Thursday, 26 January 2012

In a non linear fashion

Leaving Ethiopia

Arriving at a campsite behind a hotel in Sedo we met an Italian who is cycling the whole of  Africa, he had had a tough time in Ethiopia as cyclists are a target both for stone throwing children and your average idiot who is bored. His name is Allessi and he had quite a few tales of being dragged off his bike, being hit with sticks and stones and being shouted at. As he arrived in Sedo one bloke tried to pull him off his bike but the locals went to help him and punished the bloke who had attacked him. As we got chatting he said that often it was one or two people causing trouble and villagers usually waded in to sort the problem out, they did this by kicking the sh*t out of the offender. We have not had any problems at all with anyone in Ethiopia, I hang out of the windows like a film star, grinning like a maniac and shouting hello and thankyou ‘Amousaganalou’ (don't know many other Ethiopian words still). james had the best response ever when asking directions from a random Ethiopian bloke, all Ethopians would desperately try to remember some English to say to us but this poor chap really struggled. Finally as we were driving off he shouted ' I love you'. Now that was great. Johannes and Igor had had a bit of trouble though so as we set off the next day we drove in front of them spreading love and joy and our own brand of madness so things were pretty cool. When we stopped for comfort breaks or food we were soon surrounded by children and often by lots of adults, but the response you got from them really did depend on how you were with them. 

The stressiest it got was in a place called Konso, we had camped in very posh place called Kanata Lodge and stuffed ourselves at an 'all you can eat buffet'. The next day we needed to refuel and get some food for the onward journey, this was a little tricky as just about every adult in the town was off their heads on 'chat' so it was almost impossible to do anything. We were trying to buy bread and bananas but gave up in the end as everyone we asked just fell about laughing.
'Here is a the scene at the Konso petrol station where the ‘rock star’ German bikers get mobbed'. 

There are two ‘roads’ from Ethiopia into Kenya, the one most travelled is the Moyale/Marsabit, this is a horrid road approx. 250ks of deep ruts and stones and safety issues over bandits attacking and killing travellers.  The other less travelled road is the one that takes you around the eastern side of Lake Turkana across the Chalbi desert. You shouldn’t do this road in the rainy season as there isn’t a road, we were going to try this road in the dry season. Ideally you should have others with you as you can get your vehicle stuck so back in Addis we agreed with Johnnes and Igor that we would travel the desert track through from southern Ethiopia into northern Kenya together. The road at this time of year has its own challenges as the tracks are pretty difficult, deep sand, rocks, huge ruts, big drops and climb outs from dry river beds and approx 900k without fuel or water. Johannes and Igor's bikes were using road tyres and they had heaps of stuff, plus they had never been off road before....but hey you should never let that stop you having an adventure. Especially when you have super James biker extraordinaire who will give you expert riding tip and fix your bike and super nurse Dee who will patch up your bod when you fall off. So we agreed to carry most of their ‘stuff’ and fuel/water to last this stage of the journey, that way we could all travel a road which if stories told held true would prove to be fantastic.  Just so you know a little more about our travelling companions here is a brief description of them.

German bikers
Our two biker friends are called Johannes and Igor, they have known each other since they were kids and have been riding bikes for a couple of years. They are young (22) and are like chalk and cheese. Igor is gregarious, lively, talks non stop; Johannes is reserved, quiet and talks little but says a lot. Their bikes are  XT600’s.Their bike riding was different too, Johannes is methodical and precise and really controlled when moving slowly and Igor was fast, confident and fell off more.  They both burned their legs on the bike exhaust after falling off, Johannes quite badly but he was amazingly stoic about it all. I dressed the burns every day while we travelled together and not once did he moan about the pain he must have been in when he was either riding or kick starting the bike (he had burned the back of his right leg from behind his knee down his calf).  Respect little German biker dude. They both made us laugh a lot, we can’t remember a whole heap of what they said but here is a taster…..

On the subject of farting in the tent they shared,
Heard almost every night as we settled in for the night…
Igor: ‘Oh Johannes’
Johannes: ‘Noooo’ (in his usual flat tone)
It was actually Igor that did all the farting, then one morning Igor complained at breakfast about Johannes farting, Johannes said ‘Noooo…….ah I could nothing do….I was relaxed’.

Igor (while riding his bike)
‘I sat on my balls, they have gone wrong. Ow.’
Johannes in response to my request to get moving ‘let’s rock and roll’
‘Yes but not so much rocks or roll for us’
Igor (on spotting an ostrich)
‘I seen a big bird and he was like this (opens arms wide) he was really fast but I think he was chilly going. Wow’.
Igor (who was seriously dehydrated)
‘Oh my penis is broke, my piss is orange but I have not had sex. Ow’
Johannes (requesting his leather bike seat from the car)
‘I only want to have my sit because my arse it is fucked’

Here are our lovely friends Johannes................

As we left Konso the 'roads' got pretty 'interesting', first off we hit k’s and k’s of deep sand, the bikes were dropped many times and were picked up many times by me and James, the temperatures soared into the late 30’s,  by the end of the day though the lads had pretty much mastered riding in the sand and James had driven Milo across some pretty technical terrain. I had been in charge of making sure no one got heat stroke, telling everyone how great they were and picking up bikes.  The end of this day (New Year's Eve) saw us in Turmi and lovely campsite by a dried up river bed.

where some very beautiful local children wandered over to gawp at me doing yoga

 We also caught up with a couple of other Brits here, Becky and Roland, very Germans Viktoria and Julian, and Dutch couple (sorry names have gone). The new Year's Eve feast was going to be bbq chicken and as we were where we were...we bought some live chickens (no ready packed stuff here y'know). Ok so I didn't get involved with chicken killing but I tell you what the blokes turned into proper cave men. You should have seen them, first off all proudly showing off the chicken they had bought, then making a big show of their knives etc. Then they went off to this fallen tree where everyone could see them and after stretching the chicken's necks (I demurely plugged my ears and closed my eyes) proceeded to display the chicken's innards along the trunk of the tree! What are they like? Igor looked like Hanibal Lecter as he had blood all over him and swaggered about like he had won mastermind. Men are lovely aren't they? Anyhow we all had much wine and bbq chicken and Julian even played his favourite music much to Viktoria's dislike, which is lady ga ga (he was pretty drunk.) Picture the scene drunken Julian who is about 8 feet tall and is very German singing to lady GaGa (he was actually singing Ja Ja Lady GaGa).  The next day was spent recovering but the day after we headed for the Ethiopian border crossing of Omerate.  As we got further south into Ethiopia the tribal villages looked poorer and poorer, a couple of times we were stopped by the village police to make sure we had been through customs properly and each time the villagers asked for pens, plastic water bottles, food, money, clothes. This wasn't new as often this was shouted at us by children, often because they just shouted the first thing that came into their heads when they saw a Mzungu (whitey), but these villagers were slightly more insistent. We handed over all our pens to a school teacher in one of the villages which kind of pissed off the other villagers we came to later so we had to get by on just our charm. I found that getting out of the car and doing a bit of a dance with the children had the effect of amusing and confusing everyone and is one I can heartily recommend.
We arrived over the border into Kenya late afternoon (2nd January) and after a few hours driving, by 6 p.m. had reached the rather beautiful Lake Turkana. My first impressions of Kenya were (and still are) wow, added to that the local Darsonich tribe we met when we arrived were just so friendly, sure they came to check us out but then just got on with their own stuff.
Here is a cool dude who joined us at breakfast, James gave him some honey and bread and Igor caught him grimacing! poor man, James was miffed as he doesn't share his honey with everyone you know.....

We registered with the police at Illeret, which made us legal entrants in Kenya, then began the long and rather challenging drive from here through the Chalbi desert to the first village of Lyongiani which was some 500k away. The temperatures began to climb into the early 40’s, (Igor recorded a temp of 43) which made riding the bikes very hard, we had to make frequent stops for water, salt and sugar. The latter came in the form of well salt and sugar and lots of buscuity type snacks that much to James’ disappointment were wolfed down by Johannes and Igor.
The track changed from sand which caused a few bike drops...
  to big rocks, deep ruts, steep climbs and technical driving in and out of deep dry river beds. Again Igor and Johannes went through the bike dropping ritual so James readjusted  their tyre pressure again (was dropped for sand now needed a little more for rocks so as to avoid punctures) and after a  bit of perseverance the lads mastered this too.

They were pretty good actually, we were well impressed.
Johannes is the quieter of the two guys and his English is not quite as good as Igor’s but at one stage after picking him and his bike up he said in perfect clear English, ‘I have fucked my bike’ ( by this stage he had broken the stand, the brake levers, a mirror and the pannier mounts). I cheered him up by dusting him off and telling him ‘ ah yes but at least your bike is getting lighter’.
We bush camped throughout this part of the adventure, staying in some 'kin beautiful places skirting the Sibiloi National Park, the landscape would change from great expanses of arid land, rocky hills, lone trees and occasionally very fluffy grass. 

We saw lots of exotic and flamboyantly coloured birds, a couple of scorpions and one night while we were eating, a snake wriggled along the ground right where we were sitting. The procedure for finding a suitable camp spot was usually triggered by the fact we were knackered and it was getting dark; so we would set up camp, James would help the lads fix their bikes and I would cook food and then dress Johannes and Igor’s burns. One night after James had spent some time talking bikes he was rewarded by Igor singing ‘you are so beautiful to me’….ah…. Igor is not your caricature German. Here is the campsite where Igor sang and also melted his brake lever trying to fix it.

One place that it is good to stop off at on this route is at the police manned oasis which is at the top end of the national park (sorry can’t remember name for this). There are 3 policemen stationed here for an indeterminate amount of time, they have radio’s but no internet or mobile facility so they can’t speak to friends or family the whole time they are stationed here. Their role is to act as a deterrent to warring tribal factions who fight over the water at the oasis and steal each other’s cattle. We stopped here to top up on water and spent a couple of hours just spending some time with them. They were lovely, friendly and a little lonely. I had a great conversation with them about Kenyan politics and global corruption. Made a change from all the bike talk.

Here they are… 

By the 6th January we had made it to the village of Loiyangaini, this meant camping with showers and cold beers at the lush Palm Shade campsite…..woooo hoooooooo. 

 Desert Beauty
We have decided to veer off from our usual reportage to bring to you a small section on how to look as good as us when travelling. Never mind saying it would be impossible to achieve, a little hard work on your part and you too can be desert beauties.
So……we all know that travelling and camping etc has certain implications for staying clean, there are occasions when underwear is worn longer than usual (James is incredible at achieving this standard), underarm and leg hair puts in an appearance that hasn’t seen the light of day since puberty (there is more than one way to go bush) and you can’t have a shower for love nor money.  When these circumstances hit the fashionista then you can rely on wet wipes for that all over freshness, and if like me you only have the head left on your bic razor then you can still get rid of that leg hair if you hold the head with a pair of eyebrow tweezers. The effect can be a little clumpy till you get the hang of it….but keep at it.
Here is a pic of me in our tent just after a beauty session…mmmmmmmm

Dressing a la mode in Africa proved to be a bit of a challenge pour moi. Before we left for Africa I had read up on appropriate clothing to avoid stings and bites from insects and reptiles, ‘baggy clothing is best’….I also read that as a woman ‘it is best to look inconspicuous in many of the African countries’ as the sight of our gorgeous bodies sends men wild. I dutifully packed plain t-shirts and shirts and the ugliest pair of taupe tracking trousers ever produced. Bland and baggy became the underpinning haute couture of my wardrobe. Despite my fashion advice James packed what he normally wears.

I think I can without reserve say that I succeeded far beyond even my expectations. True I became the object of young men’s desire in Egypt (male prostitutes actually but never mind that), and there have been times when James introduced me to various people they gasped ‘this is your wife…you are very lucky’.  But on the whole I achieved what I set out to do, minimal mauling by bugs etc and by dressing like this in this photo set a new standard for the English lady abroad.  

After some months of wearing clothes that were described by lesser mortals as ‘lesbian shorts’ ‘ matronly trousers’ and ‘shapeless’ (all James ) these clothes pass the test of making sure you aren’t bothered (or as James said can’t be bothered).
On 8th January we were off again and found the best ever bush camp in a sandy dried up river bed high up in the Kenyan mountains. The temperatures were much cooler, the scenery lush and green and the mood was pretty mellow. We had intended an early start the next day but Igor’s bike had a puncture which set us back a couple of hours, the road turned to shit too and was especially bad by South Horr. The deep ruts and stones meant we had to drive so embarrassingly slowly through this village so that it would have been quicker to hop…backwards. Mind you it did lend itself to some top people watching, sorry couldn’t take photos as we were driving so slowly it could have gone a bit wrong, the guys in this neck of the woods are like peacocks. They spend hours doing their hair which is shaped with red clay and stuck with feathers, they wear short brightly coloured skirts and loads of jewellery, socks and sandals. They actually look pretty amazing.
We eventually found our way into Maralal, and at about 5 pm had set up camp at the famous Camel Camp  and were guests of the very lovely Ken (camp manager).  

We stayed here till the 10th, catching up on chores (washing and cleaning/cooking for me and car maintenance for James – very traditional roles y’know), and caught up with the very Germans Viktoria and Julian. From Maralal we took the road to Isiolo (tarmac at last) heading for Nairobi, and leaving Maralal I spotted these blighters…..oh I was so excited.

We didn’t get as far as Nairobi though because  Johannes bike actually gave up, the clutch packed in and we had to tow him off the road. Luckily we were on tarmac by this time and near to a hotel. We had also met up with bikers Susi, Marc and Tam (met  back in Aswan) so we all spent the night catching up and trying to figure out how to sort out Johannes bike. The plan extended to Johannes finding a local mechanic  who could source a clutch then they were going to ride into Nairobi with the other biker dudes and stay at Jungle Junction. James and I on the other hand had a plan of staying in Karen, a suburb of Nairobi and having some chill out times to ourselves. So we waved au revoir to our chums with hope of seeing them somewhere down the road.

Karen Camp
Karen Camp is based in Karen, a place named after Karen Blixen, it is on the outskirts of Nairobi and is a rather posh suburb full of big houses and rich Europeans. In the middle of this salubrious haven is an overlanders camp owned and run by a large man called Dougie pineapple. James knew him from his earlier Africa expeditions so knew that the place would be tip top and it was. Karen camp has grass to camp on, loads of space, huge old house that is equipped with a good bar and restaurant and big hot showers. Bliss.
While here James had the rather brilliant  idea of visiting the giraffe sanctuary. What a laugh. Here you really can get up close and personal.
I like this pic because well let’s face it, it looks like the giraffe has eaten my head.

We had intended on staying here for about 5 days so we could chill out after the Chalbi desert adventure and catch up on a few chores but….on day 2 James bumped into Nat a very lovely lady he knew from his Dragoman days and she had her hands on two Gorilla permits for Uganda, they were half price did we want them? Well that decision took a nano second so after having just caught our breath we were off to Uganda Kenya from Ethiopia via the lake Turkana/Chalbi desert route, we had legally registered on Kenya at a place called Illeret but had not been through immigration or had the carnet stamped; this was supposed to being taken care of by a fixer in Karen but he kind of messed it up so we headed off to the Kenyan border without any legal bobbins completed.  In our favour was the fact we had registered and we had Kenyan visas.  It was a late and hot Sunday afternoon when we arrived at the border at Malaba, being the biggest in Kenya it is also the busiest and we knew from experience the officials at the big and busy border posts can get pretty arsey. There was a tail back of  about 300 lorries waiting to get clearance, there were bus  loads of weekenders and there were random twits like us trying to leave Kenya without having officially properly entered. Anyhow………the fact it was late and hot and the officials were tired worked in our favour and instead of being arsey after a few incredulous ‘but you haven’t been stamped in’ remarks they waved us through….no fee wooooooo hoooooo.  We had arrived at the Malaba at about 4.30 by 5.30 we had been stamped into Uganda.
Cue scene James and Dee smiling like smug buffoons, driving along the Ugandan road, cue music…..oooooh ooooooooh wim away a wim away a wim away a wim away….in the jungle the mighty jungle James and Dee get to see gorillas….cue Ugandan police flagging us down and smiling with joy when he sees we don’t have seat belts on……threatens James with handcuffs and jail….but it can all be sorted with a ‘fine’. Little sod. Twenty mins later and 150 Kenyan shillings (worth about £1) lighter (we had no Ugandan money) on we went leaving the corrupt and disappointed git behind…..a wim away a wim away…….
So the first stop in the incredibly beautiful Uganda was at Jinja which is famous for being the source of the blue Nile. We arrived late after much driving and had the very good fortune to run into Jack who runs the Nile Explorers River Camp, who also remembered James (makes me wonder what he got up to back then) and magnanimously let us have one of the luxurious pitched tents at a camping rate.
Here is an early morning pic of a view of the Nile....

Slacking is not our middle names so the next morning we were up and off again and after a  long drive arrived in the rather gorgeous Lake Bunyoni at the Lake Bunyoni Overland Camp and guess what, yes, some of the Ugandan guys working there remembered James from when he drove the Encounter trucks. It was here we hooked up with Buck (a SAFA) who had sold us the gorilla permits, we joined him and his touroids early the next morning and drove up to Wagtail Camp which is about 40 mins from the rather fabulously named Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. We should tell you something about the Ugandan countryside because well it is so stunning. Like Ethiopia it is very very green, and like Ethiopia huge swathes of the land is given over to farming, some of it are tea and coffee/banana plantations as far as the eye can see. This often means some of the ‘roads’ you drive on get wrecked and rutted by big tea/coffee/banana trucks some of which break down right in front of you.
 There are also terrace farms that go as far as the tip of the top of the hills, these are small farms that belong to locals who use the crops mostly for their own food they also sell small amounts as cash crops.  Some of the crops have failed this year, the rains went on for longer and there is  concern over whether the changes in the weather are likely to persist.
After an early night at Wagtail camp we set off up t’road to begin our gorilla tracking and I was er……… well like a scouser…….excited.  We tracked the gorillas for just over 2 hours, that might not seem long but when you are in the IMPENETRABLE FOREST it flipping well is. My God I was covered in mud, mind you James fell on his arse more than me. We tracked along pretty dense forest (hence the name), through rivers, up very slippy muddy slopes and eventually found the gorillas on a steep forest slope. Our tracking guide was a top Ugandan lady called Rita (she was only short but she could shift like a bullet), she had been out tracking the family we had caught up with for over 2 months but had never seen the whole family but today….we did!  This was the Shongi family, there were 4 big silverbacks juniors and 1 big silverback chief dude, about 9 females and 4 young ‘uns.  We got so close to them that you could reach out and touch them.   You know how some experiences are so big that they don’t seem real? Well this could have been one of those but for the fact that the big chief silverback (who had been sitting by his family partially hidden by some big leaves and undergrowth), pulled aside a big leaf I guess to check up on where we were and looked right into my eyes. And I looked back. Not for long as I thought this might piss him off but it was long enough for it burn into my memory, then I whispered to James to look and the same thing happened to him. It may be cheesy but we don’t care, it was ……magnificent. We were with the Shongi family for just over an hour and then trekked back to base.
Here is the Shongi family…..

and here is my face when I first saw them.......

After our tracking and trekking we went back to Lake Bunyoni and spent a couple of days with top overlanders Pam and Ralph (UK).  These guys had driven north from South Africa in their Range Rover and were heading into Rwanda, they had some top tips about seeing Elephants which we followed up on. Hopefully we will bump into them again somewhere down the road.
Ok so Elephants are my favourite and they are to be found in the Queen Elizabeth National Park, after our 2 days R&R we set off but not to go into the park, instead we planned to drive along the public road that runs through the park very early in the morning and see what we could see.
Der der derdle der! Aren’t they beautiful? We had been tracking (we are trackers now you know) for about an hour when I (yes me I am so great) saw this lovely lady. ….

And just over in the elephant grass were her sisters…


She got fed up with us in the end though and started to run at us so we had to scarper.

From this exciting and wonderful experience we headed up into the mountains again to the crater lakes near to Fort Portal, after a bit of a faff, and amazingly running into Brits Becky and Roland who were heading from the mountains to the gorillas, we set up camp at Lake Nkuraba. This is a community run campsite, it is rather nice too and is enhanced by the presence of these rather cheeky monkeys….
We are now back in Jinja, we are very very lucky to be staying with one of James’ friends (from his previous life) Colin. He has the most gorgeous posh place right on the banks of the Nile, for the first time in a long time we are sleeping in a bed, we have hot showers and a bath! We can wander down and go for a swim or potter about the grounds….All lovely and there are new-fangled gadgets like a washing machine….oh I may never leave.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome! I've gone goggle-eyed reading this in a single sitting on my phone. Sounds amazing - take care & enjoy a bit of luxury for a bit. It's chuffin' freezin' back home by the way. We miss you x