You are currently browsing the monthly archive for April 2010.

29/04/2010 – Should take us six hours to get to Livingstone today.

28/04/2010 – I got in an early run with the resident dog, a  jack russell called Scrumpy, who constantly ran off in front of me leaving me for dead. It didn’t get my ankles once. We raced to the gate of the camp after the last uphill!

We are here for two nights as we do the usual stocking up on food before heading off to Livingstone to see the Victoria Falls. Our route from here just gets better, as we work our way into Botswana to the Kalahari Desert and the Okavango Delta.

Zambia feels a off the beaten track and still ahs some great areas of wilderness and parks that you can’t get to most of the year. It’s not set up for independent travel and distances between major towns are large. There are far less people here. The population is only 12 million. The Kafue National park is the size of Switzerland and is Africa’s largest game park.

http://www.pioneercampzambia.com/


A fantastic park. We were spoilt seeing lions attempting to kill a water buffalo calf, and two leopards, who were resting in the trees as we sat and watched them for two hours. We camped at Croc Valley for three days just outside of the park gates.

27/04/2010 – Croc Valley – South Luangwa National Park to Lusaka via Chipata (first three hours off-road), six hours from there to Lusaka – We knew it was coming, so we got the long drive to the capital started early. I had to pick up the map that I left at Mama Rula’s in Chipata. The landscape changed a lot on the long drive. When we got to the huge bridge over the Luangwa river I stopped to take some photos. It was good seeing the river after spending the last three days on the banks of the river at Croc Valley. The bridge was wide enough for two vehicles but the lorry behind us had stopped. I then knew that the police at the other end would get funny about me taking photos. In most countries we passed through, bridges are the one no photo opportunity, especially in Ethiopia and Sudan where it’s a military threat.

At the gate the policeman told me to park up. He said it was a traffic offence and asked me to go back to Nyimba, 120km back up the road we had just travelled down and pay a traffic fine. ‘I don’t think so’! I didn’t say that, but pretty much said that there is no way we are going back that far, when we need to get to Lusaka before it gets dark. A bribe was coming up, so I evaded it by apologising and playing the ignorant tourist. Bun argued with him for a while, saying there were no signs up. As with most police officers, if you grind them down with questions and a few apologies you can normally get away without paying anything. I was told by the one sitting under the tree ,who refused to move, to speak to his colleague. By the time I crossed the road, he was laughing with Bun and told us to move on.

One other stop on the road, this time a barrier across the road that was checking for Tsetse fly. The man on duty brushed the Landcruiser down with what looked like a fishing net. He looked inside and saw nothing so moved us on.

We arrived at Pioneer camp on the outskirts of Lusaka around five. We bumped into the English couple again, who had come from Chipata today. We can’t stop bumping into them, and they accused us of stalking them!

26/04/2010 – Croc Valley – South Luangwa National Park – We could have gone into the park again, but after yesterday we thought we should leave it at that and just hang out at the campsite for the day. It made more sense to stay here rather than break the journey to Lusaka, the capital, in Chipata. It was much nicer here, so we decided to make a move early the next day to Lusaka, doing the whole nine to ten-hour journey in one day. The Germans got lucky when they came back from their drive, seeing a large pride of lions with a male present who looked battered and bruised. We spent the evening with them and saw their photos from today.

We walked into the village to pick up some fillet steak that the Dutch owner at the camp next door had recommended.

25/04/2010 – Croc Valley – South Luangwa National Park – Our permit we bought the previous day allows us to enter the park for up to 24 hours. We got up at five aiming to get into the park at six when it opened. We were allowed to drive in our own vehicle for a small fee.

We were free to go anywhere in the park and had until 4 pm to get out. We followed some of the tracks we took last night on the night drive and then decided to see the giant baobab tree that was marked on the map. We took some of the smaller tracks that had dried out and then ended up on the zebra loop. It was from there that we noticed three lions walking on the track. We parked up pretty close and then kept seeing more. After five minutes we then noticed some water buffalo in the bush. We couldn’t believe our luck. A funny thing then happened. We saw the top of an overland vehicle on a side track, that belonged to the English couple we first met in Lulongwe in Malawi. They had stumbled across the lions at exactly the same time. They had seen us first then noticed a lion appear from the bush right next to them.

The lions looked like they were ready to kill. We got a glimpse of a young calf in the herd, so that was going to be the kill if they could get past the adult buffalos. Suddenly the lions were off and one after another, eight lionesses were on the move chasing down the herd. I took random photos, trying to see what was happening at the same time. The buffalo stampeded into the thick bush and the lions seemed to give up.

We got going again, trying to predict where they would end up. We found them again at a dry open section near the zebra loop. By this time, a few day-trippers with one of the big lodges had got a sniff of it and parked up next to us.

We were there for over two hours watching the lions tease the adult buffalo as they tried to make their way into the centre of the herd. There were eight lionesses in total, all hiding in different places behind trees and bushes.

After leaving the park around eleven, we decided to head back to Croc Valley and grab some lunch. We knew we had some time this afternoon to enter the park again.

The Germans were back from their drive and had said they saw a leopard up a tree near one of the main tracks. They were with us at the lion viewing earlier as well.

On entering the park in the afternoon, we were told that we only had an hour left as we had to leave by four and not six, which we had thought. That meant we only had one hour to see as much as we could so we went in search of the buffalo thinking we would get to se the lions again. The lions were desperate to kill the calf. Not a sight, but we did see our first Thornicroft giraffe, a rarer species than the normal Southern giraffe It has different colouration with dark patches on the body.

Whilst driving back to the main gate , we saw the Germans parked up in some bush looking at something. As we slowed down, I got a glimpse of a leopard resting high up in a tree. Then we saw a younger cub, resting in a lower tree, looking like it was about to fall out! We decided, after watching them for ten minutes, to race back to the main gate five minutes away and try to persuade them to let us stay till six, when all staff vehicles had to be out of the park.

I paid $20 for one person to enter the park and we both raced back to get a good spot and watch the leopards. This was incredible after seeing the lions this morning. The most solitary and secretive of the big game cats was resting without a care in the world right next to the main track. The Germans efforts had paid off and they were the first to spot them. They had followed their lead from earlier after they saw them briefly. Leopards rarely rest in the same place day after day. Zambia’s bush is perfect for leopards. They like plenty of cover like riverine woodland. This rare cat was looking right us as Bun read from the ‘Safari Companion’ in a soft voice, describing the animal in detail.

We sat there watching them for over an hour, then the adult leopard began to move from his high branch. It made its way down and then headed for some kill that we hadn’t seen in the thick grass. It must have been killed the night before. We could hear the crunching of bones and the smell of the dead impala. The cub followed soon after and had its turn on the impala.

It got close to six and we had to leave. South Luangwa could turn out to be the best park we visit on the whole trip. It’s more isolated than many other parks and it was well worth the trip here. We could have spent a long time here, making our way into the park everyday to see what we could find. Highly recommended. Zambia’s other parks are equally, if not more, isolated and there is plenty to see here in the dry season.

24/04/2010 – Croc Valley – South Luangwa National Park – We took it easy all day, hanging around the camp keeping an eye out for the monkeys and baboons that come about at lunch time. It was nice also to sit and watch the hipoos in the river. Our guide and driver, Freddie, arrived at three for us to get going on the night drive at four. He had worked in the park for thirty years and had worked in different lodges over the years. He had taken a film crew from the BBC around when they came in search of leopards. Only after fourteen days after they packed all their film crew away, did they got a sight of one. Freddie had to drive at speed to pick up the cameras so they could get some footage.

The guides in Zambia are generally better than other game parks in east Africa. They also use completely open safari Landcruisers, which makes you feel a lot closer to the game. In Kenya and Tanzania they only use the open roof jeeps that you pop your head out of to get a decent view.

We drove around until it got dark, seeing elephants and zebra among other animals. The park is just drying up after the rainy season. Many parts of the park are still out-of-bounds and impassable. Black cotton soil is a nightmare trying to drive through and a lot of people you speak to say keep well clear of it. Our original idea, after seeing the park, was to head north to Mpika, but were told not to try it as the Luangwa river is still too high to pass.

The torch came out and Freddie’s assistant stood up on his seat and flashed the torch left and right, spanning the bush to see if he could catch a highlight in an animals eyes for us to view. A totally different experience from the day. We got the chance of seeing animals that are nocturnal such as the Civet, a relation to the mongoose which has a similar coloured coat to a leopard.

We were really hoping to see a leopard. Freddie had seen one the night before when he took the German’s out. As the night went on, our hearts were thumping at the excitement at seeing one. We reckoned that game viewing is close to gambling or placing a bet on a horse race. The expectation is intense.

As time went on we resigned ourselves to not seeing one. As we headed out of the park after being in there for three hours, Freddie got sight of a few safari jeeps shining their spotlights into a small clearing on the bush up the track. He raced round and once we were there, we got sight of a leopard. It was on the move through the thick grass, so we moved further up the track. Once we got a view of it again, it had placed itself on a fallen tree. It rested there for a good while. I was trying to take a decent photo with the aid of the spotlight.

We couldn’t believe it and were totally blown away by seeing it. We got lucky again.

23/04/2010 – Chipata to South Luangwa National park (Croc Valley) – The road was pretty bad despite being told it was OK. We covered the 150km in three hours arriving at the Mfuwe international airport. The park is pretty isolated and most game viewers fly in from the capital, Lusaka. We then headed to Croc Valley. We had heard good things about this place and weren’t disappointed. Right on the edge of the river. On the way there we headed to one other site to check it out and got stopped by an elephant in the middle of the road. There were two other vehicles waiting for it to move. We waited twenty minutes for it to budge. Great to see it close up as it flapped its ears and trunk about.

Sean, the owner of Croc Valley, gave us the low-down that evening. He told us to be aware of hippos and elephants wandering around the camp at night. The night guard also told us a few funny stories about campers encountering hippos in the night when they left food outside their tents. He said we were living inside a zoo cage and that we needed to be careful at night!

The Germans, camping next to us, ame back from their night drive around nine, so we chatted to them for a while. We aim to do the same tomorrow, and a day drive on our own the following morning.

It’s one of the few parks a night drive can be done. What also makes it so special is the large number of game to be seen. The Luangwa River is almost totally unaffected by man. It has no dams on it, nor any commercial agriculture along its banks so you can see the natural fluctuations in water levels and flooding. Lodges and camps come and go as the they are swallowed up by river erosion.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/amillerphotos/

Route taken: Lilongwe, Mchinji (border crossing), Chipata (Mamrula’s campsite)

First carbon tax since Jordan, we got hit with $50 as our engine is so large. I had to go back and forth to exchange some dollars from the small bank at the border. Bun was inside the office watching ‘The dog whisperer’ on the brand new tv they had recently installed. Most other officials were watching it as well!

Chipata is 30km from the border so we headed there, knowing that there a good base for the night. The owner of Mama Rula’s, Andrea chatted to us over a drink after we arrived. She got on to ‘The long way down’ saying that Ewen McGregor and Charlie Boorman had stayed for one night with the rest of the team.

We’ve spent the last week driving south along Lake Nyasa, commonly known as Lake Malawi. A very easy country to travel in and it feels more like an interlude, breaking up some of the harder travel in the surrounding countries. Great scenery and another Rift Valley lake. Lake Nyasa is the second largest and deepest Lake in Africa.

21/04/2010 – Mbuya Campsite/Lilongwe – We covered the 80 miles in just over and hour. Were at Mbuya camp for one night only before heading to Zambia. We met a British couple who are travelling south. We’ve arranged to meet up with them again on the other side of the border tomorrow at Mumarula’s in Chipata. We owe them some wine after finishing off their supplies!

20/04/2010  – Cool runnings/Senga Bay – Another spot by the lake. Unusually hot day for this time of year. That explained the downpour that night. We woke up at two in the morning thinking it was much later, planning to mover onto the capital. The water on the lake was very high when I took a look in the morning. The owner, Sam, was there laughing at the situation. Yesterday she had a team of men trying to move a small island of bamboo and reeds that had drifted onto her beach from the north. They were out there in force with machetes and a motor boat trying to drag it away from the shore. The winds switched overnight, coming from the south-east (Seasonal southeasterly trade winds in late April & May, known locally as Mwera) forcing the small island onto her neighbours beach and saved her the job of cleaning the mess up.

19/04/2010 Makuzi beach on the Chintheche strip

One day doing nothing is needed, so we decided to move onto Makuzi beach. We had the beach to ourselves. A fantastic spot, the best we found in Malawi. It’s the first time I’ve been running and had a group of school kids run behind me telling me to stop and then start. I would run off at speed, only to slow down after 50 metres. This got them screaming as they tried to keep up.

http://www.makuzibeach.com/

18/04/2010 Chitimba campsite

Sunday at Chitimba campsite and just after we woke up a couple of pick-ups turned up. Some South Africans’ with a day off from working at the uranium mines were here to have a day by the lake and plenty of drink! They were making their way around the camp, chatting to the different groups.

Our cue to get out of there! As I was getting the inside of the roof tent ready to fold it up, one of my legs was being dragged out. It was a drink offering from one of the South African’s. Bun had already started on hers. Still unsure what time it was, after switching back and forth between time zones we assumed it was eleven and not ten!. We had a chat over a drink with the South Africans and the moved on down the coast.

After stopping in Mzuzu, we followed a lovely road along the coast towards Chintheche. We passed rubber plantations and some great little villages.

Being quite a small country, Malawi has one of the highest population densities in Africa. Most people live in rural areas and depend on subsistence farming.

We stayed at Kande Beach resort for the night, joining two big overland trucks that we hadn’t seen for a while. The okra got cooked and I made a curry after our mission for some fresh fish came to nothing.

The government in Malawi are currently asking the people to decide on a re-design to the national flag. It would be replaced  if successful to a white sun with rays in the centre of the flag and a swap over with the black and red stripes.

Just added a new cartoon under the gorilla update. Thanks Tony as ever. Tony has a new website at http://www.tonyhusband.co.uk/. Check it out!

17/04/2010Mbeya – (Utengule Coffee Lodge), Tukuyu, Songwe border crossing to Malawi, Karango, Chitimba (Chitimba campsite) – Fuel costs more in Malawi, so we filled up before we crossed the border. As we turned into Mbeya to head to the border, we got stopped by the police doing 60km/h in a 50km/h area. They tried to give us a 20,000 shilling fine. I instantly thought there is no way I paying that and got speaking to the officer who quickly passed me over to his boss who was sitting in his car around the corner. It was like playing ping-pong as I went back and forth between them both making up what the other one said to my advantage. I got away with 5000 shilling (£3) after I offered them the last Tanzanian note I had. The officer in the car took the note and said go! I think he got fed up with me persistently arguing with him, so he let me off.

At the border we joined the two hundred metre sprint to immigration with some boys chasing the Landcruiser to be the first to offer us currency exchange. The most agressive yet. and they are normally con-artists. I make sure I count and re-count what they give me after I have checked the exchange rate I saved on the laptop a few weeks ago! If one of them misses out, he tries to get us to exchange some dollars which gets us a better rate. Luckily no visas needed again. so we were away after I loaded the new gps map for Malawi onto the handheld.

Half decent roads in Malawi, so we were at Chitimba camp quickly. Another great spot by Lake Malawi. We were trying to get to a recommended camp called Kande Beach camp in Chintheche but didn’t want to overdo the driving today.

The rains have passed and we are back in the 30’c as soon as we dropped down to Lake Malawi.

16/04/2010Mbeya – (Utengule Coffee Lodge) – Lie-in after yesterday. Not quite. We got the Landcruiser to the Highland garage early to have the engine oil changed after we asked the manager at the lodge where they took theirs to get serviced. We also had them change a few filters and the back brake pads. Always slightly worrying when you have to lend them your own tools to do the job, but we watched them like hawks after previous experiences on this trip! They were good and we were done in a few hours.

We wanted to get back to enjoy the lodge and its tennis court. We got in a game with Archie, the assistant manager from Zimbabwe, who joined us with his wife and daughter. He wanted to learn the rules of tennis, so we went through a game with him. His daughter was the ball girl, but ended up running around finding the balls and keeping them to herself! The racket I’ve had packed away on top of the Landcruiser fianally got to see the light of day.

Bun got her coffee ice-cream which is made with the beans from the coffee farm. It was very good. It turned out to be a really nice place to stay, with large grounds and great views of the distant hills. Even if you camp, you can enjoy the swimming pool and the squash and tennis courts.

15/04/2010Route taken – Hippo camp/Katavi National Park, Sumbawanga, Tunduma, Mbeya (Utengule Coffee Lodge) – Monster drive today. Left the hippo camp at 9:30 and didn’t arrive in Mbeya till gone 9 at night. Bun woke early after all the hippo noises! We covered just over 200 miles, all off road, only stopping for lunch at Gloria’s Hotel in Sumbawanga that had been recommended to us by a helpfull women in the pharmacy where we had parked in town. Spotlessly clean,we knew the chicken, rice and sauce would be a winner. I slightly overdid it when I ordered African tea and a cake at the end!

Katavi National Park didn’t offer us any surprises. It’s a classic dry season park and very hard to see game after the rains. We did see some Impala, a small slender antelope that has black and white stripes runnig down it’s rump and tail. Our first sighting, even though it’s one of the most common antelope in Tanzanian parks. The road, if you could call it that, was better than the rest of the journey, so we made good time going through the park, stopping to take the odd photo.

The last two hours were covered in the dark until we hit the tarmac in Tunduma. It was lively and noisy after two days of being away from it. It is the main crossing from Tanzania to Zambia. We could have wild camped before then, but we wanted to get this route over and done with. Three days were enough! Realising that the Cairo to Cape is tarmaced almost all the way, we wanted to find the routes in east Africa that take us away from the main overland circuit for a few days. A bit like the Turkana route in Kenya.

We covered the last section of the Tam-Zam highway to Mbeya and arrived at the Utengule Coffee Lodge where we camped.

14/04/2010Route taken – Kigoma, Uvinza, Mpanda, Katavi National park (Katavi hippo garden hotel). Right, make sure everything is strapped down and we are ready to go.  A route not massively travelled on the overland route. It’s a good route south, following some isolated parts of Tanzania, possibly getting in two fantastic National parks if you have the time. One of them, Mahale National park has been described as one of the most beautiful parks in Africa and a great place to go chimpanzee trekking. You can only really get to it by ferry from Kigoma or by flying in. Our aim was to get through this route with our vehicle in one piece!

Two days were needed to get from Kigoma to Mbeya. We drove all day and at the end of it, felt like we still had it all to do the next day. The scenery was amazing. We only passed a few vehicles all day as we followed a track that was the main route that runs parallel to the lake. The lake was a distance off to our right and we didn’t see it again all day. There were potholes everywhere but luckily no rain. There are many rivers working their way into Lake Tanganyika which would have been awfull if it had rained heavily. Taking in turns to drive we made it to Mpanda and stopped at a shack for sweet tea. Bun found a half decent place to stay for the night which was just outside the main gate to the Katavi National Park. We knew we would be allowed to drive through the park the next day as the road runs right through it.

When we got to the hippo camp, we were excited to see a family of hippos bathing in the river opposite where we camped. In true hippo fashion they didn’t play games and submerged themselves in the water most of the time, only to open their mouths every now and again. The camp made a fire after dark, we guessed to keep the hippos from bothering us in the night. End of a long day so we got a early night after there was a swarm of flies near where we camped. Before we knew it there were hundreds of them all swarming to the light attatched to the tree. They all instatly dropped dead after a while! Another natural occurance I couldn’t explain. In the morning there were the remains of eggs left attached to the Landcruiser next to the bodies of the flies

12/04/2010 & 13/04/2010Route taken – Ngara, Nyakanazi, Kakonko, Kibondo, Kasulu, Kigoma. We got away from the guest house early. Not one to hang around at. Still a little unsure whether to go via Lake Tanganyika or to go the easy and longer route to Southern Tanzania via Tabora. It wasn’t untill we got to Kakonka, along the Kigoma road, that we stopped and asked a policeman at a road block which was the best route to take. He reassured us that the Lake Tanganyika route was safe but the road was in a terrible state. I was with them for a while chatting and making sure there was enough fuel stops along the first stretch as we were running low. We had heard through Dave the Canadaian, of one other group going this way. I’m sure there are plenty of others, but information had been hard to come by about this route.

We got some snacks at a cafe in Kibondo and enough fuel to get us to Kigoma. Bun drove this stretch which took us most of the day to cover. We passed a giant Coca-Cola truck heading to Kigoma which took some passing on the bumpy road as it was so long. It often takes a while seeing through the dust it churns up in front of you, to know when to make the right move! When we got to Kigoma we were rewarded with a great spot by the lake at Jakobsen’s beach and guest house. We were given a spot by the lake and had a swim before it got dark.

Kigoma is only 4kms from the historic port of Ujiji, famous for the meeting between David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley. It took two years for Stanley to greet Livingstone with the words “Doctor Livingstone, I presume?” when they met at the port in Ujiji. We ventured down over to Ujiji the day after we arrived in Kigoma to have a look but only came away with an ice lolly from a man on a bicycle who was producing them from the cool box on the back of his bike. We sampled it, then decided against it, only to gave it to a kid who was more than happy to finish it of!

On Tuesday we took it easy and made sure we had what we needed for the two days we expected to be on the Tanganyika route. Apart from Ujiji, there isn’t much to see in Kigoma aside from German built railway station, which we passed several times zipping round the roundabout at the bottom of town.

Kigoma is pretty isolated. It has a busy port on the east side of the lake. During the 90’s when there was trouble in Burundi, the DRC and Rwanda it became a main base for the UN and aid organisations involved in a number of refugee camps in the area. The refugees retuned home but the white Landcruisers belonging to all these organisations remained. We did see numerous signs to refugee camps on our way into Kigoma.

We finished the day with another swim and a BBQ after we had bought some charcoal from a woman on the main road before we turn off to the camp. I didn’t want to disturb her as she was washing her son in a large tray of water. He looked cramped inside that tray as he was being washed in front of everyone passing. No privacy in Africa! Bun got told off for taking photos of the drying fish on the roadside as I was buying charcoal! The tiny fish carpet the ground, creating shiny patches of silver as they dry in the sun.

11/04/2010 – Route taken – Kigali, Ntarama, Nyamata, Kibongo, Rusomo (border crossing), Ngara. We left Kigali wanting to see the two genocide memorials of Nyamata and Ntarama. Both memorials are 25km’s or so south of Kigali. We saw both churches. The numbers of people killed at both churches was incredibly high. The church at Ntarama had not been touched since the bodies were removed after the massacre. The capacity here was normally 2000 people. We were told that 11,000 to 14,000 Tutsis were inside taking refuge. Only ten people survived this massacre. The clothes from the dead were left behind and displayed on benches surrounding the altar which ironically was used to display the weapons used by the Interahamwe. Blunt machetes and wooden hammers were the normal weapons used. Outside there were three mass graves where skulls and bones were displayed on shelfs. At the first church Nyamata, once inside you could see how the Interahamwe (milita group, who were responsible for the killings) bombarded their way in using grenades to gain entry to get at the tutsis who were hiding there. The last small building we saw was formerly used as a Sunday school. In here children and babies were hiding. Against the mud walls were blood stains where the milita had thrown babies against the wall.

After we made our way to the Tanzanian border at Rusomo after the memorials. It was early enough for us to cross and find somewhere to camp for the night once we re-entered Tanzania.

There was a route to Kibungo from the last church we saw at Nyamata. We got the border in good time and was greeted by some olive baboons who proceeded to fight each other. We left them to it and went to immigration. They were still lingering around and checking us out when we came out. There eyes slightly shaded by their immaculate fringes that gives them a menacing look. There is a bridge over the river at Rusomo falls that links Rwanda and Tanzania. We had watched the hills flatten out as we gradually left Rwanda. No more switchbacks! Rwanda hit us hard and fast. We were only there seven days but it left us with a strong impression.

On the Tanzanian side of the border after we had stopped on the bridge and got a photo of the falls as they rushed underneath the bridge. Rusomo is where the bodies form Rwanda ended up during the genocide. The boides were dumped by the Interahamwe upstream in their attempt to send the Tutsis back to Ethiopia, where they believed they were from.

We paid for a transit visa. We knew it would be lucky if we got through on our existing visas as Rwanda is outside of the East African Community. We said we were gonig to Malawi as quickly as we could, so they gave us fourteen days to enter and leave the country. I was fine with that and knew we only needed five days at the most. We paid $30 each instead of the normal viasa price of $50.

As it was after six, we had to ask one of the men at immigration to get the customs official from his home closeby. We had him stamp the carnet and we were off. It was dark by this time and we made the 25km journey to the nearest town, Ngara and camped in carpark of a guesthouse we found on the edge of town.

We hadn’t changed our clocks from East to Southern African time, so we arrived at the main gates of the National park an hour early. Bun couldn’t sleep that well due to the excitement at seeing the gorillas.

So we climbed for half an hour before unloading all of our bags. Only one hour is allowed with the gorillas and each group is limited to eight people. We were seeing group number 13, made up of one silverback and many females and babies. The group now totals 22. It’s good news that gorilla numbers are increasing. Tourists visits help fund armed guards that protect and monitor the gorillas.

Our guides gaves us some information as we climbed through thick forest. At one stage we stopped by the boundry of the park, a stone wall that surrounds the gorillas habitat and includes Uganda, DRC and Rwanda. He then gave us a scene from the Jungle Book! He stood there, legs apart, making gorilla noises, his lips animating the shapes and sounds of the gorilla and letting us know what the different sounds mean. If the massive silverback made one noise and started thumping his chest we should get the hell out of there! Not quite, but we were told to keep our distance. Direct contact isn’t allowed and we were told to keep a good distance to avoid disease spreading.

The whole experience was incredible. It didn’t start well – we saw a lone female that wasn’t moving much and the rain clouds came over. It made photos near impossible. The guides went off and after a while asked us to follow. We then saw a group of babies playing high up in the bamboo. We watched, took photos and asked the guide questions. We moved around seeing gorillas in different places as we went around.

They were all a little subdued, but the babies made up for it, falling from high up, swinging and climbing over each other. The silverback was in a fight yesterday and he spent most of his time sleeping, popping his head up a few times when the bushes rustled. Such is nature. Each gorilla experience is different, but we left totally satisfied and overwhelmed with what we saw. A truley unique experience you don’t want to walk away from. Photos were really hard to get as there were branches and bamboo in the way a lot of the time. I think I got a few half decent ones.

We bombed back to Kigali. I don’t think there is a straight road in Rwanda. Dizzy from all the switchbacks over the last week, we got into the captial and went straight to the Hotel Gorillas. Our first hotel in a while and we ate at the Republica restaurant, recommended by the English woman we saw with the gorillas and who lives in Rwanda. A good tip, the food was great after a long day.

An enduring image from Rwanda, and East Africa in general as we start to leave and head into southern Africa. Men on bicycles – they carry huge loads on the back of their bikes and push them up the steep hills. We’ve seen them loaded down with different things from firewood to water and fruit. They are the strongest looking men we’ve seen on the whole trip. After they have unloaded they speed downhill like professional cyclists in an Alpine stage of the Tour de France. Probably due to the relief of getting rid of the load.

We’re both feel a bit rough with sore throats and a few sniffs. It’s been up and down over the last few weeks – that might have something to do with it. We are keeping the real nasty African diseases away, luckily.

We bumped into the Dutch couple again at the genocide memeorial in Kigali. They showed us to One love, a place were they were camping in the centre of Kigali. They were also there with Dave, a canadian man who we also met in Nairobi. He almost broke the record for the number of days ever spent at Jungle Junction. He clocked up 60 days waiting for a shock absorber for his motorbike. We all spent Saturday night together having drinks and some food.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/amillerphotos/

Too many episodes of Dexter last night! We rose early and got going to Kigali, the capital. Before we left I asked the hotel to make a flask of African tea – similar to what we’ve had before. Very milky, but this time ginger is added and gives it a lovely taste.

We made it to Kigali in good time. We headed straight to gorilla hq to sort out the tickets. Luckily they had two spare to see them tomorrow, so we will head back to Ruhengeri later and stay where we were the other day.

We hope to be back in Kigali by tomorrow evening.

It looked an easy journey on the map, but it’s not called ‘the country of a thousand hills’ for nothing! We wanted to follow Lake Kivu south towards Kibuye before heading towards the capital

As we left town we noticed hundred of people lining up patiently outside of the Primus brewary. It is Genocide Memorial Day marking the day, sixteen years ago, when the genocide started.

On the whole drive that day we noticed small groups gathered as we passed villages up in the hills. We picked up a man who was in the area to see his sister. We tried to bring up the topic, but we know some people are reluctant to talk about it. We didn’t want to appear rude. We only travelled with him for a while. I did ask him what they were talking about and he said that they are making it aware to people that this should never happen again.

Later that day we heard on the radio, that a boat had capsized in strong winds on Lake Kivu. The boat was heading for Kibuye to commemorate the genocide. Twelve people had been feared dead and over fifty people rescued. Before we heard the new, we had noticed a few Landcruiser ambulances driving around with flashing lights. The scene we had from the hotel balcony gave no indication that there was high winds out on the lake. We were thinking that if this was Europe, there would be hundreds of boats out on the lake enjoying it on a day like this. There were islands dotted around the lake that would have made a great day trip. It was odd not seeing any activity on the lake.

I got in a run, up and down the steep hill, before almost collapsing back at the hotel. We camped outside of the hotel that night. It was the only place we could find in Kibuye as an alternative to paying for a room. It’s only 110kms from Kigali and it’s screaming out for a decent hotel.

Still trying to sort out seeing the gorillas in town at gorilla hq. Not only is the internet unbelivable bad, it’s also hard getting any cash out to pay for anything. The other priority today is finding out where to watch the second leg of the Arsenal v Barcelona game tonight!

Still undecided about seeing the gorillas so we left town heading towards Gisenyi, on the shore of Lake Kivu. I instantly realised on leaving town that we can’t leave Rwanda without seeing these rare primates so will sort the tickets out in Kigali when we arrive there towards the end of the week. It often works like that. Luckily, despite all the hills, Rwanda is a small country so it is easy getting around.

The weather perked up and we got a great view of the lake as we decended into town. Rwanda is incredibly beautiful. We could see the distant hills of the Demoratic Republic of Congo, which unfortunatly our carnet doesn’t allow us to visit. Lake Kivu runs 100km along the Congolese/Rwanda border.

The seven volcanic peaks make up the Parc National Des Volcans in north west Rwanda: Nyragongo 3470m, Karisimbi 4507m, Mikeno 4437m, Bisoke 3711m, Sabyinyo 3634m, Gahinga 3474m, Muhabura 4127m

Route taken: Kabale, Katuna (border crossing), Byumba, then mountain road to Ruhengeri

We’ve now covered 16,419 miles since London – half of that going round in circles in Ethiopia!

First border crossing in Africa where we haven’t needed a visa so we were on the move again quickly after exchanging the last of our Uganda money. Rwanda joined the commonwealth last November, the latest non former British colony to do so. After the genocide sixteen years ago, Rwanda has transformed itself and improved it’s border realtions with the DRC. English has also replaced French as the first language taught in Rwandan schools.

In the run-up to the election in August, there are reports that Rwandan’s government has been attacking and intimidation it’s critics.

We realised we had crossed in the right place for Kigali, but not for Ruhengari where we were heading, so after 20kms we stopped in Byumba and and took the road through the mountains to head north-west to point us in the right direction again.

It was like being back in Ethiopia again. Mountain passes that took us through some spectacular scenery. We followed a ridge looking down over tea plantations and had groups of kids jumping and waving at us as we passed. Then came cedar forest and several wooden bridges that we had to cross. After several hours we were back on track again and on tarmac for the last stretch to Ruhengeri.

We want to spend a fair bit of time in Rwanda. In Uganda we didn’t make time to venture off the beaten track much. It happened instantly in Rwanda. We were passing mountain villages and tracks that had been weathered away by the recent rains. It was the best driving days since northern Kenya.

We made to Ruhengeri quite late. The Parc National des Volcans is the closest national park and the best place to see the gorillas. A chain of seven volcanoes, it forms a border with the DRC and Uganda. It is where Dian Fossey recorded her time with the gorillas. The forested slopes of the Karisimbi volcano is where you can see the large Susa family of 35 gorillas.

April 2010
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