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Lake Nakuru National Park: A bird watcher’s paradise

The Rift Valley province in Kenya is home to seven national parks, including the two premium parks as designated by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).  Lake Nakuru National Park is one of those premium parks and will be the subject of this article.

 

White rhinos at Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya, OTA Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.com

White rhinos at Lake Nakuru National Park

Named the “Bird Watchers’ Paradise” by KWS, Lake Nakuru was first gazetted as a bird sanctuary in 1961.  In 1964, the park was extended to the north, so it now covered the whole lake and a surrounding perimeter.  In 1990, the lake was designated as a Ramsar site – the Ramsar Convention is an international treaty for the protection, conservation and sustainable utilisation of wetlands of international importance, especially as waterfowl habitat.

Flamingoes at Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya, OTA Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.comCyanophyte Spirulina platensis, the major food source for flamingos, thrives in the lake and supports huge numbers of Lesser Flamingo.  Both Greater and Lesser Flamingos and other water birds are found in abundance, as well as a large variety of terrestrial birds, bringing the number of species found in Lake Nakuru National Park to nearly 450.  There are approximately 56 mammal species residing in the park including both black and white rhinos.  The park hosts unique vegetation including about 550 different plant species including yellow acacia woodlands and Africa’s largest Euphorbia candelabrum forest.

Tree-climbing lions at Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya, OTA Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Tree-climbing lions

There are three viewpoints in the national park: Lion Hill, Baboon Cliff and Out of Africa.  These are designated areas where you can get out of the vehicle, stretch your legs, and get some stunning photos of the lake and surrounds.  There are also a few hills that are not established viewpoints (so you must stay in the vehicle) that also offer views of the picturesque landscape; Enasoit, Honeymoon and Lion Hill Ridge are three.  Lake Nakuru also has a waterfall feeding it at the south end. Makalia Falls gushes during the wet season and is barely a trickle in the dry.

Makalia Falls, Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya, OTA Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Makalia Falls

There are two public campsites within the National Park – one near the main gate and one at Makalia Falls.  Although Makalia Falls’ location is preferable, running water is intermittent as are doors on the toilets.  There are also several special campsites dotted around the park.  There are no fences between you and the animals in these campsites, so you must be careful when you are cooking and make sure you do it in daylight hours.  Camping fees are US$25 for non-residents, 500KES for residents and 200KES for East African citizens.

Makalia Falls campsite, Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya, OTA Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Makalia Falls campsite

To enter the National Park, the fees are US$80 for non-residents, 1000KES for East African residents and citizens plus 300KES for a small vehicle (up to six seats).  There are toilets, a restaurant and a curio shop at the main gate.  Entry permits are valid for the day of entry only, and you must be out of the park by 6pm (or parked at the campsite if staying overnight).  So it’s a good idea to get in early if you only have one day.

Baboon family, Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya, OTA Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Baboon family

Packing a picnic is a cost-efficient and quite pleasant lunch option – the lookouts mentioned above make good lunch stops, just watch out for baboons!  Baboon Cliff and Out of Africa lookouts both have toilets and covered areas.  There is another picnic site in the middle of acacia woodlands.  If you are in the park for just one day, Makalia Falls is also a nice place for a picnic.

Road block at Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya, OTA Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Road Block

It is definitely worth spending a day exploring Lake Nakuru National Park.  As one of Kenya’s premium national parks, it is famous as the home to thousands of Greater and Lesser Flamingos. The park also provides sanctuary for Rothschild giraffe, rhino and leopard.

Leopard at Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya, OTA Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Leopard

Interview With Rebecca Lolosoli, Chair of Umoja Women’s Group

After visiting Rebecca several times over the course of a year, OTA interviewed her in September 2013 to share her story of Umoja Women’s Group.  She founded Umoja in 1990 to help Samburu women suffering from domestic violence and other abuses find a safe refuge.  Over the decades she has met incredible opposition from the Samburu men, but against the odds she has established a haven currently housing 58 women and recently ran for a political position in her community.

My name is Rebecca Lolosoli. I work with Umoja Women’s Group which was started in 1990.  We started a women’s village and in 1990 we had three women; now we are 58 women.  It’s a village where women run to, like a shelter for the women.

We are fighting for the rights of women, the rights of weak families, and the rights of girls.  Samburu women don’t have rights.  So we fight for our girls to go to school, to choose their husbands and to own anything like land and livestock as any other human being can.  This village is the shelter for women where women and girls run to during their problems, such as early marriages, early pregnancy, and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).  We also try to help those girls that get pregnant before FGM because their baby will be killed so we try to protect the girl and protect the baby.

OTA's Turkana Festival Tour in Kenya www.ota-responsibletravel.com

And now also the women work fighting for peace. We need peace in Kenya and we want to have peace with other communities like our neighbours – the ones who are fighting with Samburu: Borana, Turkana, and Pokot.  So we think the women are to bring these changes of peace and we want to network with our neighbours (the Borana, Turkana and Pokot).  We want to visit each other and try to see how we can bring peace between us because we are the victims.  It’s always the women and children who are the victims.  That’s why we have to think again about peace because there’s no development without peace and that’s what we are trying to do with Umoja Women’s Group.

OTA's Turkana Festival Tour in Kenya www.ota-responsibletravel.com

You can visit Umoja Women’s Village at Archer’s Post, near the gate of Samburu National Reserve.  Rebecca also runs a campsite close to the village where tourists visiting the Reserve can stay.  The proceeds from the camp support the women in the village and their ongoing fight for women’s rights in the Samburu community.  Visit www.umojawomen.org for more information.

OTA is running a nine-day safari from Nairobi, Kenya to the Lake Turkana Festival via Samburu National Reserve and Thomson’s Falls in June.  The Lake Turkana Festival is one of the cultural highlights on Kenya’s calendar.  It includes game viewing in Samburu National Reserve in Kenya, visiting outback towns Maralal and Marsabit, and visiting the extraordinary cultural festival in Loyangalani.  Ten communities in this remote corner of the world coming together to celebrate their differences – don’t you want to be a part of that?!  Visit the website for more information http://www.ota-responsibletravel.com for more information, or check the Event page on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/OverlandTravelAdventures

Thomson’s Falls

Thomson’s Falls

In 1883 Joseph Thomson became the first European to reach Thomson’s Falls.   He was a Scottish geologist and naturalist who was also the first European to walk between Mombasa and Lake Victoria, which he did in the early 1880s.  He named Thomson’s Falls for his father.

Long before Joseph Thomson wandered through, the central highlands of Kenya was inhabited by Kikuyus.  Kikuyus are the largest tribe of Kenya making up approximately 23 percent of the country’s population today.  They are of Bantu origin (Bantus came from West Africa) and moved in from northern and eastern areas to settle in the Mount Kenya vicinity.  The Kikuyus are known in Kenya as business people and good traders.  They are pastoralists, preferring to settle an area and grow crops than live the nomadic herdsman life of their neighbouring Maasai, Samburu and Turkana tribes.  Living in Kenya’s central highlands means their traditional dress is almost reminiscent of Russia, with square woollen hats made from sheep’s skin.  Where the Maasai robe themselves in brightly coloured, lightweight blankets, the Kikuyu have think sheepskin draped around them.  It is very rare these days to see Kikuyu dressing and living in the traditional style but at Thomson’s Falls there is the opportunity to see some people dressed in the costumes for photos.

It’s difficult to imagine how Joseph Thomson could have found his way to the Falls looking at the terrain.  At the top of the Falls is Thomson’s Falls Lodge, a colonial structure that has remained as a hotel over the decades.  From the Lodge you can hire a guide to take you to the bottom of the Falls to get a different perspective.  The hike down takes approximately 20 minutes through forest.  The path is steep and made slippery by the spray from the waterfall.  The track is quite well-defined however, unlike it would have been in 1883 when Thomson came through!  Back at the top of the waterfall is another hike (turn right from the top lookout instead of left) to the highest hippo pool in Kenya.

From Thomson’s Falls Lodge you can hire a guide to take you to the bottom of the waterfall, meet traditionally-dressed Kikuyu and show you the hippo pool.

The waterfall tumbles out of the hippo pool and falls 72 metres to the bottom.  The water comes from the Aberdare Mountains and forms part of the Ewaso Ng’iro River.  Thomson’s Falls is located two miles from the town of Nyahururu (formerly called Thomson’s Falls as well) in central Kenya.  Nyahururu is Kenya’s highest town at 2360 metres above sea level.

Thomson’s Falls tumbles out of Kenya’s highest hippo pool and falls 72 metres to the bottom

Have you been to Thomson’s Falls in Kenya? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.

Preparing for African travel checklist

There is so much to think about when preparing for a trip and Africa can be especially daunting as it is so unknown.  This list will help make sure you remember everything as you prepare for your safari adventure.

1. Passport

  • Your passport should be valid for at least six months after the end date of your trip.
  • As most African countries require visas for most nationalities, it is a good idea to ensure you have one blank page for each country to be visited.  So if the passport is getting full and you are planning a big overland journey, it might be a good time to renew.

2. Visas

  • Check with the embassy of the country (or countries) to be visited whether your nationality needs a visa.  In sub-Saharan Africa, visas can easily be acquired on entry, but this is not true for all nationalities.  Do not rely on your tour operator to know the rules for every nationality either – it is usually your responsibility to find out this information and, of course, apply in advance for those visas if necessary.

3. Travel Insurance

  • In Europe, many travellers forego travel insurance and take their chances.  It is simply not worth it in Africa.  The medical facilities available are usually not up to the standards in the West so having emergency evacuation cover is essential.  Protection against petty theft, lost luggage and sham tour operators are also helpful.

4. Book flights, tours, accommodation

  • The general wisdom is that eight weeks prior to travel is the optimal time to book flights.  There are plenty of online booking engines that can find cheap flights, but for a complicated itinerary there are still travel agents ready to assist.
  • Travelling in Africa is much easier on a tour, whether you join a group departure or organise a tailor-made safari.  If you prefer a tailor-made itinerary, it is good to start finding an operator at least three months in advance.  That will give you time to properly check out a few operators and make sure your itinerary is exactly what you want.
  • Check the inclusions of the tour and book accommodation for the first and/or last night if necessary.

5. Vaccinations

  • Talk to your doctor or a travel clinic about which vaccinations you need for the particular countries on your itinerary.
  • Allow at least six weeks before travel to get the vaccinations as some require a course of doses.

6. Airport transfers

  • After a long flight, haggling with a taxi driver is often the last thing you want to do.  Even if it costs a little bit more than you think you will be able to get it (not always true by the way), having someone meet you at the airport is one of life’s little joys.
  • And don’t forget to organise someone to pick you up when you return home as well!

7. Money

  • Check what ATM and credit card facilities are available in your destination.
  • Ensure you have enough cash to keep you going for the first few days – US dollars are still the currency of choice throughout most of Africa, although Pounds Stirling and Euros can be easily exchanged in cities.
  • Stash US$100 somewhere in your luggage for emergencies (running out of beer is NOT an emergency).

8. Pet care

  • Organising a house sitter is often less stressful for your animal and also protects your home security while you are away.

P1070963

9. Pack

  • Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to buy a new “safari wardrobe” for travelling in Africa.  Khaki is not a vital requirement.  Of course the specially-designed lightweight travel clothing is great if you are undertaking a long journey lugging your own bag around.
  • Pack for a Purpose is a fantastic website that has lists of equipment needed by projects all over the world.  If you have spare space in your suitcase, be sure to check the site for your destination and see what useful donations you can bring along

10. Language

  • Learning some of the local language gives you the opportunity to interact with people in your destination.  Often their English will be better than your KiSwahili, but it breaks the ice if you greet someone in their own language.

Although the focus of this checklist has been on African travel, it can be applied to most anywhere.  Getting these ten items organised will ensure you are ready and relaxed by the time you take off.

widows' village (2)

Northern Tanzania

Since the last post, we have arrived safely back in Nairobi…. despite the flood alert we heard on the radio upon crossing the border!

Usambarra Mountains, Tanzania, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

The view from halfway up the mountain on the way to Lushoto

We made a stop in Lushoto, a small mountain village in the heart of the Usambarra range.  With Mt Kilimanjaro so close, hiking in the Usambarras does not often make it onto many itineraries, but there’s no reason not to explore this region.  For a start it is A LOT cheaper than Kilimanjaro!

Usambarra Mountains, Tanzania, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

On the way to Lushoto

Lushoto is a lovely town with several local tour companies operating various hikes and cultural programs.  There is a strong community focus here, with a few of the companies contributing a percentage of their profits to development projects.  For example, Friends of Usambarra Mountains works with schools and the wider community on conservation education and tree planting.  TAYADEA is a youth organisation and the proceeds from the tours assists young people get into skill training institutions so they can become employable.  We also stumbled upon the guide who Francis worked with many years ago.  They were quite excited to meet after almost six years.  While he is still conducting tours, Jerome’s focus now is on building a guesthouse.  He invited us to his place a bit further up the mountain.  He has a beautiful garden with plenty of space for camping as well as six rooms.  It’s an ongoing project as he saves some money to invest into it, but when it is complete I’m sure it will be a wonderful place to stay.

Usambarra Mountains, Tanzania, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Waterfall in the Usambarra Mountains

And finally we got to Arusha where our mission was to find a suitable Tanzanian partner.  The politics between Kenya and Tanzania makes it necessary for tour operators to work together to give guests seamless trips but with local guides in each country.  It’s not bad for tourists, because it means you have Tanzanian guides with their local knowledge of Tanzania and Kenyan guides with the local knowledge of Kenya.  After a couple of false starts with some contacts, again Francis’ network of past colleagues came in handy.  As we were chatting to Henry who had worked alongside Francis for a long time he revealed that he too had started his tour company, Voyage Africain.  They specialise in Serengeti and Ngorongoro safaris and Mt Kilimanjaro hikes.  We were shown the tents they use: special hiking tents for Kilimanajro and safari tents for the Serengeti, as well as toilet, shower, dining and kitchen tents.  So we are happy with our new partnership and can’t wait to start welcoming guests for combined Kenya-Tanzania trips!

Serengeti, Tanzania, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

The tents for camping in the Serengeti

Arusha, Tanzania, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

The camp toilet if you hike Kilimanjaro

Mt Kiliomanjaro, Tanzania, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

The tents for hiking Mt Kilimanjaro

Arusha, Tanzania, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

The campsite at Ndoro Hunter’s Lodge 

 

Return from south to east: Livingstone to Arusha

The nicest thing about being in southern Africa was the lack of hassle from the traffic police.  Since entering Tanzania two days ago, we have been stopped no less than 15 times!  We have not been speeding or driving dangerously – these are simply routine stops to check you have driving licence, insurance, fire extinguisher, warning triangles, first aid kit, that your lights all work, etc etc.  This morning we got a fine for the light over the number plate not working.  Meanwhile real crimes are happening but the police are too busy getting money from us “rich tourists”.  Tanzania is pushing their tourism in foreign media currently, but after the way the police have ben speaking to us (the one this morning was shouting at us because we wanted to go to the court to check the fine was genuine) how can we recommend people to come if they will get treated so rudely?

That’s my rant over, now onto the nice aspects of our week travelling.  We said farewell to our guests in Livingstone, but before starting the journey home we had to spoil ourselves just once.  Francis and I went to the Royal Livingstone Hotel, the most expensive hotel in Livingstone.  It sits on the Zambezi River just at the top of Victoria Falls and you can sit on the sundeck sipping a cocktail while the sun sets over the water.  One cocktails cost more than our typical dinner for both of us, but that wasn’t important at the time!

Victoria Falls, Zambia, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Sunset over the top of Victoria Falls from the sundeck at the Royal Livingstone

The next morning we started the long drive back to Nairobi.  We decided to take it a bit easier than we had on the way down, so our first stop was Bridge Camp on the banks of the Luangwa River.  The border with Mozambique is on the other side of the river here and reports are that they will be tarring the road between there and Livingstone through Lower Zambezi National Park.  When that is complete, it will be a great new route – much more interesting than following the main highway through Lusaka.

Mikumi National Park, Tanzania, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Elephant spotted out the window as we drove through Mikumi National Park, Tanzania

We continued into Malawi, the land of missing speed limit signs but plenty of police with speed guns.  I was told there by a policeman that I “should not use my thoughts” and to just follow the signs.  So because many signs were missing, I thought we were passed the village and we were safe to go at speed again.  But the speed sign was still to come, unbeknownst to anyone.  I explained that other signs had been missing so I assumed this one also was because there were no houses around to slow down for and I had been stuck doing 50km/h for about half an hour earlier waiting for the signs that never came.  That’s when he said I shouldn’t think and just need to follow the signs (that don’t exist??!!).  Are there any questions about Malawi’s lack of development if the man in the uniform tells me I should not be thinking??

Tanzania, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Poor goat!

We stayed at Flame Tree B&B, run by the lovely Maggie.  It was a surprise to find such a place in Mzuzu, which had previously struck me as a market hub but not worth spending much time in.  The food was excellent and we met an English couple who have spent many years in Malawi and had recently set up a charity working on improving agriculture and supporting education.  Normal farming practices mean that during the rains, all the topsoil gets pushed away taking all the nutrients with it.  The charity was teaching farmers methods to keep the precious topsoil and thereby improve their harvests.  And they are enjoying success.

We were almost glad to be back in Tanzania (or East Africa), although we discovered that on our way down the officials at Namanga had cheated us on some taxes.  But we found a great guesthouse, had a reasonable dinner and continued through the dozens of police check points the next day.  We got as far as Morogoro before continuing into Dar Es Salaam yesterday.  We had two missions in Dar: meet Investours and learn about them, and buy new tyres.  New tyres are fitted now and we are really excited to start introducing Investours into our itineraries.  They are an NGO that ensures tourism dollars are actually getting to the local population.  It started in Mexico, but now has a branch in Tanzania.  An excursion with Investours only involves a day and you visit two entrepreneurs who have applied for a micro-loan and by the end of the day you are to decide which of them gets the money that you have paid for the tour as their loan.  You are also taken to the Woodcarvers Market to meet some entrepreneurs who have benefited from the program and a traditional lunch with locals is included, providing those women with some income as well.  The entrepreneurs who are qualifying for the micro-loan must live under the poverty line which is a measly 950 shillings per day (approximately 65 cents).  They receive a $200 interest-free loan to be paid back in three months – this ensures they pump the money into their business and work hard to grow it so they can meet their obligations.  Investours is planning to expand to Arusha and Moshi, opening up opportunities for entrepreneurs in those towns and also enabling visitors to Kilimanjaro and Serengeti to participate in this fantastic program.  We cannot wait to start supporting this organisation, so we hope some of you will also get excited about it as well!

Investours, Dar es Salaam, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Meeting Peter from Investours in Dar es Salaam

And now we are on our way to Moshi and Arusha where we will be researching all the good accommodation, updated prices of Kilimanjaro climbs and Serengeti safaris and maybe have a little relaxation with some friends before getting back to Nairobi.  We heard it’s raining in Kenya, so I’m not in a super rush to leave the sunshine down here.

Namibia & Botswana Tour Part III: Maun to Livingstone

Maun was fairly uneventful except for the purchase of a new cylinder head (which I’d prefer not to talk about J).  The experiences of our guests in the Okavango Delta are far more interesting however.  For three days they stayed on an island in the middle of the Delta, far away from the rest of the world.  Their rooms were on stilts above the hippos and crocodiles in the water below.  Morning and evening game drives and a couple of boat cruises gave plenty of wildlife-watching opportunity including an incredible leopard sighting.  The leopard was half hiding in the bushes and suddenly leaped out and dashed across the plain in front of their vehicle.  Leopards are so elusive, so to see such action was truly amazing.

In Maun we said good bye to Dennis and Merete.  They are heading back through the Kalahari Desert south to Cape Town.  Dennis wanted some sand driving, so I’m looking forward to hearing about their adventures.  Meanwhile Pia and Henning have come with us to Livingstone, via Chobe National Park.

Elephants, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Elephants on the side of the road

From Maun we travelled east to Nata where we spent the night before continuing the journey north to Kasane.  Along the way we nearly ran into a huge elephant that was hanging out by the side of the highway – that’s what I love about Africa: just driving on the highway and suddenly there’s an elephant!

Nata Lodge, Botswana, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

The chalet in Nata

Kasane is the jumping off point for Chobe National Park, the park with the highest density of elephants in the world.  Henning and Pia had been spoilt in the Okavango Delta so Chobe was almost an anti-climax.  While they were enjoying their game drives however, Francis and I discovered that we didn’t have to travel at all to see the wildlife.  About thirty elephants decided the bushes on the other side of the fence near our campsite were the perfect grazing site for the day.  So while we cleaned the van and prepared for the onward journey, the elephant herd munched about 50 metres from us.

Kasane, Botswana, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

The elephants near our campsite. They blow dust on themselves to keep cool

Crossing the border from Botswana into Zambia is easier said than done.  The Kazangula ferry is straightforward enough, but entering Zambia is another story.  The customs official wanted Francis to produce a written letter giving him authorisation to drive his own car!  There are three different taxes one must pay on bringing a vehicle into Zambia and rather than streamlining the process, the three offices are scattered throughout the port with one official who may or may not be on a lunch break at any given time.  Nearly two hours later we were signing the final book to be released into Zambia.  The correlation between development and bureaucracy was proven – the less of one, the more of the other.

Livingstone, Zambia, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Cheeky baboons raid the bins in search of food

Now we are in Livingstone.  Yesterday we visited the National Park where there are walking trails to see the mighty Victoria Falls.  At the moment, there is A LOT of water coming over and it is a very wet walk to see the falls.  At the best of times one should wear a raincoat to protect from the spray.  But currently, Victoria Falls simply laughs at a raincoat and you are better off taking your soap and enjoying the bath.  We also walked on the bridge that is the border crossing from Zambia to Zimbabwe.  The middle of the bridge is where the bungee jump happens, but none of us were tempted.  There’s a less drenching view of the falls from the bridge as well, but still too damp to pose for a nice photo.  In the afternoon Henning and Pia went walking with the lions.  Getting up close to these massive cats, seeing their huge teeth, but patting them as if they are sweet little pussy cats was an experience they will never forget.

Bungee jump at Victoria Falls, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Bungee jumping in the Zambezi Gorge

We have a day or two more in Livingstone before Henning and Pia fly home and Francis and I start the long drive back to Nairobi.  That will be next week’s tale.

Victoria Falls, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

The Victoria Falls

Namibia & Botswana Tour Part II: Etosha to the Okavango Delta

From Etosha we headed east to Tsumeb and Grootfontein.  After a brief stop at the Hobas Meteorite, the largest to ever hit the earth, we continued to Roy’s Rest Camp.  After an overnight stop we headed north to Divundu.  River Dance Lodge was our overnight stop, one of the nicest campsites I have ever been to!  It sits right on the Kavango River on the north side of the highway that runs through the Caprivi Strip, meaning that you are looking across the river at Angola.  Lovely big couches on the balcony give a wonderfully comfortable place to utilise the free wireless internet – something we had all been missing for a while.

From Divundu we went south into Botswana, driving through Bwabwata National Park.  Unfortunately all the animals were sheltering from the heat of the day so we didn’t get to see anything as we passed by.  We crossed over the border and on to Shakawe in Botswana’s remote northwest.

The main attraction in this corner of the world is the ancient rock art of Tsodilo Hills.  Ranging between 3000 and 10,000 years old, the cave paintings are fantastically well-preserved.  At Twyfelfontein, we had been surprised to see engravings of seals and penguins which indicated those people had travelled all the way to the coast.  But now in Tsodilo Hills, even further from the sea, we saw the same motifs!  Like Twyfelfontein, these paintings were used for communication about what had been seen and hunted in the area … except for the penguins, which must have been a tale from a weary traveller.

Tsodilo Hills, Botswana, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Ancient rock paintings at Tsodilo Hills

There was a huge cave where the San Bushmen must have sought shelter during the rains.  Evidence of fire smoke on the roof and other clues indicate this.  Our guide showed us a popular game the women used to play while the men were out hunting.  It required far too much hand-eye coordination for me, but Dennis, Henning and Francis all gave it a go with mixed success.

Tsodilo Hills, Botswana, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Learning to play traditional games

From Shakawe we continued south to Maun, the gateway to the Okavango Delta.  Dennis, Merete, Henning and Pia have abandoned Francis and I to enjoy three days in the beautiful Delta.  I am sure they are seeing such wonderful sights – the Delta teems with wildlife and there are so many ways to enjoy the sights from scenic flights, to dugout canoes, to walking safaris.

When they return we will say farewell to Dennis and Merete as they head back to Cape Town, and we will travel with Henning and Pia to Livingstone via Chobe National Park.  If you want to hear about that installment  click the Follow button below and you will be able to keep track of all our adventures.

I cannot believe how much stuff we have managed to stuff into our van!  Now it's clean, we just have to repack now .....

I cannot believe how much stuff we have managed to stuff into our van! Now it’s clean, we just have to repack now …..

The Transit: Nairobi to Windhoek in six short days

It’s been quite an eventful week for OTA.  On Monday Kenya held its long-awaited election.  Francis arrived at his polling station at 4am ready to vote early so we could leave on our next adventure.  But alas, it was not to happen.  Twelve hours later, suffering from sunstroke and dehydration, he submitted his vote and I unpacked my bag for another night in Nairobi.

So on Tuesday, this time it was me to leave at 4am to pick up Francis and this time start on our next adventure.

Currently we are on our way to Windhoek, capital of Nairobi.  It’s a cool 4000km from Nairobi as the crow flies.  But of course, travelling as the crow flies takes us on all sorts of interesting roads.  So we take a longer route in the interests of saving time – this is Africa!

Our early start on Tuesday paid off and by evening we were in Chalinze.  Although satisfied with our progress, we did feel that the Tanzanian police stationed every 5km (it seemed!) were hindering us somewhat.  Of course some police are necessary on a major highway to control speed and occasionally check documents.  But checking the presence of our fire extinguisher and asking who we were voting for in Kenya (that was the real reason for the pull over) constituted, to me, a waste of time.

Breakfast in Morogoro - OTA travels from Nairobi to Windhoek www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Breakfast in Morogoro, Tanzania

Wednesday got a little more interesting when we lost the water pump.  Even on the major highways, the roads are riddled with potholes and, especially in Tanzania, the buses and trucks don’t mind overtaking on blind corners and pushing smaller vehicles off the road – a bit terrifying at times!

Francis came the rescue and, once procured (from the town 60km away and the first one that arrived did not fit), he popped it in and we were away.

Dinner that night does deserve comment before we continue.  Chips mayai (chips with a couple of eggs fried over them – I imagine a fantastic hangover cure, but otherwise a heart attack on a plate) and chicken, also fried.  In East Africa you get a choice of chook: broilers are normal chickens; African racing chickens are the one you see roaming the streets – tough old birds!  This night we got no choice; African racing chicken it was.  Francis’ comment sums up the jaw-breaking experience perfectly: “Oh, I thought it was a bone, but it is meat!”

Thursday was our Malawi marathon.  We crossed the border, meeting some friends from another tour company at the border post.  After getting past all the police checks in northern Malawi we were free to move.  And we did!  We drive all through the night, while I introduced Francis to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on an audio book.  That was about 12 hours we spent in Malawi, arriving at the Zambian border around 3am.  We snatched a couple of hours sleep in the supermarket car park in Chipata before continuing through Zambia – this is NOT how we run tours with our guests, please note!

Driving through Zambia with OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Street market in Zambia

So we zoomed through Zambia on Friday and entered Namibia on Saturday.  At last we reached Windhoek this morning after 5116 km where we were so happy to meet a hot shower and a comfortable bed.  Now, refreshed and ready for the next three weeks, we will meet our guests this afternoon.  Stay tuned next week as the story continues (of saner and more interesting travelling).

Travelling in Namibia with OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Villages in northern Namibia as we whiz by

Lamu

Having heard much about the island of Lamu, I decided to take a week off and check it out.  I knew it was on UNESCO’s World Heritage List and it was the place in Kenya to experience traditional Swahili culture.  I didn’t know that getting there by bus was not the best way to travel!  Lamu is fairly remote, and most tourists opt to fly in and out.

The journey involved an overnight train from Nairobi to Mombasa (not as straightforward as it sounds, but another story completely), a seven-hour bus ride with the girl next to me curled up with her head in my lap asleep, and finally an overloaded boat to the island.

But arriving on Lamu was like entering another world: from the bumpy dusty road to an architecturally beautiful haven.  My accommodation was a cheap guest house with a lovely rooftop terrace where I could relax if I tired of exploring.

My first goal was to fill up on the historic sites including Lamu Museum and Swahili House, giving me excellent insight into traditional Swahili culture.  As I wandered about the Old Town, I marvelled at the narrow laneways, intricate carved wood doors, and traditional houses.  There are no cars in Lamu; if you need to go further than walking distance or carry a load, you travel by donkey.  This makes walking a pleasure…. unless you get too close to a grumpy donkey!

My favourite thing when travelling is to watch life happen; Lamu Fort provided the perfect place.  Looking out over the central square from the fort afforded views of market sellers and chess players.  The fort has views in all directions, so I could see houses all around, with people coming in and out, children visiting their friends and playing in the laneways.

Alberto Mateo

The real beauty however, I found at the waterfront.  Fishing has long been the primary industry of Lamu, and it continues to be an important part of life here.  I watched as the fisherman hauled in their catch, made and mended their nets, and repaired their boats.  The dhows (wooden sailing boats) they use are the same design as years past, and fathers teach their sons the skills of boat building, net making and fishing.  And so life continues as ever before in this remote paradise.

Alberto Mateo

Lamu is a haven, so serene compared to mainland Kenya.  I learnt there are many ways to experience Swahili culture, apart from the museum.  For example one man invites people to his home for a dinner of traditional dishes, there are sunset dhow cruises, or just soak up the atmosphere in the Old Town.

Alberto Mateo

The photos for this post were supplied by Alberto Mateo.  More of his work can be found at  www.albertomateo.com  and www.thelastfootprint.com

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