdytravels

Godson was our armed guide who told us all about the many things we saw, not just the animals, but also about signs left behind by passing animals etc.

Walking with Wild Animals      p1250820 DY © for jtdytravels

It is really very special to be walking in a game reserve where there is a chance of coming across a lion or two, although Godson said that there were only a few in the park and they pretty much kept to themselves.  They had only just returned to the park after having been absent for many years.

Inquisitive Waterbuck   p1250801 DY © DY for jtdytravels

We saw reed and waterbuck, wart hog, zebra, topi, antelope and gazelle.

Prickly African Acacia p1250831 © DY for jtdytravels

Africa, like Australia, has many endemic Acacia species.

Self portrait – holding up a tree p1250839 © DY for jtdytravels

After a bit over two hours of walking through the park it was time to say goodbye to Godson, rejoin the truck and head for Kampala, the capital of Uganda.  We crossed the equator, where we set up our tables and chairs outside some souvenir shops.

It was also where I bought a book on Rwanda for 150,000 Ugandan shillings which is about USD64.  I waited ten minutes to get $5 change, I was owed another one, but rather than wait standing around looking useless, I suggested the girl put the dollar in the tips basket.  The shop was actually a charity place so it possibly went to a good cause.

It rained heavily as we drove into and through Kampala.  We arrived at Jinja at 17h45.

We were met by the very efficient camp manager, Ruth, who told us we were about to experience the hottest showers 24/7 to be found in Uganda and to top that off, the coldest beers in Uganda.  She won all our hearts in one sentence.  She also said that the music in the bar would be turned off at midnight, however there was still plenty of noise emanating from around the camp at 02h30!  Give me a bush camp with long drop toilets, animal noises, the stars and a camp fire any day.  I think I would be happy to give up the hottest shower and coldest beer for the privilege of a bush camp.  But, then… the shower followed by the beer was good!

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Around 03h00 this morning I heard a water tank being filled.  Silly me. I thought this might mean a hot shower.  There was water but definitely not hot.  I remain somewhat oily from yesterday’s massage but that is probably not a bad thing.

I was up at 04h50 to light rain as an early breakfast was needed because the day was to be a long one.  We actually left 5 minutes early at 06h25 and didn’t get to Lake Mburo until 17h45.  There were 3 roadside loo stops and an hour for lunch.  A long, long day, but the kilometres had to be done.

We just had time to put up our tents amongst wart hogs and hippos making all sorts of grunting noises in the nearby lake before the sun set.

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Our camp site at Lake Mburo      (P1100602  DY of jtdytravels)

We watched the sun set over the lake with the hippos briefly surfacing from time to time whilst we rehydrated with a Tusker beer… or two.

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Sunset over Lake Mburo      (P1100612  DY of jtdytravels)

Most enjoyable… and equally enjoyable was the camp fire we sat around after dinner.

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Our campfire  P1100622     (DY of jtdytravels)

More anon    David

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Today I took the optional extra to trek in to see some Golden monkeys.  These beautiful animals live in bamboo forest.  The same procedure was followed as yesterday with a drive to park headquarters, dancing and singing and a further ride to the drop off point to begin our walk.

On our way up to the bamboo forest we came across a couple of guys cutting planks from a eucalypt log.  Instead of digging a pit with one person in the pit and the other at ground level, the technique used in these parts is to build a platform with one guy standing on the platform and the other one standing on the ground.  I think I would want to be the guy on top rather than the one underneath as he is continually showered by sawdust which was sticking to his body in the hot and humid conditions.

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Sawing a log into planks       (P1100122  DY of jtdytravels)

Nearby was a smoking and steaming pile of earth and leaves.  It was charcoal in the process of being made.  We were told that the whole burning process takes two weeks, something I will have to check sometime when I have reliable internet access.

It was nowhere near as far as it was to see the gorillas – only 20 minutes or so and we were in the company of a troupe of monkeys.

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A Golden monkey       (P1100174  DY of jtdytravels)

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Another family member      (P1100320  DY of jtdytravels)

They were feeding in the bamboo and moving through the forest seeking out the choicest shoots.  The rainy season is best for them as they particularly like the new bamboo shoots, none of which were available at present because it is the dry season.

The golden monkeys take their name from the lovely golden coat they have.  Pretty faces add to their appeal.

We were back at the ’hotel’ by 11 am which gave me plenty of time for a shower – again it was a walk downstairs to the communal showers as there was still no water at all in my room – before wandering a couple of hundred metres down the road to a massage centre.  Moses performed wonders on my stiff and sore body after the last two treks and the awful pummelling it gets on the bus!  I know, any excuse for a massage, but then, who needs an excuse!     D

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“G” day, gorilla day: experiencing a silver back gorilla up close and personal – that was the one thing that brought most of us to Rwanda.

It was an early start from the Central Pastoral Notre Dame De Fatima Lodgings we were staying in.  We didn’t put up tents here; there were dorms with triple decker bunks but some of us upgraded to a room.  The promise of hot and cold running water was too much for me so I opted for a room.  My room was on the third floor, and you guessed it, the water failed to get to the lofty heights.  I was brought a 20 litre plastic container of cold water and told everything would be OK in the morning.  You guessed it again, no such nicety happened so you make do with what you have and splash cold water around or pad down stairs to a communal bathroom where copious quantities of hot water flowed freely.

After an early breakfast we piled into Landrovers or Landcruisers for the around 40 minute drive to the park headquarters.  Here we were placed into groups of six, sometimes with somebody from another tour group, sometimes not.  Whilst all this was going on we were entertained by a singing and dancing cultural group.  All very African and very energetic with many drums and stamping feet beating out the rhythm.  Apart from getting organised into our groups this gave the trackers time to locate the gorilla groups we were to visit.

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Dancing while rangers located the gorillas and guides processed the trekkers     (P1090753  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

There are an estimated 480 mountain gorillas in Rwanda with some 300 in Uganda.  In Rwanda there are 18 groups that have been habituated a process that takes about two years.  Ten of these groups are visited each day by just one group.  A maximum of one hour is spent in contact with the groups.  The remaining groups are solely visited for research purposes.

We were allotted the Ntambara group which has three silver backs as family members.  The alpha male can be expected to live for between 40 and 45 years and is at present 27 years old.  These males can be expected to eat 30kg of food each day and get most of their water from this foliage.

Once the group had been located we piled back into our vehicles for the drive to the road-head where we began our trek.

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We begin our climb     (P1090879  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

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The long haul ever upwards     (P1090855  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

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Mother and child     (P1090875  © DY of jtdytravels)

This was at an elevation of 2600 metres.  It was a bush bashing trek to get to the 3200 level to get to the spot where the gorillas were resting after their early morning feed.

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The rangers and armed guard      (P1090996  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

Eugene was our guide and we were accompanied by two rangers and an armed guard. They came along as there are buffalo in the area and they don’t want to be disturbed at all.  The gun is not to harm or injure the beasts just to scare them away should we stumble across them.  We didn’t see any.

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Patrick, my helper!       (P1090912  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

Our first contact was with a sleeping male who was a bit difficult to get to so we bypassed him and left him rest in peace.

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Our first encounter – How good can it get?     (P1100010  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

Within metres we came across the rest of the family group who were a little more active, but still resting.

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Who is looking at whom with more wonderment?    (P1100063  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

The rangers cut some brush away from around the animals to give us all a better view.  One last cut was too much for our dozing mate who sprang up and charged towards the ranger grabbing him and appearing to bite his side.  The rangers know what to do so he took a totally submissive posture, lying on the ground in the foetal position.  The gorilla was happy, he was still boss so returned to his snoozing position.  Now the excitement for me was that I didn’t expect this reaction – I guess the rangers have encounted this before.  And, where did I happen to be, but standing right next to the ranger.  This silver back was only a foot away from me, but took no notice of me, much to my relief.  I wasn’t overly perturbed as the other rangers didn’t interfere and certainly the gun was not fired!  That would have provoked a nasty situation.  Once everything settled down the females and a baby went about their playing and resting.  One of the females pounded her chest a number of times as she went from place to place.  The ground shook when she performed.  It was awe inspiring.

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This is how close we actually got!     (P1100076  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

Our hour with these magnificent animals was up all too quickly but we knew we had to leave them in peace and quiet to go about the daily business unbothered by us.  The gorillas will be visited by another group of tourists tomorrow – I hope they have a wonderful time – just like us.

Walking back down to the drop-off point     (P1090822 ©  DY of jtdytravels)

The trek back down the mountain was so much quicker than the hard slog up. We wanted to meet up with the other groups and tell them our stories. Of course, they had stories much like ours and we all agreed that it was worth the USD500 the permit had cost us.  In fact, I reckon I’d happily pay twice as much, climb twice as high and expend twice or more effort for the experience!  Words like, unique, surreal, emotional and spiritual were heard being bandied around.

From our drop-off point we had walked through some fields which we hardly gave a glance at as we were all marching upwards to our goal for the day.  On the way back down more time was allowed to survey the scenery.  A white daisy was being cultivated and everything fell into place when we came across a long building with racks in it.

Pyrethrum daisy – the source of an organic herbicide     (P1090819 © DY of jtdytravels)

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Small plots produce the pyrethrum flowers      (P1090785   ©  DY of jtdytravels)

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Lady drying pyrethrum flowers      (P1090890   ©  DY of jtdytravels)

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USAID sponsored drying shed      (P1090842  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

The sign on the building proclaimed it was a USAID initiative to grow pyrethrum daisies for the production of organic herbicides.  The flowers were picked and dried on the racks before being sent away for further processing.  A nice little good news story – a project that actually gives the villagers another source of income to augment their normal subsistence farming.

The striking green & purple foliage of a forest plant      (P1090899   ©  DY of jtdytravels)

I did have time to find a couple more interesting plants and flowers while trekking.

Small unidentified flower      (P1090902   ©  DY of jtdytravels)

On the drive back to our accommodation we stopped off to collect a certificate to proclaim our achievement.

What a day!

And one that made all the rough dusty roads, cold showers (if there was water at all) and difficulty of the whole trip well worthwhile.

Can anything beat this?  D

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