Friday, 31 October 2008

30th October 08

Date: 29th and 30th October
Location: Nairobi, Kenya
Weather: Clear blue skies, light wind and hot sunshine. 30°c
Status: Preparing for the trip north….

The last few days have been all about preparing for the next few weeks and the trip ahead as we finally leave the easy style living of Nairobi and head back out onto the road this time with Kees and the rest of the Watkins family in tow.

They arrived in the capital in time to say good bye to Mum and Dad and since then have spent some time applying for their visas for Ethiopia, meeting up with an old friend from Canada and readying themselves for the trip ahead. It’ll be great to be moving with them again as we take in the delights which Ethiopia has to offer.

I only hope the frustration of travelling at a much reduced speed with the tortoise in tow doesn’t mean that I’m not able to make it back to he UK in time for Christmas. I have spoken to Kees and he does intend being back in Holland at the same time, we will take in as many days of sightseeing as we can whilst at the same time keeping moving in time with my tight agenda!

We’ve been back to Carnivores restaurant with the family and filled ourselves to excess again. We also made enquiries with the Sudanese embassy here to see if they will issue us with the 14 day transit visa we require to make the trip through the country. Little Miss Totally Unhelpful behind the counter said no unsurprisingly and instead offered the 7 day version which is too short. She did give me the number for their embassy in Addis Ababa where I think we can get the extended version but after I spoke to them I came back with less confidence as they asked me to appear in person rather than offering any information over the phone. We’re back into tough Africa again and dealing with officialdom will be hard work and tiring especially as we have the added pleasure of returning to Arabic speaking lands which throws in a new element of difficulty!

Tomorrow we leave for the town of Nanyuki, the overnight stop before taking on the ridiculously tiring corrugated road north to the border, the vehicle is ready, I am ready, I just hope that the renewed political violence which has just kicked off again in north eastern Kenya doesn’t overspill into the area we’ll be travelling through. An armed escort was always recommended for this road so we’ll have to see what happens!

Africa seems to have periods of calm and trouble and the area of Rwanda and around Goma where I was supposed to be climbing Mt Stanley has again become a hot spot with fighting factions making it a no-go zone once more. The town of Kigoma where we stayed for a few days is again receiving refugees at an alarming rate so we made it through just in time.

Any plans to visit Eritrea and Somalia have also been shelved as renewed bombings and killings are now rife again…….its a crazy, dangerous world which we’ll be tip-toeing through over the next few weeks. Let’s hope that Christmas celebration with the family actually happens!

Be happy and be safe,

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

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

26th October 08

Date: 26th October 08
Location: Nairobi, Kenya
Weather: Overcast in the morning then sunny afternoon…perfect! 32°c
Status: Tired but very happy to have completed another challenge!

So this is it, the day of another challenge and its time for the Nairobi Marathon. I feel good and ready for it and if the weathers right I may even have a go at setting a personal best!

Up at 5am to pack the tent away as I intend taking the Colonel down to the start area and depending on how cheeky I feel, hopefully getting him parked right in the think of it! Went through the usual pre-race protocol of getting into my kit, applying vasaline to all of those potential ‘chaffing’ areas, stuck plasters over my nipples just in case and double tied my shoe laces!

Had a light breakfast of weetabix and yoghurt, forced down a couple of energy bars and prepared to leave for the race start. Drove the few kms down to the stadium and managed to get past the first few closed roads by chatting with the police and explaining our situation, sweet. Thought we’d have issues getting through the security checks at the main gate but there wasn’t even a guard there so we just drove through and found a parking space in between all of the PR stands, sweet again!

We started to assemble around the start line, a division between the 10km’ers, the half and the full marathon runners with the wheelchair entrants at the front of us all. There’s such a difference between the chair they use here compared to the London marathon….home built welded monstrosities which weigh a ton and cost next to nothing to make!

Bre had come down with me to the start area and as I shoulder barged the other entrants to try and get towards the assembly area she was doing the same with the spectators!! In fact better than me…..there she was beaming a huge smile at me in the distance from inside the VIP area….how’d that happen!!!??! Good photos though!

The start gun fired on time at 7.05am and the pack of elite runners sprinted off into the distance, and I mean sprinted. I promised myself from the start I’d run at my own pace and not be effected by the speed of those around me; but its much easier said than done as everyone races off into the distance! The circuit wound it way through the city initially passing the main financial area and parks offering a great spectacle and tour of the city. We wound up and down some of the main streets and by the time I’d got to the first of these the elite runners had already completed them and were looping back around and heading out of town….how depressing!

I felt good though considering the lack of real running I’d been able to do in the last few weeks, my training had been limited to the two mountain ascents which whilst being good for short term stamina only extended to periods of five hours at a time and at walking speed!

Staying at my own pace however was difficult, the lack of km markers or signs on the entire route made it nearly impossible to keep tabs on how my own race was going, how I should be pacing myself against the clock or even which other runners to try and use as pacemakers. Yes I knew I wasn’t at my most fit and would expect to struggle towards the latter stages of the race but having no means of keep tabs on my speed meant the inevitable happened and I ran along just a little too fast, something which would start to affect me in the final few kms!

Once we’d left the confines of the city it was out onto the Mombasa Road……unfortunately! It’s a single straight road which runs for nearly 8kms south through the industrial parts of the city to the airport and is tedious to say the least, a badly surfaced dual carriageway with few supporters which tests the mental mettle in a huge way. I’d studied the map of the circuit before the race and took into account I’d have to run up and down this same piece of road four times!!! ARGHHHH, boredom central….

To deal with these mentally zapping stretches I adopted the numbers game which helps me through the tough parts….nothing technical, basically I just count my breathes which happen around every four paces….from one up to 1000, sounds soul destroying but it does help honest! The downwind stretch took 1500……

As I came back into the city for the return leg of the first lap I passed the stadium where I’d be finishing and there were Bre, Mum and Dad were facepainted-up and cheering as I went past. It was excellent support and just what I needed as motivation for the worst part of the race; the last 16kms back down the Mombasa Road!

The half marathon runners had all left the circuit now so the road was fairly empty and it gave me a chance to start counting again. Nearly 45 mins later I was approaching the city again and finally caught sight of the floodlights which tower over the finishing stadium and signalled the end of another challenge.

As I entered the final state three little local boys started running along with me, I took a photo and they held my hands all the way to the final section of the race as I entered the stadium, awesome! As I entered the arena there it was the finish line…and after one lap of the circuit I upped the pace to a final sprint, turned and took a photo of myself heading to the line and crossed in a rather sedate 4hrs 12mins!

I collected my certificate (amazingly printed within 5 mins of finishing!), my finishers medal and a big hug from my group of four painted supporters! The legs felt very tired and the heat of the day had meant I’d sweated much more than usual with salt all over my legs and arms……

We headed to Carnivores restaurant in the evening with Patrick and Sarah who’d arrived that evening, awesome to see them again, stuffed ourselves full of ostrich, crocodile and other exotic meats and headed back for a luxury nights accommodation in the tented camp at Wildebeest! I fell asleep instantly!

End of day location: Nairobi, Kenya
Distance covered: 42.2kms! Leg powered of course!

24th October 08

Date: 24th October 08
Location: Nairobi, Kenya
Weather: Scattered showers and sunshine, 30°c
Status: Getting ready for the marathon…mentally

The Colonel has all of his niggles and problems sorted out today so it was an early start for both Bre and I, we packed away a wet tent and met my parents for a bite of breakfast before driving the truck through the morning rush hour traffic (which seems to run from 5am to 9pm!) to Magma Holdings, a Land Rover service centre run by Titch.

I met him through Allan at Wildebeest Camp who also takes his Landie there for its servicing etc and comes highly recommended. He’s an Englishman who has lived out here for a number of years and now maintains and services all 4x4’s including the British army vehicles in the area….good enough for me then!

I grabbed a taxi back to the camp and as the morning was pushing on we headed out for some early lunch at the local Chinese/Japanese/French food court. Mum and dad tried sushi for the first time and I thing enjoyed it!

Managed to get all of the photos, routes and diary finalised for the site which will be updated in the next few days now there’s a decent internet connection available. Had a chance to drive around the marathon course which certainly looks city based, it twists and winds through the centre to start and then heads out onto the airport road for a couple of laps before finishing in the national stadium. Hope the wind is light, the traffic non-existent and the rain stays away!

Got a taxi back over to collect the Colonel and sat in traffic for nearly an hour to cover the 8kms to the garage, collected the truck minus the tappet ticking noise (at last!) and drove back to the camp for dinner and a movie. Bed.

End of day location: Nairobi, Kenya
Distance covered: 20kms

22nd October 08

Date: 22nd October 08
Location: Masai Mara, Kenya
Weather: Grey skies and cloudy start then clearing before evening rains.
Status: So happy to have seen the migration!!!

A very early start at 6.30am, in fact so early we left before breakfast but it enabled us to get into the Mara as the sun came up over the horizon (just) and into one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever been on the planet; distances which are hard to perceive, horizons which disappear towards infinity, and landscapes which you see on only the nature documentaries. Our aim for the day was to find and track the migrating wildebeest herds which at this time of year travel south from the Masai Mara towards the Serengeti in search of the new grasses which the rains bring at this time of year.

We tracked along the Talek river finding numerous crossing points which had previously been used by the herds but no evidence of any activity in the last few hours. Mum spotted a group of lions in the distance so we made our way across to them and spent some time just watching them only a few metres away lounging in the morning light their bellies full of lasts nights kill no doubt.

We moved on along the river finding scattered groups of game, antelope and the occasional small herd, then as we cleared another small rise there they were in front of us… of the huge migrating herds slowly heading south at a slow march. What a stunning sight, led by a group of antelope, there were thousands of the wildebeest all forming a long line two or three animals wide from one horizon to the other. We sat and watched as they passed the Colonel only 20 metres away, then they were gone…..

Its what I came here for and we all loved it, the stuff that documentaries are made of! We moved along the rover to one of the famous crossing points where the wildebeest take on the might of the river and Russian-roulette of avoiding the waiting crocodiles who take their fill at this time of year! But there were no waiting herds only the droppings and odd carcass of the unfortunate few who’d been gobbled!

As we had to make it back to Nairobi for the evening we unfortunately had to cut short our day’s viewing and drove due east across the wide open plains towards the gate we’d entered through a day previous. We left the park and started onto the shaky, rough road and 15kms down the track suddenly the Colonel came to abrupt halt…the engine suddenly dying!?!?!??!

Dad and I hopped under the bonnet to investigate and assumed something had happened to the fuel system, we bled it but nothing happened and the engine refused to fire up! Great were right in the middle of nowhere, the only people around are the few Masai children who’ve turned up to watch the drama unfold and we can’t find the problem.

Time to talk things through logically, fuel supply bled but no fuel getting to the cylinders…must be the fuel-cut out solenoid. Then as were starting to look into it by chance a Land Rover appears over the horizon….with the local mechanic driving it!!! Haha sometimes things just happen. He stops and instantly diagnoses the same problem we had, we find there is no power to the solenoid and install a new wire to replace the old one which somehow has broken or come loose on the terrible surface! We try it and the engine fires up! Superb 

Off again we make good time until we find another stranded vehicle with five locals who are going nowhere. The driver has somehow driven the car into the ditch, so to return our good karma for the day we get the tow rope out and pull them free of the ditch! They bump start the car and they’re off again!

We continue the drive back to Nairobi and to the comforts of Wildebeest Camp where our awesome hosts Allan and Lynita greet us with a sumptuous dinner before we hit the sack after an amazing day.

Kenya and the migration rocks….

End of day location: Nairobi, Kenya
Distance covered: 318kms

21st October 08

Date: 21st October 08
Location: Voi, Kenya
Weather: Starry night followed by a gorgeous sunrise and good weather all the way. 32°c
Status: M&D suffering from a cold each, rest of us pushing on just fine…

After a great night’s sleep on a really comfy bed we headed out for an early breakfast which was included in the cost of the room, packed up the truck (it somehow all fitted just as before!), and took the 20km track through Masai land back to the main Mombasa to Nairobi road. Its renowned for being a poorly surfaced, heavy traffic route which takes hours to travel along… what the hell happened? A perfect surface and such long straight sections that overtaking, even in a fully loaded Land Rover, was no problem at all and we got to Nairobi for a late lunch.

Popped into the DHL office to collect my new carnet de passage which the ADAC in Munich have sent out to me, I have used all of the 25 pages in the old one and need this document to allow me to import and export the Colonel into the remaining countries without further hassles!

Departed after bite of lunch from the capital and took the road north out towards Narok along the escarpment which leads into the edge of the Rift Valley and what an amazing road. The views stretch far off in to the distance with storms lurking ominously over the great plains with the occasional flash of lightening illuminating the closing evening gloom.

The newly surfaced road which gave us a speedy route towards the entrance gate of the reserve abruptly ran out after a small village and left us with a terrible unsurfaced dirt road with heavy corrugations and slippery mud sections…..progress predictably slowed to a crawl.

We finally arrived at the entrance to the Mara at around 6pm just as the sun was setting, our lodging for the night had telephoned a couple of times to check we were still coming, and after paying the entrance fee entered the park in near darkness….something I didn’t think we’d be able to do but it was amazing!! Elephant, impala and loads of little night birds and creatures ran in front of the truck as we covered the 22kms to the camp.

We arrived after 7pm with all of the staff awaiting our arrival. There haven’t been nearly as many tourists as they’re used to in the last few months due to the impending global recession and the international media projecting an image of a troubled Kenya since the problems following the elections way back in February. We were the only ones staying there in a stunning location right beside the Talek River with frog calls all around and the splashing of hippos in the pool outside Mum and Dad’s tent!

Dinner then bed…..

End of day location: Masai Mara, Kenya
Distance covered: 620kms

20th October 08

Date: 20th October 08
Location: Pangani, Tanzania
Weather: Clear, blue skies and hot sunshine, 36
Status: Moving east as quickly as we can to get to the migration…..

What a totally gorgeous location to wake up!! The Peponi Beach resort is so close to the ocean I thought the Colonel’s tyres would get wet in the night as the tide came in!

We sat and enjoyed breakfast in The Munching Room, eggs on toast followed by fruit and cereal, yum. Chatted to Derek the expat owner who’s run the place for the last 9 years and discussed his Series One Land Rover amongst other things. He used to live on the Wild Coast in South Africa and also right next door to Port Edward therefore he’s a Natal Sharks fan…small world!

Took the road back into Tanga and filled up with fuel with a very friendly little attendant, worked out the mpg at around 22 for the last 450kms – not too bad considering the new increased weight on board!

The road up to the Tanz/Kenya border was a graded dirt road which twisted along the coast for 70kms, along the way we came across a German lady and her daughter in their Land Rover who’d broken down. We stopped a found her fuel pump wasn’t working so fed a new wire to it and within half an hour she was off again.

The border formalities were the usual banter with money changers etc except this time there was also M&D to deal with too! Within half an hour we’d cleared the system and were off again but this time on much better tarmac for the 90kms through to Mombasa. Stopped and shopped for some lunch and then took the westerly road towards Nairobi.

Drove for another couple of hours before turning off the main drag as the sun was setting towards Rock Site Camp, which sounded promising! When we arrived they wouldn’t let us camp there so we had to take rooms….no great problem as they were stunning overlooking the Tsavo Plains out in front of our verandas. We dipped in the infinity pool and arrived on time for dinner which was included in the costs.


End of day location: Maungu, Kenya
Distance covered: 340kms

19th October 08

Date: 19th October 08
Location: Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania
Weather: Clear blue skies and scattered clouds, then showers! 36°c
Status: Off for the next part of the trip now!

After a great fortnight together we said a sad goodbye to Jimmy who had to return to the UK and caught his flight from Dar airport at 8pm yesterday evening. We did a whole load of things together the best of which was climbing Kili together and battling through the altitude and cold to make it, the last week has also been a wicked experience as we relaxed on the beach and virtually perfected the art of Frisbee together!

So up this morning for a grand breakfast with Mum and Dad, got straight onto the main repair job for the Colonel together – replacing the brake vacuum pump which is ticking away. Finally found TDC and removed the old unit, replaced it with the new one and struggled to get the bolts in but finally it screwed into place! Started up the engine and the noise was still there….damn it, must be the tappets that need replacing so another job to do at some stage!

Somehow packed everything for the four of us; Bre, M&D and me into the Colonel and although it was a tight squeeze we managed to compress everything into the cabin rather than using the roofrack, just in case the rains came!

Retraced our steps back up the road north towards Serenga and after 270kms we turned left at the junction which turns east towards the coast and Tanga, the forth largest city in Tanzania. We’d made good time on the road so decided to head to the coast for the evening and a tiny village 15kms north of Pangani to a little place called Peponi Beach Resort down a great little dirt road which wound its way through small villages and camps until it opened out onto the beach again and the delights of the Indian Ocean!

Mum and Dad grabbed a banda hut with a great setup and double bed room, whilst Bre and I parked the Colonel directly on the beach overlooking the ocean and the fishing boats. We dropped into the bar for a drink, game of darts and then some wicked food before meeting the owner, ???, a superb English chap who runs the place and has been out in Africa running various businesses since the end of the 50’s. A real Englishman with a few Landies and a love of cricket and rugby – one of the finest and most chatty men I’ve met on the trip!

Headed back to the truck for another early night…..

End of day location: Pangani, Tanzania
Distance covered: 396kms

17th October 08

Date: 17th October 08
Location: Peja, Zanzibar
Weather: Very hot, sunny and blue skies. The most idyllic weather of the trip. 36°c
Status: Saying farewell to Jimmy on the beach with THE Frisbee session…

Left the delights of our beachside cottage and made our way to the usual breakfast of fruit, coffee and eggs. A stunning start to the day with no wind, blue skies and a flat calm ocean in front of our Frisbee playing area. It been a big part of this trip….frisbee that is! Starting off with Luke and our Dune Frisbee, Frisbee on the Atlas mountains, Frisbee on top of Kili and now Frisbee at the edge of the whitest sandy beach we’ve been to! Awesome.

Spent the first few hours of the day snorkelling out to the reef far off in the distance as the tide was high, the first few hundred metres were pure sand and then the arrival of the sea urchins…in their hundreds with long black evil looking spikes! At this stage of the day we had around a metre of water between us and them as we floated past, passing corals and shoals of tiny fish which hid as we approached in their twisting homes on the reef.

We swam for one and a half hours slowly making our way to the outer reef, all the time the tide slowly disappearing beneath us making the going more and more dicey as we scraped past the spiky obstacles on the sea bed. The sun had been beating down on us for ages and was cooking us from the outside in so we decided to call it a day and head back to the shore, easier said than done!

The outgoing tide had reduced the water to half its original depth and now our sagging bellies and knees were scraping the corals rather than sliding past them! Bre cut her thigh, I scraped my knees and foot and Jimmy did the same!

Back at the hotel we packed up and headed over to the Paje by Night camp for lunch and used their wireless to update the website then caught the same taxi back to Stone Town and our original hotel Marinda Guest House.

We all walked down to the ferry ticket office to arrange tomorrows transport, waited for half an hour as the manager brought more tickets for us then walked into the centre to see some of the historic architecture which the town is famous for. Problem is they’re doing a load of restoration work as it’s the low season and the famous gardens are hidden behind corrugated steel sheets, we kept going and then found our choice of eatery for the night, the Monsoon but it looked straight across the road onto the hidden gardens. Balls.

Choice number two was the famous Tower Top Restaurant which we found after navigating the narrow streets, most of which resemble Marrakech and reminded me I have to go back there at some stage! The place requires booking in advance as it only seats 24 people on cushions at the top of the verenada area…which of course we hadn’t done. The receptionist was very helpful and telephoned upstairs to check if there was space and luckily they’d been a cancellation so we were in and straight away!

The location is the best in the town with views of the harbour and surrounding areas from six flights of stairs up, we got there just in time to have cocktails as the sun set into the ocean!

A four course meal which was superb even included traditional Ngoma dancing in between courses, loads of ass-wiggling and giggles!

Taxi back to the hotel then bed

End of day location: Stone Town, Zanzibar
Distance covered: 50kms

Thursday, 23 October 2008

16th October 08

Date: 16th October 08
Location: Stone Town, Zanzibar
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine, 35°c
Status: Ready for some serious beach time….

Up at 6.30am and into the breakfast veranda overlooking the dhow harbour and the port which provided a superb setting for our eggs and coffee, we all talked about how we’d like to get to the coast for the next day or so before Jimmy has to head home and decided to catch the tourist taxi which left at 8.00am….only 15mins to get every thing ready!!!

Managed to chuck everything in bags and were into the taxi around 15 minutes after talking about it on the way to the east coast and the town of Paje, a coastal fishing community located on white, fine sands with coral reefs and palm trees….heaven in fact!

The hour’s ride took us to the doorstep of the hotel Arabian nights which we thought we’d stay at but it turned out to be $120 for a double room – stuff that! The place next door was just a good and only $90 so we checked into two doubles and a single. Within half an hour of arriving we’d got our beach gear on and were enjoying the luxury of the sands and the 30° water, awesome again!

The afternoon involved using next doors wireless to update the website, munching down some exquisite fresh seafood and deciding what we’d do for the next few days. It really is a piece of tropical paradise here and somewhere I’d love to return one day for a special holiday of honeymoon, watch out Bre!!!

Headed down the beach to the Cristal Lodge for another superb seafood dinner, this time Red Snapper, and then took a moonlit walk along the beach back to the camp for an early night.

End of day location: Peja, Zanzibar
Distance covered: 55kms

Thursday, 16 October 2008

15th October 08

Date: 15th October 08
Location: Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania
Weather: Heavy rain overnight then clearing up to leave a hot and humid day. 34°c
Status: Drifting aimlessly in the Indian Ocean……

Africa, you’ve gotta love it!! it really has been one of those days, that started off well and then deteriorated pretty rapidly. We got up early and had breakfast with Mum and Dad, a superb mixture of fresh fruit, scrambled eggs and pancakes. Took my own coffee along as it was one of those chicory-real coffee substitutes.

James spoke to the owner of the campsite who gave us some information about the journey across to Zanzibar and the running of the ferries. There was one leaving at 12.30pm and if we hurried we’d make it, mistake number 1.

Hurriedly threw everything we’d need in a bag and organised the truck so it could hold the remainder of our gear for the next few days whilst we were away. Left it securely parked in the hotel car park and caught a taxi to the ferry port which took 20 minutes, longer than expected so we arrived at the first ferry across to the main Dar terminals late.

Grabbed our tickets and joined the throng of passengers already waiting for it, after 20 minutes they let us all on and we were just swept along by the crowds until we were all just about together. The short 10 min crossing took far too long and we arrived at our destination with just enough time to grab a cab to the second ferry port (across to Zanzibar) and rush to what I thought was the ticket office to buy our tickets. Mistake number 2.

What I thought was the office was in fact the office of one of the touts, Ally. A nice enough character but he was in it for himself and after we’d bought the tickets we sprinted down to where the ferry was supposed to be leaving from…..and it was already gone. Balls.

The next one was due to depart at 4.00pm but this was the fast ferry which would cost us another 15.000 schillings each. Reluctantly I parted with the cash for all of us, Bre all the time thinking to herself “why the hell is he doing it!” what I should have done was walk myself to the ticket office and buy the damn things but the heat of the moment and the urgency to get across to Zanzibar made me loose my normal level headed self and I just went ahead and did it.

We just spent far too much on the tickets across to the island and now had to wait for another 3hrs until we’d depart. Not according to the normal well-oiled Ben plan, balls x 2.

Hmmm so we sat and waited it out, me worrying all the time about Mum and Dad and their first day’s experience with Africa again. They didn’t seem to mind but I’d rather things would go smoothly of course!

We got ourselves going around 3pm and made our way to the terminal, arrived with no problems and queued for nearly an hour before we made our way on board….at least the tickets we’d been sold were genuine! The boat was similar to the ones used between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight seating around 200 people inside and also out which was weird!? A high speed ferry chucking up god knows how much spray soaking everybody at the rear, well at full speed at least!

An hour into the 2 hour journey the swell was rocking the vessel around beautifully with a few of the passengers blowing chunks into black sick bags, the sun was starting to set and we were cruising along very well. Then the vessel suddenly slowed and we were trickling along at less than the speed of a cross-channel car ferry, this was accompanied by the sound of a very rough engine. After 20 minutes of drifting one of the crew came down and told us we’d lost one of the engines!!

Its now an hour later and we’re still slowly plodding across the ocean towards our destination which originally we were supposed to be at for 6pm, its now nearly 7pm and were not even close yet!!!

Australian boat, African crew who stand no chance of fixing the damn thing and us the passengers wondering when we’ll make it to the island! That lobster which was on the cards seems a very long way away now!

Watch this space…..

Arrived at the port finally at 8pm and met our walking taxi Eddy who took us to the hotel, amazingly gorgeous place with two double beds (in case of arguments!) and air con all for a very reasonable price. Ordered a taxi and then made for Mercury’s, a Freddy Mercury tribute seafood restaurant on the beach which serves the most amazing seafood imaginable. Bre and I shared a full on seafood platter which was awesome and then we all headed home.

End of day location: Stone Town, Zanzibar
Distance covered: 80kms across the ocean

14th October 08

Date: 14th October 08
Location: Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania
Weather: Scattered clouds and very hot, 35°c
Status: Looking forward to the arrival of Mum and Dad!

There was rain overnight so packing away the tent was a wet process but it was only for a few hours it’d be in its cover. Not enough to cause problems.

Left the campsite at 6am to take on the morning rush hour which the Sunday evening’s arrival had promised but probably twice as bad. Sometimes though things work in your favour, the anticipated carnage wasn’t there and we arrived comfortably at the airport in 45 minutes, not the two hours we thought it’d take!

Their fight arrived on time and through the gap in the arrivals area doors I could see Mum and Dad hovering around the baggage carousel waiting for their bags, they spotted me and gave a huge wave looking particularly pleased with themselves to have made it!

Mum rushed through the people to jump up and give me a big hug, it was great to see them both looking so well and hopefully ready for their second African adventure with me. We gathered all of their bags and headed back to the Colonel which dad hadn’t seen for nearly 10 months so was dying to see how he was holding up, what mods and damaged I’d caused and which squeaks and creaks he could get his hands on first!.

The drive back to the campsite was uneventful and easy, we checked them in to their beachside room and headed back to our site to erect the tent for a dry out. The day was then spent letting them get used to the heat and the surroundings…..particularly difficult when sand is scorching hot, the ocean impeccably warm and the G&T’s delectably chilled!

We had a great meal together in the evening sampling the delights of the restaurant and then headed to bed for a fairly early night as tomorrow we’d be leaving to head out to Zanzibar.

End of day location: Dar Es Salaam
Distance covered: 35kms

13th October 08

Date: 13th October 08
Location: Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania
Weather: Clear blue skies, hot sunshine and a light wind. 35°c
Status: Relaxing like never before……

Up at first light and then laid in bed for a while, the legs are feeling better today so it wasn’t such an epic mission trying to lower my body down the ladder to the sand below!

A windless perfect morning, we cooked bacon and egg baguettes, had yoghurt and apple and even some cereal – a perfect start to the day!

Did the laundry, tided the truck, polished Baccus so he looks his best for Mum and Dad tomorrow and then started to try and read “The Glass Bead Game” by Hermann Hess, a book Luke gave me back in January and I’ve carried around ever since. It’s a tough start to it, especially when you’re sat on a sun bed on white stinking hot sand with the sounds of the ocean ringing in your ears and the temperatures around the 30° mark!

Went for a walk along the beach to look at the other accommodation, and it appears we’ve chosen the best one again! Had an intense game of Frisbee with Jimmy and soaked in the ocean to cool down…..well I say cool down, it was hotter in the water than out!

Early dinner then bed.

End of day location: Dar Es Salaam
Distance covered: 0kms

12th October 08

Date: 12th October 08
Location: Masai Camp, Arusha
Weather: A real mixed bag….
Status: Back by the ocean so very happy, although sore!

After a hard night dancing and saying goodbye to the pleasures of the awful chicken freight Overlanders retreat that is Masai Camp (don’t bother with it unless you love an ocean of identical tents and idiots!) we left and started the long trek back down to the coast and the delights of the Indian Ocean.

We took an hour to get down to Moshi, the Kili climb base camp, but in that hour didn’t get to see the mountain once due to the cloud which hovered all around it, no classic photos this time then! Stopped at Chez Deli for a bite of lunch and then took the road south east towards the capital Dar Es Salaam.

The road followed a mountain range for the first 100kms which threw up some interesting weather; dust devils, scorching sunshine and then a wall of rain which darkened the sky and turned the day into night momentarily. As we hit it we were sat behind a large fuel truck which threw up a load of spray, then all of a sudden a small car-sized bush flew out from the side of the road passing just in front of us and hitting an oncoming car head on resulting in them slamming on their brakes and nearly crashing into us!

The weather front quickly passed and gave us clear skies again as we dropped in altitude the landscape became greener and more fertile with mango trees, pineapples and banana plantations. The road was superb, in fact the best since South Africa with un-pot-holed tarmac…..awesome!

We eventually arrived in the outskirts of Dar around 6pm as the sun was setting, the traffic became heavier and then we were standing still, going nowhere! I did the classic commentators curse…”the roads really good here isn’t it?” and within 200m we’d lost the tarmac and had dusty bumpy crap to deal with!

The drive out to the south of Dar and our destination of Kigamboni took another hour from the capital and we arrived at Sunrise Beach Lodge, an idyllic resort with no-one at all staying here, white sands, parasols and the warm waters of the ocean….stunning!

Bed as we were all knackered…

End of day location: Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania
Distance covered: 676kms

Mount Kilimanjaro ascent


At 05:30hrs on Friday 10th October I reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain on the African continent at 5895 metres above sea level!! The immense satisfaction and happiness of completing this challenge is well worth the aches and pains I’m feeling as I type this report.

James flew out to join me from the UK two days before we set off and in the lead up to the off we gathered our kit together and filled up on supplies essential for the trek.

Day 1 – Machame Gate to Machame Camp, 18km, 1800m ascent.

At 8am on Day 1 the minibus arrived in the camp loaded with our guide, John, our chef Emmanuel and three porters all of whom are accomplished Kili-ascendants from many past trips. I said a sad goodbye to Bre who unfortunately couldn’t afford the high cost of the trip and would act as a superb guard for the Colonel whilst we went off to find our mountain, and drove east towards Moshi and the entrance to Kilimanjaro National Park and the Machame Gate where we’d commence our climb from.

The further east we went the darker the clouds became until we eventually hit the driving rain, not the best way to start off our six day hike! We turned off the tar road towards Machame and up a slippery muddy road slowly gaining altitude until, with the aid of a skilful driver and a 4wd minibus, arrived at the departure gate along with around 30 other tourists all waiting to pit their wits against one of the highest free standing mountains in the world.

The kit was equally split between the three porters, the chef and the assistant guide, Solomon until each of them were heavily weighed down by our backpacks and the supplies which would carry us through the next week. We’d later in the trip find out quite how balanced, tough and quick these guys really are and why they deserve the tips they receive!

We started our climb up through the forest in a persistent cloud which seemed to hover over the forest and had to wear ponchos and rain jackets to stay dry…hard to stay cold though as the temperature was still 25°c! We walked at a good speed and the training Jimmy had put in back in the UK was showing as we raced along at ascent speeds of up to 15 metres per minute, the well maintained track passing through stunning woodland with bird song and bright flowers all the way. We stopped at 3.00pm for a bite of pre packed lunch to replace the exertions of the morning and continued the trek.

The rain and clouds continued to swirl around us making the path slippery and hard work but after an hour Solomon happily announced we’d arrived at our camp for the night…a collection of bare areas amongst the rocks! The porters hadn’t managed to catch us and we spent the next hour pacing around the site waiting for them to arrive…and when they did I noticed I hadn’t put the rain cover over my backpack, result – one wet sleeping bag, balls.

We eventually had our tent erected, got out of the rain and laid out our wet kit hoping that it’d have a chance to dry out overnight even though the temperature was dropping rapidly as the evening drew in. Dinner was prepared by our chef and guess what, it was only fish and chips for the Englishmen!! After the days exertion we hit the sack around 7pm following a few games of shithead to pass an hour or two.

Day 2 – Machame Camp to Shira Hut, 6km, 840m ascent

Up at 5.30am after one of the longest sleeps ever! Eventually got ourselves out of the sleeping bags (which had finally dried out) and ready for breakfast around 6am to be presented with a delightful breakfast which we enthusiastically scoffed down, the sun was poking its head through the clouds giving us confidence for the day ahead and a clear view of Mt Meru in the distance. The peak of Kili however remained elusive behind the mist.

Left the camp at 8am and within half an hour the ominous clouds had caught us up and started to empty their delightful wet contents over us, another wet day in the offering. The first part of the climb was steep and crossed more maintained track before becoming a rocky track which wound off into the distance to our lunch site for the day, and for the first time the cloud appeared to be thinning, hurrah!

As we arrived at our campsite the familiar story of our speed on the trek was rewarded by a lack of porter and no tent. The rain hadn’t started again, until of course we stopped and then the heavens opened again, balls x 2! Once he did arrive we bedded down and eagerly stuffed popcorn, tea and hot chocolate down warming our damp, cold bodies.

Day 3 – Shira Hut to Barranco Hut, 10km, 110m ascent

Being almost another 1000m up the night was really cold, down to about 2°c and a frosty tent welcomed us as we squeezed out of the tent entrance at 5.30am to a stunning sunrise giving us renewed hope for the day ahead. The orange and purple glow of the horizon signalled the approach of the sunrise and as it hit the horizon it cast a shadow of Kili’s peak on the western skyline, awesome.

The morning breakfast was porridge, eggs and fruit to fuel us along for the day and we hit the trail at 8.15am. The first two hours of the day were a gentle climb but again the usual story of the morning’s sun heating the ground below and forming rising clouds, maybe we should have expected it as it was the start of the rainy season but hugely disappointing all the same!

We were the first group to leave in the morning and kept the lead all the way through the day! As we hit the halfway point of the day the Lava Tower came into sight, an imposing 100m high mass blasted up through the side of the mountain when it was formed and made a good place for an early lunch. The little stripy mice particularly appreciative of our choice as they munched down our leftovers. We’d followed a nuisance trekker all the way over the last three days acting as a little ‘Hansel and Gretel’ dropping the same type of sweet wrapper every km or so….WHAT THE HELL GIVES YOU THE RIGHT TO DO IT YOU MONKEY!! Kili is a pretty dirty mountain around the campsites with non-degradable plastics littering the area and it really annoys me. Hmmmm.

We followed the track down to our overnight rest camp and finally arrived after our porters to find the camp set up and tea on the boil, it had taken us five hours and finally got the legs pumping in earnest! Usual story of dinner, shithead then bed at 7.00pm.

Day 4 – Barranco Hut to Barafu Hut, 8km, 650m ascent

A superb night’s sleep and awake before the alarm at 5.30am with another perfect pink and orange sunrise but this time with just light cloud below us….could this be the day it improved?!

Left camp at 8am and headed east a few hundred yards before hitting the monstrosity and most imposing part of the climb so far, The Barranco Breakfast Wall! A 300m long very steep sided, hand over hand ascent along the river valley which meant packing the poles away and literally clinging to the rock face. The wall is out of the morning sun and with the temperature around freezing our fingers got cold very quickly – a taste of things to come! Once we’d passed this testing little obstacle we returned to the alpine tundra and the dusty track which zigzagged up the slope clearly visible in front of us to a height of 4600m.

After lunch we dropped into another steep sided valley before starting the 2hr descent back down to 4200m and our overnight camp. The clouds were rolling in now and the temperature again dropped away with the visibility down to only around 20m at times, the landscape was very barren with single spewn out rocks littering the surroundings and slate fields all around jutting out of the ground, the rocks making metallic sounds as our poles hit them. The landscape resembles a lunar one.

Our porters had by now caught us balancing their gear on their heads, how on earth they got up the mornings wall I’ll never know! We arrive at the camp after six hours of trekking, all the time the thinness of the air and the altitude making going more and more difficult but the rewards of being up the side of Africa’s highest being a fantastic pay-off! As we sit down for dinner the sun shines onto the summit for the first time exposing the challenge of the next day to us in all its glory. Tomorrow is a huge day so we finish dinner around 4pm and try to settle in for the night.

Its amazing that when you need to rest as you have an early start the next day, quite how difficult it is to fall asleep and the sound of snow on the outside of the tent didn’t help, dashing our hopes of reaching the summit as the path would be unusable after a heavy fall. We dropped off soon after with trepidation filling our dreams.

Day 4 – Barafu Hut to Summit and Mweke Gate, 27km, 1200m ascent / 4100m descent

This was it, the day of the big ascent, the culmination of the past four days trekking and a real test of our mettle! After a shortened nights sleep with the snow and wind hitting the sides of the tent the alarm prematurely went off at 11.30pm but the potential and excitement of the day ahead ensured we leapt up were there to greet the chef as he tapped on the front of the tent with a thermos of hot tea and some sugary biscuits as our only fuel for the next few hours. The sky was clear, the outside temperature around -5°c and as a blessing no wind at all. By the time we’d got ourselves dressed and poked our heads outside the tent we could already see a trail of head torches making their way up the steep scree slope to the north which led, after 6ish hours to the summit of this the next challenge, Uhuru Peak on Kilimanjaro!

John was ready, our bottles were filled again with boiled river water and the nod was given; now was the time to go. ‘Pole Pole’ literally means slowly, slowly in Swahili and was the key phrase we’d been given to repeat to ourselves by John at the start of the trek. It helps to ascend as slowly as possible to acclimatise well and stand the best possible chance of actually making it to the summit – some 35% of people suffer the effects of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) on their attempt at Kili and we didn’t want to become another negative statistic!

The first scree slope we’d take on that morning was a zigzagging path which we trundled up for what seemed like hours, four in fact, and as we went we slowly caught in turn each of the groups in front of us and overtook them, our greater fitness showing!

As we ascended the air became thinner and at times both of us were breathing really deeply even though our legs were doing very little in the way of real work, a testament to the lack of oxygen at the 5000m we were now at. As we neared the top of the scree we noticed four head torches approaching from the left hand side, another group who were making for the top via a different path and this spurred us on further, the final 150m ascent of the steepest part of the slope really taking it out of us, but we were there; Stella Point at 5750m above sea level.

The relief of making it this far was greeted by the bitterly cold wind which swept in as we arrived so to maintain warmth we kept on pushing to the summit across hard, snow covered ground which did nothing to warm the toes through out boots. The angle of the slope had now decreased as we approached the final 150 metres to Uhuru Peak, the highest point on the African continent, and as we passed the final group the first signs of light were starting to show on the horizon behind us.

With a spring in our step we marched on to the highest point and the wooden sign which symbolised the completion of our climb and also the completion of challenge number seven…..and what an amazing, emotional feeling! My amazing friend Char, who died in the tsunami disaster, had been here before me when she was only 16 years old so I built a cairn and left a photo of me and her under one of the stones as a personal memorial.

We took our photos, sent a few text messages as there is reception would you believe and that was about it, the cold was intense; around -25°c with the wind chill taken into effect. As soon as you removed your glove the exposed fingers were numb within 30 seconds, so we waited for the sunrise around 6.10am and turned and headed down the path we’d come up as quickly as possible!

We were lucky as there were only another 10 people up there for the sunrise and as we descended passed at least another 50 on their way slowly to the summit and offered our support for the final few minutes until they shared in our success. Our guide said we’d made it up so fast that we’d be able to make it all the way down to the gate that day rather than splitting it into two and staying the night on the hill again…some 20kms along and 4100m down, bring on the challenge!

The descent was down a slippery dusty scree slope, back to the tents only took one and a half hours so we caught the chef off guard so had to wait an hour for our breakfast broth to arrive. As soon as we’d scoffed it down and packed our kit up we were off again, the descent taking a different path down via the Mweke route, the park employs a one way system to help the flow of people around the mountain and we didn’t meet another person on the trek down to the first campsite….the one we were supposed to be staying at!

After a quick drink we started off again, the legs starting to feel the down hill and the constant banging of thigh muscles and knee joints. We took four and a half hours to reach the gate, as soon as we arrived the boots and socks were off to inspect the damage, I’d got away with a couple of small blisters and a bruised big toe nail but nothing too major. Lucky as I have the Nairobi Marathon in a fortnight’s time and the last thing I need is damaged feet going into it!

We took some photos of the group and waited for the minibus to arrive to take us back to the Masai Camp, Bre and a well earned dinner!

Total distance: 60kms
Total days: 5
Total ascent/descent: 4000m

5th October 08

Date: 5th October 08
Location: Arusha, Tanzania
Weather: Scattered clouds and sunshine, hot in the afternoon. 34°c
Status: Jimmy’s here, we’re packed and ready for the big one!

Collected James late yesterday afternoon from the airport in Arusha, he’d arrived in Dar Es Salaam in the early hours of the morning but couldn’t get his flight changed from the last one of the day up to Arusha so instead had to hang around fighting off taxis, hoteliers, trinket sellers etc at the airport! Typical Africa.

We had a few beers in the evening to catch up with affairs in the UK and we grabbed an early night whilst Bre decided to rock the dance floor with her bustin’ moves!

Up early as the rain in the night woke me, only hope there’s none of the same tomorrow as we’ll be heading up the mountain and really don’t need a dowsing on our first day.

Cooked up our ostrich egg for breakfast, there was so much in it that it filled my pan to the brim! Drilled two holes in it and blew the contents out including the red looking foetus that was starting to develop, gross! Cooked up anyway and it was ok I suppose, a little richer than a normal egg and there was so much even our new friend the resident campsite dog had some.

After we’d sorted out our things and packed the bags ready we went into the town to buy the last of the things we’d need for the trek, batteries, chocolate, nuts etc and had a bite of sushi in the local Japanese restaurant which Bre loved. Headed back to the camp got last minute things together and cooked chilli con carne, sat and watched an outdoor movie with about 7 other people gathered around and went to bed.

Big Big day tomorrow…..

End of day location: Arusha, Tanzania
Distance covered: 20kms

3rd October 08

Date: 3rd October 08
Location: Nairobi, Kenya
Weather: A good day for driving, scattered clouds and sunshine, 34°c
Status: Looking forward to the next challenge!

Up at first light to use the last of the free wireless and to get the last of the emails sent from the comfort of Wildebeest Camp, we then made use of the complimentary breakfast with Allen cooking me scrambled eggs and preparing Bre fruit salad with yoghurt. It’s a really damn awesome setup here and one of the most comfortable places we’ve stayed so far on the trip, the hospitality is second to none.

Got on the road finally around 9am after filling up with fuel and air in one of the tyres which appears to have developed a slow puncture. The morning traffic out of the capital slowed us slightly so we stopped at the supermarket to buy some last minute bits before getting back on the southerly road towards the border.

Initially the road was the typical broken tarmac but this slowly deteriorated until we hit the road works where they’d scraped back half of the surface and left a crappy unlevel side deviation which slowed our speed significantly. After a dusty and bumpy hour passing through the first parts of the Masai tribal lands, passing zebra, ostrich and other game, we arrived at the border between Kenya and Tanzania.

We’d had to cover Baccus over with a blanket to avoid him being spotted by the authorities as they hate animal products being exported from the country. I do have a letter of authority from the farm it came from but the hassle of having to explain it to some pompous official doesn’t exactly grab me!

A fairly simple border post with a simple out and in, tried to persuade the official that we shouldn’t have to pay for another visa as we were still within our three month one, but as we had passed out of ‘East Africa’ and into Rwanda etc we’d have to buy another one at a cost of $50….arse.

We left after bite of lunch and the road improved and with it out average speed increased so the 120kms flew by, on the way we stopped by a boy selling ostrich eggs at the side of the road….perfect for the three of us, once Jimmy arrives, for breakfast! It cost us £3 and we were very happy with our purchase.

A little while later we arrived in Arusha after climbing some 800m in a few km’s, raising the engine temperature significantly and making me paranoid in the process about an engine problem, which turned out to be nothing at all! Still I stopped at the garage and picked up a diesel treatment and chucked it in the tank as we’d been putting out some smoke due to the crap quality of the fuel recently, things improved thereafter.

Drove into Masai camp,our meeting place for High Peaks in a few days time and much to our delight there were three overland chicken-freight trucks there already, balls. So we found a corner and tucked ourselves away for the night.

Jimmy arrives tomorrow so early night.

End of day location: Arusha, Tanzania
Distance covered: 280kms

Thursday, 2 October 2008

1st October 08

Date: 1st October 08
Location: Nairobi, Kenya
Weather: Scattered clouds, sunny and hot with late thunder. 34°c
Status: acclimatising well to the city of Nairobi, Colonel been to the doctors today.

Up at first light as the rain started lightly first thing, packed away the tent and enjoyed Allan and Lynita’s hospitality with a full breakfast washed down by REAL Kenyan coffee in a cafetiere!!

Headed out into the melee of the Nairobian traffic and found the Sudanese Embassy with no problems only 10 minutes down the road, again the Lonely Planet being totally wrong with age old information!

It the end on Ramadan today as so every business with Islamic employees is closed for the day, but the very helpful gate guard did let me know all of the information I required to start the application process for the visa once I return to Nairobi in a few weeks time.

We then headed to the David Sheldrake Trust, a charity set up to care for orphaned elephants and rhinos in the late 1970’s. The sanctuary is only open for an hour a day between 11.00am and midday and is very popular but what an amazing hour. The park is within the confines of the huge Nairobi NP and the little chaps can wander where they like but generally stay with their keepers.

There’s 20 in the camp most of which have been orphaned by human interaction, some have fallen down wells, others have lost their parents but all are taken in an cared for by the dedicated keepers. The youngest of the babies is only 3 months old and so cute! They were given their bottles to guzzle down their milk and then played for a while in the mud bath before heading back out in to the park. A great experience.

We then went to the Sanic market to try and get a good deal on a load of key fobs for my friends but couldn’t haggle and barter the sellers down enough…so left! Back to the camp and then with Allan the owner drove out to his Land Rover mechanic to investigate where the ticking noise was coning from on the Colonel.

Appears that the brake vacuum pump is worn and needs replacing, damn it first failure possible! Titch the very knowledgeable owner who’s worked on Landies for years said it was a problem but wouldn’t need replacing just yet and that it would last to Dar Es Salaam where Dad would bring a new one out too and we’d do the job ourselves. Price for parts in Kenya: £220, price for parts in UK: £125!!

Back to the camp and met with Titch, his girlfriend and Allan + family, had a beer discussing Landies, babies and hair drying!?!? Then bed.

End of day location: Nairobi, Kenya
Distance covered: 75kms

30th September 08

Date: 30th September 08
Location: Nanyuki, Kenya
Weather: Hot and sunny, bloody brilliant! 34°c
Status: Back on the road again, yay!

Dragged my sore legs out of bed around 7am after a night of manic dreams and visions, very weird! We had a bite of breaky, sour milk yuk, and slowly but surely packed the mess of the last few days back into the Colonel readying him for the journey ahead.

After using the internet for a while and updating the website with photos, blog etc we said goodbye to the excellent staff at The Sportsman’s Hotel and got on the road out of town. We stopped briefly at the Silent Valley (ssshhh) Cheese Factory and stocked the fridge up on mozzarella, cheddar and stilton which should see us through a good few lunches.

The drive to Nairobi was only 200kms and we entered the outskirts of the city on the first dual carriageway since South Africa, wow! Nairobi from first impressions is a modern, sprawling African city with modern infrastructure and loads of people. We drove through the centre and passed along some of the route for the marathon in a months time, lots of hills and even more pollution, yuk!

Drove to the supermarket to supply ourselves with some fresh essentials all for a very reasonable price. I like Nairobi already, its effective and easy to get on here. The famous ‘Carnivores’ restaurant was only just down the road, it serves a huge variety of meats and game so I booked in a table of four for the night of the Nairobi Marathon….I’ll need all the protein I can get at that stage!

Drove through the city to find the Wildebeest Camp Site which a gentleman, Allan, had recommended to us whilst we were staying in Nanyuki. He’s the owner and as we arrived he greeted us personally and said thanks for coming. He owns a similar Landie to mine so we chatted for a while and found out the location of a garage we can have the new ticking noise checked out by. Looks t be a good place and hopefully Mum and Dad will want to stay here later in the month.

Dinner was amazing, we made mozzarella, tomato and onion salad with olive oil and balsamic, then a vegetable steamed melange, sweet potatoes, corn on the cob and rare rump steak….all for around £4! Excellent value!

Early night as we have embassies to visit tomorrow.

End of day location: Nairobi, Kenya
Distance covered: 210kms