Tuesday, 3 July 2007

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.

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