Sunday, 29 July 2007

A quick trip to Harar

Harar: City of solidarity, peace and tolerance; UNESCO World Heritage site; Fourth holiest city of Islam; Timbuktoo of the East. Where do you start?
Initially we'd thought we wouldn't get to Harar - it's a day's travel to the east of Addis Ababa, and not on the way to anywhere except Djibouti. Our time is now limited by the dates on our Sudanese visa, which have left us a bare four weeks to get to the border. And we are determined to have a good look at the monasteries (those that permit female visitors anyway), rock hewn churches and religious sites that are scattered around the so-called "historical northern circuit" of Ethippia. However, in the end we couldn't resist the allure of all the labels that Harar (or more properly, the old walled city of Jugel, within Harar) carries.
So off we went. The bus left (of course) at 5, which meant a 4.15 wake up, out on the street looking for a minibus by 4.40 for the short ride to the bus depot. We were collected in a taxi by Yontin (sp?), an Israeli I'd been chatting to the night before (who we subsequently nicknamed TinTin) and whisked to the Auto Terre in moments and popped on a bus to DireDawa, kind of en route to Harar. Everything went according to plan. The bus left at 6am, meandered only slightly through the still-dark streets of Addis, and then we were off on yet another fabulous Ethiopian road. This road though is strategically important for the country, linking the capital with their only accessible port at Djibouti. This accounted for the numerous customs checkpoints, which while tiresome on the way out, were downright inconvenient on the way back. Easy to figure out which way the smuggling traffic goes.
The trip took till round 4 in the afternoon, and the road took us past truck loads of camels, along the railway line (also terminating in Djibouti - at one point we had considered the train, but reading about the daily scrum to get a ticket, and a seat, and that it would take at least 20 hours soon had us happily contemplating yet another day of our lives on a bus!), past volcanoes, a lake and through some spectacular hillside country (and this isn't even the highlands). Wednesday and Friday are fasting days for Orthodox Ethiopian Christians (sometimes this is translated as "fast food" on menus, though it's anything but) which meant freshly cooked, delicious lentil samosas for breakfast on the side of the road. A steal at two for a birr (six birr to one NZ$). There was a festival in Kulibi, not far from the T-junction where the road splits - left to DireDawa, right to Harar - and many on the bus were headed there. Close to the village of Kulibi, notable only for the relatively new (ie, less than 100 years old) church on the hill which is the focus for the celebration held twice yearly, 26 July and 26 Dec, the bus conductor doled out little tickets for the faithful, giving them entrance to the bus company's marquee. We pulled into a big muddy field and off they all got. There were tents and pilgrims everywhere; it was busy and colourful and reminded me of the site of an outdoor rock concert, heathen that I am!
Our much emptier bus then dropped us off at the T-junction a few km later, and we were lucky enough to get straight onto a minibus going to Harar, for a mere 10 birr. It's mango season, and they must grow around here. We bought delicious mini-mangoes for 50 cents each (that's half a birr, which makes them almost free).
By the time we'd got to Harar, found a hotel, had a shower and a beer, we decided to postpone our exploring till the next day. We hadn't really eaten anything all day (except those long-ago samosas), and the restaurant at the Tewodros Hotel had been recommended. I can only reiterate those recommendations; a big bowl of spaghetti with tomato sauce, and a vegetable salad hit the spot. We chatted to a fellow diner, a captain in the Ethiopian army, who seemed keen to practice his English and offered to show us to the hyena man the next night.
The rain that was such a feature of Addis was blissfully absent in the east, probably not surprising since we were (according to my Michelin map anyway) not far from the notorious and empty Somalian deserts. It was nice to spend a few hours the next day wandering the narrow cobbled alleys of Jugal, counting mosques (there are apparently 99, together with one Orthodox church and one French Catholic Mission, but we never found this), checking out the market which was full of salt in large uncrushed piles, chillies, onions, and other produce, and talking to and photographing some of the many children. We stumbled upon a museum, which incredibly housed a huge array of old texts, hundreds of years old that in Europe would be kept in controlled atmospheric conditions, and touched only by the gloved hands of the initiated. Not here - the private collection was owned by Abdallah Ali Shariff and his wife, who had spent 17 years putting it together - and Mr Shariff proudly showed us round, pointing out gold leaf, wooden book covers, vellum and parchment pages and authentic old bindings, and some that he'd restored himself. Together with an eclectic collection of local clothing, weapons, coins, bookbinding and scribing equipment it added up to an insight into the cultural riches and diversity of the area.
We spent the afternoon in the company of our soldier, visiting Rambo House (OK, Rimbaud House - the French poet Arthur Rimbaud lived here for a number of years and the French, together with a host of commercial sponsors, have restored his house) where there was an exhibition of photographs from Rimbaud's two towns, Harar and Charleville in France. The house was three stories high, with great views across the valleys from the top floor.
So, finally to the hyena man. This was another Ethiopian oddity, a weird kind of practice, that isn't even that old (round 50 years as far as we can tell) but that has attracted a vaguely fanatical following and a layer of mystery and obfuscation that Ethiopians routinely use to add wonder and magic to just about anything (wait till I get to the bit about how they make coffee!). About 7.30 in the evening, outside the Erer Gate, we joined a small throng of locals and tourists to watch as a local guy with a yellow plastic bucket of goat bits and pieces threw out chunks of the meat to the waiting hyenas. There was nothing mystical about these beasts. They were classic spotted hyenas, strong, solid and definitely carnivorous. After foxing about for a while, for our benefit I'm sure, both man and beast got down to the point of the evening and soon the hyenas were taking meat from a stick the man held in his mouth. Crazy, but hey this is Ethiopia and it almost seemed natural. Not quite natural enough for anyone else to try though.
So that was Harar, it just remained for us to get up early the next morning, and head back to the bus station for our 5am bus. We had decided to buy a ticket the day before because of the crowds in town for the festival, and clutching our Ethiopian Long Distance Bus Drivers' Association bits of paper boarded a perfectly tidy and reliable-looking vehicle and waited for the inevitable 6am departure. All was going fine, until we got to the T-junction, where we stopped, and didn't start again. After about 3 hours a replacement bus arrived, and after a 20 minute "discussion" about money, we headed up the hill towards Addis. The replacement bus, and bus driver, were not really up to the task of a 500km trip, and it was a long slow ride back to the capital, not helped by the virtual absence of headlights which made driving after dark particularly tedious. We didn't get back to the bus depot till round 10:30, and while we were lucky to get a taxi straight away our arrival at the Baro Hotel was greeted with a frown. They had given our room away, only holding it till 8pm. I could understand why they had done this, but that didn't mean I was happy about it. The night receptionist was all for heaving us out onto the street, but I wasn't going anywhere. He made a few calls to try and find alternative accommodation, to no avail. Luckily (and somewhat incredibly) the kitchen was still open, so after wolfing some macaroni we grabbed our sleeping bags and bunked down on the bench seats in the verandah - probably displacing several staff persons in the process! It was either surprisingly comfortable, or we were completely shattered. No matter - we slept soundly till woken firstly by a classic thunderstorm, and then by the night receptionist round 6am advising that he'd prepared a room for us. Some other lucky person had obviously had to catch an early bus. Not quite the end to our wee vaunt we'd hoped for, but in the end no harm done - and now we can say that we have seen Harar, and its hyena man.

Monday, 23 July 2007

A weekend break in Ambo

Ambo is the source of the delicious sparkling mineral water available everywhere, and also is a natural hot springs resort only 125km from Addis. It's our 15th wedding anniversary in a few days, and we decided to celebrate with a weekend out of town. I booked a suite at the AmboEthiopia Hotel, and we set off to catch the bus early on Saturday morning. Addis was cool and drizzly, and we were pleased to negotiate the muddy bus depot and be on our way quickly. The road was absolutely perfect, and before long we were climbing into the hills that surround the capital, past eucalyptus forests, farmland and more greenhouses.
The hotel was a delight, originally built as a school it retains a slightly institutional air, much the same as the Chateau Tongariro, with high ceilings, wide wooden corridors and an imposing staircase. We relaxed in our fabulous large comfy room for a while, enjoying the view of the formal garden and Aljazeera on TV. Lunch in the hotel dining room was excellent, and was followed by a leisurely dip in the hot springs across the road. We had a drink downstairs before enjoying the buffet dinner that evening. Perfect.
The next morning was sunny and lovely, and after breakfast the hotel owner took us for a guided walk around the gardens, showing us the conference centre he's building, and the walking trail down to the Huluka River, from where the Bridge of God is visible. The Huluka River cuts the town of Ambo neatly in half, but a huge fig tree branch straddles both sides and connected both sides of town before the modern road bridge was built. The hotel & pool complex also includes a large grassy field where the millennium celebrations will be held in Ambo, and also a camping site. It was really a huge enterprise, but I was still surprised when he told me that he employs 160 people.
There was still time for us to read our books for a while in the sunny garden, before enjoying our last lunch and heading down to the depot to catch the bus back to Addis - which was still rainy and cold on our return. A lovely, relaxing weekend indeed.

It must be Addis if...

...the Italian influence is pervasive; Christian women have crosses tattooed on their foreheads and cover their heads with scarves; men walk down the street holding hands; all restaurant menus include 'fasting options'; greetings between friends in the street involve a complicated ritual of hand shaking, back slapping, shoulder bunting, and cheek kissing...

Yet another kind of Africa.

The Italians weren't here for long, but they certainly left their mark on the cuisine (thankfully!), the place names (Casa de Pesce, Mercato), and the greetings used - ciao and bongiorno are frequently heard. Our hotel neighbourhood is called Piazza, which makes it easy when hailing the mini buses - we are loads better at Italian than Amharic.
Orthodox priests in brocade robes and tasseled hats get onto the buses whenever they stop, holding their locked offerings boxes, sometimes dispensing blessings to individuals, sometimes murmuring general prayers for us all. I saw two priests walking down the road, a woman walking the other way broke her stride just for a moment to bend and kiss the cross one of them carried. There are still mosques and Muslims, but it's Christianity of a peculiarly Ethiopian kind that's most apparent.

After the long trip, we needed some pampering, and treated ourselves to a few good meals, and got our laundry done by someone else. Then it was time to address ourselves to the business of visas. I rang the Egyptian Embassy; it all sounded straightforward, just needed to make sure we had a receipt from when we changed our money (sort of tricky, since we used the recently installed Visa ATM at the local Dashen Bank), and to find them. The directions were, "Find the Lion Park, and then the nearby coffee shop. We are not far." I'm sure this will work.
Next phone call was to the Sudanese Embassy; they too were friendly and English-speaking. All we needed for a visa was $61 US, two photographs, a copy of our passport and a letter of introduction. "A letter?", I enquired. "Yes, a letter of introduction from your embassy." Hmm. We had heard about this but had been hopeful it was just an urban legend. It seemed not. I was being assisted by Nina, who ran the internet cafe downstairs, and had let us use her phone. She insisted that there was both a New Zealand and an Australian embassy in Addis and phoned directory to get the numbers. This resulted in me speaking with both the Netherlands and the Austrian embassies, before we all agreed (most of the customers in the cafe were chipping in with advice at this stage), that it would be best to ring the Brits. Who didn't answer their phone. "They're probably having tea," said Nina, with a straight face.
We realised that the British Council was just round the road, and decided to call in there to see if they could enlighten us at all. Turned out that there were road works outside the Embassy, playing havoc with their phones. We took a cab out there and were informed that the consular section was closed, but that a letter could be arranged at a cost of 1120 bir (about NZ$185). It seemed an incredibly large amount of money, but it turned out to be correct. We returned the next morning, pockets bulging with local currency, filled in a form, and received an obsequiously worded diplo-speak letter addressed to the Sudanese Government, formally introducing us. It had better do the trick!
Next up was the Egyptian Embassy. Somehow their directions worked, and we found them without any real trouble. Max smooth-talked the underworked consular staff, and we managed to get our visa for two months (instead of the usual one), and issued the same day.
We spent the time in between visiting Ethiopia's national museum, just down the road. The most famous exhibit is the fossilised skeleton of "Lucy", a 3.2 million year old hominid discovered in the north-eastern desert of Ethiopia, near the Eritrean border, and a contemporary of the creatures that made the footprints found in northern Tanzania by the Leakeys' team in the mid 1970s that we saw at the Oldupai Museum in the Serengeti. The fossils are lying in one glass boxed exhibit, and alongside, upright, is a replica of her total skeleton, made and donated by the University of Cleveland. While we were there a small group of school children made a lightening visit - one of the girls ran up to the glass box enclosing the replica and kissed it, saying, "I love you Lucy!". It was easy to understand the emotion - most fossils don't have "personality", but somehow Lucy does. Maybe it's because there's so much of her to see, maybe it's because she has a name (the Ethiopians call her "Dinknesh", which apparently translates as wonderful). Apparently her type (Australopithecus afarensis) existed for around a million years - certainly alongside other Australopithecus species, and perhaps alongside early Homo species also. They were small (though it seems the blokes were about twice the size of the women), they walked but could also climb trees and probably slept in them, they followed the migrating herds of herbivores (three-toed horses, giant ibex, and buffalo-type creatures) eating the carcasses of those animals that died naturally (they apparently weren't hunters, nor did they ever discover fire).
We finished the museum experience with the weaving exhibition upstairs. There was a loom and weaver in attendance, and lots of woven textiles - from heavy embroidered rugs and wraps, to light and lacy scarves, plus quite a few artistic and contemporary wall hangings. Interesting to read a story in the paper about efforts to improve the lot of artisans in Ethiopian culture (apparently, doing nothing at all rates more highly socially than being a weaver, goldsmith or potter).

The Sudanese had told me that they were closed on Fridays, so we headed there first thing Monday morning, with all our papers. We have cracked the Addis minibus system, and were there quickly and cheaply (most rides cost 1.20 bir - there are 6 bir to a NZ$). The main problem was finding our way into the compound and we ended up entering via the residential gate, not the consular gate. No matter, we were soon directed to the three-walled corrugated iron shelter serving at the consular office. First we lined up for a form, and completed it. Then it was back to the same line to submit the form, with all appropriate additional paperwork. We were sent to the stationery store across the road to photocopy our Egyptian visas (which luckily we already had), and then had to renegotiate admittance. It was back to the queue, where we were sent off to have all our papers and photos properly stapled together. Finally we were in business. We got some incomprehensible red writing scrawled across our application form, and were sent to the next window's queue. I think at this point some queue jumping went on, and soon enough we were offered a two week transit visa which we gratefully accepted. Then it was off to the cashier round the corner to hand over the money. No, they don't take bir from us, says the accounts clerk as he carefully opens a black briefcase full of loose banknotes of all currencies. We have to pay in US$. With receipts carefully stapled to our bundle of papers, we made our way back to the shelter. Mohammed took our forms and passports and instructed us to come back at 3pm tomorrow. So far so good we figure. It's only taken about 90 minutes. We had planned to head off to Harar in the east on Tuesday, but have decided to stay in Addis for one more day, so we can collect our passports, and hopefully our Sudanese visa stamp.
All things being equal, we have now conquered the bureaucratic hurdles to completing our overland trip to Cairo. We just have to hope the weather is on our side now. We've finally caught up with the rainy season, and some of the roads we have to use could be a problem. We will see.

The trip to Addis

It was another two days of travelling before we were to hit the big smoke of Addis Ababa, requiring two more pre-dawn wake ups to catch buses. I don't mind waking up at 6, or even 5.30, but I do find 4.30 hard going - and it's even harder when the electric light, which worked the night before, doesn't work in the morning. Fluffing around, half asleep, in pitch dark looking for a torch is not the best way to start a long day, however, this is what happened the morning in Moyale. In our favour though, the road was a gem, beautiful smooth tarmac and not a speck of dust, for the 12 hour trip to Awassa, our overnight stop.
The Rift Valley is green and lush, intensively farmed, with frequent small road side stalls selling all manner of fruits and vegetables. Meat is available everywhere - beef or goat usually. Compared to the North Kenyan badlands and popular misconceptions of a famine-ravaged country, it's hard to believe our eyes. Our lunchtime stop hits home the reality of being farangi (we're no long mzungu) when the restaurant attempts to charge us 50 bir for soft drinks, bread and mince stew. We express outrage and incredulity, and say we will pay 30. Our waiter looks out for an argument, but the owner knows better and happily takes what's offered. This scene is to be replayed over and over, and is difficult to pre-empt in the countryside where menus are scarce.
We go for a walk and buy fruit for later, and then it's back on the bus for the last few hours. Awassa is written up as a lovely lakeside town, and although we don't see the lake which is a few km from the bus depot, the town does seem nice. So does the Paradise Hotel - quite a pricey place by local standards, but the only hotel near the bus that's not full. We like it. It's quiet, clean, our bathroom is tiled and roomy and has hot water, which we soon take advantage of, though today's travel has been nothing like as taxing as the Kenya legs. The Paradise also serves fantastic salads and vegetables for dinner - it feels like ages since we ate anything but meat and bread.
Our bus conductor had told us to be back at the bus at 11 (Ethiopia time), sadly this translated as 5am, and we waited in the queue outside the locked bus station gates with all the other similarly-informed travellers. When we got to our bus, I couldn't believe that it hadn't been cleaned. It was like a rainforest of discarded chat leaves, stalks, and corn cobs, together with all the usual plastic bags and bottles. I found a broom and swept it all out of the bus myself, to the bemusement of our fellow passengers. Some bloke piled it all up on a piece of plastic and took it away somewhere...
There was a breakfast stop after a couple of hours, and we headed to a clean looking cafe, keen for coffee to go with our biscuits and oranges. As it happened our arrival coincided with a power cut, so no espresso, but we were sold an avocado juice instead. It was interesting - would probably work better on a hot day than a cold morning. Shame about the coffee though - Ethiopians take it very seriously and even the simplest and most rural cafes have a fancy Italian machine and a dedicated barista.
The countryside continued green and bucolic, and astonishingly we saw one of the largest hot house structures we have ever seen. It went for hectares, and was just being completed. At the time we weren't sure what it was, but having since seen them north of Addis also, and read an article in the paper about Ethiopia's burgeoning flower export industry, think that this is what the investment is all about.
The traffic on the outskirts of Addis was shocking and it took about 90 minutes to get through it to the bus depot. We're finally here; it took us almost exactly six days to cover the distance from Nairobi, but it's a bit of overland travel not easily or usually undertaken, so we feel a sense of accomplishment - to be celebrated by a good Italian lunch at Orscopi's, round the corner from the pretty average Wutma Hotel.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Nairobi to Ethiopia

You can fly between Nairobi and Addis Ababa about 17 times a week with Ethiopian Airlines or Kenya Airways. It's about 1450km, takes 2.5 hours, and costs $US130. Or...

The first leg from Nairobi was very straightforward; the bus to Isiolo left more or less on time at noon, even though it spent the next hour or so cruising round the less salubrious suburbs. It was quite a fancy bus - sound system and video on board and the Western 80s rock music and reggae they played was quite a contrast to the Islamic preacher who got on board and shared his thoughts on terrorism, Bush and how Jesus was a Moslem, in fluent Swahili and English. We didn't feel so comfortable as the only non-locals on board, but no-one else seemed to be paying him much attention.
The drive through Kenya's famed White Highlands - the most fertile and well watered farmland in the country, from where African farmers were forcibly removed by the colonials and the land redistributed to white settlers - was lovely. The farm tracts are large and modern farming methods are obvious even from the road. We skirted Mt Kenya, sadly covered in cloud, and arrived in Isiolo about 5pm.
The connecting bus to Marsarbit left at 7, so there was time for a quick beef stew at the Mid City hotel - all going well till I spotted a dead fly in mine! At 7 on the dot the bus started, but it was far too soon to get excited. It took at least 45 minutes more to get everyone on board, including all kinds of latecomers and unaccompanied baggage, and then we drove round the corner to start the process all over again. That took another hour or so, and then it was time for the requisite fuel stop. It was about 9.30 when we finally headed off, and we only got a few hundred metres when the bus pulled over. Eventually it turned out that there was a problem with the alternator, and the bus had no lights. We could see a mechanic with his torch working underneath the bus and after a while he took the part away, presumably for repairs. Max and I headed to the neighbouring hotel for a soda and a loo stop, and to read by the fluorescent light, and around 11.30 it became apparent that the bus was going nowhere that night. Along with everyone else we prepared to spend the night on board, without actually going anywhere. This was Friday the 13th.

We did sleep OK, probably better than if the bus had been travelling on rough dirt roads, and about 7.30am we departed again. No need for lights, but after a brief stop at Archer's Post, just 25km or so away, the bus suffered a tyre blow out. The tyre was changed quickly enough, but it meant an unscheduled 4 hour stop at nearby Serevidu to get it repaired, as there was only one spare. Probably a good idea to fix it, considering the nature of the desert we were about to drive through and the lack of other traffic.

Hanging out with some of our fellow travellers in the middle of the Kenyan desert.

Serevidu´s smartest cafe.

In spite of the fact that we'd just stopped for four hours, the scheduled lunch stop at the village of Laisamis still happened. It felt like we had walked into a National Geographic article. The Samburu tribespeople dominate this area; they are pastoralists like the Masai and have similar adornments but also come with large knives, spears and occasionally old 303 rifles slung over their shoulders. Women are bare breasted, with heavy beaded collars and traditional scarring on their backs and abdomen and young recently circumcised men - the warrior or moran of the tribe - walk about clanking with weaponry and jewellery.
Fortunately the drive to Marsabit continued at a good pace on a not-too-bad road. We needed to get there by dark after all. We went through the Kaisut desert - lots of camels, some with large wooden bells round their necks, and scrubby trees and vegetation - and made Marsabit by 6pm. A fellow traveller pointed out Mt Marsabit to me and told me that Lake Paradise was found at the top. Have to say my first impressions of Marsabit were less than paradise-like, in spite of catching the end of the Saturday afternoon football match, in classic soft African light. We trudged up the road to Jey Jey's Hotel, owned by the local MP and the only place to stay in Marsabit (unless you are a truck or bus driver). Dreaming of hot showers we were distressed to see that, due to a water shortage, the showers, basins and toilets no longer had running water. However, the hotel did rustle up two plastic basins of hot water for us to wash with, which was very welcome. Jey Jey's was a pretty reasonable 400Ksh (about $NZ8), and comfortable and clean - we felt so good after our hot wash that we ventured back into town, had a quick Tusker at the Mountain Bar, and then tried to find out about transport for the next day to Moyale. Answers ranged from: early in the morning, 10-11am, early afternoon, round 4pm, not on a Sunday. Someone is bound to be right, but who?

We were up early the next morning (in case the person who said trucks left at 6am was right), and headed down to the square opposite the football field and then to the filling station to enquire about transport. It did seem to be becoming clarified that the trucks left from the square round 4pm, after they'd driven up from Nairobi. We went back to Jey Jey's for breakfast and then headed to the A2 highway to see if we could flag a lift in a 4WD. Most traffic was either heading back to Isiolo, driving around town, or resolutely ignoring us! Ah well. We had a pilau and chapati lunch at Mum's Cafe and around 2pm a couple of trucks started to gather in the square. Max went to negotiate and got us on one that was due to depart at 4. He haggled the price down to an acceptable 400Ksh each, close to what the locals pay and much better than the 1000Ksh he was originally quoted.

Marsabit is a dusty and windy place - only the second time I've put my GoreTex jacket on this whole trip. It warmed up later in the day, but seemed to me to be one place where a full face veil actually made sense. This part of Kenya is pretty much Moslem, and there are lots of women fully covered, and even men in cloth head gear too - haven't seen this much before.

About 3.30 we climbed on board - no mean feat in this classic cattle truck, high off the ground with a metal frame and heavy tarpaulins draped over the back two-thirds. On the front third of this frame young men balanced themselves. It was all pretty hair-raising stuff and I was relieved to learn that the truck stopped en route and didn't drive through the night. We initially settled ourselves comfortably enough towards the back of the truck, which was carrying around 40 passengers. There is no scheduled bus service on the Marsabit-Moyale route - just the trucks. With the number of people using them (our truck was one of five - but the others also carried some freight), it seemed crazy to me that no bus company ran a service. We were joined by two young soldiers in the back, just before the convoy departed. The road went from bearable to unbelievably rough and bone shaking - our experience wasn't helped by our position over the rear axle. We were several times airborne, and anxiously hoped that the soldiers' guns didn't accidentally go off. The thought of bullets ricocheting around the metal truck wasn't good. Thankfully we were at Turbi (our overnight stop) after about 3 and a half hours, hard to know if we could have stood the whole journey in one go. There were a number of stops, for checkpoints and villages, and I was grateful for all of them.
Our truck drove into a hotel compound, and we were shown a dirt floored and walled room with two beds, given a candle, and had the tin shed that housed the long drop pointed out to us. That's us all settled in then! A few Wet Wipes took care of the dust (there's no water here at all for washing), and we repaired to the dining room (!) for a cup of chai and to read. No chance. We were the object of much attention - firstly from Ali Bala, the local medical expert (also the recipient of a carton and a labelled cabbage we'd carried on the truck) who proudly told us he'd studied at the Max Planck Institute in Germany. He was called away to assist with a tricky childbirth and next up was Halake, who shared with us all the grisly details of the Turbi Massacre of 12 July 2005, when (according to Halake anyway) 800 Borena from Ethiopia, looking for land for their cattle, came across the border and killed over 65 local women and children. It sounded incredible that this sort of thing could happen in this sleepy, simple place. We just missed the second anniversary commemoration, and wondered if there was a connection between this incident and the ensuing increase in security on this previously unsafe road. After a pretty long day, we hit our hard little beds round 9, lit a mossie coil, and slept like babies till the alarm woke us at 5.30.

It's not that easy to climb on board, as you can see, nor the cleanest way to travel.

Today will, all things being equal, be our last day in Kenya. Ethiopia by lunchtime we told ourselves! We had decided to see what it would be like sitting at the front of the truck, perched up high on a steel bench at the rear of the cab, facing backwards. At least we would be able to see the countryside. We'd been told that most people would get off at Turbi (hard to see why), but by the time we'd collected two new soldiers and the convoy had convened by the road block, the truck was fuller than ever. It was also pretty damn uncomfortable - the fairly frequent stops were really welcome, as much for the respite as for the general interest. The villages between Turbi and the border were larger and more numerous than I had thought they would be in this rainless, remote and apparently dangerous part of the world. Danger went through everyone's mind at one point of the 3 hour journey when we saw a line of half a dozen armed men at the foot of a small hill, and another half a dozen at the brow. It looked ominous to us - and obviously also to our driver who unhesitatingly did a U-turn. The truck behind us had the advantage of a soldier with binoculars and they decided the threat was minimal and gunned their truck through the lines of men, who scattered. We followed in their wake and saw the men gesticulating and holding their spears, but that's all. The chatter in our truck subsided: the only word we could understand was Shifta - the name given to the Somalian bandits who made this road a no-go zone till fairly recently. A bit of excitement and a moment to wonder "what if" before getting back to the business in hand of keeping as dust-free as possible (rapidly becoming a joke), retaining a couple of handholds for which there was much competition, and moving around to settle myself more comfortably on the hessian back of gumboots I was sitting on.

Large numbers of pretty, pale skinned, single humped camels marked the start of the outskirts of Moyale - a surprisingly big town that sprawls across the Kenya-Ethiopia border. Ethiopia by lunchtime we'd said to ourselves this morning, and after completing various immigration, registration and money changing formalities on both sides, we found ourselves there by 12.20 - or 6.20 in local time. Not only does Ethiopia still run on the Julian calendar (which means they will celebrate the millennium on 11 September this year), but noon and midnight are 6am and 6pm respectively. Along with this complication, suddenly English is no longer widely spoken, and the Amharic script will take some figuring out.
It was a bit of a walk up the hill to find a hotel followed, and eventually we settled upon the Belayne which had the advantage of being across the road from the bus depot. The buses to Addis Ababa depart at 6am, so no point getting up any earlier than necessary. We both took a much needed shower under a cold trickle of water and then headed off to find some lunch. We had heard about Ethiopian food, and were keen to try some ... back down the hill we found an OK restaurant and were soon tucking into a plate of kai misto and injera - spicy meat stew and tef pancake (the latter was definitely an acquired taste), and a bottle of Harar beer. We had been hot, tired, sore, filthy and hungry when we got here, but after a shower and a change of clothes, and something to eat and drink, we were feeling fantastic again. Back at the hotel I tried out my newly acquired Amharic and ordered coffee. We got one glass of black coffee and one cup of hot steaming milk! Close but no cigar.

Last days in Nairobi

We've grown fond of this city - it's provided everything that we've needed and has become comfortable and familiar. To prepare ourselves for what, in our minds, is the final leg of our six month journey, we mail some excess items and souvenirs to Max's brother Brian, in Madrid. A couple of cartons and packing materials are procured and the boxes securely wrapped, labelled, complete with string and yards of packing tape. We want to visit the Karen Blixen museum, 15km or so from town, so charter a taxi who can take us to the GPO en route. However, they don't accept parcels between 1 and 2, so we continue to Karen (the suburb named after the Danish writer), pleased that we can leave the packages in the taxi. The museum is essentially Karen Blixen's house, with furniture and some photos, and set in a few acres of beautiful lawn with large trees. It's very pleasant indeed, and yes we do buy the requisite copy of "Out of Africa".
We chatted to Alex our driver on the way back to town - and said the house looked lovely and it would be nice to live in. "Not for Kenyans," he replied, "we are social people". He also talked about the trial of Tom Cholmondeley, grandson of Lord Delamere (a contemporary of Baroness Blixen), for murder of a farm worker, and said that many of the English who lived in Nairobi were "very harsh".
Alex duly dropped us back at the GPO, with cartons, and we fronted up at Counter 15. There's a few minutes of intense discussion as it transpires that the Customs agent, who works out of this counter, required us to unwrap our boxes. Max somehow managed to persuade them that the contents were benign, but they insisted on squashing Ingrid's birthday present into a shoe box, which meant I was sent off to Seal Honey next door to buy more brown paper. Max meanwhile dealt with the many forms and the financial side of things. I was despatched again to get more money - even though we're sending the boxes by sea, it was still quite expensive; postage rates I guess have some sort of international benchmarking. It all took round about one exhausting hour. Definitely time for a drink after all that - and we headed to Kengeles around the corner in Koinange Street. We hadn't been here before, but it looked nice - a street front bar and an upstairs terrace restaurant. It was a great evening, with a live band playing cheesy covers and good food.
Francis at The Terminal had been doing some research for us, and told us that the bus to Isiolo left from Eastleigh (also known as Little Mogadishu) at 11. The suburb was about 8km from town and Maurice drove us to 8th St, where after asking a few locals, Bus Ways was found on a muddy street lined with ramshackle stalls. Our fare to Isiolo was 400 Ksh each for the 5-hour trip, a price which compared favourably to the 600Ksh Maurice charged us, and the 200Ksh we tip the boys to safely stow and watch our packs while we go off for coffee at a nearby cafe.
This part of town is very different from central Nairobi - a maze of tin roofed shacks, muddy and rocky paths, tiny stalls selling sweets and cigarettes, rather a lot of herbal pharmacists, and lots of small cafes selling chapati and chai.
Better get used to it...

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Masai Mara; Serengeti & Ngorongoro Crater

The next week and a half was concentrated touring, thanks to Jocky Tours in Nairobi with whom we arranged a three day trip to the Masai Mara, and then a week down in Tanzania to see the Serengeti and neighbouring Ngorongoro crater.

It was just four of us in a 4WD heading to the Masai Mara, a drive of around six hours. We stayed in a tented camp, this means permanent tents with, incredibly, beds in them. Wow! In the late afternoon we drove around the reserve (Masai Mara has been degazetted as a national park, allowing the Masai to continue to roam across it, graze their cattle, and live in their villages). We saw a pride of lions devouring a wildebeest, the first time we've seen lions actually eating anything. The next day was a full day in the reserve, and we saw a few animals that we hadn't seen before - bat eared foxes, a group of cheetahs relaxing in the bushes next to the road and then late in the afternoon a fantastic sighting of a single cheetah wandering through the grass with the sunshine glowing off its coat. There was also a bit of a walk, always nice as it gets a bit tiresome driving around all the time, along a riverbank to get a close look at the hippos and the crocodiles. We were shown a narrow path across the river and told that this was where the wildebeest migration would pass. The crocs were already gathering in anticipation, a bit like us. We have seen large groups of wildebeest with their migration partners the zebra, but you would be pushing it to say they're moving, let alone moving with anything like a sense of purpose. We saw fires on the horizon, and asked "Uncle Dan" our guide if they were natural or man made? He said they'd been lit on purpose, "by the Tanzanians, who want to keep the wildebeest on their side (ie, the Serengeti) as long as possible". Who would know - but it was certainly dry enough for fires to start spontaneously. My hair was full of static, my skin slurped up moisturiser, and we dried our washing in two hours in the evening after the sun had gone down.

The Masai people are obviously also part of the Mara experience. They are really colourful, and apparently quite resistant to many Western influences, but they don't mind the odd dollar or two! Both men and women wear lots of beads and have the most amazing huge holes in their earlobes. As we left the Mara we took a local man with us to the town of Nakron, where his wife was in hospital. He had a woollen beanie on, and had folded up the lobes of his ears over the tops of them, and tucked them under his hat! All the men carry long pointed sticks, which are used to manage the cattle, and even the little boys carry them. Masai houses are made of cow dung, which is stuffed into wooden frames, with flat dung rooves. The women build them, as the men are far too busy doing important things with cows. They're built close to each other, and often the settlement is surrounded by a pole fence, so the cows can be brought in at night. We've read many stories in the paper about cattle rustling.
The other thing that's become apparent since we were last in Nairobi a couple of weeks back, is how many more tourists there are here now. It's school holidays in the northern hemisphere, and there are loads of families and young people here.
We have another night in Nairobi, before we are on the shuttle back to Arusha, and Tanzania. It was a long drive after that to the Serengeti, but the roads in Tanzania are remarkably good - so good in fact that some even have lines painted on them. Our drive to the Serengeti took us past the Ngorongoro Crater lookout. It was a bit misty, but a fantastic sight nevertheless. We could see herds of animals, and were told that we'll find most things down there except for giraffes and female elephants (it's too dangerous for the young as there are lots of predators - good!). En route to our campsite we spotted a couple of black maned lions relaxing in the late afternoon sunshine. We stayed two nights at Ikoma camp, in the company of two Norwegians, who fortunately spoke excellent English. This time we had tents to put up and slept on the ground, but we did have snuggly cloth covered foam mattresses, which made our tent very nest-like. The next day was a full day in the Serengeti; lots and lots of animals but most special was a leopard. They're solitary, and quite hard to spot, so it was a real treat to see one slumped asleep in a tree with its tail and front paws dangling. There was the remains of a gazelle in another branch, so he was obviously sleeping it off. Much to our delight he woke up, stretched, and jumped out of the tree and toileted right in front of us ... and then walked between the large number of viewing 4WDs (it is the high season after all), and wandered off into the grasslands.
Later we saw three female lions stalking a waterbuck, who was preoccupied with showing off for the tourists and seemed completely oblivious to the fact that he was being sized up. Quite funny, specially when there was a group of zebra nearby watching this all very closely. In the end nothing much happened - but it does feel a privilege to see nature in action like this. The visitor centre at Seronera in the middle of the park is really good - it has a short walk, is really informative and includes some video footage of that elusive wildebeest migration. What a sight; unfortunately we are not destined to see it - seems the bulk of the animals are still in the south of the park, they won't move north till the water supplies there dry up, and after the heavy rains they're running behind schedule.
The next morning we headed to a campsite on the edge of the Crater, via the Oldupai Gorge and its museum. This area is where loads of fossils of early hominids have been discovered, and the museum contains a cast of the oldest hominid footprints ever discovered, found about 40km away, dating back 3.6million years or so. "Lucy" the fossilised skeleton discovered in Ethiopia is a contemporary of the creatures who made the footprints, so we will look her up when we're in Addis Ababa. It was a really interesting hour or so, and a nice change from wildlife. There were a lot of photos from the 80s, when many of the first discoveries were being made by the Leakey's and their teams, including one of John Reader, the author of the book I'm reading at the moment.
Simba (Swahili for lion) Camp had hot water, so we raced off to have a shower, and got back to find a couple of elephants had wandered into camp. Not only had they wandered into camp, they'd wandered to the tree under which our tent was pitched. We were in there snapping away at them when it occurred to us that we probably ought to leave (Max has posted some photos on his site - worth a look). They were really close, and vigorously pulling down branches of the fig tree. We then spent a chilly hour or so waiting for them to go so we could get some warmer clothes from our tent. It was really very chilly, and is apparently often foggy and damp in the morning. While we were eating dinner, the elephants headed off and we could finish dressing.

Elephants, seemingly oblivious to our tent, but keen on the fig tree branches above it.

This close encounter got us excited about the crater trip - but the morning was really cold, and there was very little action in the crater. We did see quite a few spotted hyena, and jackals too, and eventually a group of female lions with two cubs, which were really cute. However it was disappointing, and I think must have been due to the weather. The vegetation around the crater is so different to the open grassy plains of the Serengeti and the Masai Mara, it's verdant and lush, so I guess needs a bit of moisture. Just a shame it had to happen today. We drove down to Mto Wa Mbu, a Masai village at a much lower altitude, and by the time we got to our next campsite it was so warm we contemplated a swim in the pool.
Our last day on the trip comprised our own private safari, that just meant Max and I in a 4WD cruising around Lake Manyara National Park. It's quite a small park, but had some gorgeous forested areas, swamps and a bit of grassland, and a very large lake. Lots of birds of course, elephants (the bush variety, which are a bit smaller and have narrower tusks than those that live on the plains), zebras, hippos, baboons, oh yeah, and leopards. We saw another one sleeping in a tree; we left him there while we went to see the hot springs, and when we came back he got up stretched, turned around and went back to sleep. There are also, apparently, tree climbing lions in this park, not that we saw any!
We decided to spend half a day in Arusha, and went to the UN tribunal hearings on the Rwanda genocides. It was really interesting to see the set up; we could see the three judges, both sets of lawyers, and a bevy of observers, translators and transcribers - but the witness or the accused (we couldn't actually tell from our position in the public gallery) was screened from view. The lawyer was asking questions about whether or not files had been burnt, or whether the questionee had been asked to burn files. Very evasive answers were being given, and with the delays for translation it seemed quite difficult for the lawyers to maintain a flow of questions.
That afternoon, while we waited for the shuttle bus to have a tyre repaired, we ended up chatting to a family from the Kapiti coast who live in Arusha, teaching at the international school there. Quite a small world.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Uganda - national parks and the Nile

There's more of Uganda to see before we head back to Nairobi and today our destination is Queen Elizabeth National Park. It's a longish drive so another early start and more bad roads - all par for the course by now. We're at the park early enough to trial the prototype GDVU, ie, the Game Drive Viewing Unit - the "box" on the roof of the overland truck that is possibly more commonly used to transport backpacks. The main outing today though is a cruise on the Kizongi Channel that runs between Lakes Albert and George. It's great, lots of birds, buffaloes bathing, distant elephants, and hippos which are anything but distant. In fact the boat actually hits one which provokes a flurry. We repair to the GDVU for a late afternoon drive, this time with the enhancements of our sleeping mattresses, a Masai shuka rug and some cold beers. It's a great place from which to spot the wildlife, the only thing is that there doesn't seem to be any! Still, the temperature is perfect, and it's a lovely way to finish the day. We are camping next to Lake George; it's a very simple campsite and also really beautiful, but buggy.

Twin equator photos - we crossed it in both Kenya and Uganda.

The next day's drive is all the way back to Kampala - it's another long one, and as we're retracing our steps it's fairly predictable. We get some good group photos at the Equator sign, and are back at Red Chilli camp round 8pm. Evans and Peter whip us up a carbo-laden dinner of pasta, potatoes and veg to fuel us for tomorrow's white water rafting outing on the Nile (or the Neel, according to Volker).
Our day of adventure starts at the sadly predictable time of 5am, mostly so we don't get caught up in Kampala's awful traffic. As a result we arrive in Jinja early. The rafting trip is $95US each, and a fantastic day out. We get a cooked breakfast, transport to the river, all our gear, a bit of lunch on board and a great bbq at the end of the day. If that wasn't enough, they also throw in a couple of beers or sodas each. I had been a bit apprehensive about this, but it was the best fun. Henry our guide did a great job of guiding us through the grade 5 rapids, and keeping us afloat. The day was warm and sunny, and there are long spells of flat water where it's possible to swim. Perfect. The day ended with a soapy dip in the Nile, that great bbq dinner, and then a few beers in the bar where we watched our antics on the DVD that had been made for us.

After all this activity, there's no way we're up at 5am, and we're treated to a lie in till 7, and then chapati stuffed with fried egg for breakfast. Today's drive is all the way back to Kenya, so another border crossing, and the drive over the Rift Valley escarpment, to Lake Nakuru, where we camped on the first night. We will stay here for two nights, always a luxury as it means not having to pull down the tent. In the morning, we are eventually enticed out of bed and into a minivan for a game drive in the National Park. We see a couple of heavily branded landrovers - it's the BBC/National Geo support crew for Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor's "Long Way Down" motorcycle trip from John O'Groats to Cape Town, popping into Nakuru for some flamingo footage. The park is lovely again, and while it's meant to have cats, it's a bit hard to believe when there are mown picnic areas and school kids playing about.

The very well supplied Long Way Down team, supporting Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor as they motorbike their way through Africa.

The next day it's back to Nairobi, not such a long drive but a little bit sad to be leaving our travelling companions who have been such good company. Five of us get together for dinner in the evening at Trattoria - a fantastic Italian restaurant in the heart of Nairobi. Volker is flying back to Germany tonight; Patrick & Beatriz are off to the Serengeti & Ngorongoro for a "private safari" tomorrow, and we are off to the Masai Mara, with Jocky Tours.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

In the midst of gorillas

Something I never thought I'd I go to Rwanda. It's just over the border, but nevertheless this is the country that tore itself to pieces just over a decade ago, and I can't believe it's all just gone away. The drive from Lake Bunyoni is another mission, and it's a steep and rocky descent into the border post, which again takes another couple of inexplicable hours. There are obviously more issues about travelling in a vehicle than just wandering across borders with your backpack. Peter (our driver/guide) always gets very anxious when there's a border crossing involved, and usually makes us get up really early on those days.

Some roadside images of the trip from Uganda to Rwanda.
Our accommodation is in a Catholic Church compound and instead of staying in the tents we pay $3 per (legal) couple to upgrade to a room. It's pretty institutional, but with yet another early start in the morning, it will be nice not to have to decamp as well. I think Peter is relieved to have us all indoors, he is very nervous in Rwanda and I think feels out of his depth. He doesn't speak the local language and I don't think he trusts anyone he meets here.
Rwanda is notable for its French influence. Up until now I think we have not particularly noticed the English nature of the rest of Africa we've seen - English language has been ubiquitous, and everyone drives on our side of the road. Well, not here. French is the language of billboards, newspapers, signs and the locals, and they drive on the French side of the road too. While we're staying in a church complex, which disallows both drinking and illegal couples (no French influence there at all!!), we get special permission to have a couple of beers round the campfire. Max and Volker, who are probably the two most enthusiastic triallers of local brews, are despatched, together with a minder from the hotel, to town to sort it out. After changing money at the local pharmacist and making their way to the local pub, they come back with a few Primuses - which in the end turn out to be brewed in DRC (that's the Democratic Republic of Congo to those of you not so familiar with the map of Africa!). Volker is concerned; any nation that's not capable of producing its own beer really doesn't deserve to fly its own flag.

Today is G-day - the day we've been waiting for for months, and one of the most expensive hours I'm ever likely to spend. Of course we are up at 5am, but after a night in a bed and without a tent to pack up, it's not so bad. We are transported to Parc National des Volcans in a minivan, and at the national park headquarters are assigned to the Amohoro group of gorillas. There are 16 animals in total, including babies, juveniles, mothers, blackbacks and two silverbacks. They comprise the second largest of the habituated groups and sound perfect. Our guides are Edward and Patience and they squeeze into the van for the drive up to the start of the trek. There's a bit of walking as the minibus struggles with the rocky dirt road, but it's nice to breath the mountain air, say hi to the locals and generally get into the groove. We are given bamboo walking sticks, and get two armed guards and a machete-wielding tracker/porter added to our group. We will be well protected from ... well anything I guess.
The trek is really lovely, lots of mud as you would expect in a rainforest, and a cloudy day, so not too hot. It takes about an hour of walking till we find a blackback (juvenile male) who lunges out of the trees into our path, pushes past us on his way. Very exciting. Then it's up the hill to the rest of the group. All in all I think we probably see about 11 of the 16 - including both silverbacks. The dominant one eats, poses for us and growls mildly at the playing children; the other has some battle wounds and only one hand after losing one in a snare. The trackers stay up the mountain after we leave searching for and destroying snares and traps, so obviously poachers are still something of an issue, specially on the Congo side we're told. Our hour goes really quicky and there are a few heart-stopping moments when the gorillas get really close to us and we're obliged to move quicky away. They're mostly feeding while we watch, pulling out plants by the roots, biting off the top and the bottom, stripping the outer fibres, breaking the celery-like stalks in half and eating greedily and noisily. Even the baby, who is presumably still suckling, is having a go - it's fun to watch it rolling around, teasing the others, wrestling and tickling with another juvenile. It's a really wonderful experience to see these creatures in their environment, happy in a group and oblivious (seemingly anyway - they have been "habituated" so are no longer officially wild) to us. There are around 700 animals now, 23 babies born last year will be named in a ceremony on June 30. Hard to know what the long term prognosis is though, as their breeding and group lifestyle don't seem to favour them. Mothers nurse the young for over 3 years, only the dominant silverback can breed - in their favour they do live about 45 years.

Our stop tonight is Kisoro, back in Uganda and on the scenic drive out of Rwanda it's hard not to reflect upon the events of 94. In fact signs in French and the local language are a constant reminder of the "jenoside". It's kind of chilling, specially when everyone we see over about the age of 30 must have either partaken of the slaughter or be lucky to be alive. The trauma of an entire nation is carried with them, but is belied by the warm welcomes and greetings we receive, and the exhortations to spend more time in the country from Patience.
We have the Kisoro campsite to ourselves, and there's hot water for showers courtesy of the wood fire, and cold beers courtesy of the hotel/bar alongside. Peter cooks Nile tilapia for dinner over an open fire - a great end to a great day.

Going west

Monday sees us at the dentist bright and early, and before too long Max emerges looking much as he did a few weeks ago...which is the point I suppose. We spend the rest of the day wandering round Nairobi shopping suburbs, and mentally preparing ourselves for joining an organised overland tour to go to Uganda and see the mountain gorillas. We are both a little apprehensive, after all we have been footloose and fancy free for three months now, and have grown used to making our own decisions and calls. But, gorilla permits are not easy to come by, and I'm sure it will be worth it.

Tuesday morning and we're at the Meridian hotel down the road at 7.45 as required. Turns out it's only us for the first part of the drive as everyone else on the trip (another six people only, yah!) has gone to the Masai Mara first. Probably a good idea, but not one that occurred to us. We drive in splendid isolation in an overland truck designed for 20+ people, driven by Peter who is accompanied by Evans. They will be our cooks/drivers/guides for the next 12 days. Our first stop is Lake Nakuru, about 4 hours from Nairobi, via the Rift Valley scenic lookout. It's a nice drive, and the campsite is OK. Our tent is a marvel though - heavy canvas, big enough to stand in and much larger than either the Spider or the Bush Baby. Luxury indeed. We spend a couple of hours that afternoon being driven around Lake Nakuru National Park by Julius, who is a font of information. The main feature of the park is, not surprisingly, the lake. It's an alkaline one, and at the moment home to around 2 million flamingoes. The highlight of the afternoon is though the black rhino who jogs out of the undergrowth and in front of us, before disappearing off into the forest. Nice.

While the rhino was the star, we really enjoyed the rest of Lake Nakuru.

The rest of our group was to have joined us for the drive, but they're delayed, stuck in the mud somewhere en route. We eventually meet up in the evening and I have to say the mud photos are impressive. Our travelling companions will be Simon & Rachel (Aust & England), Volker (Germany), Patrick & Beatriz (Switzerland & Mexico), and Aaron from the US. A very international crowd indeed.

Today we leave Kenya, our destination is Kampala, Uganda. This life on the road is going to be hard - it's chilly, but we have to get up, pack up the tent, wash, dress and eat breakfast by 5.45...and somehow we do. The climb out of the Rift Valley is really beautiful, and we see athletes training in the early morning. They look fantastic, as only Kenyan athletes in Kenya can. This part of the country is really fertile and the farms and fields look well tended and well organised - not something we have always noted about Kenyan (and African in general) agriculture. For some reason, involving money of course, our border crossing takes around 3 hours, and we are forced to eat our sandwiches in no-man's land. We stop briefly in Jinja, on the Nile, to collect our gorilla permits - we will be going to Rwanda to see them - and our first bottles of Nile Special. The roads here are grim, and we eventually get to our campsite at Kampala around 9pm. What a day.

The green and fertile Rift Valley.
Today is scheduled as a bit of a rest - we have a late start, Evans and Peter cook up a huge breakfast and then we head to Kampala to take a look. The parliament buildings are notable for the bullet holes, and the streets are notable for holes also - the town is being dug up and fibre optic cable is being laid. We find the local market, where coffee and vanilla seem to be the specialties.

Incredibly, we are up around 5 again, as today we're heading towards the Rwandan border, to Lake Bunyoni. Leaving at 6 has the advantage of avoiding Kampala's horrible traffic, and even I can see that it's a good idea. There's a photo and science stop at the equator this morning, and more importantly a great espresso and muffin. The roads continue to deteriorate, and the truck lumbers over hill and down dale, past lots of little villages and neat, cultivated squares. Very scenic, but it looks tough to live and work here. The campsite is right beside the beautiful lake and we have a lovely flat lawn to pitch our tents on. There are four other trucks here tonight, probably between 40 and 50 campers - and one ladies and one men's loo, and one shower each. Unbelievable. Max and Patrick are driven to swim in the not so tropical waters.

Tomorrow we cross into Rwanda...G-day approaches.