Tuesday, 30 September 2008

29th September 08

Date: 29th September 08
Location: Nanyuki, Kenya
Weather: Warm and sunny, blue skies and clouds. Simpson’s Sky! 32°c
Status: Recovering after a strenuous few days.

Felt good to sleep under just a sheet rather than curled up in a sleeping bag for a change, struggling to keep warm!

My body clock was still programmed for early starts so I couldn’t sleep much past 6am and got up with stiff legs and knees, the result of yesterday’s mammoth effort down from the summit.

Emptied my backpack of the last few days clothes and supplies which had started to ferment in the hot African sun, did a full load of laundry and put it out to dry on the veranda. Bre had been using the hotel’s pool whist I was away so we headed there for a swim and sunbath, it was good to get my joints working but without any weight on them and the very cold water was soothing.

Replied to emails, wrote up the Mt Kenya climb for the website and got everything in order ready to move on tomorrow. We walked into the town, bought some fruit and vegetables for dinner and returned to the truck.

Dinner was an uninspiring avocado and chicken sandwich as neither of us could be bothered to cook, we then discussed the merits of using up the old loaf of bread rather than starting the lovely fresh new one…..interesting!

Still fairly tired we went to bed early. Tomorrow the capital.

End of day location: Nanyuki, Kenya
Distance covered: 0kms

Mount Kenya ascent

Mount Kenya ascent – 26th to 28th September 08

On the recommendation of a good friend I booked my climb of Mount Kenya with High Peaks Expeditions Ltd. (www.highpeaksexpeditions.com) and a really good decision it was too!

The build up to my four day trek didn’t go exactly as I planned, white water rafting in Uganda had a detrimental effect on my feet as I tried to keep myself in the raft using my heels and toes….and came out with good sized blisters on both! So not the best of starts but something I’d have to deal with!

The evening before the trek started I gathered together all the things I’d need for the next few days, dusted them down, repaired them and checked everything still fitted as I hadn’t used my mountain kit since back in April in Cameroon. The next morning Robin my guide arrived at the hotel in his car together with my cook Moses and Simon the porter.

We headed into Nanyuki to buy the last of the supplies we’d need over the next few days and headed towards the entrance gate of Mount Kenya National Park, a World Heritage Site, down the bumpy, dusty track. Moses prepared us a light lunch of sandwiches and fruit then with the fees paid and the kit distributed between the four of us (I for some reason decided to carry my own backpack as part of my ‘training’!) we started the trail from the Sirimon Gate at 2600m towards the Old Moses Bunkhouse around 10kms up into the park.

Robin and I walked faster than the others so set off by ourselves through the heavily wooded lower reaches of the park past bamboo forests, baboons and lots of evidence of tracks left by forest elephant along with small caves in the banks of the road where they’d been scraping away at the bedrock to collect salt for their diets. As the forest gave way to moorland, very similar to that of Scotland, the gradient of the track increased and the heat of the day started to kick in making the going hot and very sweaty, the backpack adding to the strain. At one point I noticed on my watch that we were ascending at 15m/min at which point my lungs were working really hard searching for the all important oxygen, but it felt really good to get the heart pumping and the legs working again. If the next few days continued at this level it’d be perfect training for the marathon!

In our conversation together which covered everything from girls to exercise to the British Army and it came up that Robin would have been doing the Nairobi marathon at the end of October as I was but there’d just been another group book a climb with him over that weekend so he’d pulled out. Would have been a good person to run with too!

The supposed 4 hour walk to our overnight accommodation at the bunkhouse took 2.5 and as we climbed the final few metres our arrival was greeted by the sound of fast running water. They’ve cleverly built the camp over the route of one of the fresh water streams giving all the sinks and showers very cold running water that’s also drinkable. Robin showed me our bunkroom and we changed into warmer clothes for the night as the temperature was already dropping in line with the rapidly disappearing sun. As I stepped outside to take some photos other trekkers were starting to arrive and within an hour our little community contained another 4 English, 2 Kiwis and 4 Israeli’s.

The view of the summit became clear just before the last light was left in the sky offering us all a chance to see our destination speckled in ice and snow far off in the distance.

Dinner was highly impressive, served just after sundown at 6pm the snack to start was popcorn, biscuits and tea, the second starter was leek & potato soup, then the huge main course of fish cakes, mash, spinach, onions, ravioli and vegetables! If that wasn’t enough the dessert of banana, watermelon, passionfruit and sweetfruit washed it all down well. Perfect fuel for tomorrow’s big day! It seems the cooks all have a little competition amongst themselves to see who can prepare the best meal and I’m glad to say my Moses won hands down! Feeling stuffed to capacity I tucked up into my sleeping bag with the outside temperature in the room due to the altitude of 3300m now resting around the freezing mark. Bed happened early at 8pm.

The alarm clock on my phone vibrated me awake at 5am, I changed into my fresh clothes for the day ahead and slipped back into the warmth of my bed for an extra 15mins as breakfast wouldn’t be served until 6.10am! Another mammoth meal which after last nights dinner I thought I wouldn’t have room for, but wolfed down the omelette, toast and jams, crepes and fruit washed down by the obligatory thermos of tea.

We hit the trail as the first two out of camp a little after 6.30am and climbed up the first slope of three we’d have to traverse towards the weather station in the distance. As the sun broke the horizon it hit the twin peaks which form the summits of Mount Kenya and bathed them in a glorious orange light. The Kenyan plains below stretched off far into the distance without a cloud in the sky, perfect.

As we climbed higher the gurgle of the streams around us and the occasional birdsong were the only other noises we heard as out feet crunched the still frozen ground beneath. The ice formations made by the combination of loose scree and the low night time temperatures were amazing with strange patterns which refracted the morning sunlight showering the ground with a kaleidoscope of rays.

Once we’d cleared the three valleys and passed over the crystal clear rushing streams via the little bridges we turned into Mackinder Valley. The landscape changed from the Scottish Highlands into smooth sided rolling valleys with more desert like grasslands punctuated by Giant Lobelias and other hardy plants. For 4km we gradually climbed in altitude until we could see Shipton’s Camp above us .

We arrived an hour later, the altimeter reading 4200m, and had taken only 4.5hrs to complete the 7 hour trail feeling no effects from the increased altitude and thinness of the air at our new height. Once I’d secured my bed for the night I went back outside where the temperature was around the freezing mark again, and watched the Hyrax’s (Rock Dassies) playing near the camp, ate some peanut brittle and fed the tame birds who sat with me as I took in the surroundings.

The silence of the location was overwhelming with the occasional sound of the wind the only distraction. The clear blue skies every so often delivered a swirling fast-moving cloud which would drop a light load of hail and sleet and then disappear as quickly as it had appeared.

Lunch was a light snack of noodles, sandwiches and more tea….which was served just as I’d finished my walking lunch of sandwiches and hardboiled egg, as we’d moved so quickly during the trek we hadn’t had time to digest anything enroute!

The other groups of trekkers arrived throughout the afternoon and I sat around with Tim, Adrian and his girlfriend (whose name I’ve forgotten!) discussing their mission and Afritrex, swapping stories of the UK and beyond. Adrian was feeling the effects of the altitude as were a couple of others which brought on headaches and general nausea meaning they wouldn’t be able to make the final ascent tomorrow. A real shame after coming so far.

As we’d have to be up at 2am to commence the ascent a similarly huge dinner was served at a rather early 6pm, giving us time to digest it, chat some more and be in bed just after sundown at 7.00pm. It wore a set of clothes inside the sleeping bag to keep warm as the nightime temperature dropped to -8°c.

As I’d got into bed so early my 6hr sleep cycle awoke me around 2am and with the use of my headtorch fumbled my clothes on and awaited the arrival of the thermos flask for the first bout of internal heat for the day which arrived as usual in quick time. We wouldn’t eat before the ascent instead once we’d successfully returned as motivation!

As we’d been quicker than the other groups over the last few days we left last of all at around 3.30am, and entered the night to see small torch lights slowly picking their way up the slope ahead. The stars were extremely impressive with the Southern Cross and Milky Way clearly visible.

We took a slightly different route than the other groups and within half an hour had caught and overtaken the first of them. A hand over hand climb using just the peripheral vision which the headtorch offered, and it was just as well as my fear of heights would have hated this part had I been able to see the drop off the side!

The rising altitude meant the oxygen levels became less and less, when I climbed Mount Toubkal back in January it was noticeable, here less so as my acclimatisation had been much better, spending the last two weeks at nearly 2000m every night and breathing was easy in the cold crisp air.

We aimed to be at the summit to watch the sunrise but not there too early so as to sit out on the summit and suffer from exposure caused by the inevitable winds there. We slowly picked our way to the summit, quick enough to maintain warmth but not too quick as to sweat and dampen our clothes. A situation best avoided.

Our gradual pace was quick enough to catch and pass all the other groups and at 5.45am I climbed up onto the summit of Pt Lenana at 4985m above sea level, the highest part of Mount Kenya which is reachable without taking on the Grade 5 technical climb of the Batian summit to the west, 100m higher than our current position.

The horizon was lightening all the time, and a perfect still clear morning greeted us, Mount Kilimanjaro was just visible poking it head through the clouds over 500kms away to the south; my target point in exactly 10 days time!

An incredible location high above the Kenyan plains below, the climb to which was exhilarating and tough but superbly rewarding. I felt better at the summit than any of the other mountains so far with the correct clothing to maintain warmth and a fitness level which is hopefully now ready for Kili and the Nairobi Marathon, all within the next month.

The breaking of the sun over the horizon signalled the opportunity to take photos and then commence the descent in time for breakfast, we set off first and scrambled quickly down the route of our ascent turning off it onto a loose scree slope after 20 minutes which provided an awesome thrill as we slipped and stepped down nearly 150m in height in very few minutes never being in total control!

As we’d shattered the estimated times for the ascents and first descent I suggested to Robin that maybe we could make it to the entrance gate that day rather than taking two, a distance of 28kms. It’d be good for my training and also give me a chance to have a day in the bag to organise things in Nairobi for the forthcoming visas of Ethiopia etc.

Robin accepted the challenge and after another filling breakfast set off with Moses and Simon in tow some 20 minutes behind. We jogged and fast-walked the first part of the course towards Shipton’s to keep warm and made the 12kms in good time with the other’s not far behind. A swift lunch and then off again, the legs and feet were starting to feel tired and sore but with only a few kms to go until the gate we pressed on and arrived at our initial departure point around 2.30pm.

28kms, a decent of 2500m in a little over 11 hours. Excellent! We packed the car up, drove back into Nanyuki and surprised Bre with our arrival a day earlier than expected!

Total distance: 56kms
Total days: 3
Total ascent/descent: 2500m

Friday, 26 September 2008

25th September 08

Date: 25th September 08
Location: Nakuru, Kenya
Weather: Almost a very English day, as the sun cane out then the rain came…but 34°c!
Status: Raring to go and in great spirits ready for the ascent tomorrow

A mixed bag of weather overnight with rumbling thunder and rain showers but we awoke to a sunny day with scattered showers. Got out of the tent just after 7am and had a quick breakfast of cornflakes, missed out on a shower as we wanted to get going asap.

The road into the forth largest city in Kenya, Nakuru, was good and as we came into the outskirts we spotted a cheese factory so pulled into their driveway and had to wait five minutes before the owner arrived. Up until now I haven’t had good cheese since December when I stayed with a friend Si Bryant’s family in France. With the exception of their feta’s, the South Africans have no idea how to make anything like real cheese, just processed flavourless Gouda’s and something barely resembling chedder!

We bought a load of stilton, onion cheese and yes real mature cheddar, YUMMY!

Drove into the town and went briefly to the internet to check for responses from Bre’s family and the climbing company and whilst I was there asked the owner about the best place to find a doctor. My left ear has ballooned over the last week and something’s up so thought it best to check it out before heading up in altitude as it’ll only make it worse at the top of a mountain!

The very kind owner of the cybercafé then walked us all the way to his friend the doctor who had no patients and so saw me straight away! A simple diagnosis of an infected ear so he lanced the swollen area with a syringe and sucked out a good few cl’s of goo and reddy muck which left me in my usual useless state of no-colour-in-face-cold-sweat situation. I’ve had this before when giving blood but this time the doc did make it worse by holding the syringe in front of my face to show me!!!

Job done though just course of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory tablets for the next week and every thing should be ok. We left and went to the market to buy nuts and energy foods for the next few days and returned to the truck, only to be mobbed by curios sellers whose stalls were right by the Colonel!!!

Eventually after ten minutes of them trying to sell us everything from 1970’s wildlife postcards to illuminated screwdrivers we’d bought Bre a bandana, a necklace and earrings. African selling tactics are so funny, the Moroccans win hands down on persistence and cheesy lines, these guys just try the thrust in your face method – I think I have an answer for everything they try and offer me now which leaves them speechless, example….phone charger; I show them mine, Leatherman; I point to the sponsor’s logo, big picture; I ask them where the f*@k I’m likely to put it in the truck!

We left the particularly clean town of Nakuru and drove north east towards the edge of the Rift Valley and the town of Nanyuki, the base camp for Mt Kenya, the road passes back and forth over the equator and every time if does some enterprising person has set up a stall selling equator-based curios and a demonstration basin each side of it to show the different ways water drops down the plug hole. Although I’m sure once I disproved this theory to myself in the bath by swirling the water the other way!

We arrived in Nanyuki and drove straight to the Sportsman’s Arms Hotel in the centre of town the location where I have to meet my guide tomorrow thinking it’d be (a) overpriced and (b) not offering camping but were pleasantly surprised to find both untrue! In fact they said we could camp wherever we wanted on the lovely green grassed lawn, we could use one of their cottages as a bathroom and the main room to lay our stuff out in and the swimming pool was also included in the price!!! Awesome.

We checked in then headed into town to buy some last minute essentials from a sweet little helpful Indian lady and returned to the hotel to cook ourselves dinner on the veranda being overlooked by the mountain. An amazing spread of local produce, cabbage, carrots, fresh peas and mashed potato with boerwors! Yum again.

Watched a movie then bed. Big day tomorrow.

End of day location: Nanyuki, Kenya
Distance covered: 230kms

24th September 08

Date: 24th September 08
Location: Jinja, Uganda
Weather: Day to drive, sunny and bright, then the clouds brought evening light showers. 34°c
Status: Colonel – ticking a little, Ben & Bre – into another country, wahoo!

Woke up at 6am after a restless night with a fair bit of rain in the night and both got up, packed up the tent and just as the sun was appearing left through the backpackers gates. Filled the truck up with fuel, checked the tyre pressures and hit the road east towards Kenya.

It started off ok for the first 15kms and then deteriorated rapidly into potholed crap, slow going and damaging if taken if anything over 30km/h so we trundled along all the way to the border around 90kms later.

Usual hassles at the border, we were told we had the wrong type of insurance which I refused to accept and just drove away from the officials trying to get another $50 out of me. At the start of the trip I would have believed these guys but the experience of 25 border posts has meant that I feel I can now read the situation and control it rather than be taken for a ride, African bureaucracy trained you could say!

Signed out of Uganda regretfully as I feel we didn’t have enough time here and as we pulled into Kenya the mood changed quickly. All very friendly and helpful officials and one called Moses smartly dressed with an official badge even helped us all the way through the visa, carnet and road tax process without expecting a penny for it! wow.

The girl at the window even told me to classify my truck as a commercial rather than private vehicle as it would save me $20 to do so. I now drive a commercial vehicle 

The road from the border started well enough with 30kms of smooth tarmac and the then we go to some of the worst rutted tarmac so far on the trip, when I tried to overtake other vehicles I had to drive out of them swinging the colonel violently from side to side and gave us a couple of moments!

Then we lost the good road altogether as we were teased by the authorities with a perfect almost finished new road running parallel to the awful tarmac hole road we were treated to! After 50kms we pulled into Eldoret to visit the ATM, check the email and head to Standard Bank to register for the Nairobi Marathon finally!

God it felt good to get another application in for the race in a month’s time and as I applied in the country rather than on the web I saved $15! Sweet.

We headed out of town with some supplies and Bre made lunch as we went, the countryside changed as we climbed up into the Rift Valley with more pines and open pasture land which looked very similar to the fields of Hampshire and it even rained to make me feel at home! The fruit and veg at the sides of the road looked so good; we stopped bought loads of carrots, peas and a cabbage for next to nothing which should see us through a few days at least.

Out target for the night was Nanyuki but as the road wasn’t good we pulled up 120kms short in Nakuru at the Kembu Overlanders camp instead where we found a few other travellers to chat to, share a beer with and discuss out travels.

Watched a movie then bed.

End of day location: Nakuru, Kenya
Distance covered: 417kms

23rd September 08

Date: 23rd September 08
Location: Jinja, Uganda
Weather: Very few clouds, blue skies and hot, hot sunshine. 37°c
Status: Totally, satisfied and exhausted after a mental day!

So the day when I take on the River Nile….White water rafting is upon us! Yippee!!

Up at 6am ready for the day ahead, did some stretching with Bre to loosen the joints, had a look through the guide books for Kenya in preparation for the next few days and waited for our complimentary breakfast!

Enjoyed the hospitality of the backpackers who also run the rafting expedition and stuffed down eggs, toast, pineapple and pancakes; all essential of course to provide me with enough fuel to power the raft through the rapids of course!

The 5 of us who’d decided to risk our lives by sitting in a rubber boat to take on the churning, foaming crocodile infested waters of the upper part of the Nile had our lifejackets and helmets sized up (I promise they do have a good safety record River Nile Explorers but my jacket had one strap broken!) and then made our way to the waiting truck at the front of the backpackers. A safety crew of 5 kayakers, 1 guide and a trailer full of rafts, kayaks and equipment meant we were all off on an adventure!

If two people had decided to have copies of the dvd they produce then they’d have sent a cameraman with us but Bre seemed to be the only one interested so he stayed put for the day…which was actually a good thing as I took my camera along and managed to film the entire thing, saving us $45!!

The bumpy track to the drop off point took us past over the bridge housing the hydroelectric plant which separates Lake Victoria and the actual Nile. As we passed over it the guide, Ruben, pointed out a croc lying on the bank….reassuring!

The safety crew of locals all with ultra small kayaks got the rafts into the water, one for us the 5 hopefuls and Ruben and one as the safety boat loaded with lunch and Moses the hardcore rower. We donned our safety gear and entered our rubber coffin, mislead by the calmness of the water as it slowly drifted past the launch point and pushed off from the bank……so here we go then.

We had a briefing to show us how to paddle in time with each other, ran through a few safety procedures and buddied up with the person opposite in case something happened so we could account for each other. The first couple of rapids were nothing more than slight white water to show us the ropes but it was amazing how much speed we picked up as the current increased and we paddled hard to maintain direction and took them with ease.

Kate one of the Polish girls on the trip had already started to turn white and was nervous about the Grade 5’s which were still to come…those were Grade 2’s at worst, should be interesting then!

The paddlers at the back of the raft had convenient footholds under the buoyancy floats where they could jam their feet to hold them in…..Riddick and I hadn’t got them so we had to jam our feet in the sides of the boat. This quickly rubbed all of the skin off my heel so a slight readjustment made it better, this time I rubbed all of the skin off my toes! Arse, I have to climb Mt Kenya in 3 days and the last thing I need is bad feet before I set off!

Bujagali Falls was the first of the Grade 5’s we took on and as we prepped for it Kate got too scared to continue and decided to bail into the safety boat, bloody wimp! We all paddled like billy-o and crashed down the white water into the foaming cauldron below all tucked into the bottom of the boat like newly hatched birds in an emergency!

So that’s the first of them out of the way and no casualties, we all had a swim next to the boat as we slowly progressed downstream to the next awaiting monster, rumbling away in the background, 50/50 awaited – so named for obvious reasons, some make it, some don’t!

We stuck left on this one to avoid the rocks and the river level wasn’t at its highest and with the exception on Bre all made it through. She’d decided to go for a swim and as I tried to grab the safety rope myself noticed her bobbing away a few meters from the raft. A safety kayak picked her up and brought her immediately back then I yanked her lifejacket to bring her back into our craft.

It was awesome fun and almost the first part over, the level parts of the river allowed us time to swim, sunbathe and eat lunch building up vital energy to take on the harder second half of the day.

A total of 16 varying rapids make up the run all offering something different and a new paddling challenge especially towards the end of the day when I’d worn off all of the skin on my feet and thumbs paddling so hard! The last and best of the Grade 5’s was Bad Place; the width of the river, with two possible entry points the most furious of these being a Grade 6 to the LHS of the river which we wouldn’t attempt, instead we hugged the RHS and dropped into a 3-point wave section which chucked us up and down with all of its might but again we held firm but all had slightly worried looks as we surveyed our fellow passengers!

And that was it, a wicked day out, truly bruising and exhausting but also so, so fun and definitely something I’d recommend to anyone!

We drove back after packing everything up to the camp and enjoyed a fat BBQ and free beer overlooking one of the falls we’d just come down. Even though the sun hit us hard and we all had red faces by the end of the day the river water was refreshing and cool and unlike what I’d expected in terms of cleanliness and clarity!

End of day location: Jinja, Uganda
Distance covered: 30kms downstream, 30kms up the road

22nd September 08

Date: 20th September 08
Location: Kabale, Rwanda
Weather: Started fine the chucked it down with loads of thunder…the equator rocks. 22°c
Status: Into another country today, so off we go!

Up at first light and then had a quick breakfast in yet another awesome location, although it’s a funny place this Bethanie Hotel…1970’s style décor and architecture on the shores of the lake! As we ate breakfast the local taxi boat arrived complete with singing paddler.

We visited the genocide museum in Kabala located on the site of the local church and it was a moving experience to say the least. In April 1994 11,500 people were buried in a mass grave in the site and to mark the location a monument has been erected complete with human skulls lined up in the window of it. Makes you think a bit I can tell you, its amazing how calm and welcoming the country is now which makes it so hard to understand how this atrocity happened.

The road to Kigala was a twisting, winding track through the hills which took a couple of hours to complete, we pulled into the curio’s market to spend the last of the local currency and bought a few African masks and spoons for friends after a good hour of haggling and bargaining.

As we left the capital the heavens opened and drenched the road in front of us turning it into a puddle filled mess, it was only then that I realised it was the first real consistent, grey skied rains that I’d been in since driving through France nine months ago! Not bad going then 

Arrived at the border and did the formalities, chatted to a couple of cool guys from Jinga who I swapped details with in case I decide to call them when we arrive there. Bought our Uganda visas for $50 and drove the final 25kms to the town of Kabala, got some local currency and headed to Bunyonyi Overland camp on the shore of another great freshwater lake.

The cost of renting a room as opposed to camping was negligible so we split the cost between us and had a room overlooking the lake. Pretty tired so cooked dinner in the room to save cash and went to bed.

End of day location: Kabala, Uganda
Distance covered: 218kms

21st September 08

Date: 20th September 08
Location: Kabale, Rwanda
Weather: Started fine the chucked it down with loads of thunder…the equator rocks. 22°c
Status: Into another country today, so off we go!

Up at first light and then had a quick breakfast in yet another awesome location, although it’s a funny place this Bethanie Hotel…1970’s style décor and architecture on the shores of the lake! As we ate breakfast the local taxi boat arrived complete with singing paddler.

We visited the genocide museum in Kabala located on the site of the local church and it was a moving experience to say the least. In April 1994 11,500 people were buried in a mass grave in the site and to mark the location a monument has been erected complete with human skulls lined up in the window of it. Makes you think a bit I can tell you, its amazing how calm and welcoming the country is now which makes it so hard to understand how this atrocity happened.

The road to Kigala was a twisting, winding track through the hills which took a couple of hours to complete, we pulled into the curio’s market to spend the last of the local currency and bought a few African masks and spoons for friends after a good hour of haggling and bargaining.

As we left the capital the heavens opened and drenched the road in front of us turning it into a puddle filled mess, it was only then that I realised it was the first real consistent, grey skied rains that I’d been in since driving through France nine months ago! Not bad going then 

Arrived at the border and did the formalities, chatted to a couple of cool guys from Jinga who I swapped details with in case I decide to call them when we arrive there. Bought our Uganda visas for $50 and drove the final 25kms to the town of Kabala, got some local currency and headed to Bunyonyi Overland camp on the shore of another great freshwater lake.

The cost of renting a room as opposed to camping was negligible so we split the cost between us and had a room overlooking the lake. Pretty tired so cooked dinner in the room to save cash and went to bed.

End of day location: Kabala, Uganda
Distance covered: 218kms

20th September 08

Date: 20th September 08
Location: Kabale, Rwanda
Weather: Started fine the chucked it down with loads of thunder…the equator rocks. 22°c
Status: Into another country today, so off we go!

Up at first light and then had a quick breakfast in yet another awesome location, although it’s a funny place this Bethanie Hotel…1970’s style décor and architecture on the shores of the lake! As we ate breakfast the local taxi boat arrived complete with singing paddler.

We visited the genocide museum in Kabala located on the site of the local church and it was a moving experience to say the least. In April 1994 11,500 people were buried in a mass grave in the site and to mark the location a monument has been erected complete with human skulls lined up in the window of it. Makes you think a bit I can tell you, its amazing how calm and welcoming the country is now which makes it so hard to understand how this atrocity happened.

The road to Kigala was a twisting, winding track through the hills which took a couple of hours to complete, we pulled into the curio’s market to spend the last of the local currency and bought a few African masks and spoons for friends after a good hour of haggling and bargaining.

As we left the capital the heavens opened and drenched the road in front of us turning it into a puddle filled mess, it was only then that I realised it was the first real consistent, grey skied rains that I’d been in since driving through France nine months ago! Not bad going then 

Arrived at the border and did the formalities, chatted to a couple of cool guys from Jinga who I swapped details with in case I decide to call them when we arrive there. Bought our Uganda visas for $50 and drove the final 25kms to the town of Kabala, got some local currency and headed to Bunyonyi Overland camp on the shore of another great freshwater lake.

The cost of renting a room as opposed to camping was negligible so we split the cost between us and had a room overlooking the lake. Pretty tired so cooked dinner in the room to save cash and went to bed.

End of day location: Kabala, Uganda
Distance covered: 218kms

19th September 08

Date: 19th September 08
Location: Butare, Rwanda
Weather: Clear and cool to start, the clouds then gathered and the humidity rose….then it rained properly!! 27°c
Status: In love with this country!

Up as the birds started to sing to us in our little parking lot, all very pleasant! Made our way to the café and had breakfast, shopped for some essentials and filled the truck up with diesel. Then hit the road…..

Oh and what a stunning road it was too, climbing sharply from the overnight stop of 1000m and winding through the green, terraced, heavily farmed slopes and valleys offering amazing photo opportunities all the way. Rwanda is truly a beautiful place with friendly waving locals to match….do not let the past atrocities get in the way of your judgement of this country, it’s stunning.

They’re a pretty adept bunch too utilising all areas of the valleys and hilltops, with rice, maize, cabbages, carrots, potatoes, tea, coffee, bamboo, bananas, passionfruit, cucumber, chillies – everything you can imagine grows here!! The gracefully laid out farming looks organised, well watered and managed with neat plots all full of varying greens which reminded me of market gardens back in the UK.

The road towards Nyungwe National Park passed through more little villages clinging to the side of the steep slopes with all sorts being sold in the markets, from toilet roll to volleyball nets, weird! As we neared the park the landscape changed from managed farming to wild rainforest with sprawling green vines draping over the huge tall trees and the occasional daring monkey poked their face out for us to see! They’re Angolan Colombus monkeys here; black with white beards and cheeks and really cuteand I’d never seen them before. At one of the high spots in the park is the campsite so we stopped, enquired about prices….and promptly left - $80 for the two of us for the night!!! Yikes.

Decided it was as good a place as any to go for a run and donned the kit, turned west out of the campsite and hit the road again with Bre driving and me gathering speed downhill, the gathering clouds looking all the more menacing by the minute. After half an hour the heavens opened in style, a real rainforest downpour with rivers down the road, steam from the trees and Ben covered from head to toe!

As the rain abated a pickup filled with military brandishing machine guns, police and park officials drove past us and pulled to a stop. One of the front seat passengers got out and signalled for me to stop, which I obligingly did! He asked me if I had a licence to run in the park!!!! “What on earth are you talking about?” I said, I had asked the official at the campsite of it would be ok for me to do so and he said no problem. So the uppity git radioed through to see if I was lying, and the response came through that they said it was ok, HA!

I then explained what Afritrex was all about, gave him a business card and plan, then he told me that Bre was commercially filming within the park which was chargeable at $2000 per day, bloody idiot!! Now I generally wouldn’t argue with a guy who’s backed up my a truck load of militia….but this was ridiculous!

He asked me to stop immediately, which of course I had done, and that they’d see that we didn’t do it again by escorting us the 20kms out of the park! It’s a damn public road I told him in my best smiling French!

Asshole jobs worth, I hate them all!! So I drove as slowly as I could, taking photos as often as I could just to wind up the little twat and eventually exited the park much less agitated!

We then turned north along the banks of Lake Kivu which is another stunning location with terraced fields all the way down to the waters edge although the main road left a lot to be desired, another battle with dust, rocks and inclines!

Just as the sun set we managed to pull into the town of Kibuye to find another closed down hotel on the T4A gps information and eventually settled down for the night at Centre Bethanie.

Bed and Uganda tomorrow

End of day location: Kibuye, Rwanda
Distance covered: 288kms

Friday, 19 September 2008

18th September 08

Date: 18th September 08
Location: Kigoma, Tanzania
Weather: Hazy sunshine at first light then as we left the lake and climbed into Rwanda the clouds gathered and then evening thunder and lightening.

What a fantastic day all round!

Left the campsite at first light….oh before I go on we had a visitor last night, a little stoat/weasel like creature with spotted markings and a big tail which was striped came within about a metre of me as I hid behind the truck watching it!! Random thing.

Up as the sun rose and packed away for the trip north through the rather scary countries of Burundi and Rwanda! Drove through the town to buy some bread and eggs…and a toothbrush to blacken Baccus’s horns which are suffering in the heat from bugs and dust!

The road out of Kigoma is tar for the first 10kms then as we turned north towards the border we lost the good surface and returned to dust, microscopic dust of course! So all of the good work which Bre had done to clean the truck yesterday was sort of ruined, ooops!

It was a bumpy track which hardly any vehicles seemed to be on, we climbed up nearly 1000m fro the lake’s shore until we were up in the clouds in the midst of banana plantations splitting the few villages there were. We passed a number of mad cyclists transporting their wares to market, the most impressive of these were the pineapples porters who somehow seemed to, by a means of strapping the fruit to a frame, carry 40 of the things on the back of a standard bike…..who needs your bicycle trailer now Owen!!

We arrived at the border of Tanz/Burundi in a little over an hour to find a little rundown border post with a high presence of military and police, all smiling none the less. Did the usual formalities and drove down the hill into no-man’s-land where we stopped for a spot of lunch, how very English! Made some avocado salad and egg salad sandwiches in the shade of the eucalyptus trees and obviously amused the locals with our antics as they pushed their bikes past us laughing out loud!

So into Burundi and time to adopt the French I’d reaffirmed with myself coming down the west coast of Africa, into the office for immigration past four men in UN military uniform all brandishing AK47’s. As I left the office I asked the officer in charge if I could have my photo taken with them in front of the Colonel “of course” came the reply……”if you pay us” bloody typical African! I then offered them the usual bonbon as a joke which had them all doubled over as it obviously wasn’t enough, so I left instead.

Customs was another 18kms down the road and as we travelled there we passed numerous UN, Medicene Les Frontieres and Red Cross compounds all there to deal with the refugee situation which has been around since the end of the civil war four years ago and also with the more recent problem of refugees arriving from Eastern Congo since the recent spate of guerrilla attacks there, some as recently as last week.
We had the carnet stamped and then had to ask the question “on which side of the road are we supposed to be driving?” This came up as two vehicles since the border had flashed us rather ‘forcefully’. I checked the National Geographic Africa Atlas which has a map of the relevant sides to drive on but this told me we wouldn’t need to drive on the wrong side of the road until Ethiopia! The official confirmed we were actually wrong so we left…driving on the right side of the road this time!

The journey through Burundi was just over 4hrs long tracking up the east coast of Lake Tanganika until the capital before turning north east and up into the mountains all along potted tar but at no time were with without a policeman or army recruit stood on the edge of the road every ½ km or so. As we climbed up through the mountains the only places for the shops and locals to live and work is on the sides of the hills literally clinging to the slopes, their lives exposed for all to see as we drove past with the contents of their shops and houses spilling out onto the tarmac.

As we climbed up the clouds were gathering and eventually the heavens opened, the first rain since Cape Town nearly two months ago and the Colonel did need it as he was starting to look a little uncared for!

We arrived at the border between Burundi and Rwanda expecting the worst as it doesn’t have the best reputation as a country following the atrocities of the nineties, but a really clean, functional, professional setup greeted us with new buildings, a barrier and uniformed officials……oh my god!

The next hour involved climbing back up through the clouds past green, fertile tea plantations, brick works and gum trees all organised on staggered, terraced slopes which in the dull evening light looked like the most fertile lands I’d seen since the oasis’s of Morocco.

We arrived in Butare and found the Ibis Hotel, stopped at reception; another place with a buffalo skull so already something in common, and arranged our night in their car park. A pretty damn good location with amenities on hand, a vias machine next door and great kitchen with cheap food.

Bed after another movie 

End of day location: Butare, Rwanda
Distance covered: 388kms

16th September 08

Date: 16th September 08
Location: Kigoma, Tanzania
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine, 34°c
Status: One of the best day’s for ages! Read on and find out 

Up as the sun rose in the east and then we had a knock on the door, Leroy the waiter was there asking how we’d like our eggs cooked….scrambled of course! So downstairs we trotted for a full breakfast all included in the cost of the room, wonders will never cease.

We grabbed our gear with a full day ahead of us organising things for the next few days. At the end of the track to the hotel we’d noticed the Embassy of Burundi and decided to pay them a visit to check out the situation in the country and whether it would be safe to drive to route we were considering.

As I entered the embassy there were already 10 local ladies waiting, some with their babies strapped to their backs in the standard African-style except the one little girl who decided to run towards me smiling and laughing with her outstretched arms thrust in my direction. I swept her up and played with her for a while much to the amusement of the gathered female throng who found it hilarious that the Mzungu was holding a baby! (makes me realise how much I miss my nephews….again!)

The gentleman behind the desk was busy processing other applications so I too my seat next to a younger guy who was very interested in why I wanted to go the his country, so I explained the whole Afritrex expedition and spent a very interesting half an hour chatting with him about Africa, his life, different languages, the rest of the trip and almost everything! Omary gave me his address and he then got up and collected the relevant forms for me which I took to the car a filled in with Bre.

As we’d only be needing a transit visa the cost was a much reduced $20 each instead of the $40 at the border so well worth the exploratory visit! We left the application with him and headed into town to stock up on dollars we be requiring for the upcoming visas for Rwanda and Uganda….what a waiting mission. Got the required monies out of the bank and queued in line like everybody else for nearly half an hour, was then told I needed to complete the relevant form and eventually over an hour later left the bank with the required currency! Africa is a waiting game, queuing is second nature.

Headed to the internet to catch up on emails and find out the latest movements of Kees, my Dutch overlanding buddy and update the website and then stopped in the market to buy some fruit, our first for a few days!

Dropped into the embassy to collect our new visas with no problems and then found out from a French gentleman that there have been some issues with Congolese rebels in the area surrounding the Burundi border and we should try and find out from local police which areas are safe before driving through them!! Exciting but also very serious.

We made our way to the Kigoma Hill Top Hotel to check out the site as a possible location to camp in for the next few days but as we arrived we knew immediately it was out of our price range….stuffed animals in the posh reception area, little cute chalets all along the cliff top and even two zebra grazing on the lawn in the centre of the complex….AMAZING!!! Had a quick drink and left.

To the south of Kigoma are a couple of beaches on the lakeside so we drove through some little villages to find them and up on the gps popped a little campsite which we’d missed before, strange! The 5km dirt road opened led us to another stunning location and we pulled into the guest houses yard to enquire about staying there, the private beach was gorgeous with little thatched umbrellas and only one other couple staying there!

Damn we’d promised to go back to the hotel that night as wished we hadn’t, a south African couple were staying there in their 4x4 and told us they’d had it all to themselves for the last few days! We chatted to them and found out they’d be going in the same direction as us for the next few weeks and we arranged to meet up on the banks of Lake Kuvi in Rwanda in a few days time! Good to meet Shaun and Catherine and hopefully we will see them again.

Headed back to the hotel stopping to buy some black shoe polish with which to preserve Baccus’s horns which are suffering in the hot conditions on the advice of a couple of people along the way!

End of day location: Sitalike
Distance covered: 265kms

15th September 08

Date: 15th September 08
Location: Sitalike, Tanzania
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunny, no wind unfortunately! 35°c
Status: Hmmm, bumpy, dusty roads again but all’s well…this is Africa!

What a day of awful roads, bumping tracks and dust filled lungs and nostrils!

Up at first light and as I opened the zip to the tent I heard a noise right outside the door of feet shuffling away. As my tired eyes focused I saw three giraffe no more than 10 feet away staring right back at me! Wow again!

We packed up the tent right on the bank of the river looking down on the group of hippo who’d just returned to the water from their night time feasting of the grasses on the opposite bank, had a quick bite of breakfast before heading out of the town and back onto the bad road north towards our destination Kigoma, 350kms away.

I did choose to take this track for the adventure it would offer in comparison to the tarmac highway which goes from Malawi to Mombasa via Dar Es Salaam, but after the last three days of irritating, dry, dusty and really rocky, bouncy conditions I did start to question my own intelligence for having done so!

I like to keep the inside of the truck clean and dust free as it’s my living space and sometimes I need to be away from the outside world, but it proves impossible when the windows are open for ventilation and you’re passing through areas which during the rainy season are impassable as the roads flood and wash away large sections of the track. The repairs are then carried our by bulldozing the surrounding countryside back in to fill the gaps and this is invariably topsoil which once it’s been pounded by truck tyres of times, becomes microscopically tiny dust particles…..try keeping these out of something like the Colonel which isn’t exactly airtight!

As the day progressed we covered a good distance, stopped for some lunch in a rocky area of the mountain range we were passing through and were attacked by tiny black flies who all wanted our water, gave a local who’d just cycled up the steepest of hills some water, and eventually arrived at what I thought would be the start of the tarred road signalling the last 86kms to Kigoma. How wrong I was! Instead the road was just as bad but twice as wide, balls.

We eventually pulled into the cities outskirts as the sun was setting and made for the Tanganika Beach Hotel to find out if we could camp there….it was a building site, so the next place we chosen from the guide book was the Aqua Lodge…..this had since closed down. Hmmm, so we followed the nearest sign advertising the Coast View Hotel up the hill and to a location overlooking the bay. We pulled into the driveway of a brand new luxury looking palace!

I went to reception and gingerly asked if we could camp on their driveway….not expecting a yes at all! The manager was called as I explained the situation and asked about spending the night there. Now he was slightly pissed and said we couldn’t setup camp in their driveway, but instead he’d let us have a room for the same cost as we’d paid for camping on the previous two nights!!! Ha awesome, a double room with shower, fan and tv for nothing! The Colonel would be spending the night alone.

We ate in the very good and cheap restaurant as we had nothing left in the fridge and met a couple of real characters, Leroy the waiter; again pissed and very friendly asking all the time for a set of free shades. And the in waltzed ‘B’ – Byron, a Canadian gentleman who was very forward, excitable and seemed to know everybody in the world including Mr Richard Branson of course….and if I could prove I was doing my expedition for a decent cause he’d make a donation, sweet!

After catching up on the day’s news on Aljazeera TV and finding out that the results for the Rwandan elections are due on exactly the day we want to enter the country (not a very good thing to do at all!) we went to bed.

End of day location: Kigoma, Tanzania
Distance covered: 365kms

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

14th September 08

Date: 14th September 08
Location: Sumbawanga, Tanzania
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine all day, 37°c
Status: Colonel missed a beat today but back in the groove now, Bre and Me all good!

Another early start to try and get as far as possible down the road towards the park, we left the compound surrounding the Country Club at around 6.45am as drove through the town.

Must have been a good Saturday night for someone as when we came to the central roundabout we noticed a Nissan Patrol parked right in the middle of it…..with its doors open…..somehow having cleared the foot high wall all around the circular centre…..with its bumper hanging off…..and the concrete centrepiece a good five metres away after it was knocked off its mounting!! Amusing photos were taken!

Filled with fuel and worked out that on the last dirt road the Colonel has been doing an incredible 40mpg!!!! Honestly its true, checked my figures again and again!

The road north from Sumbawanga was again dirt and gravel with a broken surface in places which meant the speed was kept below 60kmh most of the way but on the good open stretches we could hold at it for 10 mins at a time and made good progress to our breakfast stop at the edge of the track. A local stopped and we tried to have a broken conversation but in the end we just had a fit of laughter trying unsuccessfully to communicate with each other!

Around midday it was time for another training run, over the last few weeks I’ve been trying to run early in the morning to stay out of the baking heat but as we’re driving all of the time at the moment I don’t have much choice and anyway its good for the fitness to try and cover the same sort of distances with the mercury hitting 35°c!

Managed just under an hour and passed through a few little villages which always leaves the locals a gasp and wondering why, while they’re retiring from the midday sun, there’s some strange Mzungu (Tanzania for European white man) running through their world! Bre was driving all the way laughing at me, filming me and coming to terms with the manual stick-shift as she calls it!

Entered the southern boundary of Katavi National Park but there were no signs, barrier offices so we just kept on going, within the first km we’d seen five giraffe! Pulled over for some sandwiches after a while then continued up the dusty track with our destination being the rangers hut in the centre of the park.

As we arrived at the river, the only source of water in the area during the dry season, the game started to appear with more giraffe, impala and elephant making their way to drink. The track we took beside the river passed directly by the hippo pools which had tens of them in there wallowing away and wherever they were the huge Nile crocodiles were on the bank to waiting for the next unfortunate creature to come down and drink.

We tracked east along the river, crossed it and came across another group of ele’s all slowly plodding away from the water. They seemed very reluctant to move and one of the smaller males mock charged us to protect the three young calves in the group. It always gives me the heebygeebies when that happens!

After another hour we decided to turn and head back out of the park in time for sundown and as I did so the Colonel chose his moment to have a splutter and loose power, great right on the banks of the river surrounded by wildlife!

I revved him up and after a few seconds he came back to life thankfully, so I can only think it must have been a blockage in the fuel of something similar (it didn’t do it again all day!)

We exited the park at Sitalike and found a cheap little camp right on the river on the park boundary, our campsite, where I’m writing this from now, is half a metre from the bank of the river which has 20 hippos in it making the most awesome noise!!

The sun set as we cooked dinner on the banks, sweet potatoes and cheese on toast! Watched a movie then bed. Up early tomorrow for the final epically long day on this trip up the dusty not tarmac side of Tanzania!

End of day location: Sitalike, Tanzania
Distance covered: 235kms

13th September 08

Date: 13th September 08
Location: Mbeya, Tanzania
Weather: Hazy sunshine and very hot, 37°c
Status: Tired after a long day on the road but the Colonel is moving along very well!

One of those mornings when I just couldn’t sleep and was up with my eyes open from 4.30am…..OH AND ADD TO THAT THE SOUND OF THE DAMN MOSQUE NEXT DOOR!!!! Such an antisocial thing to do blasting your “Allah Akbar” from the minaret’s at that time of the morning!

Anyway’s we had to be off early so a blessing in disguise really and we got on the road before the sun poked its head above the horizon leaving the town of Mbeya behind and the hordes of smoking diesel trucks with it.

Once we’d cleared the city limits the road was good tarmac interrupted occasionally by the speed bumps which seem to be on the edge of every town and village we came to neatly organised in groups of four or more! When we arrived at the border town of Tunduma, between Tanzania and Zambia, the crowds of money changers, street sellers and officials were a familiar sight but this time we were happily turning right back into the country rather than into a new one.

We fuelled up just in case and I worked out we’d used 12 litres of fuel since we left Mbeya giving us a pretty respectable 26.5 miles per gallon, well done Colonel! As we turned out of the town there were loads of little tuc-tucs providing the taxi services around the town; very amusing seeing them in Africa for the first time in a few months!

The tarmac ran out within 200m of the town’s limits and we were again treated to the delights of the reddish African gravel road, the likes of which haven’t seen the use of a grader for what seems like months, leaving a mixture of bedrock, sun-baked mud and loose gravel which turns to dust as soon as you hit it. In no way ideal but a whole load better than the Zambian equivalent which generally has corrugations from hell due to the sheer number of trucks pounding them on a daily basis, at least I could keep a speed of around 50km/h up!

We stopped for breakfast at the side of the road once the number of road users both walking and driving had dropped, and enjoyed the morning sunshine which for a change was accompanied by a strong easterly wind whipping up the surrounding dust bowl countryside. Our only company the birds in the trees above.

After another 5hrs driving we entered the outskirts of Sumbawanga, another dusty transit town which we stopped in to use the ATM which again Bre’s card failed to work in….damn Mastercard! As it was after lunch we found a cute little café with the help of a very kind local gentleman and were served a huge plate of chicken, rice, cabbage, spinach, beans and a really good tomato sauce….all on a S/Steel prison plate!

Out destination for the night was to be Kalambo Falls on the edge of Lake Tanganika another 130kms away down some really small tracks to the south west of the town, we left and found the correct turn off, followed it for 17kms until our progress was firmly halted by the sight we really didn’t want to see…..a washed away concrete bridge! I got out and surveyed the surrounding banks but the drop into the river was too steep and the only possible track was straight into a mud hole which the first local who arrived told me “had no bottom”. Hmmm that put pay to that little adventure then, balls.

We made the decision to head back to Sumbawanga and to spend the night there as we in reality be a day ahead of ourselves and could spend it somewhere equally as appealing when we got into Rwanda or Uganda, famed for their beauty.

Coming back in we spotted an internet cafe but typical, the power was out for the town, according to our newly acquired friend Alfred “due to the Zambian’s who supply it!”. He took my number and promised to call as soon as it came back…..I never heard a thing!

We made out way to the Forest Side Country Club, pitched the tent in the dusty car park and made use of their facilities for next to nothing. I think the manager just liked us as we had a buffalo skull on the roof….just as they have over the entrance to their bar!

End of day location: Sumbawanga, Tanzania
Distance covered: 369kms

12th September 08

Date: 12th September 08
Location: Karonga, Malawi
Weather: Hazy sunshine, scattered clouds and cooling as we climb up in height. 30°c
Status: Happy to be moving into a new country and towards the next challenge!

Up at 5.30am and as the sun rose out of the lake I went for a run, the first in a couple of weeks so it was good to get the blood pumping through the legs again, ran down the shore of the lake which was good as the sand made things that much harder!

Once I got back we stretched and did some exercising then had breakfast and got onto the road which headed north to the border with Tanzania, it wasn’t for only 70kms away and we made it in no time on a good road free of potholes. What a wonder Malawi has been as it has some of the best road of all its neighbours….we’ll just have to see how the next few countries compare!

The border was an interesting one, mainly due to the hassling by one particular money changer after he realised he’d cocked up, let me explain. I had a good quantity of Kwacha left over which I wanted to exchange for Schillings, standard protocol at borders is to do this on the black market knowing what the latest internet price is and then ‘working’ with the changer until you agree on an exchange rate which is acceptable to both of you. It works in theory.

Not a bad chap to start off with, I wanted an 8:1 rate based on what I’d found a few days before, being 8.12:1, he accepted, we shook hands and we walked to the shop to change it. When I got there another five guys turned up to watch adding to the pressure, I should have received 340,000 Shillings but then they decided that the exchange rate was actually 6.8:1 and I should only have 290,000Sch……but by this stage he’d counted out 304,000Sch into my hand.

So I’ve been undersold by around 36,000Sch and he wants back 14,000Sch and the actual exchange rate I received was actually 7.1:1. He gets all bolshie and demands the money back so I told him in no uncertain terms that there’s no way that would happen as he’d already shaken my hand for the deal and its him whose gone back on his word! Tensions become frayed shall we say, they follow me closely as I walk back to the colonel and continue to demand their supposed money, and all because their guy was totally dishonest!!

Ha so Bre and I walk together to the immigration and customs desks, get stamped out of the country, befriend the official so she walks out and opens the gate for us, we return to the Land Rover through the crowd of conmen and drive straight out of the country past them!! Of course they follow…..

On arrival in Tanzania we do the usual, passports and carnet, pay the road tax and the insurance which will cover us for the next few countries up to and including Sudan, and then realise that the group have followed us all this way too! I discuss the situation with the officials and they explain that I should simply walk to my truck, lock the door start the engine and drive off. Simple then.

It does all go according to plan and we leave them walking swiftly behind us slowly getting smaller in the rear view mirror, sorry guys but you made the deal and then broke it. Conman 0 – Tourist 1.

Into Tanzania then and the road is another great scenic drive, slowly climbing up into the Kinpengere Mountain range passing through vast tea plantations, banana farms and more agriculture than we’ve seen for ages. A very fertile area with so much fruit and veg available at the sides of the road there’s no need for the supermarkets here!

As we drop in altitude slightly coming into Mbeya were still at 1700m and there’s even some wheat and corn farming which makes the hills appear almost like those in the UK, ahhh.

We stop at the first bank we find, fill the wallets, fridge and fuel tanks and head to the Green View Inn campsite for an early night before starting early in the morning on the drive along the unknown-surfaced road to Sumbawanga and the edge of Lake Tanganika.

Used up the spag bol mix from last night and had it with rice. Mars bar for dessert

End of day location: Mbeya, Tanzania
Distance covered: 167kms

11th September 08

Date: 11th September 08
Location: Karonga, Malawi
Weather: Hazy skies, very warm but happy smiley weather again! 34°c
Status: Last day in Malawi, lets go explore!!

Had a really early escape to bed yesterday so got up bright and early as the sun rose out of the lake and watched a poetic sunrise, the sounds of the waves lapping the shore and the distant cockerel crowing were so African and left us speechless as we watched from the entrance to the tent.

It was perfect timing as the boys I’d arranged to make some keyrings for my nephews arrived just as we started the engine but this time they had our bananas for us! Love the locals here, Hudson and John two very enterprising young boys who’ve brought us tomatoes, eggs and papaya! Typically Manchester United supporters from this part of the world though!

Left the camp and drove south for a few clicks before turning onto the track up to Livingstonia….oh boy what a fun road, the map on the gps showed a route up the side of the escarpment which twisted and turned with multiple hairpin bends. The surface was a mixture of rock and gravel with concrete in sections and made for a really exciting drive.

The locals have even numbered the bends up to 16 so you can count the fun on the way up, lock to lock turns with sheer drops off the sides make it a road that’s comparable to the Sani Pass in South Africa and the best route for a while. The Colonel revelled in it and got us to the top with no problems, even managing to stop halfway up and give a lift to 5 local girls who were struggling up the hill….and they loved it laughing the whole way whilst clinging on the back.

Livingstonia is a village isolated from the rest of the lake up the 15km track to a group of houses and large church set up by the missionaries in 1875 and has retained its charm, we visited the church, museum and drove through the town. Then with the help of our newly recruited guide drove 4kms back out to the top of a 50m high waterfall which cascades into the valley below.

Another few metres down the road and we walked to the bottom of the falls and into the cave which is hidden from view behind it. It’s said that the locals hid here from the slave traders 100 years ago, we had a dip in the cold water and then back to the truck.

Some local kids had been looking after the Colonel for us so I gave them each a pair of the wraparound shades that Island Tribe had been kind enough to give me and we then started the slow descent back down the hill.

Back at the main road we headed north along the shore of the lake to the dusty transit town of Karonga, one of the last before the border with Tanzania, and found the run down little camping site called Mufwa Lodge. Nothing special just a site on the beach but it does remind me that we’re heading back into the real Africa and getting off the backpackers circuit finally. Comfort and luxuries are not what I came here for…..so we cooked Spaghetti Bolognese and watched a movie before going to bed, well I have to have some still don’t I!!

End of day location: Karonga, Malawi
Distance covered: 128kms

10th September 08

Date: 10th September 08
Location: Nhkata Bay, Malawi
Weather: Hazy sunshine and hot, 34°c
Status: We’re off on an adventure….that’s Bre, me and the Colonel!!

Up at first light to get things ready for the day ahead. Packed the tent away, gobbled down some breakfast and headed to the edge of the lake for the now usual morning swim to the other side of the bay. It’s one of the things I have really thoroughly enjoyed about staying here, the beauty of the water and the opportunity to keep fit and healthy by using it every day!

Updated the website and checked email to find out any last minute updates on Kees’s movements and then fired up the Colonel for the road ahead. Said goodbye to her family and discussed where, in around a months time, we’ll all meet up again probably somewhere around Nairobi.

This marks a new part of the journey with just me and Bre on the road covering a few thousand km’s together through possibly five new countries. It’ll be awesome to have just us to worry about for a change; we’ll up the fitness regime and then be ready to take on the mountains and marathon ahead.

Left the gorgeous Nhkata Bay and pulled out of town with the first destination being Mzuzu to refuel and reload with money for the next few days. Its only 40kms away so we got there quickly but as we arrived in town my laptop started playing up, damn it….and then when I’d stopped the engine on the truck the starter motor solenoid stuck in and the engine wouldn’t start….what on earth’s going on, this is meant to the a GOOD adventure!! Had a push start from a group of locals and hit the road again with the intention of not stopping before reaching our destination Livingstonia some 130kms north along the edge of the lake.

The drive slowly took us up 1000m from the lake’s edge and became much more hilly with steep climbs and falls along twisting roads with huge drops, really stunning backdrops and the sun slowly dropped out of the sky. We arrived at Chitembe Camp just in time to have a dip in the lake before cooking omelettes for dinner.

Some local kids made friends with us and ran into town to buy tomatoes, bananas and papayas and then offered their services as wood carvers….so I ordered a couple of keyrings for my nephews.

Watched a movie upstairs and went to bed

End of day location: Chitembe Camp, Malawi
Distance covered: 162kms

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

9th September 08

Date: 9th September 08
Location: Nhkata Bay, Malawi
Weather: Another day of really warm blue skies and sunshine, hazy late on. 32°c
Status: Getting ready to start the quick journey north again and can’t wait to move!

So today’s the day when I finally work out where the next few weeks of the trip will take me as I intend meeting up with Kees to discuss the journey ahead, where we will meet again and the rough dates for entering Kenya, transiting Sudan and taking on the bureaucracy of Egypt.

We got up early and packed up the tent and got the truck ready for the trip back down south to Kande Beach where Kees has been staying for the past few days. Bre and I then went down to the water and swam across to the dive school, rested for 10 mins and then back again, by the time we got to the shore my arms were pumping and my shoulders felt like they’d explode….butterfly is not the easiest way of swimming!

Belinda, one of my friends on the dive course, brought her backpack up to the truck and we headed off out of the bay and back down to Kande some 50kms south down the coast of the lake.

We arrived at the gates to the beach camp and……Kees had already left the site, balls again!!! I checked my email there and it appeared he’d had a problem with his son stepping on some glass and had to leave to get him to hospital urgently, understandable but another day of not knowing what the plan would be! Arghhhh.

So headed back up the coast to Mayoka Village again, met up with the family and discussed what we’d do. My plan is pretty much to head off north with Bre and when we decide, and the family decide exactly what they’re doing we’ll meet up again, probably in around a month.

Had another exhausting swim across the lake, then feeling tired scoffed down some free Irish Stew for dinner, had a farewell drink with Craig who then surprised me totally by handing me the keys to one of the chalets with a four poster bed in it!!! Being the very kind gentleman he is, he’d bought it as a gift for Bre and I as a last night gift….AWESOME!! Went straight to bed…..

End of day location: Nhkata Bay, Malawi
Distance covered: 110kms

8th September 08

Date: 8th September 08
Location: Nhkata Bay, Malawi
Weather: Clear blue skies, calm and sunny, 32°c
Status: Confused and unsure of the next few days, where my route will be and lots of Q’s…..

Hmmmm been one of those days today, they’re very few and far between for me, the eternal sunshine boy! But when they arrive they frustrate and annoy me. Hmmmm

Woke up no problems feeling like it was another perfect day in Africa, cooked some breakfast and headed down to the water for a swim. Perfectly calm warm water lapping the shore so Bre and I swam across the bay to the dive school and back, excellent exercise!

I’ve had planned the next few days and weeks of the trip for a while and it was going to be Bre and I heading out on an adventure by ourselves across Africa but it seems this may not be totally acceptable to the dynamics of the family’s travel plans which seem to change regularly anyway. If Bre was to come with me then that wuld effectively be the end of her sponsored trip.

So it leaves me in a bit of a tight spot, the decision still hasn’t been made and may well change but for now I’m unsure whether I will go east, west, alone, with Bre or someone else on board.

It may all work out fine but for someone who likes to be as organised as I do,the indecision is hugely frustrating, add to that I’m trying to arrange dates to meet friends and family and add to that the professionalism which I try and adopt with everything I
do is becoming compromised. Hmmmm again.

Anyway a good dinner then off to bed, tomorrow will improve as I hope to meet up with Kees and work out wher and when our route up through North Africa will happen.

End of day location: Nhkata Bay, Malawi
Distance covered: 0kms again. 

6th & 7th September 08

Date: 6th and 7th September 08
Location: Nhkata Bay, Malawi
Weather: Hazy sunshine, wind picked up then dropped and a perfectly calm evening. 32°c
Status: Another qualification under my belt and a personal goal achieved.

Both days which I’ll cover here in this diary have been spent studying hard for my PADI Open Water dive with Aqua Africa and Dusty our fantastic South African teacher.

To start the morning off with a bang I’ve been up at first light and down at the restaurant to meet up with Craig, my dive buddy, and Belinda another student on the course. From there Craig and I have swum the 600m across the bay to the dive school in time for the commencing of lessons at 8.30am.

Although the swimming isn’t great training for another marathon it is good for all round fitness and to get the heart rate pumping again. Something I haven’t done for a week or so now so feel good in myself.

The course has been a mixture of classroom teaching and open water dives all aimed at building our confidence and experience in the water, so that things become second nature and automatic when we get to dive in the future.

A total of three dives out in the lake have given us the experience we need and have also been amazing fun as the guys I’m studying with are a pretty good fun lot. We’ve seen all manner of fish in a vast array of colours, had some good times and also a couple of scary moments at 14m below when I struggled to clear my mask and ended up chocking on a nose full of water. It scared the crap out of me and made me think quite how easy it is to end your life there and then…..like my good friend Guy did many years ago.

I passed the 50 question exam albeit with a coupe of wrong answers and then we headed out on our final dive and it was awesome! The stress of learning and the impending exam had gone and we all enjoyed it that much more, then the offer came of a night dive, something that really couldn’t be refused!!

After the Open Water had finished we read up about Adventure Diving and the night dive ahead, we met other people who were also to be with us, got our kit together and headed out as the sun had just set back onto the lake.

All equipped as before except with powerful torches each, we dropped off the side of the boat into the darkness below and what a different world it was…..totally different to the one we’d experienced in all of our previous dives.

Once on the bottom we sat and turned all of our torches off and sat and watched the moon above for a while before setting off to see the nightime predators on the prowl. We spotted Dolphin Fish who would swim right into our light beams and touch us, they’re about 50cms long and use the light to hunt out smaller fish which they grabbed from right in front of our eyes! The other multitude of fish which are so evident in the day time were hiding from view and sleeping in crevasses so we couls swim right up to them and touch them before they woke up and darted off into the darkness.

After 40 mins we returned to the surface overjoyed by the last 5 days and made our way to the dock, qualified as divers with one extra dive towards the next level under our belts.

Bed early as exhausted

End of day location: Nhkata Bay, Malawi
Distance covered: 0kms

5th September 08

Date: 5th September 08
Location: Nhkata Bay, Lake Malawi
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine, 32°c
Status: Happy as can be, feeling fit again!

Ahhh one of those awesome days when you feel like you achieved a whole load in the day!!

Up bright and early to watch sunrise, gobbled some breakfast down and enjoyed some fresh fruit before meeting Craig and Belinda at the bar to plan our day ahead and how we’d get the PADI books across the lake to the dive school! Belinda agreed to walk around taking our books and Craig and I jumped in the warm lake water at 8am to start our swim across.

Flippin lovely to be back in water and swimming until the shoulders hurt,its been good for my legs this trip but not the upper body and so this every morning should do the trick. Took 15 mins to get across so I have slowed up since my early mornings at home but that’s understandable!

Spent the morning going through our equipment procedures and rigging our dive kit, then jumped into the water for familiarisation lessons on mask clearing, regulator knock outs etc. back to classroom for more videos then a break for lunch.

Then came the real deal and it was amazing, a beach launch for the three of us as we followed Dusty our instructor out into the lake until we were swimming with snorkels and then came the switch over to our tanks. One, two, three and we were breathing underwater, took a while to adjust our buoyancy and come to grips with everything but after 40 mins under it was much easier and SO good!

Saw loads of little chichid fish swimming everywhere! 99% of the worlds aquarium fish come from the lake and there are 150 different species herewith a new one being formed every 50 years or so! When young the fish swim back into their mother’s mouths for protection and we even saw this happening, wicked!

Back on dry land we filled in our dive logs for the first time and finished the day before walking back to the camp as swimming isn’t allowed after time spent under water.

A couple of friends from Canada are here and its one of their birthdays so we stumped for the very inviting BBQ and enjoyed a quiet beer with them, nothing too hectic as I have to dive again tomorrow!

End of day location: Nhkata Bay, Malawi
Distance covered: 0kms

4th September 08

Date: 4th September 08
Location: Nhkata Bay, Malawi
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine…..again!!! 35°c
Status: Ready to descend to the depths of the lake!

Poked my head out of the tent at 5.45am and the sun was just starting to show its face above the horizon of the lake in the distance with the sky all around a stunning red colour. Had a bit of a shock as I looked at the front bumper of the truck as I’d left my towel and boardshorts out to dry overnight….and they were missing!

Felt stupid for leaving them out in a new location where I wasn’t sure of the situation and setup and cursed even more when I realised that Bre had told me o take them in the night before and I’d dismissed the idea, shucks.

Walked down to the bar area and reported it to the barman who asked me if they were “missing” or actually “stolen”. I replied I thought they’d been taken and, after he’d wound me up for a while, insisted that they were in fact missing. The night watchman had in fact walked past the Colonel that night, seen them there and handed them in to reception in case someone decided to steal them!!!! Lesson learnt.

Packed my things up for the day and started what I thought would be a half hour walk around the bay to Aqua Africa, the site of my dive school for the next five days, it took me 12 mins to get there so I caught up on the reading I needed to do for my PADI course.

Belinda, SA and Chris, NZ are the two who’re on the curse with me and we chatted at length about our separate travels throughout the day, headed out for lunch together at Papaya for Thai Chicken and rice and got on really well.

The course started with two chapters on the basics of diving, the equipment and the safety processes involved in learning to plummet to the depths of the world’s waters. In the afternoon we were fitted up with the relevant gear and learnt how to correctly don it all, then made our way to the water to learn the basics of breathing, clearing the mask and other basics.

Once the day was finished we packed our things into the lockers and decided to swim back to the camp, 500m away on the other side of the bay. It was superb to swim a distance again and it made me realise how much I miss the early mornings I put in at the Taro centre in Petersfield!

Dinner was the local butter fish from the lake and then bed before an early start again tomorrow.

End of day location: Nhkata Bat, Malawi
Distance covered: 0kms

3rd September 08

Date: 3rd September 08
Location: Senga Bay, Malawi
Weather: Cloudy start clearing to give perfect blue skies, hot again, 36°c
Status: Ben and Bre on the move together!

Up early and packed everything up in double quick time, even managed to get a whole round of sandwiches prepared for the journey ahead!

Scoffed down breakfast and hit the road towards the central part of the Lake Malawi area where we hoped to be by mid afternoon. The road, as with all in the country, was superb and as we travelled further north the road followed the shoreline almost exclusively only waning a few kilometres inland to pass around mountain ranges which extended all the way to the waters edge.

The landscape became greener and more lush as we travelled further north we passed mango trees by the hundred; although none in fruit just yet unfortunately, rubber plantations with slits cut into the trunks collecting the vital sap and as we arrived in Nhkata loads of stalls set up to sell the produce collected from the lake…..dried fish everywhere!

We weren’t sure where we like to stay when we arrived in the town so we went to Aqua Africa, the centre for my dive course – the cheapest in the world with one of the best safety records too. Awesome.

We drove between Mayoka Village and Njaya camp a couple of times trying to establish which would be bet to rest up in for the five days of the dive course and struggled for hours to work out which would be best! In the end it was decided that as Mayoka had offered free camping we’d make that base camp and set up camp in their car park. A wicked little place perched right on the steep banks of the lake with a vibrant little bar area and even a coupe who I’d met previously in Canada, Cathy and Phil!

Bed as knackered and up early to start the course at 8.30am.

End of day location: Nhkata Bay, Malawi
Distance covered: 326kms

1st September 08

Date: 1st September 08
Location: Lilongwe Golf Club, Malawi
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine, 36°c
Status: Sad that Rach is leaving to go home after a great few weeks.

Up bright and early….again, as Rach has still to find a flight home and she needs to leave tomorrow! Eeek!

Headed to the Air Malawi offices which we’d been to on the Saturday but was closed and found a very helpful guy who booked her onto the 7am flight the next morning from Lilongwe to Johannesburg.

Then it was time for her to fill her bag with gifts for friends and family so we headed to the carvings and market part of town and found a very nice little shop where she bought three shirts which were all too big but the very kind lady there re-measured them against me and told us to return in an hour a they’d be altered by then…I love Africa!!

Popped into the café next door for breakfast and nearly sat in the children’s playground as they’ve installed and restored an old Land Rover painting it in bright colours and fitting a table in the back, but instead at the request of the girls sat at a
boring square one. Scrooges.

Collected the shirts and then left the girls at the hairdressers to have African style braids put in, then returned to the golf club armed with all of the essentials to service the Colonel. Changed the oil, filters, swapped tyres front to back, replaced some chaffed diesel pipes and greased all round, should be enough to see me through to the next one.

After four hours of having their hair pulled, tugged and scalps yanked the girls finally decided they’d had enough and called me to let m know they needed collecting so we arranged the next days plans and then all headed out to Rach’s Leaving Dinner at Don Brioni’s Bistro in town. A superb meal for next to nothing, fillet steak in a pepper sauce followed by apple pie and strawberries for a little under £6, the way it should be!


End of day location: Lilongwe Golf Club, Lilongwe
Distance covered: 20kms

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

31st August 08

Date: 31st August 08
Location: Lilongwe Golf Club, Lilongwe, Malawi
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine. 35°c
Status: Very happy and a good day had by all.

Up at first light and routine seems to dictate these days, poor Rach had another bad nights sleep with belly problems and was up just before us. So a light breakfast before I started to do some work on the truck to keep everything ticking along nicely. Bonnet no longer rattles, and the new window gives the Colonel his security back!

Headed to the pool for a good swimming session to get some lengths completed in the murky water of the full sized pool. Excellent and I realise quite how much I miss my swimming in the UK. Note to self got back on it ASAP when I get home!

We would love to have played tennis but being a Sunday the courts were all full and the temperatures were so high anyway, so we put it off until tomorrow. It’s a fantastic location here for sports lovers with cricket, golf, swimming and tennis happening within a few metres of the campsite, I loved it!

Had a filling dinner of chicken and veg and caught up on the diary before heading to bed for an early night. We have a productive day ahead tomorrow trying to arrange a flight for Rach, smashing some tennis balls around and servicing the Colonel again to keep his heart purring well.

End of day location: Lilongwe, Malawi
Distance covered: 0kms

30th August 08

Date: 30th August 08
Location: Flatdogs Camp, Zambia
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine, 36°c
Status: Off again so good to be moving….

Headed out of the camp around 8.30am to take on the terrible road back to Chipata to collect Baccus the Buffalo and also the new window from the scrap merchant.

Three hours later and we’d arrived feeling bounced and bruised due to the terrible corrugations which make up at least 100 of the 120kms between the park and the town!

Restocked with some food, Baccus and the window and then drove the 20kms to the border. Signed out of Zambia and into the next country, Malawi and what a pleasurable place it is, another easy to get on English speaking place!

From the moment we arrived at the border and dealt with the authorities we knew it would be a good place, very friendly people who want to talk the whole time about everything; the roads, the president, the neighbouring countries, your country, the Colonel etc etc and eventually after an hour at the insurance office we were allowed to continue, brilliant! The guy Audrey, described Malawi as the country with the smile of Africa in the heart of Africa….awesome!

Good roads all the way to the capital and decided to stay at the Lilongwe Golf Club as the Lonely Planet says it offers a pool, tennis etc.

Spoke to Bre on the phone and by chance they’ve made it there to!! So we checked in and headed across town to see them, Bre headed back with us to the camp, we had dinner at the restaurant (don’t ask for your steak to be rare and expect any red in it….it was like a beefburger!!). Bed

End of day location: Lilongwe, Malawi
Distance covered: 303kms

29th August 08

Date: 29th August 08
Location: Flatdogs Camp, Zambia
Weather: Very hot with blue skies and sunshine, 38°c
Status: Really desperate to see LIONS!!!

Up at the first sign of light in the sky and without even so much as breakfast in our stomachs, made for the entrance to the park to be there before the heat of the day kicked in, hopefully standing more of chance to spot some predators unlike the day before!

Arrived at the gate 10 minutes before they were due to open, paid our entrance fee and started our tour to the west of the gate. Within the first few minutes we’d been lucky enough to see a hippo running at full speed away from us….quite a sight a the dust flew up from his heavy trotters! A couple of spotted hyenas also headed off into the distance as we arrived, but that was pretty much it! A few elephants, giraffe but still no damn lions to report on! We’d have to wait until our game drive in the afternoon instead.

Spent they day relaxing by the pool, cooking some lunch with our resident monkey clan checking us out again and prepared for our evening drive. Long trousers on, repellent all over and the batteries for the video camera all charged up.

At 4pm we headed over to the reception to meet our driver and spotter and with three Italians headed out into the park once more, optimistic as ever we’d spy the elusive lions!

We drove north east along the river, as we had done the day before and followed the same tracks as before searching out all of the little hideouts where they obviously relaxed in the late afternoon sunshine, but still no lions! The driver then decided he’d drive us some distance to where a buffalo had been killed earlier in the day as he was sure we’d see some there!

After 20 mins of bumpy and dusty driving we arrived in an open area where vultures sat in the trees around and the smell of death was in the air. As we turned around one of the bigger bushes the corpse of the buffalo came into sight, bloated, Riga mortified and still very much intact minus some scratches to its neck area, the smell was one of rotting death.

Around 20 metres away lying on its back totally oblivious to us and the vehicle even though we were 3 metres away, was a male lion sunbathing in the late afternoon sunshine. In the time we were there he didn’t move a muscle….apart from his eyelid….once!

They guide told us that the kill had been made in the early hours of the day but as the pack of some 15 lions had recently eaten they didn’t need this kill immediately and had therefore left one of the males to guard the kill from Hyena’s and other predators.

We moved on a 500m down the track came across a family of lion, two parents and three cubs again all relaxing. We moved alongside them and had a good opportunity to take photos and watch them all interacting. They were most photogenic and even posed on a low tree for shots!

As the sun disappeared the night drew in and the spotter fired up the flashlight which he waved from side to side, far too quickly for us to spot anything but he had no problems finding the creatures of the night and explaining to us what they all were.

As we patrolled the plains around the river a group of prowling lions came into view and we sat and watched as they raced after an impala and made the kill, awesome. The watching vehicles all closed in to watch the group of seven lions rip the thing to pieces, again awesome photos!

But still the one I really wanted to see, the Leopard, remained unspottable and so I have to wait to the next park for another chance!

We headed back to the camp at 8pm and went for a bite to eat at the restaurant before hitting the sack. A great evening.

End of day location: Flatdogs Camp, Zambia
Distance covered: 100kms