South Luangwa National Park
So the blogging has gone down the toilet for a lot of reasons (I'm writing most of this in Nairobi airport).
The roads were much worse (as was the truck) and I couldn't write while travelling, as it was too bumpy.
Milly and I spent the rest of the time together. So I didn't write off the truck.
This was partly due to terrible relations with the 2 Canadian couples leaving us few folk to talk to. In turn this made me less excitable and eager to write.
The early part of the tour was less inspiring than the early weeks.
I was more run down and couldn't be arsed.
Don’t be fooled-I still had a great time, but the tour had a very different feel after Vic Falls.
So this is more from memory-I hope it is still quite complete and accurate; I know Mill will read it and set me straight.
We arrived at the camp very late in a swarm of bugs after spending 3 hours stationery at some roadworks: this prompted many people to discuss how the situation could have been better managed; it prompted Milly and me to plug the speakers into the iPod and play poker.
The national park was the true reason for visiting Zambia and it was very impressive, mostly down to the actual camp site itself. The camp was between a kind of grazing area and the river across which animals would cross to enter the main area of the park. We were welcomed and warned not to have food in our tents and that Hippos and Elephants visited the camp. This was a touch disconcerting, as the advice with hippos is don’t get between them and the water, that’s when they freak out and kill you. I made a mental note to avoid a night time trip to the toilet.
Of course the first thing we saw was a snake at dinner. It was quite small and scared off easily (it had probably heard that Mill might prod it with a stick) and didn’t bother me; it also tunred out to be the last African snake.
I wish I had a photo of the scene that greeted me as I returned from the showers to breakfast the next morning; there was a family of elephants in the camp who were taking an interest in breakfast. I later discovered that Roger had excited particular elephant interest and had a trunk running over his tent. Seeing as I’d slept with my windows open all night and sat up in bed about 20 times to see what was about (each time looking through all 4 windows and seeing nothing), I felt a little disappointed nothing had come to see me.
Encouraged by the elephant sighting, Milly and I decided to stake out the camp on our klast night and try and spot some nocturnal visitors. I’m not sure if the platforms in the trees were designed for people to clamber up with a box of wine, and then sweep the camp with torches when they heard noise, but they served the purpose well. We heard a lot of noise, but saw nothing until we came from the tree and heard some hippo noise. We crept forward and sure enough, there was a big boy 15-20 metres away. We did not get between him and the water.
We also went on a couple of game drives, which were great and added a whole heap of new photos. We saw a great new way of carrying your young (even better than those cool looking racing prams).
We got nearly as close to elephants as Roger did.
And saw just how fun being a young elephant can be.
I could upload a lot more!
We also went on a night drive, with our crazy driver. This was mainly to spot lions with a spotlight, but before the sunset (when we had a beer looking over the river), he had time to get far too close to some elephants and a sick hippo as well as revving his engine at a few animals. There were strict instructions to guests in the camp, asking them not to ask drivers to do this-we ended up asking ours to stay back (not for our safety, but out of respect). I was quite pleased my photos of all this didn’t come out well; I’d taken them while feeling we were far too intrusive.
When the sun set, we followed a couple of male lions for about 15 mins, but then the monsoon came and everyone disappeared, as we disappeared under ponchos. Still got some fairly mad shots of lions wandering about (oblivious to the trucks rushing around with their spotlights).Day 26-27
Lake Malawi-Senga Bay
Malawi was a bit odd. We camped 4 nights by the lake, which was beautiful. It was essentially a chill out time, as there were not much to do beyond swim in the lake (so I’ll need a test for Bilhazia), chill in the bars, sunbathe a bit (brave for me), talk and eat. I took no photos at all, though I was going to get the view from my tent across the lake, which was beautiful when I went to bed on the first night. Sadly the great view was spoiled in the morning when I was awoken by Canadians sweeping the sand and moving their tent right in my view. So I shall have to paint a mental picture of clear beautiful waters and waves that make you think it’s the sea.
I would like to revisit Malawi in a different way. I felt very removed from the country (much more so than in the other countries): we spent our time in the truck or in camps by the lake, complete with razor wire and guards (although they weren’t armed as they were at Arusha). It made me a bit uncomfortable that we were living in a total bubble-Malawi is one of the world’s 10 poorest countries, yet it felt like paradise. Perhaps this is a reflection that it has the second biggest divide between rich and poor in the world.
So what did we manage to do? Milly beat me at pool (I was told to put that in; it may be worth mentioning here that she deserved to and did it twice more in Zanzibar at a bar where we’d seen the Masai playing). Roger and I introduced Milly to darts and had some good games of killer (we also got Didi in on the act in Arusha). We could have gone diving, but decided to leave it to Zanzibar.
I think one thing from Malawi will epitomise the trip for me: when we arrived at the camp (late and in the dark-we set our tents up in the dark a lot on this trip) Calisto came into the truck and said ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, we have had a disaster’. I immediately thought we were homeless. He continued, ‘there’s an all night disco’, there was much whooping approval from the back of the bus. Partly because some of us wanted a dance, partly to show some solidarity with Calisto against the four people who would moan about it. I loved the moment at about 8.30, when one of them said ‘it’ll quieten down soon’. Half an hour later the volume soared.
The occasion was the Bank of Malawi’s annual conference; the CEO awarded prizes and people were asked to come up dance-a name would be read out followed by ‘and your wife’, which cracked me up. We headed to the bar and later Karen and I invaded the sandy dancefloor, where we quite a hit. After being too energetic to Shakira (seemingly the theme tune of Africa) and a.n.other song, we had to go for a rest. Dancing on sand is tiring. After reacquainting ourselves with cane spirit (simply lethal) Milly and I went for a very late night paddle in the lake and scramble over the rocks (which in the dark looked like a sphinx/lion hybrid).
The four days felt like a hiatus.Day 30
743 km! Ouch
Kisolanza Farm, Iringa
So. This is the big one-over 7OO km, including a border crossing and our first change of time zone. We leave Malawi behind and head as far across Tanzania as we can in the light before camping for the night and heading for Zanzibar. This is the 40th country in the world that I've visited according to the Stanley method of reckoning, which oddly allows me to count both Wales and USA. Reckon that's about 20 percent-nice stat.
Catching people sleeping on the bus became quite an art form. I know there are plenty of me, but this one of Karen is the best I got.Day 31
Dar es Salaam
Turns out Wildlife Adventures gave Calisto the wrong distances; today was a bitch. It was a long was and we needed a ferry to cross the river in Dar to get to the camp site. After tents in the dark, followed immediately by dinner in the bar, where there was an uncomfortable discussion about ‘how early some people are getting up and ‘noise made by people coming back from the bar late’, there was little option but to stay in the bar and play pool by torchlight (Tanzania has regular power outages).
All this meant we forgot insect repellent. Milly got the crap bitten out of her by mossies (I won’t post the photos of her feet); I was invaded by ants-picking about 20 out of my hair like a monkey. When Vincent the crazy Aussie from Perth latched onto us, it was time for bed.Days 32-34
Didi had been looking forward to Zan from the outset; I didn’t know much but expected it to be good. We took the ferry over (leaving Stanford and the truck behind). And I guess this image sets the scene for Zanzibar’s beautiful location in the Indian Ocean, and it’s historic roots.
Many of the streets were really narrow and I did wonder how we’d find the hotel again (3 days off from the tents). We were subjected to an appalling presentation from the hotel tour guy and against my better judgement I agreed to go on the spice tour the next day. We headed into town (old stone and quite lovely, but full of touts) and booked ourselves in for diving/snorkelling: Millie had her Padi, but Didi and I had to do a pool course before going out on the boat as we were beginners; Karen and Roger went for the snorkel option. Roger and I had been put off the swimming with dolphins option after the lonely planet criticised a lot of the operators for hassling the dolphins. So as the sun started to set for our first night in Zanzibar, we had sorted out what we doing for the remaining days. Time for a night out then.
We had some cocktails in the touristy Mercury bar (named for Freddie), which was good and then had dinner in the Old Fort. You need to be a bit careful, especially at night, so we walked Roger back to the hotel before heading out to the club we’d been promised; I hope Milly doesn’t mind me saying that she looked 3 months pregnant (her bladder was so full)-this amused me almost as much as I amused her later when I stepped in the drain the locals use; for you know what; wearing my action sandals.
From here it was downhill fast. The Bwani hotel club hadn’t yet opened, so we headed to the open air bar upstairs (if memory serves, it was covered in prison bars and your drinks came out of narrow slots). Some bloke thought Karen was a prostitute, so Didi went into the she’s Austrian and speaks no English routine and pointed out Karen was fully booked. Karen did bring a number of comedy blokes into our lives. Milly and I missed most of this as we were getting stuck into the Conyagi; we’d had Conyagi before (local fire water, half the price of any other spirit), but for some reason we were given half a bottle for about a quid in the bar. Milly made sure we finished and it nearly finished us. We heard some thumping and rightly guessed that the bar was now open. I know there was a lot of energetic dancing; I suspect the rhythm of the dancing was a bit off; I know Milly and I did most of the dancing, as every time we came back to our tables there would be another two guys talking to Karen and Didi, who were still Austrian (code for not interested); oddly they all always disappeared the moment I arrived (I must have been looking toned); I accused some locals of stealing my moves on the dancefloor (this meant me copying any really stupid dance moves out there); we ran out of money; we got home somehow. The next two nights were quite early to bed.
The spice tour was really good I will happily admit. I was not. At one point there was some papaya wine we were meant to taste; I took one sniff, did a full body retch and passed it on untouched. We spent 4 hours in searing heat, wandering round, eating stuff, seeing what nutmeg looks like, learning about soap berries (rub them together and they are soap, it was mad). Some of the kinds also made us a lot of stuff out of vines.
After that I think everyone went to bed aside from Didi and I who went to do out training dive in the swimming pool. I had a bad start-gagging when trying to breathe underwater for the first time, but after that got to grips with what we needed to know and was pleased how calm I felt. Cured the hangover too. Have to say swimming round a hotel pool, complete with regular punters, did feel a but pervy.
The next day was diving. We went out on a big wooden and did a couple of dives. Mill went off with an English girl, who was studying on the island. When I had a chat it turned out she had camped pretty next me to at Glasto last year had seen the dancing two nights before. Small world.
The dive was great; I had no idea most of the time what I was looking at, but the reefs were beautiful and there were colourful fish everywhere. I fully intend to get my Padi in Oz (these dives should count), and I think I’ll look into one of those things that converts your camera to work underwater. Funnily, Didi and I had problems with our buoyancy-alternately floating off or sinking like a stone, so we had to hold hands most of the time. Slept well that night.Day 35
Dar es Salaam
Today was basically returning to the camp at Dar before moving on to Arusha, which is our point for exploring the Serengeti. The excitement of braids has waned (and they’re falling out and are getting gross); taking out Mill's braids took a sweaty hour in the bar. Most of mine had already gone, I don’t think there are photos of the mad day after Mill sat on one side of me at dinner and took most of that side out, while leaving the rest. I had a kind of half corn row, which was even weirder. Didi's also given up: hers went on Zan. Playing pool later the girls finally put my hair out of its misery and the braided posse passed into memory.Day 36
Essentially a travelling day with a really good bar at the end and more pool and darts late into the evening. There’s been a growing trend for us to camp closer and closer to the bar, which I thoroughly approve of. I should point out that I am not in an advanced state of alcoholism, but at 8.30/9 at night there’s not a lot to do in camp aside from go to bed (as if), or head to the bar for pool/darts/cards.
There was one fantastic moment on the bus. Unusually Milly and I weren’t sharing an iPod, but listening to our own. She waved to grab my attention, said ‘I love this song, it’s one of my favourites’ and held up her iPod, which showed she was listening to Trouble by Coldplay. My jaw dropped a little as I held up my iPod. I was listening to Trouble by Coldplay. Seems we were just wasting batteries.Days 37-9
Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater
Defintely the highlight of the second trip; the Serengetio is awesome and the wildebest migration was beginning.
As for the crater, it’s pretty mad. Essentially the volcano blew millions of years ago covering the Serengeti in an ash, which still prevents tall trees growing-hence the open plains. The crater left from the volcano is a kind of garden of Eden and is full of animals.
The back seat of the bus
was the place to see the animals. Rather than odd giraffes, we were now seeing herds. Maybe 20 or 30 at a time.
We saw vultures drying off
And evidence that sometimes, things get sillyI guess the rains down in Africa
Or whatever nonsense Toto sang. The rainy season had definitely begun:
And when we returned from the Serengeti a number of tents had been hit-Didi and Karen had 5 cups of water to bail out of theirs. Fortunately, our bags were on the four by fours. Altho some got wet there too.
I decided to get some photos round the camp. Mill told me look to like I wanted to escape; she found this so funny, it may be worth posting. I actually hurt my head pushing so hard on the sign.
This is just rank
But does demonstrate how good the flash on my new camera is.
After dinner that night
I had 3 massive highlights back to back. In the final game we played of the mighty President and Arsehole, I went from Arsehole to president; aficionados will know this is no mean feat. When your best cards are 3 kings (Aces, Twos and Jokers as over cards), I felt this was Hall of Fame stuff.
Then as Mill and I approached the toilets, Roger emerged and up to the knee of his right leg was just brown; the rest of his trousers were beige. He proclaimed ‘that’s the biggest one ever’ and we lost it; the rest of the camp heard the laughter. It turned out he’d stepped in a load of mud BEFORE entering the toilet, but it just looked like he was covered in shit. After 40 days camping, that is the funniest thing on earth.
Best of all was back at the tents. As background, Mill and I usually have our tents pretty close together:
This means we can talk to each other and fool ourselves into believing that the entire camp site can’t hear. It doesn’t leave much room for things to pass in between. About 5 mins after getting in the tent, there’s a great noise of grass being chewed. I asked Milly is she knew what it was, cue zip opening and her looking out ‘It’s a cow’ (you see a lot of cows with the Masai), as I’m sticking my head she reassess ‘it’s fucking buffalo’. 6 feet from where we are. Buffalos are big buggers.
At one point he was staring right at me, he did a circle of Mill’s tent, we had 3 later and saw some guy who was clearly somewhat surprised to see a buffalo as he headed to the toilet. It was class, if a little scary as the buffalo is the size of a tent.
In the crater and Serngeti we did have technical sightings of leopard and rhino to complete the big 5, but they were a long way away. Did see cheetah up close, albeit briefly.
In the crater drive we got very close to some frisky lions:
And saw the last elephant of the trip
As we ascended back out of the crater, it felt a little like the trip’s end-although 2 days remained it was really travelling from here. We had a good crew though:Day 40-41
So, journey's ends. The end of the tour has been on my mind for the past week, which has flown by much faster than any other week. The Ultimate Olympian will be speechless to learn I'm finding it quite emotional. But before my Oscar speech goes all Gwyneth Paltrow.......
True to form Mill and I had the last night of the tour party a day early: the camp had a top bar with Conyagi and a lot of locals. It was our best effort at an all-nighter. Even tho the bar was still rocking when we left, it was only 2 hours till we got up. Roger said it was the quietest we'd been on the bus in 6 weeks as we tried to sleep the bumpy road to Nairobi.
Our final trip was to a Giraffe sanctuary just before I left for the airport. You can feed the giraffes here.
Or even put the food in your mouth.
We travelled so far overland (over 10,000 Km) that my flight to Jo'burg takes nearly 4 hours.
I'm not much cop at goodbyes, so maybe this will redress the balance a little. I'm really going to miss the Nairobi Four (Karen's been great too)-we've eaten together pretty much every time on the second half and Didi and Roger are diamonds. Roger is a class guy and proof you can be Canadian and middle aged and have people love you; I hope that the obvious tension between the couples and the younger 4 didn't spoil his enjoyment, he spent the vast majority of his time with us (yes I count as young in this context), so I guess it was ok. I also think he laughed and smiled more than anyone else. Top bloke.
As for Milly, I don't know what I'm going to feel; without wishing to be melodramatic I think I'll be a little bereaved. It took 2 or 3 days at the start of the trip for us to really gel. After that we were pretty much inseparable, spending almost every waking hour together, as well as a fair few sleeping on the bus or in the cosy bars or each other’s tents after a few ales. Over 6 weeks that's a touch intense, and it's going to be some void now. The tour brochure talked about making friends for life-I think we managed that. I'll miss putting the tents up and down, sharing iPods and dancing on the truck, chuntering about our braids and how bad we smell, sharing the Carmex, failing to see the sunset again, making orange tea, being told off for saying shades not sunglasses, remembering to take malaria pills, being last to bed, saying the same thing at the same time, heading to the bar and playing pool. Above all I'll miss laughing and thinking I'll never stop laughing. Love ya Mill, you're boss.