One of life’s magic hours.

Day 330 – Gorilla Day, Volcanoes National Park, Ruhengeri, Rwanda

Once the singing and dancing group had finished the nine of us from the truck were split into two groups. Only five groups are allowed in to the forest each day and each group has a maximum allowable size of eight people plus guides. The five of us in our group were joined by an American couple, who were doing three trips into the forest, lucky buggers!

Each group goes to visit a different gorilla family and are only allowed one hour with the family. There is only one trip per day to the gorillas so their exposure to humans is minimised. At $750 USD per visit it is a very expensive hour !!! Fortunately the hour only starts when the gorilla group is found, some of the groups can be a three or four hour walk away from where the vehicles can access.

We were joined by two guides who introduced us to the forest and the family group we were going to visit.

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Our trip is in the Volcanoes National Park which is located in the Virunga mountains and part of a massive national park with areas in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is the only place on the planet where mountain gorillas live. The park has an altitude range of 2400 – 4500 metres, so all walking is tough going !

There are eighteen family groups commonly found in the Rwanda part of the park and eleven are visited on a regular basis, the others are just monitored by researchers. We were going to visit the Agashya (The news) group, which is twenty three strong and like all the groups, is named after the dominant silver back.

The gorillas in the park face numerous threats, however their numbers are growing steadily since Dian Fossey first took a stand on protecting them back in the late 1960’s. All the families are tracked 24/7 by armed guards. The gorillas have no natural predator and are rarely directly hunted, however they do get caught in traps and snares set by the local villagers who trap antelope and other mammals for food. Like their human cousins the gorillas are also susceptible to disease and colds. In fact if you are sick you are not allowed to go and see the gorillas.

Once we given the run down on the day we jumped back into our vehicle and drove for about twenty minutes to a small village near where our family was currently located. We were all given walking sticks to use as the way is slippery, steep and FULL of stinging nettles, and the nettles are head high in places. We were all told to wear long pants, long sleeved jackets and everyone except me were told to bring gloves ! oh well !

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We met our armed guard here, there are still illegal poachers working in the forest who do not take kindly to meeting strangers and there is always the potential for danger from some of the other wildlife living in the forest,such as buffalo and elephant – however rare they are. We are also very close to the border with the Congo and much as no one likes to talk about it there is armed conflict between the Congo’n government and Rwandan backed insurgents.

The first fifteen minutes walking was through farm land. No longer a danger to the forest fortunately, the forest area is marked by a stone wall now, partly to clearly define the boundary but mainly to prevent grazing forest wildlife from raiding crops. The farms look to be very productive and the soil looks amazingly fertile.

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We soon crossed the stone boundary wall and were immediately into thick forest.

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As the gorillas roam around we were not entering via a defined path into the forest, so there was a bit of hacking of undergrowth for a while until we hit a buffalo path that we followed before heading up a hill through some heavy nettle infested foliage. Our guides were on the radio to the gorilla trackers and after about forty minutes of clambering around we caught up with them near the gorillas, I was soooooooooo excited !! We were told to drop our bags, water bottles, walking sticks, any food from pockets and just take cameras as we were going to move up towards the family.

I hummed and hahhed about camera lenses and decided I would take a punt and just take the 50mm lens for the Canon 5d Mk1 as well as my little Panasonic point and shoot as I wanted to do some video – though I had never done it before ! I didn’t want to have to change lenses in the forest and the wide angle zoom may have been too wide.

We were given clear guidelines by the guide.
– Not to go within seven metres of the gorillas, unless they come to you.
– If you are in the way, move slowly out of the way, they may want to eat the tree you are under.
– Keep low down so you appear subservient – especially to the dominant male !
– Don’t look them in the eye as it may be seen as a challenge.
-If they are walking down a path, get off it

And then we were off up the hill for our first glimpse of the real thing in the real wild… and this was the first photo, crap I know but it was the first one, and with a 50mm lens – we were close…

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We seemed to have arrived in the middle of a family walk as we only found three smaller gorillas. We watched them for a couple of minutes while they munched on things before they headed off to join the rest of the group – in our direction ! We moved out of the way to make a gap and two of them passed through the gap , the last one however decided on a different route and went between the legs of the American woman, it was a massive wow moment for all… They really don’t pay us any mind at all, completely unconcerned by our presence,  amazing.

Over the course of the hour we probably only saw ten or so of the group, we assumed the others were about but we didn’t see them. It was good and bad that the group moved around a lot, it was very hard to take photos as the jungle was dense in places and they and we were constantly on the move. It was also quite dim, so high ISO’s and wide open apertures were essential to get any chance of capturing a motionless face. However, I would rather this than watch them sitting in a sunny clearing doing very little like the group our American friends saw the previous day. Plus, those who know me, know there is nothing I like more than scrambling around in the mud in the bush. The thought of snakes and spiders and sharp thorns just never came into my head – for a change !

We followed this small group up through the nettles for a while until we came across a dense patch of bamboo near a path and low and behold there he was – Agashya himself. Wow, he is just so magnificent, you could feel his strength – not just the physical, you could feel his strength of character, that he was the dominant character in this group, incredibly powerful. Yet, watching him later interacting with the young members of the family, you can see how gentle he is as well.

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I spent most of the hour observing rather than taking pictures, as I said it was tough photographic conditions so rather than take hundreds of rubbish pictures I elected to watch and wonder instead, I think that was the right option.

We followed the group down the trail for a bit and then ohhhhhh, the baby, Iwacu !! I really didn’t expect to see Iwacu, and though we saw it a few times, I only managed to get one shot worth keeping.

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We then stopped to watch the next oldest male stop and eat for a bit.

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The group spent a bit of time on the move after this, at times they crashed through the dense (for us humans) bamboo forest and other times they were on the more open buffalo trails. Our guide managed to short cut a section of forest and we were on a piece of path as they were coming down, we crouched down low to the side and for once, I decided to shoot some video.

[edit] Just learnt a lesson. I cannot upload video using the free version of WordPress 😦 I have just created my first YouTube video. lets see if it works 🙂 [/edit]

Wow, they came so close, one of the others said in the group said he saw the silver back brush me as he walked, so regally, past me. I did not notice a thing. It was very very cool and I was so glad I chose to video, not the best video ever, but they were so close I would not have got photos anyway. I love the two young ones at the back having a bit of a play, though I was bummed to have not quite got the baby on mothers back very clearly.

We followed them through a thick section of vegetation, where again they stopped for a feed.

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And then they were off again, we managed to get ahead of the last couple.

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We were following the guide down this section of path when he stopped dead in his tracks and started backing up. “Elephant” he whispered. I was third in line behind Martina and Chantil and just around a bend in the track. As they came slowly back I got a glimpse of an ear and what appeared to be a large tusk through the bush. Even though our guide was saying they are perfectly safe, we beat a rather rapid retreat straight up hill !

Once we were safely a few metres away, our guide said that though we had five more minutes of our hour left we would have to leave, the gorillas had taken off once they had gotten wind of the elephant and the elephant would be agitated after smelling the gorillas. We all concurred – it had been a magic fifty five minutes anyway.

We spent a further twenty or so minutes crashing around in the jungle, with the guide on the radio to the others and then we came across them by the wall, with all our belongings.

We bade farewell to the trackers and followed our guide back down over the farmland to the vehicles.

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For a rough rock and roll ride down the worst road I have ever been on !!!

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It was a magic morning, a wonderful experience and one I will never forget. The mountain gorillas are the most wonderful animals, lets make sure we protect them. There are only a few hundred left.

All the gorilla photos were shot on a 50mm lens and are, in the main, uncropped. that is how close they came to us.

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“I am sorry, you cannot enter Rwanda”

Day 329-331, Wednesday-Friday 28-30 November 2012 – Fatimas, Ruhengeri, Rwanda
We are finally getting closer to the gorillas !

This post will cover the three days I stayed in Ruhengeri in Rwanda with the exception of the gorilla trip, I will do that one next.

We had a latish start on Wednesday due to the rain on Tuesday night. It was the intent to leave Lake Bunyoni today but as we experienced the other day the road is no fun in the wet. The truck is fine going up hill in the wet but is almost uncontrollable going down, and there was a lot of steep down on the way out. The forecast for the day was rain which wasn’t really helping !

However, the rain had stopped before midnight and the ground dries out fairly quickly, Will was keen to get going before it did get any worse, so it was a quick breakfast, pack up and on the truck. We walked the section to the far side of the village as that did have some potential for unpleasantness, but the road seemed quite dry as we walked and we got onto the truck with a measure of confidence. Though I did put my seatbelt on – for only the second time in nine weeks!

The ride back to the town of Kimbale was rough and slow, but far grippier than on the way in and we made it back to town cautiously, but safely!

We stopped at the Little Ritz for what was possibly the slowest delivered instant coffee in the world, surprisingly there was no power so they had to heat the water over a fire! I am fairly sure the staff had freed themselves.

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It was another hour or so to the Uganda / Rwanda border, getting out of Uganda was easy peasy – and I at least got the exit stamp in the right place in my passport, but I knew we were going to have issues getting into Rwanda. The three of us travelling on NZ passports a had not applied for visas before coming, we were expecting to be able to get them at the border – but this was a major hassle. We were very unpopular with immigration and after initially telling us we would be unable to enter the country they spent most of an hour discussing the issue among themselves and then on the phone to someone or someones – before finally allowing us through. It was a wee bit nerve racking for a moment… Whew !

The drive from the border to the capital; Kigali took another hour or so, the country is very beautiful, one of the more beautiful countries we have been to lately. It is very hilly, incredibly green with plenty of forest on the distant hills. The first thirty minutes or so we drove through tea plantations as far as the eye could see. Rwanda is a heavily populated and small country, it is also quite poor after the devastating effects of its civil war and genocide in 1994 – more on that another day. There are vast numbers of people walking on the road side between villages and homes, more so than anywhere else, we got waved at a lot, but I stuck to my policy of not taking photos of people that I have not interacted with first!

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Rwanda is also the tidiest place I have been, possibly ever. This is for two reasons, firstly – they have a plastic bag ban, you are not allowed to bring them into Rwanda and everything you buy comes in paper bags. And secondly, and this is sooooo cool ! The last Saturday morning of the month is clean up day, so everyone in the whole country is supposed to go out and clean up their community, picking up rubbish, painting, building and fixing stuff – from the President down. Don’t expect to go to the shops on this day, they will be closed !! I just think this is awesome, the country is so wonderfully tidy and there has to be a sense of civic pride in the people.

We arrived in Kigali for a late lunch at Mama Boy restaurant, Kigale is a nice looking small city based around a small collection of hills, it started raining while we were lunching !

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After lunch we were back in the truck and on a fantastic new section of road to the town of Ruhengeri a couple of hours a way. We were soon up into the hills and all visibility disappeared due to dense fog. I plugged my ears into Rise Against and zoned out for the rest of the drive.

We arrived early evening at Fatima’s lodge, a combo guesthouse/hotel/camp area/conference room all under the management of the Catholic church. I elected to get a room and not camp – it looked like rain! I had an early night as it was Gorillas tomorrow – yay !!

We were up at 5:15 on Thursday morning so we could have breakfast and make a packed lunch to take with us on the gorilla trip. We were picked up at 6:15 and taken to the Volcanos National Park reception area. We were the first there and ended up faffing for ages until other gorilla tourists arrived. It was mightily frustrating as I could have had another hour in bed !!! Once there were a few more folk there some of the local villagers put on a traditional song and dance show that was definitely the best I have seen in Africa – nice to see some traditional clothing as well.

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At 8:00 we were split into two groups and here I will leave it for the day and do a separate post on the gorillas : ) he he he….

Once back at the camp ground and post shower, lie down and photo editing we pretty much all repaired to the bar and stayed there till dinner and then went back again after, though it was not a a late night.

Friday was the last full day of my three back to back African excursions and yeah well I did bugger all with it really. I walked around and took a few photos in the hotel/church grounds, read my book and finally just before 12:00 took a walk into town to go and find a chemist.

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I loved this sign, it was by itself on a wall…

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As I was walking down towards the town I was picked up by one of the local kids, Isaac. He was twelve and riding home from school. He offered to show me where the chemist was and walk and talk so he could practice his English. In fact he spoke perfect English and I think he was quietly disappointed I did not speak Spanish or French as he was trying to learn these as well. It is great meeting kids like Isaac who knew his way out of poverty, for him and his family, was getting an education – and speaking languages in tourist rich Rwanda was a way out. I was incredibly impressed; he was a smart kid and a pleasure to talk to, though he did support Manchester United !

I got to the chemist right as he was about to close for lunch, I got my stuff and then discovered that my wallet was empty, damn that bar last night! I asked the chemist if he could put the stuff aside and I would come back when he opened and get them then, he just told me to take them and come back later with the money ! that would not happen in the west ! So I did…

At 3:00 as I went to go back to the chemist is started to rain so I grabbed a motorcycle taxi rather than walk, this time I had to wear a helmet – they have laws in Rwanda….

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Once back at the hotel I took my laptop up to the bar and had a glass of wine and watched some of the rugby sevens on TV – England lost to Portugal, hilarious !

It was then time to go out for a final dinner as a group and we went to a local Italian restaurant, the food was good, I had lasagne and a rather interesting chocolate mousse for dessert, not used to desserts ! After dinner Will and I had a couple of final whiskies in the hotel bar and then it was time to sleep. I will miss Will, we had a few good laughs – and he did introduce me to Archer, a rather rude American spy cartoon series, that had me in tears a few times (and still does as I am now watching series 3 )

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The rain in Uganda falls mainly on the.. well it just falls everywhere

Days 327/328, Monday/Tuesday 26 and 27 November 2012 – Lake Bunyoni, Uganda

It was a very noisy night with the uber-loud music from somewhere down in the valley below us going until 2:30, I ended up reading in the night as there was no way I was going to be able to sleep. We had an early start planned, but I was up earlier at 5:15; as soon as I heard some claps of thunder, I wanted to get packed down before any rain came. Driver Will wanted to get out early as the traffic in Kampala is notoriously bad so we were on the road for 6:00, it was a tight squeeze out the camp ground and at one point I wasn’t sure we were going to make it !

We made it out of the campground just before rain started, quite lucky I guess as the driveway was steep and dirt and would have been impossible to get up in the wet. We managed to escape the city without too many dramas and stopped at a charity cafe on the equator for breakfast, we had barely got out of the truck and under the cafes awning before the heavens really opened and I experienced a real African down pour.P1020446

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I was the only who braved the rain to run up the road to get a quick picture of the equator sign, and no one wanted to pose next to it!

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The rain slowed and finally stopped as we drove but it got quite cold, at one stop I put my polypro, beanie and some socks on in an attempt to keep warm.

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As seems to be the norm in Eastern Africa there were a lot of road works happening, in some cases the roads were just dug up for miles and mile, I loved the hand painted sign !

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I also really like the long horn cows, I haven’t really seen many of them before, and have never seen them close enough to take pictures of, but the horns on some of them are massive. This is a heavily cropped shot taken out the window, so hardly a classic, but you can see the horns !

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We stopped for lunch at a cafe and found they had no power, but they did let us use their tables and chairs and have our own lunch, which was nice – we gave them the left-over food when we had finished. The road started to climb soon after lunch and just seemed to go on and on, through road work after road work, through mud and over speed bumps. Outside it all looked very tropical, in reality it was wet and cold !IMG 5897

We turned off to Lake Bunyani at the town of Kimable.

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The sign said 8km, which seems such a short distance until you see the road ! it is very narrow, very rough, muddy and after a section of flat – climbed yet further into the hills.

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I was surprised we made it to the top! We stopped to take photos down towards the lake.

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It was 2.5kms from the top down to the lake, after about 100 metres it was deemed to unsafe for us passengers to continue and we were advised to get out the truck. The road was quite slippery and steep and a 16ton truck steers like a stone on ice. You can see in the first photo where it had been sliding down the hill, Will was a brave man…

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Our truck was passed by a Nomad Adventures truck on the way down, it was a lot lighter than ours and had no problem managing the track, however it was a different story at the bottom when we found it stuck trying to get a narrow road in town… Once it was out, Will had a chat with some of local guys and then just blasted our truck up and through! We weren’t in it BTW, having stuck trucks was a source of great amusement to most of the village who out offering advice, and cheering once we were all back on the way.

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The campground we were staying was not much further and was very muddy and wet, luckily only half of us wanted to put tents up as there wasn’t much room. We had a good dinner and a couple of drinks around a very nice fire, I didn’t stay up late. I am loving my gumboots !

I slept well Monday night, I have started to read a bit before sleeping and this seems to be making a bit of a difference, temporarily I am sure! We have all day here at the lake, we had a discussion with one of the local guides about doing a tour around the place but he didn’t turn up again. It was sunny so I got a load of washing done – always take the chance when I can!

The power is really sporadic here and for a short time it was on, which meant the internet was on so I had a good Skype with my mum and my boys. My eldest son has not worked for a while and had been doing some door knocking (pun not intended) and had got himself a job trial at a local door maker, which he had passed and now has a few hours a week till Christmas and a full time job in January. I was very proud of him for getting out there and finding himself a job – awesome Dom !!!

The power did die soon after which turned out to be a problem as I had no camera batteries and even my phone was flat!

A few of us went for a walk into the hills before lunch, we managed to pick up a guide, well he just sort of attached himself to us! It was probably good thing as there were loads of trails in the hills and while we not have gotten lost we would have surely taken some wrong turns. Maria took this photo of me. The lake is quite stunning, with numerous islands all with different stories – including Punishment Island, where they used to put the unwed pregant girls; effectively to die as there is no water or food on the island. Though it was suggested that more often than not the father used to go out and rescue them, not sure how true that be was though. As I have said before, it is a tough place.

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We got most of the way to the top before it hammered down with rain and everyone got soaked. As did my almost dry washing back at camp, oh well. After lunch I did nothing much; dozed and read, there was no power so I couldn’t even walk and take photos or write blog posts. We had a few pre-dinner drinks and I managed to clear out all the accumulated booze in my locker – there wasn’t a lot left. After dinner I sat in the bar talking to the guys from the Nomad truck with Brett and Martina until I wobbled off to bed about midnight.

Almost to the gorillas !!!

Meeting some of the cousins.

Day 326, Sunday 25 November 2012 – Kampala, Uganda

Today was supposed to begin at 6:00 am, but thankfully last night this was delayed until 9:00, and thankfully again I was told before I had gone to sleep; I removed the alarm I had set on my phone. I was up before breakfast at 8:00 and managed to get a hot shower in before the power went off. I was feeling pretty good considering a lack of sleep – and the vodka tonics we were drinking were not exactly made with top class vodka.

I went for a quick walk out of the camp and got a photo of the guys making the rolleggs that some had for breakfast and I had for a late snack last night. They are pretty damn good.

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I also loved this tree right outside the campground gate.

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As we left the village we all spotted this sign on one of the buildings, I hadn’t seen it before. Apparently it is to remind people to get to work on time !

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We were on the road on time and made good progress into Kampala – the capital city of Uganda. We were expecting congestion but had not counted on the Kampala Marathon being run that day and the main streets were clogged solid. It was a long wait in fairly humid conditions – luckily there was just enough breeze to make it not too uncomfortable.

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We only just made it through the city to the shore of Lake Victoria at Entebbe. The last boat to Ngamba Chimpanzee Sanctuary, an island in the lake, left at 1:30 and we arrived at 1:25. It was a fairly rough ride on the way out, there was a bit of a swell and we were heading into it and the wind. Everyone got pretty soaked. Luckily this is Africa and not England so we were all fairly dry not long after we arrived.

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The sanctuary has been set up to look after rescued chimpanzees, most of them are young when they arrive and they do not get released back into the wild as they would not survive. They live in a fairly large section of bush and are protected from the human predators that caused them to be there in the first. Though they are not aggressive, they are immensely strong so we were given a safety briefing on arrival and pointed to the emergency point near the lake, chimpanzees do not like water.

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We were there to watch the afternoon feeding session, the chimp’s are all behind electric fences so photography was not simple. I wanted to get some ground level shots as I like them more than shooting from above, but we were not allowed down there.

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This was my favourite.

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The keepers throw fruit over the fence for the chimps to collect, there was a little squabbling but they all know they will get fed so it was pretty tame. I love how they put their hands up – so human.

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And this one sits just like I do when I am sitting on the ground eating fruit!

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Once the feeding was over some of the smarter chimps got sticks to get the food that was caught under the electric fence, amazing to watch !

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It was one of those experiences that I really enjoyed but was a bit like a zoo. Unlike at the cheetah rehabilitation place in Namibia the people here talked about the chimpanzees, their plight in the wild and what the sanctuary was doing. I guess for these chimps the only other option was death.

We had an enjoyable, late, lunch on the island before heading back to the boat for a fast and smooth ride back to the mainland and on to the truck. There were quite a few water monitors here as well.

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We stayed at the Backpackers Camp on the outskirts of Kampala. It is the guys least favourite campsite in all of Africa ! It was not the worst place in its self, but the music from nearby was seriously loud, it was like being at a gig and it went on to 2:30 am… I was not amused. It also had the most amazingly tight driveway, I was really surprised we got the truck through the gate and down the hill. Great driving!

Adrift !

Day 324 and 325, Friday/Saturday 23/24 November 2012 – Eden Rock Camp, Jinja, Uganda

Wow ! A mega sleep, and then once awake I did stuff all after that as well – a small amount of washing and a load of time in bed reading my book. Luxury! Other people did other things but I could not be stuffed and enjoyed half a day mostly on my own. I meandered out of my room at lunch time to find it had just stopped raining. There were not many people around so Simon, a Kiwi on the trip and I decided to get the lunch things out and prepare some food, and of course eat! I was standing on a wet mains power line running into the back of the truck leaning over the metal fridge to open it and got two massive electric shocks – I screamed ( a bad word) both times and managed to let go and jump off the truck before the next shock hit. I had a wee sit down after that, my heart was racing and my shoulder ached from the spasm of the shock. All a bit frightening, for Simon as well as me. I unplugged the truck from the mains.

After lunch a bunch of us did a boat ride on the White Nile. Jinja is very close to the source of the Nile at Lake Victoria. Not that long ago the section of river here was full of white water and small water falls. The NRE and Adrift campsites were home to large rafting operations and the source of a lot of local tourist revenue. However the river was dammed a few years ago and the last of the rapids disappeared last year. There is still rafting to be done, but punters have to be driven below the dam to access the water. The dam is used for power generation and all the power is sold to neighbouring countries. As our boat guide said “it was bullshit”. I had to agree – a lot of the community lost jobs and far less tourists now come to Jinja.

Our boat (not this one – I just liked it) was a ten minute walk from the camp site and naturally we disturbed someone doing his washing when we arrived.

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We cruised up and down the river for a couple of hours, down as close to the dam as we were allowed, apparently if you cross a certain line you get shot… The river is surrounded primarily, by farm land, but there was some small patches of bush.

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We came across a small group of red tail monkeys in one of the bush patches, and they were incredibly hard to shoot, I meant with a camera !

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There were an incredibly large amount of pied kingfishers here, as well as some of the brighter kingfishers. I have never seen so many in one place ever, the pied variety live in holes in the river bank and the bank was riddled with them, and man they move fast !

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We also saw a fish eagle pair, but they too were quite flighty.

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The fish eagles live on the half drowned trees in the lake

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There were a number of monitor lizards around the side of the lake as well, sadly I missed the big one, but got this guy sitting on a tree.

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One of the good things about the lake that has formed behind the dam is that the fish population has increased, these are drying mats covered in the small fish that are filling the lake.

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It was an enjoyable trip around the lake, I must admit I do like being in boats!

I did get a bit grumpy in the afternoon so retired to my room for a bit before coming out for dinner a bit later and a couple of drinks in the evening at NRE. Trying to get a decent sunset on my phone.

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On Saturday morning Brett (tour leader) had organised a local village walk. This is something he has been trying to encourage the local village people to organise as a supplement source of income. The tour is based around the orphanage, so we would get to meet some of the kids as well as their teachers, the people who look after the kids and some of their extended family.

I decided not to go, I will keep the main reason to myself, but part of it was that I was (and still am) deeply conflicted around the “human zoo” aspect of these tours, though feedback suggests I was wrong in this case as it was far more interactive than I expected. Anyways, I didn’t go.

Once everyone had left I wandered over to the NRE campsite for a coffee and to use their wifi, driver Will was there so I chatted to him for while before heading back to my room and doing some writing in my notebook. It looks like I was worrying about getting a job, losing my photographic mojo and being alone for ever. I must have been miserable company !

Will popped in after lunch and asked if I wanted to head up the road to the Adrift campsite  –  have a drink and see what was happening, I hummed and hahed as I wasn’t really in a party mood, but I really like Will, so said yeah.

It was probably the best afternoon of the two months I was in Africa – excluding game reserves : )

Adrift was about 10 minutes away by buda buda (motorcycle taxi) so we grabbed a couple from outside NRE and headed off. Fortunately they do not go that fast…. It was blast – do you like the new sunnies ?

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For most of the afternoon we were almost the only people at the bar at Adrift, we ate pizza drank some local concoction that was supposed to be similar to Smirnoff Ice, watched weird crap on Youtube and had a good laugh. Once the bar started to attract other customers we shifted to vodka tonics and moved over to a couple of couches and lounged, talked rubbish and watched the sun drop.

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We finally grabbed buda budas back to our camp site when a large group of American guys turned up in the early evening. We stopped for a rolleggs when we were dropped off outside NRE. I am not sure how it is spelt, but basically it is a thin omelete rolled in one or two chipattis. They are also really, really nice !

It was all great fun and what I needed to drag me out of a funk that was growing by the day.

Cruel to be kind ?

Days 323, Thursday 22 November 2012 – Eden Rock Camp, Jinja, Uganda

It was whisky induced but I finally managed a good nights sleep, not waking until 5:00 AM, though were minor hints of a hangover but nothing as bad as the sleep deprivation head aches I had been having in the mornings. I was up at 5:30 for the 6:00 breakfast and we were on the road again for 7:00. The day is cool and clear, a perfect day for driving and crossing the border from Kenya into Uganda. We spent a long time driving on the drough temporary roads, looking at the new highway to the border, which seems to just be used to move the occasional cow!

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Or the ever popular wood.

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The border crossing was surprisingly painless, we were warned that it can sometimes be dreadfully slow to get across. I am not sure what the donkey was doing, apart from almost becoming a hood ornament of our truck.

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The worst part was the traffic congestion in no-mans land.

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I managed to have a good Bookface message conversation with Dom, my oldest son while we waited between formalities. I was a bit miffed when Ugandan immigration placed the stamp in the middle of my Asian stamps, instead of at the back with all my other African stamps. I have now visited over fifty countries in all my travels – awesome 🙂

Uganda is an amazingly lush country, it is all at least 900 metres above sea level so there is plenty of moisture in the air and a lot of crop holdings were seen from the road.

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And of course the kids waved at the truck as we drove past 🙂

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In Tanzania and Kenya, and now Uganda, there are far less opportunities to stop for lunch, the roadsides have more villages and towns than in southern Africa. It even takes a while to find a place for a loo stop, you cannot really go weeing in some ones front yard – though the local people seem to have little issue with it at times. We finally stopped for lunch at 2:30 at a small roadside clearing, though just behind the bushes surrounding the corn fields were some small houses and soon enough we had ten children out to see us, with their parents watching from afar. The children were lovely and friendly and like all children loved to have their photos taken – and laughed hysterically when shown the pictures.

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It was very hard to eat in front of the obviously poor and hungry people without wanting to give them food to eat. But we don’t, once finished eating we clear everything, load it back on the truck and drive off. Sadly giving out food – and other goodies, has led to begging cultures in other places and this has long term negative consequences on the population. It was fairly obvious were it had – as soon as a muzungu arrives there is an expectation of a hand out, and some get miffed when it doesn’t happen.

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From lunch we took a quick break in the large local town of Jinja before heading up an incredibly dusty side road to the Eden Rock camp site. Everything on the side of the road is covered in red dust, it was quite surreal.

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It is the first time the guys have stayed at Eden Rock, normally using the NRE or Adrift campsite – both notorious party sites, given we were an older crowd and there were rooms available at Eden we stayed there and I took a room – we are here for three nights.

NRE was sort of over the road so we went there for after dinner drinks, but I wasn’t feeling it so went back to Eden and went to bed, tough the music from NRE and one of the local bars went on to 6 am…

Crossing the equator

Days 321, Tuesday 20 November 2012 – Naiberi River Camp, Eldoret, Kenya

Well, it was another crappy sleep, though at least I did not feel sick, just cold, maybe I was cold last night just because it was cold !! I was up at 7:00 and took a small experimental coffee to see if it would cause any issues – after a few minutes of seeming stability I declared myself well and had another one. Ebron (our cook) made my day by getting the toaster out (we do not always have power) and I had toast with lashings of vegemite – I had been dreaming of vegemite toast for a while.

This little chameleon, literally fell out of the tree next to where we having breakfast. He seemed OK so Will put him back in one of the hedges where they normally live.

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After breakfast I went down to talk to Dave, the driver of an Oasis Overlanding truck that was also in the camp (and the source of the noise last night, not Dave !). Dave had been staying at Karen Camp while we were there and been really ill for the same twenty four hour period as me, it sounded like he was worse than I was too, we both had had the chicken the night before… Oh well, it happens, at least we were both better today.

The others went on a guided farm tour, I have seen enough farms in my time so I decided to go back up into the fields again to see if the photo opportunities I missed yesterday were still there. Gary came for a walk with me along with my new friend, Buster the dog. I forgot to introduce Gary, I met him at Karen camp. Will is leaving Africa in Focus in January and is off to drive overland trucks in South America. Gary is his replacement and was coming along on this leg to learn some of the ropes, so we are now nine passengers with a crew of four.

The road passes a small community of houses that are supposed to be long abandoned and I was quite keen to take a walk through and get some photos, however once we started looking closely it was apparent that a number were occupied so I took some photos from the roadside and moved on.

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The farm is mostly surrounded by a massive electric fence to keep squatters out, so it was quite a walk around to a gate that allows access to a railroad track which we walked along for a while.

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Ducking up a narrow path up into the fields, the light was just not the same as a couple of afternoons ago, there were no dark and brooding clouds behind the acacia trees, so the photography was not exciting – still I love acacia trees so here are a couple anyway!

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Gary and I walked to the top of the hill and stopped to take a look. There was a group of about half a dozen kids of various ages coming up the other side with bags full of wheat – obviously stolen. When they saw us they froze and just stopped and stared at us, I could see they were scared. After a few seconds I smiled, waved and called out the Swahili for hello – “jambo”, they then realised we were just muzungu tourists, burst into laughter and came running up the hill towards us – though bizarrely they followed us back down the hill, but did not speak to us, it was kind of weird…

We had an early lunch back at the truck and were on the road for another shortish drive to the town of Eldoret. The land around here is definitely the most fertile I have seen in Africa, lots of farmland – and therefore incredibly dull to drive through.

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Though we did drive along a long section of sealed road that was the worst sealed surface I have been on anywhere in the world, it had the most amazing ruts, fortunately it was being replaced.

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We also passed the equator ! Yay….

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We stopped in Eldoret to give everyone an opportunity to visit a supermarket and stock up on essentials – beer mainly, I had everything I needed so just had an ice cream and scribbled notes in the truck.

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Naiberi River Camp, our home for two days was about thirty minutes out of Eldroret, loved this guy with the huge pile of wood on the bike.

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Though the next day we heard about the damage the fire wood gatherers do to the environment…

This campsite is a known party camp and Will was keen to party, he has been through here a few times and gets on well with the camps owner Raj. I was a bit grumpy, lack of sleep and recovering from being sick so was a bit miffed at the lack of opportunities for putting the tent up. I said some bad things… though I did recover enough to make it down for a very nice mild curry dinner that was provided by the camp. I ate a lot but went to bed early as I was still exhausted.

Sick

Days 319 and 320, Sunday and Monday 18/19 November 2012 – Kempu Camp, Nakuru, Kenya

I had a much better sleep last night, even though it was a very early night. It must have been the movie that helped put me to sleep. It was a quiet night in the camp site as well and very little noise from neighbouring dogs and birds either. I was up at 6:00, showered and sorted ready for coffee and breakfast in the camp, bacon, eggs and beans on toast washed down with really good coffee – wonderful. It was a great start to day one of the third and final leg of this African odyssey. Nairobi in Kenya, via Uganda to Kigali in Rwanda over two weeks.

At 8:00 we were on the road back into downtown Nairobi to pick up the eight other customers on this trip, a nice small group.

I have moved myself back to the front seat I started in back in Cape Town. Though it has less leg room than the others I get less wind in my face and a better view. As I have a double seat to myself the leg room is less of an issue.

I spent the thirty minute trip to the pick up point sitting in the back of the truck discussing the coming tour with the tour leader Brett. We were wondering on what it and the new group would be like. As a tour guide this must be the worst part of each trip – waiting to meet the people you have to look after in the near future. I would hate it!

We picked up the newbies from the same place the last trip ended, by the Israeli embassy, and were on the road for 9:00. There is a young Kiwi couple, five English people and a German woman – I am possibly the oldest this time round. Five of them have done trips with Africa-in-Focus before, which will certainly make things simpler!

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The weather was a bit drizzly as we made our way of out of Nairobi, I was starting to think my gumboot purchase was a one, though as we hit the rift valley later in the morning the weather was considerably better. We have taken a different route to the one I was on the other day and the view point we stopped at did not have the sweeping views over the valley that we had last week, I didn’t bother taking a photo of it in the end. We were warned to be careful on the floor boards of the lookout – and you can see why…

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The rest of the trip to Kempu camp, just outside of Nakaru National Park, was uneventful and it was quite fine when we got there. I managed to keep my old tent, warts and all, at least I knew where the fault in the zip was.

Brett (tour leader) gave his tour briefing after lunch, as I had already heard two of them Will and I took a walk out in to the farm land that the camp is part of. Will had stayed here for a few months some time back as he was doing some work in one of the local orphanages, so knew his way around – and he was keen to stretch his legs, as was I. Stupidly I did not take my camera with me and missed some fantastic photo opportunities as dark, angry clouds scudded across the skies -damnit. We had been walking for a couple of hours when things started to stir badly in bowels, if only I had my camera bag, I was prepared for that as well. It was a hurried walk back to the camp and I only just made it in time.

It was the beginning of the end ! I was Ok for another hour and was just settling in to a late afternoon group chat over a beer when I had to rush off again and that was it for the rest of the day and I had to lie down. The night was pretty awful, I was freezing cold, it was a cold night, nd I had quite a temperature. I did take a couple of my anti-malerials – doxicyclin as it includes a broad spectrum anti-biotic, along with panadol and a lot of water.

The following day, Monday was game drive day and I managed to stagger out bed at breakfast time and tell Brett I wasn’t going to be able to make it. I was gutted as this was the main activity for the first week of the trip and I was really looking forward to it. I love game drives, and this was an all day one ! I didn’t even see people off, I just crawled back into my tent. Will dropped by the tent a couple of hours later and I moved to a spare bed in the crew room, it was a lot quieter and a lot more comfortable and I finally managed to get some sleep.

I was feeling a heck of a lot better when I got up mid-afternoon, I had a couple more pills, drank some water and then vomited for the first time in over 30 years, I barely made it to some bushes before what little was left inside came out. Remarkably after I recovered from the physical exertion I actually felt quite a lot better, my temperature was back to normal and the cramps and nausea were soon gone.

The others arrived back from their game drive at 6:30, it sounded like they had an amazing time with some really good rhino sitings – one crossed the road in front of one of the 4wds, so unfair !! I had a ginger and a small amount of dinner and feeling a lot better I went to bed at 8:00. Though no sleep as the bar was really noisy.

So ended the first two days, not a very good start!

This post was written over a month later, taken from some hand written notes I made at the time. I did not take many photos during this week unfortunately.

A five day relax.

Days 314-318, Tuesday – Saturday 13 – 17 November 2012 – Lake Naivasha and Karen Camp, Nairobi, Kenya

My dad died five years ago on the 13th November so after an early breakfast I Skyped my mum and family back in New Zealand to just briefly share the day and dad’s memory.

Leonie and I then took a cab to Karen Overlanding Camp on the outskirts of Nairobi where we met the tour guys and the truck and dumped a load of gear there. We had a quick trip to the supermarket to load up on provisions – beer, wine, cider and gin seemed to take the lions share of the space in the trolley !

We then made our way up to Carnelly’s Camp about a hundred kilometres from Nairobi on the side of Kenya’s lovely Lake Naivasha. On the way we stopped at a view point over the Rift Valley. There was a guy miming in front of a video camera to some awful Afro-pop – it was a wee bit amusing and Leonie got to swing hips with him for a wee dance segment. I just laughed on the sidelines.

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The four of us arrived at the lake mid afternoon and decided to take a room, not the cheapest in the world, but the room was cool and the view was stunning – and to top if off we were almost the only people at the campground.

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The idea was to spend three nights doing nothing here and well, we pretty much achieved it. We drank beer and wine and gin in the evenings, ate massive breakfasts late in the morning and only cooked once – a BBQ, so hardly stressful.

There is a bit to do in the area but I didn’t do any of it, I managed to walk around the campsite at appropriate times and took a few photos.

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I blogged a bit and caught up on days worth of blogging – and had my awesome Safari.com sim and data plan so I could actually up load posts as well as write them. I watched episodes of Archer and talked a lot of crap with the others. All in all it was a great few days!

I loved the massive fever trees in the camp ground, they were all bunched too close together to get the photos I wanted, however I managed to get a few I liked. They were named fever trees by the early settlers here. After camping under the trees people would often get sick and die and the trees were blamed. Turns out that fever trees grow near water and provide great shade, being near water also means mosquitoes. The people were bitten, got malaria and died.

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The trees also attracted the attention of some large, more mammalian animals, especially the ubiquitous vervet monkey.

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And the far more elusive colobus monkey. We spent a couple of days looking for them and Leonie finally found them on the last afternoon, she came and got me and we went back to find them but o luck. We tried again later and I spotted one up in a tree ahead, just a black lump way up in a tree, unphotographable. I signalled Leonie to come over and as she approached, she told me to look up – there was one right above my head ! They are a large monkey with the most magnificent tail – a prized possession in some head dresses.

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The lake is very nice, it was still for most of the time we were there, and these local fisherman braved the waters all day netting the small fish. There are a lot of hippos in the waters and I imagine it is quite unsafe in the dawn and dusk hours, we could hear them roaring at night time.

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Sadly our time at Lake Naivasha was only short, the camp site was lovely, but not particularly cheap, it was very nice to not move for a couple of days and not have to drop a tent at 5:00 AM, but Leonie had to go back to NZ and I had my third and final tour to head off on so it was back to Nairobi on Friday 16th. I did have a three week shave though – thankfully I managed to borrow some clippers to get rid of the worst of it – way too hairy!

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Mt something or other, an extinct volcano on the far side of the Rift Valley.

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We met up with the guys and the truck at the supermarket in Karen and Leonie took a cab to the airport and we went shopping again! It was great fun travelling with Leonie, she is a great travel buddy and we shared quite a few laughs. I did not envy her the long flight back to NZ and going straight back to work.

I had two nights at Karen Camp with Brett, Will and Ebron, it was another pretty chilled couple of days, we took a couple of trips in to the shops and I bought myself a new pair of expensive sun glasses to replace the cheap pair I stood on that replaced the pair I lost on Zanzibar. Hopefully now that I have spent decent money I will look after these ones!

A trip into the Kenyan countryside.

Day 313, Monday 12 November 2012 – Nairobi, Kenya

It was another early start to the day, considering it was the first day off between trips – my gorilla tour does not start for a week, so there is plenty of time to kill. Breakfast in the hotel was pretty good, though I did not eat much. I am not entirely sure how long the day will be and what facilities will be available – my stomach is only feeling about fifty percent normal, so caution it is. Plus I can do without eating like a pig three times a day!

Leonie has been sponsoring Mutoni a twelve year old Kenyan girl for a number of years through World Vision. As the village is only a hundred or so kilometres from Nairobi – and in an area not subject to tribal violence or the kidnapping of westerners by Somali gangs we are going to pay a visit.

We were collected in a World Vision (WV) Toyota Landcruiser by our host for the day Solomon.

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Solomon lives in the town of Yatta, where we are heading but had to come down and stay the night in Nairobi to be able to pick us up as the traffic here is notoriously bad. However, we were fairly lucky, the ride through down town to the “super highway” was slow but not too terrible. For safety, we were seat belted, bags on the floor with doors locked and windows up. It is not called “Nairobbery” for nothing and carjacking is not unheard of – though we did not see anything that raised any suspicion.

The super highway is a fifty kilometre section of new motorway from the centre of Nairobi and is a surprisingly good piece of road, they are still building pedestrian bridges across the highway so every few kilometres there is a section of speed bumps preceding a crossing. The only highway I have ever been on with speed bumps – amusing ! Nairobi is a big city, with the exception of Cape Town way back at the start of this journey it is the most western city I have experienced, there is a lot more apparent infrastructure here, a lot more permanent looking housing (well as permanent as Africa gets) and a lot more schools and universities surrounding the highway. Parts of it could easily be in New Zealand.

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It is still Africa though and unlike New Zealand they just LOVE football – and by this I mean the game you play with your foot, not the one you play with your hands ! Manchester United is the most popular team in the world and it is easy to see why, there are posters, banners and stickers everywhere.

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The highway ended at the town of Thika and we stopped at the local mall to do some shopping, part of the deal with WV is Leonie provides some supermarket basics for the family as a gift. I also needed to get some Kenyan cash and do some shopping for myself. The rain yesterday morning turned the Snake Park campsite into a bog and as we had heard that there had been heavy rain up in Uganda I wanted to get some cheap gumboots just in case, I had not replaced the jandals (flip flops) that disappeared in Malawi. I also wanted to get a Kenyan sim card for my phone, apparently the cell network in Kenya is very good. The sim card, 50 minutes of talking, 500 texts and 500mb of data cost me just over $9NZ, WOW – how can it be so expensive in New Zealand. They also had a very good range of Kiwi shoe products : )

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From Thika we made our way to the town of Yatta where the WV office for the area is located. The road has a vast number of police checkpoints that we pass through without being stopped. They are mainly stopping the local buses coming from the opposite direction. According to Solomon they are looking for members of Al Shabaab a Somali terror group. I asked him how far away the border was and he said very close – about 800kms. I guess the perception of close in Africa is different to the one in NZ.

I think this mini-bus was a bit off course – Manurewa is an Auckland suburb!

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At the WV office in Yatta we were introduced to all the staff and were given a morning tea. It is clear (and good) to see that the offices are not flash, there are no fancy trimmings or luxury here. The staff have different areas of expertise with the main being in food management and water and sanitation. WV provide some resource, such as wells, but focus on education and training, the old “teach a man to fish” scenario. I am not sure how hard they actually work though.

After morning tea we took a ride out to Nialani school to meet Mutoni. The school was about ten minutes from Yatta, and once off the main road we were on a rough dirt track, I now know why WV drive Toyota land cruisers!

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The school had obviously been prepared for our arrival, and it was fairly obvious that WV have spent a lot of time working with the school. There were a few WV signs around the place. There was also a fair amount of Christian messages, though the state schools are agnostic.

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When we got out of the vehicle the children in the nearby classrooms came charging to the windows, laughing and calling “muzungu, muzungu”. Muzungu is Swahili and basically means a white person who wanders around aimlessly – which pretty much sums me up ! In most cases, like here, it is meant in good spirits. They very rarely get muzungus in Nialani and we were the highlight of many children’s day. I just loved the look of joy on their faces and the huge huge smiles. I don’t think all the teachers were amused by the distraction as we walked past the open windows of the classrooms.

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After visiting the deputy head teacher we were introduced to Mutoni and her class, she is twelve and was incredibly shy and embarrassed about the whole thing, I really felt for her ! We had to introduce ourselves to the class and the Mutoni had to introduce her best friend. I was kind of glad when we left and took the poor girl with us.

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On the way out we walked past the new entrant class and they were very keen to see us and say hello, I am not sure if the youngsters in the last photo had seen a muzungu before, they look a bit wary.

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We drove out through the village to where Mutoni lives with her mother and grandmother, there are no adult males alive. Mutoni’s mother showed us around their small holding, the two houses and the separate kitchen. There is no electricity here so everything is done on a wood fire. This is the kitchen.

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We presented the family with the food that was purchased in the supermarket, it was all fully documented by the people from WV, not entirely sure why and I didn’t ask.

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We then all piled into the car and drove back to the WV office for a very large lunch – that was paid for by Leonie. Mutoni and her mother and grandmother obviously do not eat like this very often – they had a lot. We all posed for photos afterwards, Mutoni and her family had obviously dressed up in their finest while embarrassingly we were in our normal scruffy travelling clothes.

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It was mid-afternoon now and time to head back into Nairobi, the drive was not too bad, a lot of traffic once we hit the centre of town. There are a lot of half finished buildings on the way, a lot just have a single storey completed with room for a second to be added. In many cases families will start to build a house as soon as they have money, if they have enough for one wall, they will build one wall. If they don’t use it then there is a chance the money will just get wasted on booze by the men, saving for a future is not common here, for many there is not much of a future to save for.

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Once back in the hotel we had a quick dinner and then I sat in my bed and blogged for a while.

It was an interesting day, it was good to travel into a part of Kenya where not many westerners go.

I am using a new version of Blogdesk to put together the posts before I upload them. They have changed the way adding photos works, the sizing is different to how it used to be, I liked the old version better – grrrr, sometimes change is not good!