RSS Feed

Tag Archives: vacation

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.

Advertisements

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)

Bac Ha – On being about the Journey, not the destination

I’ve been doing a few guest posts for another travel blog.  They are not necessarily about Kenya, so they might seem a bit off topic.  But the blogger I’m writing for takes amazing photos that I want to share.  And it might be interesting for you to hear about other places outside East Africa as well.

The Friendly Cafe was where I met Sasha and Neil on my first day in Sapa and where our adventure was concocted.  We decided to hire motorbikes and ride to Bac Ha for the Sunday market.  We hired two bikes for three of us as I didn’t know how to ride and thought I’d be quite happy on the back.

Fog entering the valley, near Lau Thi Ngai coll, Bac Ha Mountains, Lao Cai province, mountains of Vietnam near the border of China, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Fog entering the valley

After half a day I was ready to drive.  What fun!  Lesson one covered dirt roads, potholes, gravel, mud, river crossings and night driving.

As evening approached we realised we were lost.  It was dark and cold so we stopped in a village to ask for help.  We negotiated for someone to lead us to the nearest guesthouse and soon we were retracing our route along the potholed dirt roads and over rivers.  But this time, Neil fell in.  He must have hit a rock; the bike went over.  Fortunately he and the bike were OK but he was drenched and we still had another thirty minutes ride.

Hmong women in rice fields, Bac Ha Mountains, Lao Cai province, mountains of Vietnam near the border of China. OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Hmong women in rice fields

At last we arrived at a guesthouse where an extraordinarily rude hotelier greeted us.  But the rooms were clean, the price reasonable, and we would have settled for anything.

Next mission: dinner.  Sasha and I found a restaurant across the road where, instead of trying to figure out what we wanted, the old woman simply put the knife in one of Sasha’s hands and a tomato in the other and indicated “here’s the kitchen, go for it”.  It was wonderful!

The following day we got to Bac Ha.  What a sight greeted our eyes: everywhere we looked were colourful H’mong in bright traditional dress.  With a magnificent temple in the background, mounds of vegetables for sale on the street and women with large basket backpacks, it was a visual spectacular.  Breakfast was something we could not identify, but it was good.  For the rest of the day we munched on sugar cane.

The market extended over a large area, divided into sections.  The animal market was an open dirt patch with each seller’s offerings harnessed together.  There were donkeys, sheep, cows, water buffalo and dogs (which we hope were being sold for pets, not food).  Local liqueur was being sold from jerry cans.  Customers had to bring their own bottle into which the liqueur was poured through a funnel.  It seemed somehow incongruous to see these older H’mong women in their beautiful costumes dispensing local alcohol in this way.  My favourite section was clothing where I was sorely tempted to buy a lovely traditional H’mong skirt.

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

Hmong men playing snooker, Bac Ha village, Lao Cai province, mountains of Vietnam near the border of China, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Hmong men playing snooker

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 …..

%d bloggers like this: