Posted by: Ele Quigan | August 18, 2014

Africa Part 4 – Zimbabwe and Makgadikgadi Pans Botswana

Africa Part 4 – Zimbabwe and Makgadikgadi Pans Botswana.

Vic Falls is a strange place. It’s touristy (as you can imagine) but there’s darker sides to it. “1 billion note” someone whispers through the fence behind our tent. Everything is for sale.

As we walk to a hotel “big 5” someone says trying to push carvings into my hands. “I’ve already bought from the curio market”. He gets aggressive. “You should buy from me too”. “No, I already have something but thank you”. “You are TERRIBLE tourist. You should buy from me not there” – I’ve not experienced Africa like this, unbridled anger. “Go back to where you came from terrible tourist”. It’s not very nice.

In a similar sense we’re stopped on our way out of Vic Falls, not 30km past. The police view our truck, fined for a small infraction. Our tour leader hops out, having none of this.

After some discussion and pointing, she moves to get back in, telling one officer we’ve had the okay – he’s having none of it. It seems like such a corrupt scheme, $15 pocketed here and there, 2 receipt books so even the receipt isn’t genuine. While limited, it’s the most obvious thing we’ve seen yet in Africa.

On the back of the political climate it’s still strange to be in Zimbabwe. Houses are behind barbed and razor wire. People seem different, again limited smiles, but it seems like we’re suddenly in a very western version of Africa. There’s no more bright kitenge, it’s all malls and nicer cars.

Two national parks are the reason we’re here, Hwange & Matopos (also known as Matobo).

Hwange is known for its population of elephants, so it’s incredible to see them at a waterhole in huge numbers. Different families, young males fighting, little tiny babies with trunks they can barely control being herded by brothers and sisters a little older. Other young males trumpting and mock charging. It’s such an unusual experience.

There are elephants in the tens of thousands in this park, it’s a surprise to see they have enough food, but it’s getting to the point where they need to start culling them, to the disdain of the international community.

Our guide was the best we’d had by a long shot. Andy, who had been a hunter for several years before becoming a guide. Pointing out animal prints, answering questions, but with such a sense of fun we all haven’t laughed that much in forever.

Elephant prints look like circles of wrinkles in the dust, their foot expands as they place it, assisting with the limited noise they make moving about. Lion tracks are in pad shapes, similar to a domestic cat.

As we landed back in camp, we heard a sound. A low sound, not a hoo but a ho. Deep. You’d hear it in bursts. Lions roaring.

It’s totally different to what you think it would be? And with the backdrop of loud birds, hyena, it’s almost hard to pick out. It suddenly stops.

We did another night drive, but with our guide this time it was way more interesting. Everything is so much louder, from baboons doing their baboon thing to bids calling. Again the most interesting thing was the elephants.

Nothing but shadows, a glance of a foot or a movement behind a bush, the dark camouflages them more than in the day time, even with them right next to us. I’m reminded of our terrifying night visit from the elephants while we were in our tent, I feel far safer in the confines of our 4×4.

They’re much louder at night, pulling branches down, chewing loudly, stomping indelicately through undergrowth. They make sounds that almost sound like a stomach growling, and sounds that our human ears can’t hear. When they stop – they all stop together. And start – all starting together.
It was freezing at night in Hwange, for the first time all our layers come out, merino on merino. Too cold for jandals for the first time in a while, but we’re up at 5 for our dawn game drive.

The sky is clear.

As I get older I’m recognizing more and more of my mother in myself, and within that mostly a love for the world around us, an innate curiosity about plants and rocks, and a passion for the stars.

For the first time in years Orion is bright in the sky. The first constellation I learned, I can spot Orions belt before the Southern Cross, before the pointers, Scorpio, Pleiades.

With a flood of unexpected nostalgia tinged with homesickness, I’m reminded of nights being wrapped up warm late at night, torch covered in red cellophane trying to map a page in a book to the sky above. Squinting through binoculars, looking for clusters and planets.

For the first time these groups of stars are presenting themselves as pictures. It’s not 3 stars, it’s a belt. That star is the tip of a Pegasus wing. I’ve never seen stars as bright, colours standing out, even the star shape more obvious than ever before.

As the sky glows on the horizon before the sun rises slowly the stars fade out. I’m left with a strange longing for home that I haven’t felt in years.

We move through the park, our guide spots lion tracks “5 or 6, these are this morning. Look, here is where they lay down for a bit, this one turned around, and they kept walking. These are the ones we heard last night”. This is more exiting than our other game drives, it feels purposeful, following these glorious cats.

We come across them, a group of 5 young ones. Their eyes a bright amber in the morning light. They move on quickly, deep into the forest, hopefully to hunt, they were looking a bit skinny.

Back at camp we moved on to Bulawayo. Out the window I’m still struck by the razor wire. For me seeing too much security makes me feel unsafe. It’s strange. Streets are barely lit. Our campsite is surrounded by walls. But the showers are hot,

The next morning is another day out in a National Park, this time Matopo Rhodes.

This park is like nothing we’ve seen. Huge rocks and formations make the park, fluorescent green lichen covers some of them, with reddish and greenish lines through the formations.

It’s such a change from the near flat we’re used to in both Kenya and Tanzania, the riverbeds and trees of Zambia, the red, green and gold trees of Malawi, and jungle of Uganda and Rwanda.

We climb over rocks with a full view of the park, trying to spot Rhino, which we do.

Tracking animals on foot is now my favourite experience. Following tracks (rhino have 3 toes, they have such weird looking “feet”) and poo, our guide pointing out the different types (females just drops theirs, males poo in a big lump, and scrape it to spread their scent further).

Different to the swap of Ziwa, the dry undergrowth and stunted trees make it easy to spot. A mother and 3 year old, another group of 7, it’s a strange day given how many we see.

I never thought I’d see such a large group, some with stubs where their horns are (they cut them off to make them less of a poach risk). They’re hot in the bright sunlight, relaxing under trees, some standing on watch, some with their big backsides to us. They’re beautiful in an odd way, hard to imagine that their value is just going up, 560 rhinos have been killed for their horns in South Africa this year.

Our guide is vocal on his opinions about the various solutions – nothing seems to be working. “Put money into building hospitals” (a Vietnamese politician puts his cancer cure to Rhino horn), “creating a market by farming them wont work”, “pay the guides, the rangers a proper salary – make it a prestigious role to guard rhino”. There’s 80% unemployment in Zimbabwe. The economy isn’t recovering. It’s easy to understand the $$$ motivation behind poaching. Or the people who share where the rhino are. The customs people who are bribed to let things pass. The Government officials who don’t take a stand. Brings to mind our corrupt cops, I’m sure that fine was pocketed. Money talks more than anything else, and it’s easy to see how money talks in Africa.

The most interesting thing we saw in Matopos for me was the cave paintings. They’re not as old as the ones in France, or others around the world – but I still loved the story they told.

In an open cave a few minutes climb up some rocks they’re bright – you can see people with spears in them, the patches of giraffe, and zebra lines etched into the stone walls. A shadow painting of a woman hidden until shown – unable to be captured by a mere camera. The story of the wall isn’t obvious – is it a hunt? Or a dance? Something spiritual? It hasn’t been uncovered, but it’s an amazing place.

We close our afternoon watching the sunset, high amongst the rocks, the sky turning them red.

From Zimbabwe to Botswana, which again is another border shock. Stopping at a mall for lunch we both feel like we’ve stepped into early 2000’s New Zealand. An open mall, western clothes, sport shops, Nandos. The best part was the icecream we had.

We’re sleeping amongst giant baobab trees, their finger-like branches reaching into the sky around us.

Rather than a game drive, we embark on an afternoon trip via the Kalahari desert to see the salt pans and Meerkats.

The Kalahari is unusual. The grass is yellow, and looks soft like Golden Retreiver fur, moving gently in the wind as we go past. The trees are deciduous, some with red leaves they still haven’t dropped, it’s an eerie landscape, completely unexpected. The trees give way to thorny shrubs as we venture further in.

We come across a huge natural spring, it’s full of wild horses, cooling off in the afternoon sun.

The meerkats have split into 3 groups, while I’m disappointed we’re not seeing a massive group, I’m still amazed that we’re able to get as close as we do.

One immediately starts digging, and he’s digging for the just about the whole time we are with them. Another one behind him is nervous, crouching and running if we get too close, tail high in the air.

When they stand (like expected) they look so small against the huge expanse. They make funny noises to each other, not quite a mew, and their round ears perk up.

We continue to watch the one digging, and slowly the little on creeps up – but we can’t look at him, every time we do he stops! He suddenly runs when he realizes that the digging one has caught something.

The digging one has caught a huge yellow scorpion, crunching it loudly, I think the little one wanted some of it as he runs past, through our legs, but they’re expected to fend for their own.

They eat about 10 scorpions like that a day, and with the tunnel dug about a foot long it must be a huge effort to find that many every day!

We move on to the salt pans, a huge expanse of greyish white, tasting salty as expected. We take the usual perspective photos, Dan on my head, me on his hand, and attempt to walk around blind folded, all disorientated.

There’s not much to see, with no water there’s no reflections – they sky is grey from bushfire smoke, concerning after 2 years of drought in Botswana. As I write now on our way to the Okavango Delta the sky is dulled from the smoke in the air.

Night comes cool and fast, the red globe dropping below the horizon like the many sunsets we’ve seen, we’re back on the 4×4 quickly to get back to camp, hungry for dinner.

Africa Part 3 – The Zambezi; Canoeing & White water rafting & Victoria Falls in both Zambia & Zimbabwe

There’s something like a relaxing few days on a canoe, camping on islands in the middle of the Zambezi, starting from Zambia.

The start of canoeing

The start of canoeing

Elephants, the gentle giants that they are, at the waters edge. Crocodiles, the giant gnashing teeth the have sunning themselves. Hippos, grunting at each other, splashing about, giant heffalumps…

The first day was incredibly windy, making it a bit tough heading into wind even with the strength of the current behind us. The Zambezi is wide but with islands throughout, and smaller channels where the water speeds through, various places where the current suddenly speeds up, or eddies and whirlpools where if you get stuck in you’re pulled straight into the bank.

Canoeing takes a bit to get used to; you need to be a bit instinctive about it. There were more than a few cross words between the two of us while we got used to it.

It’s hard to explain what it’s like, huge big birds flying in formation. Hot African sunshine beating down from a blue sky. Hippos talking in their funny honkhonk, looking at us from their sunken selves with just their eyes, nostrils and squidgable ears visible. Being closer to elephants than we’ve ever experienced, while they trumpet at us as we canoe past.

The wind picked up all day, so we had a siesta of about 3 hrs after lunch. Strange to be snoozing next to an elephant, on an island, in the Zambezi.

The afternoon had the most incredible sunset we’d seen in Africa. Red, orange, yellow – but the whole horizon rather than just a single shining disc in the sky. The night was clear too, making for hours of stargazing, stars are bright blues and yellows it’s so clear. As the night goes on the obvious constellations aren’t as obvious, you can see more stars here than I’ve ever seen in my life, planets even brighter.

The next day dawns grey and windy, not the most auspicious start for what is going to be a long slog. People have open blisters from paddles the wrong size. Sore backs and arms and shoulders – strangely I’m fine – no pain, no tension, so I keep quiet and commiserate with those in pain.

It was such a hard slog – I got soaked and cold, no sun to warm me up, braving white caps and waves into the canoe & mostly into my face rather than at the back.

The wind kept rising, so we kept having to stop, lest we start losing canoes from too much water.

The afternoon we waited and waited till the wind died down, and from 3:30 onwards it started to drop. It was white caps to nearly flat in just under an hour.

It was a cold windy night, but with another 6 hours of canoeing I was exhausted, dreading the 4:15 alarm.

Cold and cloudy, our early start with our tent down & everything packed by 4:45 as I was on cook group.After breakfast we waited for our pickup. And waited. It got colder. And windier. By the time they arrived I was freezing.

The Sunset

The Sunset

But the boat journey back, was probably the highlight of the trip. The Zambezi was like glass, and we zipped past while the clouds parted and the sun was finally up, speeding past hippos, past crocs, birds – it was the nicest part of the two days.

At the Zambian side of Victoria Falls you can hear the falls before you see them, even smell them. There’s suddenly ferns, and more jungle like forest, different from the dry tree laden dusty ground of Zambia.

I didn’t know what to expect, but they were awe-inspiring. The sheer power behind the Zambezi is incredible. After being in a canoe and feeling how fast we were being swept along in some stages you can understand how these falls have such power.

It’s 1km cross, a crack in the earth where the falls drop. You can feel the spray like rain on your face, jackets a must. Both sides (Zambia on one side, Zimbabwe on the other) offer different vistas from the boiling pot below, to the famous bridge. When the sun is up there are strong rainbows, a cheerful part to what is essentially a breathtaking experience.

The backdrop sound and power of the water makes you want to raise your arms to the air and laugh and smile. It’s excitement, it’s earth, you feel like you’re a part of this planet just by being there. Mosi-oa-Tunya, I raise my arms to you and bow down in awe of your glory and power.

Happy Canoers

Happy Canoers

We’re camped not far away now in Zimbabwe, and I can hear them (alongside the helicopters hovering for 15 minutes at a time), the falls being the backdrop of the most peaceful white noise I’ve ever heard.

We booked for an activity, white water rafting – which I hadn’t done before, and I’ll probably never do again.

I was a little ambivalent about it, it was expensive ($150 USD each), and Dan was keen, and while I wasn’t really bothered either way, the last thing I wanted was to be left behind, so I decided to go along.

I was impressed by the quality of the gear, brand new lifejackets, and wet suit vests in case you got cold (I put one straight on, the Zambezi wasn’t too warm at all), did the long precarious walk down the near vertical gorge walls to start our ride down the post-falls Zambezi river.

We were with a Dutch family, which made me slightly nervous, the other full boat with our friends from our trip couldn’t fit the two of us (there were 9 of us rafting), so we volunteered to join the other.

We learnt the usual instructions – “Left Back”, “PADDLE FASTER”, “Get Down!”, “All out”. Jumping into the cold Zambezi with a life jacket pulled so tight you can’t quite breathe shocked me into starting to realize what I got myself into.

The first couple of rapids were a bit nerve wracking. Still high water, we started at number 11 “Overland Truck eater”… Faced with huge white-capped waves, boiling whirlpools, and a massive amount of volume pulling in from all sides, I started to feel nervous, but there’s no time for that on the water, we pushed through, soaked trying to paddle and get down, the raft hitting the waves.

It was a bit nerve wracking, but kind of fun at the same time. I got my confidence together, tried to send Dan a watery half smile (he was at the front of the boat, I was at the back on the other side) and continue.

We had a couple more “freebies” and I felt my confidence rise, but I was still nervous, we got through “The 3 Sisters” and then hit “The Mother”.

I’m not afraid of things, I’ve bungee jumped, jumped out of a plane, been gliding, wanted to hang-glide for years now. I’m not an “adrenaline junkie” but I’m not really afraid of anything. Except Earthquakes, but that’s another story.

We approached this rapid, paddling, not holding on, and suddenly I was gone.

I tumbled underneath the water, pulled this way and that totally out of control. My head bobbed above water, I was far from the boat, I started to cry. I was pulled under.

It’s hard to explain what it’s like under there. Seconds turn into hours. The awesome power of the water pulling and pushing. boiling under me, hopeless to even think about what to do with my feet, and being pushed up to surface again. I spotted the boat even further, oars out of reach, panicking more than I thought I ever would and I was under again.

I keep seeing a visualization in front of me of Dan holding out an oar – and I can’t reach it, the water is taking me further and further away as I watching crying out. It’s a day later and I can’t stop seeing it.

I’ve never been so frightened in my life. Utter terror, I can’t put it into words. Rolling under the river, wondering if I was ever going to make it out. I swallowed more and more of the brown water water and felt heavy. My shoes were on, I should have been sinking. Thank god for the lifejacket, with trainers on and no ability or strength to fight against the waves and water, I think it genuinely saved my life. The rapids felt like forever.

The safety kayak was trying to get to me; and somehow (I honestly have no idea how) I still had my oar in my hand. In such a panicked state, he couldn’t pick me up (for safety reasons they can’t let someone who is panicking on a kayak, as it risks the kayaker), I tried to calm myself down for a few moments. I held on, trying to kick, still feeling at any moment that I’d be pulled off down stream.

I was pulled into the boat in a complete state of shock. I couldn’t stop crying.

Unbelievably, we moved on.

I wasn’t pulling myself together, I wasn’t calm, tears wouldn’t stop streaming down my face. I picked up my paddle, tried to stop my insides from screaming, and kept going.

A couple more smaller ones, and then a bigger one approached. I started to hyperventilate. I couldn’t stop, we moved through.

Looking back (I’m actually tearing up as I type this) I should have been pulled off. I should have walked the rest around the rocks. (which probably wasn’t possible) I was shaking and crying, with a bunch of strangers who didn’t speak my language and who offered no support, and with Dan at the front he couldn’t move down for a cuddle or a pat, and knowing it was the start, I was terribly frightened of what was ahead.

Each one we moved through terrified me further. Tears and shaking wouldn’t stop, our guide didn’t mention any more levels. A mere mention of the next set of rapids I would go further into shock, shaking, unable to breathe, tears coming faster. I wanted to be sick, but I’m not sure if that was the volume of water I swallowed.

Another one approached, I started to shake. I couldn’t breathe. I started to see Dan in the same position as me, drifting away. I was in a complete state of panic.
I thought we were okay as we moved through, but a huge wave pulled into the side I was on, and the boat flipped.

Somehow I ended up next to Dan, again unable to hold on to anything, floating away again, crying like I’ve never cried, in a total state of shock. Someone managed to get me. I think the only reason I was able to cope when we flipped the boat was because Dan was there. The idea of putting my head underwater and getting lost again terrified me.

The rest of the trip is a haze. Our friends would come close – their boat seemed to go an easier route, no flipping, no people involuntarily out.

I wish our guide had told us when the hard ones were over, I was in a terrible state, I just wanted it over.

And suddenly it was.

There were beautiful parts to the trip, the wide Zambezi River, full of rafts. The sharp sides to the gorge, Lion rock.

But as I slowly walked up the steep steep walk, I was still wondering how I manage to survive. Seeing an oar I couldn’t reach, my husbands face as I again was under the water – over and over and over and over.

Later that evening, we reviewed the DVD of a couple of the rapids. Interestingly it included the one I came off and the boat flip. On the first one, something had come up from below and tipped me (and the woman opposite me) off. I’d done a complete somersault, and went into the water backwards & headfirst. No wonder I panicked and was disorientated.

Our full boat flip had happened before the rapids really started, we moved through them, me starting to drift away again, somehow collected back to the boat.

I don’t know how I feel about it. The boat our friends were in didn’t flip, I’d like to say they had a much easier ride from reviewing the DVD, but maybe that’s me trying to explain to myself it was okay to be frightened.

A few of them said “Oh you had your life jacket you were fine” or “It wasn’t so bad, our boat didn’t even flip!” I started to feel ashamed of my fear, embarrassed that I’d completely lost the plot for a few hours.

After such a tough day I didn’t want to talk to anyone, so back to camp we ventured in search of coffee, which with icecream, totally soothed my soul.

Here’s a breakdown of the rapids and their levels if you’re interested:

“Overland Truck Eater” # 11: Class 5: A big barrel for about two weeks in the year during the transition between high and low water in mid January and early July. Watch out for the hole, eddy line and whirlpool. This is the first rapid on the “high water” run.

“Three Sisters” #12A,B,C: Class 3/4: 12B is the famous Zambezi surfing wave for kayakers – surfs best between August and December with two windows and a massive green shoulder and a big eddy. Rafters prefer the term “three little pigs”.

“The Mother” # 13: Class 4/5: A massive wave train at its best, first 3 waves super fast.
Rapid # 14: Class 3: Big S-bend in the river. Center chute to be avoided at lower water levels.

“Washing Machine” # 15: Class 5: Simple wave train but un-runnable in the middle because of a huge crashing hole – go left or right into the eddy.

“The Terminators I and II” # 16: Class 4: A massive wave train and trough at higher levels, not much when low.

“Double Trouble” # 17: Class 5: A simple wave train but un-runnable because of 2 large holes – also known as “The Bitch”.

“Oblivion” # 18: Class 5: Three waves make up THE rapid on the Zambezi.. The 3rd crashing wave is responsible for more raft flips than any other in the world – only about 1 in 4 attempts succeed! This rapid marks the end of the “low water” one-day run.

Rapids #19 to #25: Class 2/3: Easy runs at the end of the day. Rapid #23 is the last rapid on the “high water” one-day run.

Posted by: Ele Quigan | July 26, 2014

Africa Part 3 – Malawi and Zambia

Africa Part 3: Malawi & Zambia

After the relative wealth of Tanzania, Malawi has been a shock. One of the poorest countries in the world, I don’t know what I expected, but it was a really tough country to be in.

It’s beautiful, hilly, but not like Rwanda, which was steep & terraced, this was empty, but almost tropical. The hills were rolling, gentle, not sharp & severe. We drive through valleys of trees, lush with reds, greens and gold, the first deciduous trees we’ve seen.

The people look different, their foreheads are large, their chins just with an underbite. And there’s a bit of aggression. Kids are more demanding, fewer waves from truck windows. Pens, money, sweets, it’s different to previous times though. We had things thrown at our truck windows as people took photos. Kids pulling the finger as we drive past. I can almost understand why, but it’s hard. In being here we’re bringing money into the country, but you can see that it doesn’t filter down to where people need it most.

There’s no bright advertising here. No painted shops – there are much fewer of those too. The huts are red brick, but with window spaces and no glass, glass is too expensive. There are fewer hand pump wells, fewer lines of agriculture, and far fewer cows.

What do people eat? There’s not the smaller markets with buckets of onions & potatoes. Tomatoes are in single piles of 8 or 9, not on whole tables of tomatoes.

We pass villages not towns. Hardly any cars. Chief and churches the best buildings again.

The site of Lake Malawi is incredible. The sun setting behind the sky cools what looks like a grey sea, it’s hard to differentiate between the sky – they’re the same colour bar a single line.. The beach is a golden; dusty sand, a huge difference from the stark white of Tanzania. The sides of the hills are lines of rock, and the trees more temperate than what we’re used to. There’s no acacias here.

When we move on we stay in Kande beach for 3 nights. A break for washing and relaxing. It’s windy season so the beach is rough and loud – it’s hard to believe it’s a lake next to us. We want to snorkel but it’s too rough while we’re there.

We visit a village, and how simply the locals live really hits home. A school with 100 kids in each class, school journals and text books from New Zealand, that I remember learning from more than 25 years ago.

The medical centre with a small birthing centre attached is harder. Women are given a mosquito net when they get pregnant to try and reduce malarial deaths. The room where women give birth is a shock. It’s not white and sterile; it’s a bare room with no way to sterilize instruments. Knowing a friend is waiting at home ready to pop makes me wonder what she’d think of such a place.
We can’t help but donate a little, unsure if it really goes anywhere we feel obligated to do something. We buy from the young men who walk with us, practicing their English, selling paintings and carvings, making a living 500 kwacha at a time.

Back at the lake we swim away the shadow that followed us from the village. The water is warm, and sparkles with suspended particles in the light – like someone has sprinkled the water with glitter. We don’t see any fish.

Our days there are quiet. Relaxing. Swimming. Frisbee. Bao (local 2 player game)- I feel unwell for part of it and rest out of the sunshine. Our campsite has walls on the sides, the village and poverty hidden.

Another excruciatingly long truck day as we venture into Zambia. A quiet border, gone are the 3.5 hr crosses (I hope). And it’s suddenly busy. Cars everywhere, full houses. The wealth increase is obvious just a few kms into the country.

While there are still mud huts, still villages, the people here seem to have more.

We’re in South Luangwa National Park, as I write this from the campsite the river flows in front of me, hippos sunbathing, talking to each other. Monkeys are everywhere, one cheeky one stole an apple of my plate this morning – they’re not afraid of people, and can escape with scraps.

The park is laden with trees, more so than we’ve seen in any park yet. They’re bushy, perfect for hiding leopards, which this park is known for. At our dawn drive this morning we spot 3.

A mum in a tree, all I can see is a long, thick tail. Her young one at the base, hidden in the undergrowth, with a hyena lurking behind.

One is curled up in a dry riverbed. We creep close. It turns to face us.

Their coats are brighter than I expected, more cat-like than cheetah. You can imagine them slinking at dusk, looking for prey. Their eyes are golden, ears sort of round, sort of pointed. Long whiskers. I like them more than the lions, they’re more elusive.

We’re here for 1 more drive at dusk and one more night, before we venture on to the Zambezi River for 2 days canoeing before we cross into Zimbabwe to Victoria falls.

Posted by: Ele Quigan | July 26, 2014

Africa part 3 – Truck days and book reviews

Africa Part 3 – Truck days and book reviews

Long truck days are a killer. I’m becoming more tired, belligerent, frustrated. I feel like I’m going crazy these days of long swollen feet & getting to places in the dark.

We’ve had a few too many lately, I’m getting tired of truck life. Snacking to fill time, eating in supermarkets

I feel like I’ve nearly read everything on my kindle, and while I’ll I haven’t been writing up what I’ve read so far here’s a few short notes on those so far, page numbers are in the smallest kindle font so you can see how much I’ve read)

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (477 kindle pages)
One of the most interesting and well-written books I’ve read in a really long time, shortlisted for the Man Booker this year. While it made me feel more white than ever (particularly off the back of the Maya Angelou I read) it’s honestly brilliant. I am however sick of “love stories”. I can’t seem to get away from them at the moment. But outside of that this really is a 9/10 read.

Bedsit Disco Queen – Tracey Thorn’s autobiography (363 kindle pages)
Again beautifully written, surprisingly so. I felt like I was having a conversation, which is how I want to feel that I write?! I want to go back and listen to every Everything But The Girl album now. I’m not even a huge fan (apart from ‘Missing’ & ‘Protection’) but I found it more interesting that a: they are a married couple and b: what it’s like going from a little bit of fame to nothing and back again. What a life.

Children of Dune (3rd dune novel – I’m including this as I’ll finish it today, 408 kindle pages) Frank Herbert
I needed a break from fiction/non-fiction. I’m actually enjoying this more than the first one that I re-read a few weeks back. Anyone else a sci-fi fan? It’s more than that, if you’re into Game of Thrones and haven’t read the Dune series, you’ll love them.

Dead ever after, Dead Reckoning & Deadlocked – I finally finished the Sookie Stackhouse “True Blood” series. 992 pages
I love these books, surely everyone is allowed a little bit of trash, Sookie Stackhouse is mine.

The Etymologicon: A circular stroll through the hidden connections of the English Language. (233 kindle pages)
Sorry Kat but I hated this. It’s your overly almost arrogant toff-like brit wankering on about words. I got so frustrated by the style of writing I wanted to stop reading it, but persevered. The content isn’t bad and to be honest it’s interesting, but the style I found intolerable.

Far from the Tree, a dozen kinds of love– Andrew Solomon – (709 kindle pages)
This is one of the most unbelievably sad books I’ve ever read. It covers 12 chapters of special children. From the product of rape, to autism to prodigies to transgender – it covers a range of parents and children within each chapter, trying to provide an objective viewpoint. It’s incredibly hard to read some chapters, deaf being one of them – as it brings to surface the debate on Cochlear implants. It has sort of put me off having kids a little, but it’s genuinely worth a read. If you’re the person who recommended it (I can’t remember who it was) thank you – it’s an incredibly interesting book. (Lorren, Hannah, Divina if you’re reading this, check it out.)

The hundred-year old man who climbed out a window and disappeared (385 kindle pages) – Jonas Jonasson
Sigh I know EVERYONE loved this book who I spoke to – but I hated it. It’s like Forrest Gump the book, yet somehow more infuriating. “It’s like it’s explaining history” someone said “it’s AMAZING” someone else. Well – I thought it was infantile, ludicrous and annoying.

A History of the world in 100 objects – Neil Macgregor (670 kindle pages)
I adored this, covering objects from one of my favourite places on earth – the British Museum. A sort of alternative world history told but many things I’ve seen. Even with a kindle with pictures that are sort of hard to make out, it’s still amazing. If you’re at all interested in history, it’s a must.

I know why the caged bird sings – Maya Angelou (309 kindle pages)
I read this straight after Americanah, back to back they had a really interesting (and different) view point on similar-ish times in America. Peoples attitudes continue to change, however they show a side to the USA that I’ll never experience and never really understand. It’s beautifully written, like prose, like poetry, RIP Maya, your words will be missed on this fair earth.

Medici Money – Banking, metaphysics & art in Fifteenth-century Florence – Tim Parks (I’m going to make a guess of about 400 pages as there’s only LOC in the kindle)
I spend a week in Florence last year, and it was amazing. 1 week to wander the streets, visit the museums, visit the buildings – incredible. I have a bit of a soft spot for Italy, so it was really interesting to read more about how the Medici were able to finance essentially most of the Renaissance. Great, albeit slow read.

The Plague (Albert Camus – again only LOC so I’m going to guess this has about 250 kindle pages as it’s quite short).
An allegory on the German occupation, it’s a really sad read. As the town manages to survive on the back of a gradually disturbing backdrop, it’s both darkly horrifying and sad at the same time. If course I had been playing far too much pandemic on my phone too – so this all gave me nightmares. Dad if you’re reading this, I think you’d really enjoy it.

Ready Player One – Ernest Cline (372 kindle pages)
I don’t know about this one, is it like wreck it ralph and a pastiche? Is it a parable on the future of spending too much time addicted to culture? Is it a nod back to earlier times that my generation remember? I think a bit of all of the above. Will, thanks for the recommendation, this kept me sane on one of our really early on long drives. Thought of you the entire time, miss you buddy ☺.

The Shock of the Fall – Nathan Filer (307 kindle pages)
Kat, if you’re reading this far if I didn’t upset you with my comments on Etymologicon, I loved this. I don’t want to go too much into it as it’s too easy to spoil anything near the plot, it’s unusual and written from a really different viewpoint which I enjoyed much more than expected. Thanks book club.

Three cups of deceit -John Krakauer (71 kindle pages, it’s more like a long investigative journalism article than anything else)
I also got sucked in by “Three cups of tea” by Greg Mortensen. This showcases what’s really happening with the schools he planned to build. It’s hard off the back of seeing the poverty I have here in Africa, I feel determined to do something, but this shows how terribly it can be done. Sad.

Why the west rules – for now – Ian Morris ) (this only has loc as well, but it’s huge so I’m going to guess about 700 pages as it took me ages to get through)
Karl, I think this is the one that I borrowed from you? Read it if you haven’t. It’s good. Similar to Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs & Steel & Collapse). While it refers to Clan of the Cave bear 2 times too many, it’s still a really interesting comparison of the various ways the two sides of the world evolved. Particularly with regards to domestication of animals, growing cereal & grain & the industrial revolution.

So that’s: 17 books, 6,676 pages in 42 days here in Africa. I’m reading a book every 2.5 days. I guess that’s not bad going.

Posted by: Ele Quigan | July 26, 2014

Africa part 2 – Tanzania – Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar

Africa Part 2 – Tanzania – Dar es Salaam & Zanzibar

Tanzania is far wealthier than I expected. While there’s still mudhuts and people living in poverty, there’s less wells, more electricity, more vehicles, more people.

There’s less waving, I think more kids in school. Kids had pull along toys like plastic trucks, not a stick and a wheel, not 2 bottle caps.

After another long drive day, we arrive in Dar. It felt more built up than we’d seen in a long time, large city, huge billboards with Tanzania’s fastest internet advertised. We passed a giant mall, surrounded by apartments and razor wire.

It’s slow going, really slow going. Worse than Nairobi, the traffic is reduced to the slowest we’ve seen, it takes us nearly 4 hours to get from one side of Dar to the other.

But the beach we get to is glorious. White sand, and the bluest sea I’ve ever seen. Somehow it’s more beautiful than the deep blue of the Mediterranean or the green opaque seas of the Marlborough Sounds. Maybe it’s that I just need a break, but the Indian Ocean offers unexpected (and much needed) peace & tranquility.

The first swim reminds me why I should always live close to the sea. It’s warm, clear, and cleaner than I expected being so near such a busy city.

We’re here for 2 nights, and we decide to upgrade from tents – beach bandas with a double bed and mosquito net are a welcome change.

Our free day we spend by the water, swims and relaxing, a couple of beers at the bar. We could have gone into Dar proper, but the lure of a day doing nothing is too great.

While we don’t get to bed too late, drums start early. And don’t finish. Sleep doesn’t come. The chants and drums and drums and chants are loud. The beach is full of people. Even at 5am they’re still going, right through the night.

We emerge the next morning both feeling like death, unprepared for our onward journey to Zanzibar.

The ferry terminal is in Dar, which we get to by boat to save time. I feel like I recognize the city, smelling hot and rotten, not unlike parts of Bangkok. Cooking and rubbish in a hot soupy smell, merging with fish as walk alongside the water. There are people living here, under a basic tarp.

Traders are on the waters edge, phone cases, newspapers, shoe shining, snacks – while we walk towards the terminal passing workers in suits, women in kitenge (bright cloth wraps), kids on their way to school.

The ferry crossing to Zanzibar is quick and uneventful. Thank god. We both snooze a little, trying to relax a bit after such little sleep. I can feel an argument or sharp words underneath the tiredness, it’s hard to keep pushing it away but I realize it’s just from no sleep.

The stone town is full of people, and it’s the middle of Ramadan, so I’m covered (you should be in the stone town any way, there have been acid attacks recently). No shoulders, no knees, no water no smoking no eating.

The town is beautiful in a strange way. The carved doors really are something else, but it feels more run down than I was expecting, not unlike Fez in Morocco. We’re met by a guide who takes us for a local lunch. With such a big group he’s repeating himself 3 times, while the sun beats down I’m getting more intolerable, wishing we were on our own, that our group was 8, that the guy would just shut up. I’m exhausted.

We’re taken to the old slave market, it’s now a church. Strange in this land of Muslim religion. Lunch is a tablespoon of meat ladled on to my plate alongside the famous spiced pilau, full of clove, cinnamon & cardamom it’s delicious.

The tour goes on and on and on, but just next door near the church, the promise of free time dragging by, 2 hours pass and I feel like we’ve done nothing but hear things 3 times 3 times 3 times.

We see other guides, moving their people through. For some reason this feels slightly strange, a guide ushering us through Zanzibar customs, then to the slave market and lunch, then through to other places in the evening. Organised why? Are there things we shouldn’t fund for ourselves?

We breakoff for free time, and nearly run to the promise of coffee, and find ourselves at the Zanzibar coffeehouse.

This was the greatest coffee I’ve had in my life. It’s been so long coming, it’s the best in Africa. The hearts that border my coffee bring an instant smile, I don’t want it to end! We wander the stone town, past shops, past a MASSIVE family of spiders. It’s strange not to have our cameras, but we’ve made a conscious decision not to take photos.

People seem friendly in the stores, but bargaining isn’t very easy. I see girls in short shorts, shoestring singlets, I’m finding it hard to keep my mouth shut as I feel they are being disrespectful to the local culture.

The early evening continues with our guide, feeling again very weird. Africa House for a cocktail and sunset, beautiful Dhow in the distance, it’s picture perfect, the sun still red.

Dinner is at the “night market”. It’s not like Marrakesh, no locals eat here. It feels totally put on for tourists, and surrounded by hundreds of skinny cats. One comes near us, young, pregnant and starving – I start crying.
A local woman passes as – completely surprised that I’m upset, I manage to get out that it’s the cats, she says “silly cats”. In one of the stupid moments of “I’ll change my life and do this” I’m determined to come back with a vet qualification and spay them all for free, but realize this will fade away like all the others.

The one local thing I do try at the market is amazing, Sugar cane juice. Determined to not thing of the calories, it’s like icing sugar water and lime. Liquid sherbet. I can feel it on my teeth it’s so sweet, but it’s delicious.

The next morning we’re up earlyish for a spice tour and on to the beach. Again the spice tour has too many of us, things are repeated 3 times 3 times 3 times. None of this is new to me, I know where ginger comes from, I used to grow lemon grass. I know cinnamon is from the bark of a tree. The whole thing is put on for tourists, the main spice they grew was cloves which they save to the end. The fresh cloves smell incredible though, I wonder if the trees would grow back home.

The beach can’t come soon enough, after a local lunch at our guides house (rice with some spices, spinach, tomato plus the similar meat we’ve had a few times now), we get to the beach late afternoon.

I could swim in this sea forever, it’s warm, clear, the sun hot – I wish we were here for a week.

I had pretty much forgotten it was my birthday, so we venture out for a cocktail & dinner, I put on make up for the first time in a month. I look in the mirror properly for the first time in weeks, it’s strange.

While we have a cocktail I connect with home, emails and facebook messages and posts I guiltily don’t respond to, homesickness coming in waves like nothing else. Babies are nearly due, people in new jobs, people wishing us both well, I’m so lonely for our friends from all over.

It’s hard not to spend the night feeling this way, so we decide to turn off phones. Dinner is simple but delicious, salad and tuna with the most incredible Massala. Pity the tuna was cooked to death. It had the same texture as canned.

But still wonderful to have a nice dinner, bottle of wine and some time together. Makes a change from flapping plates and trying not to eat too much rice/potatoes/pasta.

Snorkelling is our next morning, with fins (not flippers), and a mask that doesn’t fit and constantly steams up. For some reason I’m afraid of the water, the sea urchins, the pipe fish – trying not to nudge the coral I spend most of the time treading water looking down.

Black and white fish past, small schools of “Dory” fish. Bright yellow ones, black and turquoise parrot fish, my favourite. Little tiny babies close to the coral, it should be amazing but I spend the entire time frustrated.

The next morning it’s a long trip back to Dar, another snippet of Stone Town, which we rush through and get lost looking for the coffee house, with 20 minutes I chug down my coffee, no time for languid enjoyment, and we rush through back to the ferry.

On reflection there was something bizarre about our experience on Zanzibar. The guided element throughout the entire thing felt very strange, but it seemed like most people across the island were doing the same thing? It made it relaxing to be back in Dar, mosquitos and all.

This time the tent was a blessing – the drums were still going, while our start was even earlier (3:30) we at least got some (little) sleep.

The long day got even longer. Leaving the campsite at 4:45 we got to 5:10 to an accident, head on collision between an oil tanker & truck carrying clay. In the dark we tried to snooze while they were cleared, a tow truck looking unbelievably small, but pole pole (slowly slowly) it was cleared. 2.5 hrs later.

Our day continued to drag. And drag. We’ve had long slow days but this was somehow worse. We barely seemed to raise above 50kmh, often at 30 as we slowly crept over hills.

2pm, the truck stopped again. A massive piece of metal dug into the side of a tyre. Another 45 minutes while we changed it.

Early evening we drove through the most incredible valley, the trees looked dead, but their fat round trunks show they are baobabs. Their branches like families of fingers reaching up to the sky. The sun sunk behind the hills, fingers reaching into the darkening dusk, still hours and hours to go.

We didn’t arrive to the campsite till after 9pm, 17 hours travelling. I’m ready to leave this truck and go somewhere else.

The Great Migration - Maasai Mara

The Great Migration – Maasai Mara

Maasai Mara, Kenya & Serengeti / Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

Maasai Mara, Kenya

It’s unbelieveable to again be moving on, this time through past a new land, new area, beyond the bush and into the savannah, that feels more familiar as we drive further through.

Bright yellow bark Acacia trees and their light green umbrella-like canopy reflect against the blue sky, they feel like a constant theme, an unexpected familiarity, I look forward to seeing them and smile as they fly past.

Across the dusty plains bright spots offer something new – the tall, long legged maasai.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, definitely less of them. They are still living right on the Maasai Mara – the long plains before, in their scarlet orange and coloured wraps called Shúkà. They’re still herding sheep and cattle, their long walks with large sticks to herd their animals to food, both into the non-fenced park and outside it.

Their ear lobes hang low, huge holes from years of heavy jewellery. Women in large necklaces, with sparkling elements – they almost jingle as they walk past.

They’re a beautiful people, living off the land though occasionally we spot them with cellphones clutched close to their ears. There are so many, a market day before we hit the park is an explosion of bright colours, their Shúkà greens, blues but mostly orange and red.

They have their own culture, they don’t send their kids to school, FGM is still practiced in some families, circumcision for men is a test of silence on their way to manhood.

Their huts standout across the landscape, as well as tall sticks placed together to create holding pens for their animals overnight. The number of cattle/sheep/goats you have is a sign of wealth, and proportionate to the number of wives.

They don’t smile and wave as much as we pass, I’m sure we’re seen differently us travellers, encroaching on their land. Their cows and sheep don’t really remind me of home, the sheep are a rich brick red, matching the colour of the soil a few days ago, their cows a similar tone. They drink the blood of the cattle as part of the circumcision ceremony. I’m slightly perturbed but ever curious.

Maasai Mara, Kenya.

Maasai Mara, Kenya.

The land is flat, with small undulations, dusty and dry, with the thick yellow grass that feels like the more familiar Safari version of Africa. Heat shimmers appear for the first time, and we melt within our 4×4.

Across the landscape a line of lonely telephone poles reaches far into the distance, looking like a slow, languid walk – we race past trying to head to the park in time for a game drive before sunset.

Rubbish near the start of the Maasai Mara, it's much worse in the actual village.

Rubbish near the start of the Maasai Mara, it’s much worse in the actual village.

The village just on the outskirts of the park is littered with plastic. “Plastic is killing Africa” our guide mentions. It’s so disappointing to see, water bottles, plastic bags, what looks like a dump in the middle of the village. Surely each tourist could remove a bag? It’s a lasting image I wont forget in a hurry.

Our game drive delivers a pride of lions, relaxing across the road, but surrounded by 4×4 vehicles. We also notice the herds of wildebeest and zebras, part of the annual migration between the Serengeti & Maasai Mara. They’re dotted across the plains, in their hundreds, in their thousands. Small hills undulate in the distance.

We pass small herds of elephants, little ones with them, families moving into protective circles if we venture too close on the roadside.

Returning to our camp near the rubbish-filled village, I can hear a Hyena chattering near our tent early in the evening. I nervously look about, afraid of what I’ll spot with my head torch; I’m too scared to think about the eyes looking at me in the dark.

Within the early dawn, we’re out for the day, watching for Rhino, looking for the road which seems hidden by dry creekbeds. The cracks centimeters deep, thick lines through old water holes. Trees reach into our windows, we’re ducking for giant thorns that stick out of acacias, watching our heads for unsuspecting branches.

Zebra and Wildebeest as far as the eye can see - Maasai Mara

Zebra and Wildebeest as far as the eye can see – Maasai Mara

We slowly pass, the rhinos are shy today, but we get a great view of the different sides of “the Mara” (as the locals affectionately call it). There are so many wildebeest & zebra. The Wildebeest walk in single file lines, like threads of ants, criss-cross the terrain. Little ones dart in and out, calling to their parents. It’s a bit of a cacophony, but a hilarious one at that. “What’s Gnu with you” sends a giggle around the 4×4. There are lots of little ones, the zebra babies brown rather than black striped. Tiny wildebeest with impossibly thin legs.

The plains and hills stretch forever into the distance, as soon as the sun shines up above the hills behind us, it’s bright against the yellow grass.

It’s called the “Maasai Mara” from the acacias that occasionally dot the terrain. There’s not many of them, and they show how far you are from things more than anything. We take a few hours to make our way to our next stop, one of the 2 places that zebra & wildebeest cross the river as part of their annual migration.

It’s dusty, chaotic, wildebeest crowding together, circling. Zebra mouths wide open calling, somewhere between a bizarre honk and a laugh, running to be near the waterside. The river is teeming with crocs (we can count more than 6, one the largest we’ve seen yet), waiting sedately in the water for a run away animal. The herds of wildebeest near the water.

They jump with a sudden fright and start bolting away. They turn and run kicking up clouds of dust. Some 4×4’s start to follow, our guide laughs “This happens all the time, they will run back in time”. We wait 10 minutes. The wildebeest start running back.

Again they get closer to the water, zebra on the other side call their friends & family to join. Tip toeing closer we can see they’re just about to start to cross, when something scares them and again they turn back.

This can last for hours at a time, so at this stage, nearly 2 hrs across the park, we leave, to our lunch stop, finally a break and a step outside.

We take the front of the jeep for the last half of the day, standing nearly the whole way back, breathing in the terrain, trying to imprint its beauty on my mind forever. Rolling hills, blue and cloudy sky, yellow grass shining in the sun.

Flicky tails of impala, gazelle, antelope, topi, bright white little backsides flash, some in big groups, some in ones and twos, harder to spot than expected across the yellow of the Mara. Giant ostriches, looking slightly ridiculous as it’s mating season, dancing for one another. The males look like French maids with their black and white, or even can can dancers with their spindly bird legs.

We make it back to the camp while there’s still light, for intermittent power, a cold shower, and a hot meal. It felt a long time coming today.

Before dawn we’re out again for a full day, we’re looking for cats this early. Strange outlines just as we’re out the campsite gate are giraffes, the beautiful, dark patches, Maasai Giraffe. Little ones, alongside, pale in the light. I can’t get enough of these strange creatures, gentle faces, long necks. Peering at you from a height, purplish tongues wrapped around the spiky acacia branches.

As we move slowly through, in the distance we can see a crowd of 4×4 near the base of a hill, wildebeest in lines running, and a shape of something below them, creeping. A lion. Another to the right, moving forward.

We rushed to join them but arrived to late to see the full kill, however there wouldn’t be much to see in the long grass, seeing it on the hill made it easier to watch the cunning cats shepherding the confused and panicked wildebeest. 250,000 die every migration.

Vans and 4x4s close next to a kill, illegally close to the lions.

Vans and 4x4s close next to a kill, illegally close to the lions.

We arrive to clustered 4×4’s – frustratingly they’ve gone off the road, giving the cats no space, no privacy to eat. We stay on the marked roads, the legal area we’re allowed. I’m part shocked to see how many drivers break the rules, but realize with the tipping culture, the ability for another $50 if you take a client for their “kill” photo, suddenly it makes sense.

But I’m saddened, frustrated. More 4×4 realise what we’re seeing, rushing from all over, joining the others, one blocks off another lion coming to join their wildebeest breakfast, unbelievable that these drivers think this is okay.

We drive away, all of us in the vehicle pretty quiet, moving on through the lines of wildebeest & Zebra, fresh over the border overnight, stretching in lines across the horizon. Late morning we start to return to camp.

One of the 4×4’s calls us back “Quick! It’s a cat” with only the 3 vehicles in our group our excitement is back up, there’s hope it’s a leopard, or a lion with a mane. We stretch and look, only to see one of the smaller cats, a caracal.

Weirdly I was hoping to see these smaller animals, they’re harder to spot, shy during the day, yet this one in all it’s auburn glory was walking in front of us. They look like Abyssinian cats, toned, muscly, pointed ears with black tips and tufts. Slanted eyes, staring. It stayed with us for about5 minutes, feeling like forever. It was wonderful to feel like our group had a private viewing. We didn’t cut it off, we didn’t go off the marked road, we didn’t get to close. It could do exactly as it wanted. Unimpeded. In it’s natural habitat.

Our guide mentioned that he’d never seen one in the Mara, I feel lucky, as if this somehow makes up for the earlier treatment of the lions, and even luckier that we got to experience it with just a small group of us.

Serengeti, Tanzania

Cold, cloudy, barren and bare. We’re in such a different place. While the country feels different again to Kenya, the Serengeti is different again.

We drive through an incredibly dusty plain, with tall will ‘o’ wisps like dust waterspouts surrounding us. The form and collapse in seconds, adding to the overall dusty haze to the air. The flat reaches for miles ad miles under another blue and white sky.

Maasai in the crater next to Ngorongoro

Maasai in the crater next to Ngorongoro

Maasai wear different colours here, lots more blues and greens, houses seem slightly different shapes, there seems to be more of them. More herds, more families. We pass through Ngorogoro and another crater to the left, while the herds are there, it seems as there’s little to eat, the crater looks like a dustbowl, with blue dots in the distance.

Earlier in the day we had a lunch stop soon after the border under one of the volcanoes that surround the Tanzanian landscape. Groups of Maasai came closer. A group of women, covered in jewellery inched closer. Smiling back occasionally as we smiled at them. 2 women at a stop sign, waiting for a lift somewhere, they would stop the vans carrying locals as they past. I saw one trying to sneak a photo with her mobile phone. A satisfying feeling to know that they are as curious about us as we are of them.

A group of boys all in black – different to the familiar blues and oranges, they’d had their circumcision ceremony, but weren’t men yet, lead by one boy who nodded and looked at us as we tried occasional hellos. All groups watched us have our lunch, amused by the site of white people flapping plates, quietly eating our sandwiches.

Red Maasai sheep

Red Maasai sheep

Through the crater there looks like a tourist Maasai stop on one side, kids run to the side of the 4×4 palms raised for money, or hands intimating food, they’re angry at us as we shake our heads as we pass. I don’t want a “paid” village experience, to be dressed up in their outfits and have a westerner view, our lunch break was more interesting than something that feels forced from both sides.

As we drove closer, down on the other side, and through the sign “Serengeti” there’s nothing all around us. The heat shimmer shudders in the distance, the only sign of slight undulations in the landscape, antelope sometimes far in the distance. The sun moves in between clouds, giving bright spots and texture to the yellow and grey landscape.

Looking out imbues a feeling of loneliness, the stark landscape has few trees, no hills you can see through the dust in all directions, you could walk out and not come back, the expanse drawing you in.

But there are sparks of colour. The bright bluey green birds we first saw in Nakuru are dotted about. Small purple desert flowers, white tall daisies nodding withn the tall grass. They gently breakup the sea of yellow and grey.

4×4’s occasionally pass, dust billowing up, blowing in your face as you pass through it, windows squeaking open and closed to try and reduce it. It adds to the bright odour of diesel that permeates everything, clouds of exhaust behind each vehicle every time they accelerate.

We stop by a lone cheetah, lounging in the afternoon sun, impossible to spot with his coat matching the colour of the grass. Startled by something he jumps up – I’m surprised how tall he is, is shoulders almost seemingly hunched, coat shining in the sunshine.

I’m again taken aback by all these animals we’re lucky to see, viewing them in their home, as they go about their day, surreal that we’re here, no longer living our London lives (though I’m missing the coffee).

The lions are more numerous here, we pass a pride, and then a single lioness. 4 soft little ears pop up, then another 2, accompanied by little mews. 3 little cubs, I just about cried. Mother lioness called to them gently, they bounded over, with head bumps and licks, I’m moved to see this with my own eyes.

They remind me so much of cats a 10th of the size, their behaviour is the same, mews the same. The paws and ears of the little ones are giant, their faces adorable, almost like fake cuddly toys. After a few minutes we leave the little family in peace, I hope all 3 cubs survive.

Serengeti sunset

Serengeti sunset

More lions lying languid in the sun that hangs in the sky, flopped about completely relaxed. The sun starts to turn red as it sinks into the dusty haze.

We stayed in the centre of the park, surrounded by curious zebra, we had to take care not to frighten them as we moved in and out of our tents.

Like the sunset, the sun rises red. Like the barren landscape, the colour feels alien, made even more so by an ostrich running full tilt far in the distance. This never seen before sunrise feels too short, you can look directly at the sun for nearly 20 minutes as it changes from red to orange as it passes above the dusty haze. We venture on another drive.

Little hyrax – like tailless squirrels peaking out from rocks. More lions, this time a pride of 9 young ones close enough to touch. Initially in the sun their ears perked up when watching an initial one walk far in the distance, near a group of hartebeest.

One by one the lions stand up. They start slowly walking, one by one to where the other is standing. Lions on the prowl, walking on the road, we follow. They make no noise. There’s very little obvious signal between them about when to start, when to stop, but they move through us and past us.

The prey are aware of something, they’re startled. Some run, one left behind to keep watching, looking back to where the lions are slowly walking. The lions stop on a small mound, huddled together in the sunshine, watching the prey.

I’m sad to move on, I could watch this for hours.

We pass more rocky outcrops, more lions, more antelope. We watch for leopards in tall trees, but they remain elusive. We come across an oasis.

It’s like the oasis of bedtime stories, of wide imaginations. The water is full of hippos, 60/70 of them, spraying themselves (something we haven’t seen before). The water has receded, there’s dry cracks on the edges. Huge palms tower through the centre, bright shiny green leaves a surprise in the middle of the yellow and grey.

Elephant families are close by, rubbing on acacia trees, having dust baths. The tiniest elephant we’ve seen stays close by an older sibling. Unable to really flap their ears their little truck moving awkwardly it steps through a hollow, we can barely see it, but it’s obvious the love within the family, from the close sibling nudging them to food, and how to walk the right way, to the mother close by, read to step in front, and the rest of the herd surrounding the other areas.

A short, loud trumpet as we move past, we leave the family to their food and dust bath.

We drive back through the plains, up the side of the volcano to Ngorogoro crater, where we spend the night in tents.

Ngorongoro Crater

It’s freezing at the top of the crater. I take advantage of what we’ve been told is a hot shower. It’s not. It’s the coldest I’ve had, but I brave it anyway, to be rid of the never ending Serengeti dust.

It’s a clear night, and the moon is brighter and clearer than I’ve ever seen it. We light a fire and all huddle close, with the occasional marshmallow to add some cheer.

We go to bed early, it’s another 4:30am start, to venture into the crater in the morning.

Late in the night the wind wakes me up – it’s lifting my feet at the end of the tent, I’ve never heard wind like it – you can hear it whipping through the crater, a few seconds before it whooshes over us, lifting my feet.

I don’t know why I’m not scared, I’m not afraid for the tent, or the fly, or the pegs – maybe it’s part exhaustion but I’m enjoying the noise, the weird lifting of my feet. Maybe it rocks me to sleep as the next start is my watch alarm beeping.

While the wind has died off, the cloud hasn’t. It’s rolled in, cold and wet, I layer all the clothes I can, tshirt, long sleeved t shirt, cardigan, puffy jacket, merino jacket, scarf, merino socks – in the hope I will stay warm.

We venture into the crater.

Layers in the Ngorongoro crater

Layers in the Ngorongoro crater

I’m tired, so I guiltily snooze through a lot of it. It’s veryvery cold, and dark under the clouds. They hang as a layer across the middle, so we can see the few animals about.

There’s a lake we initially come across, reeking of sulphur, I had no idea parts of it were still active.

The landscape is stark, short grass, few animals are in here. There’s a rhino a speck in the distance, sitting down to avoid the wind. Glorious grey cranes (the national bird of Uganda) occasionally fly past, and birds huddle near the water side.

In one area there are hippos, out of the water – I’m not surprised as it’s freezing, this is such a change from what’s over the side, it seems bizarre the crater is so cold and clouded.

We follow a route around the crater, after being spoiled in The Mara & The Serengeti this feels almost a disappointment, but the scenery is a stark enough difference to be interesting. I wish it was clearer.

We move slowly through, the pride of 16 lions has dissipated. The rhino is too far to see, the wildebeest walk in their straight lines on their “small migration” from one side to the other each day.

It’s cold, so cold, even wrapping all my clothes tighter I can’t help but continually fall back to sleep, lifting my head for the odd animal or interesting scenery.

We start the drive out.

I’m woken up by “Leopard”.

2/3 up the side of the crater, on the road we’re driving on to leave is the most beautiful cat walking in front. I’m amazed by the size, and the coat beautiful in the dull grey light. While it doesn’t turn around, so we never see its face, I’m amazed again we’ve been lucky enough to see a leopard again in the day time, its spotted coat richly textured, I’m surprised this isn’t the focus of people when they come to this part of the world.

This cat looks lithe, darting back into the forest before any of us gets a chance to photograph it, but we confirm we all saw it.

I go back to sleep as we continue our drive out, and on to the river of mosquitos for the rest of our afternoon.

Posted by: Ele Quigan | July 4, 2014

Africa Part 1 – Back to Nairobi

Africa Part 1 – end of Part 1, back in Nairobi.

We finish Part 1 of our Africa trip today, & I thought it might be an idea to explain what overlanding life is like.  I honestly think Rwanda left us both a little shell shocked, we’ve been a bit down the last few days, we said goodbye to Rwanda with much regret in not seeing more of it, and hope that we’ll return some day.

It’s been hard to say goodbye to Uganda too – the constant “How are you” out the window, toothy smiles and waves from nearly every child you pass.  Looking out the window through to the Nile, with the knowledge it’s full of hippos gently soaking themselves.  The beautiful Ugandan National Bird, the Crane walking with their stick like legs.

 

So, my life currently…

It’s early starts, alarms going off at 4:45, 5:15, tents down and ready.  Tent mastering is a skill in patience and communication, which can be a bit tough that early, particularly if sleep has been sporadic.

It’s amazing to wake up in the night to the noises of animals, there is the slight quirk that it’s amplified through our tents, so everything seems like it’s right outside, however that’s probably unlikely.  Restless nights are a curse, can be difficult to manage the heat of the day, cool of the night, cold condensation on your sleeping bag in the morning is the first indicator of how cold it likely it is outside.  Wrapping cold, damp sleeping bags is not a lovely stellar African sunrise start to the morning.  It’s been occasionally freezing.

Sleeping bags wrapped, pillows deflated, sleeping bag liners folded, sleeping mats rolled, tents down, which can be a bit of a mare in the dark.  This has meant t-shirts are on backwards, hair is never brushed, occasionally a few sharp words as our tent has to be wrapped incredibly tight to fit in the bag.

If one of us on cook group, its up to help pull things out of the truck, cut fruit, prepare all the breakfasty coffee/tea/hot chocolate things for people.  The other person will help if possible, maybe check for some last WiFi if there’s any available.

Breakfast is pretty quick, with plates and cutlery washed and dried by flapping in the air, hard to explain how hilarious this looks with a group of 20 people flapping in the cold for 8 minutes while their plates/pots/cutting boards dry…

There’s a water system in our camp kitchen, two bowls for hand washing – wet hands, wash with liquid soap then rinse in one, then second rinse in the other – and three bowls for kitchen washing, one with dishwashing liquid, one for rinsing, and one last one with a little Dettol in it.

The tips of my hands are cracking, I’m getting little pulls on the side of my nails, I don’t think it’s the dish washing per se (I’m not that precious) but I think it is the constant water in water out, handwashing clothes too.  I’m using moisturizer as much as I can, but they’re still dry and cracking.

I’ve tried to be good with breakfast, with eggs, bacon and sausages on offer, it’s always hard to push myself to 2 weetbix & some fruit, but deep down I know it’s better for me.  It’s surprisingly easy to feel like you’re over eating on these trips, I look longingly at the sausages most mornings.

Usually we’re up and done with breakfast, everything away, and sitting on the truck within an hour.

We have assigned truck jobs too – from cleaning to managing tents & bags in and out to ensuring people shut windows when we stop, my job has been to manage the rubbish bin on this leg, and the little plastic bag at the back of the truck we use for ladies wee stops.

Sounds grosser than it actually is really, as washing out the bin is pretty easy and we use bags for everything.

Sitting in the truck for hours at a time is unsurprisingly difficult.  Uganda was amazing with all the little kids waving and smiling – you’re constantly smiling & waving back, making for a fun happy trip in general.  The scenery of course is incredible, but I’ve still managed to get through 6 books in 3 weeks, some of them not that short either.

Thank god for our neck pillow. A lifesaver for snoozes, trying to stay awake can be impossible as the truck rocks you to sleep, especially on the most uncomfortable of roads.

Frustratingly our windows are fairly dirty, a pain in the afternoon when you’re trying to look through them with the sun streaming in, and of course there’s no photos with dusty windows that really work.  I’ve taken to leaning out the window when I can, a bit better for my back too.

It always takes longer to get places than you think; it’s less paved here than I thought.  There’s a moment in the morning when you get on the bus and see “100km drive” but your heart sinks when you realize that’s still going to take 5/6 hours to get through that short distance because of the terrain.

From farmland to savannah, from savannah to jungle, windy hilly roads, long straight rocky roads, small villages with music blaring from shops, cows with giant horns, goats and sheep, roadside village stalls with tomatoes and onions piled high, meat hanging outside or inside with no refrigeration, church after church after church – “Africa evangelist church”,   “Christ the shepherd the believers church”, “Pentecostal revival church”.  Children playing, smiling, waving; everything passes in a blink, hard to capture with a photo let alone imprint a memory.  We’ve stopped for zebras, a giant snake, even hyenas, animals have right of way here.

Shops are named occasionally amusingly “Motorcyles and Pets”, “Sweets and polythene”, “High hope electronics”, sometimes accompanied by hand painted art, but it’s amazing to have a snippet of an insight into local life as we drive quickly past.  Tiny 1 person barbers.  Grinders run by upside-down converted bicycles, men welding with sunglasses.  Hair braiding and relaxing, hair samples row after row.  Tiny hotels that look like they would sleep 1 person, “Pork Joint” looks inviting.

Often the outside of the buildings are painted with advertising.  MTN Mobile network, Uganda Telecom “It’s all about U”. If you like it, Crown it, Start something fresh double mint, Nile beer, barudika na Coca cola, – they’re bright and discordant against the landscape.

Mud huts to hand developed brick, corrugated iron to thatch, people huddled together in the larger towns and cities, no power or phone lines or even water in non-village areas, groups of people meeting to gather water, containers tied to bicycles, pushed for miles.

Trucks, vans, motorcycles pass, “You’ll never walk alone” or “Inshallah” or “soon and very soon”, “power of destiny”, football and religion side by side, hope tied to each vehicle.   Every second car is an old Toyota corolla.  Much loved, and often very clean.  Amazing to see against the red dust that permeates everything.

On our way to/from Murchison Falls we went through a tsetse fly area, windows up in 30 degree heat for nearly 2 hours was insane, we still ended up with a few on the bus though, which people took to with sandals.  Bites rise up like giant itchy welts, it’s so hard not to scratch.

Lunch is usually a quick stop on the side of the road, similar process to breakfast, but this time cook group might be grating carrots for coleslaw, putting out leftovers from breakfast (sausages! Finally.) or last nights dinner.  It’s been great to see how little food we waste here.  Every time we have salad, it’s a little like Christmas for me, I struggle to refrain from piling my plate high with lettuce and shiny green peppers.

Like I’ve said in my other posts, things are oversized.  Avocados are double my fists, & produce amazing soft guacamole.  The bread is either malty or sparkling white, it’s so difficult not to eat sandwiches constantly – even though you’ve been sitting for 5 hours you get off the truck ravenous, ready to eat everything in sight.

Lunchtime is malaria tablet time, not the most fun of experiences.  I tried them on an empty stomach first, which caused me to throw up within 30 minutes.  Taking constant antibiotics can’t be good for me, and while I have a few mosquito bites I need to really keep an eye on that, there’s no time or space for illness on this trip.

Again back on the truck within the hour, often rushing to our next stop, if near a town trying as much as possible to beat rush hour, or getting somewhere for an afternoon/evening activity.

We’ve had very little free time on this leg.  That’s meant any free time is taken up with washing clothes, catching up on emails, doing photos – I have a long form diary too I’m managing to keep up with.  To try and keep some fitness, we try and get the Frisbee out for 30 minutes or so a day, it gets a little boring if there’s only the two of us playing.

Dinners are basic but delicious.  I’m addicted to sliced chilli on everything, trying to eke out as much flavour from chili con carne, bbq roasted beef, stews and curries designed to feed 25 of us.  Cook group helps slice veges, prepare plates, herbs and spices, set out chairs, washing up and hand wash.  And the pots, I wish more people helped out with that.

We don’t sit around talking late, often there’s a bar associated to our campsite where we reconvene for a quiet drink pre or post dinner, trying the ginger beer, Krest bitter lemon, local beers, South African wine, it’s usually cask, but it’s $1 so there’s no point in worrying.

I’m usually yawning by 8:30, often in bed at 9, asleep by 9:30, waiting for the beep beep beep of my watch waking me before dawn for another long day.

Posted by: Ele Quigan | June 29, 2014

Africa Part 1 – Rwanda – 29th June

Kigali - Capital of Rwanda

Kigali – Capital of Rwanda

It was a glorious, blue sky day the morning we crossed the border to Rwanda, barely a cloud, warm sunshine melting away the tiredness of another early start.  On first glimpse there were tea plantations for miles, nestled closely in tight valleys, with waterways and avenues carving up the available space into neat lines and squares.

The hillsides covered up as far as possible with all kinds of farming, these hills are unbelievably steep, coloured like patchwork.

The first thing I noticed was the flag, a bright sunshine against blue, it made sense to feel I was experiencing a similar day.

Further into Rwanda we drew, I leaned out the window, trying to wave and smile – expecting the same as the Ugandan children.  But there were no shouts of “How are you”.  No waves.  Few smiles.

The first stop was Kigali, the capital, for a stop at the Genocide museum.

I’ve read about world atrocities, I’ve been to Tuol Sleng (S-21).  I’ve been to Auschwitz, but somehow this was different.

Long grey concrete blocks contained interned remains, one nearly hidden from view, but sadly still open, still ready for further finds.  I was wilting under the hot sun, a mix of both salty tears and sweat.

As we walked in there were locals everywhere.  Looking at us with interest, their faces more than solemn.  They moved through the museum slowly, I followed them in, but couldn’t stay near them, I couldn’t bare to experience their grief so close.

Beyond the challenges with International intervention (or in other words, the complete and utter lack of it) the main genocide was 100 days of slaughter, killed 1 million people.

1 million is such a throwaway statement.  It’s neat, a round number, easily thrown into sentences, into Wikipedia articles and books, it’s something that must be further uncovered to understand the scale of the atrocities that took place.

I wandered through, reading of Belgian and French and German colonialists within the region.  What the name Hutu or Tutsi was, how the colonialists changed it.  This fed into fear and hate, driven by propaganda, driven by fear of displacement, doubt.  I can’t bring myself to write it all out, the new 10 commandments for people to follow.  Breeding hate.  Divisions drawn between neighbours, colleagues, friends, families.  Names were secretly drawn up, militias trained.  A plane was shot down, and what came next was unbridled bloodshed.

 

100 days.

 

I walked from room to room, trying to absorb what happened. Tried to make sense of it.  Looking for my own answers.  Through the stained glass windows.  Walking through light and dark.

The hardest part was the videos of survivors, huge scars on their heads, limbs missing, comments from children survivors.  Their heads showing machete scars, stories of watching their parents attacked, sisters thrown into septic tanks, mothers raped, the cries of their family members, friends, neighbours –  all they could hear as they tried to hide.  Until the cries and shout for help stopped.

Rooms of sad remains, clothing, some tiny.  Photos of lives lost, pictures of weddings, parties, happier times.  Bones.  Skulls, and the skulls were mostly cracked.  There were holes.

There was a room dedicated to children.  5 year olds, 2 year olds, 8 year olds, their photos the backdrop, and short bios on each – their favourite food, their favourite activity, and then how they died.  By machete, shot, by sheltering in a church that was attacked, where church leaders attacked their own congregation.

I couldn’t take any more and broke down.

 

As we left Kigali, there was a slight afternoon haze to the air, as we went up and down various hills, through twists and turns, with the bright sun starting to sink turning the sky orangey pink, with the layers of hills slowly being hidden, but their peaks still standing out, just their layers of maize and potatoes and corn and tea slowly disappearing from view.

Rwanda is known as “The land of 1000 hills”, that doesn’t even match the glorious landscape, of layer upon layer upon layer of hills.  I’d try and count, was that 5 or 6 or 7 even 8 layers of hills in the distance?

It’s beautiful.  Like no landscape I’d seen.

As we started in the valley where we were staying, huge volcanoes appeared in the distance, looming great, giant cones with nearly vertical sides.  Clouds close into each summit, and I looked on with nervousness & wonder, as one of those was my trek the next day.

With an early start, missing the sunrise, the atrocity of just 20 years ago fairly fresh in my mind, we travelled from the initial meeting point to where the hike up through the hills starts, before the forests, the steep volcanoes looming.

The road up to the hike point showed a life that was unbelievably poor.  Children with somber faces, old, ripped clothes, not drawn into smiles and waves watching us drive past.  Their balls were rags tied together with string, games played with two bottle caps.  The road initially paved turned rocky, the hardest road I’ve seen, made up of volcanic rocks the size of my fist, and still the children watched.

It’s $800 dollars to trek to see the Gorillas, I watched for signs this was getting to the community.  To families who live near.  To see schools, and medical clinics, better housing.  But there was nothing.

Excitement and nervousness and a slight chill to the air took over as we started the hike, through the volcano lowland, across the patchwork farms.  Everything is done by hand here still; no machinery can make it up these hills.  And still they rise and rise, I couldn’t do it myself, I struggled for the first bit, near vertical steps, up past children and families working the land.  Potatoes & pyrethrum daisies, the dark, fertile soil showing the reason the gorillas original territory was destroyed.

The jungle was like nothing I’d seen.  The rainforest of my dreams, lush and rich with ancient trees dripping lichen over a foot long.  It was an unusual colour, both bright vibrant green and pale.  Stinging nettle occasionally brushing my hands, providing a weird sensation, unbelievable burning and itchiness but for only 10 minutes.

I was unprepared for what the gorillas would be like.  Our guide called to them as we came across them.  They called back, accepting our presence.

Rwandan Mountain Gorilla

Rwandan Mountain Gorilla

The silverback, dark face, leathery nose, eyes that were a dark rich brown, looking straight at me.  Staring at my soul.  He was 35.  Older than me.  The family was quite small, but we were bare inches away.  I looked at parts of myself that were different, my fingers long and thin to their short and fat hands.  My aversion to loud chewing, yet they seemed to play a game of competitive crunching.

When they moved, the true size was incredible.  They moved at speed, grunting as they pushed past us.  Finding each other.  2 young black-backed males.  A 2 ½ year old youngster, then  a young mother joined, and with her, as teeny tiny 4 month old baby.  I just about cried.

They are beautiful creatures.  They look gentle, they look straight at you, they accept your presence.  They sleep in front of you, on their back.  They almost pose for photos.

I didn’t want to leave.

The hike down was faster, the trees drifting behind, breathing slightly easier.  It wasn’t till we fully descended that we realized we’d climbed much higher in altitude than I’d expected.

It was exhilarating, a rush, and we stepped out of the forest onto a precipice, with a view of the valley, the other volcanoes next door, the steep terraced farmland below, the 1000 hills in the distance.

We stepped down, through the farmland, and back to the truck, that ferried us back to where we were staying, and still I couldn’t help but feel for the families close by, the children as we drove past, still few smiles.  Our guide thanked us for coming to his country, there are other places you can trek Gorilla, and asked us to tell our friends.

 

That night we had a storyteller join us, also a gorilla trek guide, but also someone who wanted to share the story of the genocide and post, and how the country is recovering.

“The International war crime tribunal would have taken too long” he spoke, “in the last 20 years they have prosecuted just 73/74 people”.  So the Rwandans went back to a form of tribal justice  the “Gacaca court system”, handling those who performed war crimes within the community.  With a focus on honesty, acceptance, an attempt at forgiveness, not all people could forgive.

Only 2500 were eventually jailed, others placed within the community to work.  Initially with fresh emotional wounds it was difficult, these same people who committed the atrocities in the community, working.  But gradually they have been accepted.

 

They’re all Rwandans now.

 

He also thanked us for coming to his country, for choosing to visit a place with such a sad recent history, and to tell our friends to visit.

We walked to the town close by in the morning, following church-goers in their Sunday best, again gorgeous bright fabrics, shirts and suits, few smiles, more stares.  Children came up to us, walked with us.

One girl of about 8 or 9 ran up to me pointing “Tattage tattage”.  It wasn’t until I saw her pointing at the birds on my shoulder I understood she meant tattoo – I show her all four of mine.

She kept walking for another few minutes with us, and tugged my arm, and sort of smiled – she pulled down her sweartshirt – it was dirty and ragged, on the same arm as mine, the same shoulder, to show her own tattoo.  A heart with L O V E written in it.  Hand created, like ones made of compasses and biro in school days of old.
A good friend mentioned to me a few days ago in a message “You’ll fall in love with Africa, and it will break your heart”.  I can’t think of a better way to describe Rwanda but that.

I hope I return someday.

 

 

Posted by: Ele Quigan | June 24, 2014

Africa part 1 – Kampala, Uganda 24th June

Lumbering, nobbly kneed giraffes, elegant, ear-flapping elephants, skittish, doe-eyed antelope – how my world has changed in what feels like a few short days.

I’ve been away from London such a short time, but it’s getting harder to connect with what life once was.  The busy-ness and hustble bustle replaced by something else entirely.  Traffic, no public transport, I don’t miss the tube.  But I’m missing those short walks to and from.

Life has moved to much smaller spaces, re-wearing clothes in the hope they don’t smell like sweat, but even that’s changed.  Singlet, and t shirt, I’m wearing twice, three times.

I’m hand-washing items, in minutes my knees ache, and I wonder how my ancestors have done this for hours of their life.  I’m trying to scrub away red mud stains, and wonder why my husband brought so many light coloured things.  At night, while the washing drips dry outside it rains.  Big fat drops that start small and end torrential, we just got things in time.  At 2:41 am.  In the dark.

It’s been hot and wet in the Jungle, but we’re moving onward to the savannah.

Like a photo, the grass and lonely acacia trees against the roiling dark clouds.  We’re lucky again, the rain seems to pass quickly.  The animals don’t scatter at our next safari.  I want to reach out and touch them, feel their soft prints and hides against my hands to again see if they are real.

Herds of elephants in the distance, a search for big cats, a paw print drying in the ground, but the cats are elusive.  The antelope quiet, chewing their cud and seated, “ante-loafs” they’re now affectionately called, hoofs tucked under the bodies, almost smiling as we pass.

In the afternoon, I heard a cross between a hoot and a snuffle, excited I waited to hear it again.  Blows of air by the waterside, and suddenly nostrils and ears clearly outlined behind the fading sunlight.

They’re beautiful creatures hippos.  Their gentle faces and ears above the water, watching.  Waiting.  Raising above and below in a single movement, no rushing, looking with disdain if we dare step into their territory but not too far, or too close.

I want to touch their purple, leathery hides.  Like shiny eggplants with giant hammy legs, you can sometimes see them raise fully out of the water, stretching, yawning, their huge teeth bright white in the sun.

Their blunt faces have an almost smile, particularly in profile, and the babies hilarious, next to their other family members, squishing and sludging into the water alongside, with an occasional inexperienced splash.

The afternoon was a slow Nile cruise up to Murchison Falls, which was another unreal experience.  Herds and herds of elephants on the waters edge.  More than we had seen in the family group in the park drive.

It wasn’t just the gentle grey giants, but water buck, hundreds of warthogs, even crocodiles, sunning themselves in the glorious afternoon light, mouths open, catching the last of the warmth.

An elephant trumpeted, a loud noise, surprising, ears out, and then carried on his gentle water washing, cooling himself.  Another attempted what appeared to be a vertical cliff climb.  How those legs and feet manage that is incredible.

The large giants ended up right on the waterside.  In the swampy elements, drinking and cooling themselves, large ones, babies, whole families, tribes of elephants together.  Somehow more beautiful on the waters edge than seeing them from the confines of a truck.

The falls?  There’s not much to see.  Iceland falls are far more ostentatious, but the epic power behind them was not to be missed, we could feel the strong current against our boat.

The Nile has amazed me these past few days.  The wildlife, the colour, the power, it’s been unexpected.  I’m already losing the grip on the realities of real life, my one luxury has died, an electric toothbrush that I’ll miss dearly, but there’s no concern.  No worry.

I want to wander places and meet people, not be behind a desk.  While sitting for hours in a truck is getting tiring, the 4am start today was a challenge but it’s not from insomnia.  Such a welcome break this place is.

Instead of a tube stopping we have wild animals.  We stopped for a cheetah, then a snake, then for the toilet.  The grass cut my legs, I tried to avoid my toes.

Kampala (where I am now) is a red city, the mud houses, the brick houses, the slowly setting African sun.  While the waterways are sadly polluted, and rubbish everywhere it’s still beautiful.  Children still wave, people still smile.

The smells of a busy city are an assault, dried fish, rotten food, rubbish tipped in places, a constant smell of burning and fire.  Fuel from motorcycles, from trucks, we’re lucky we didn’t get caught in a traffic jam today.

Tomorrow is another journey, “It’s the best time of your life” our tour leader jokes, it’s almost too much moving from one place to another so quickly, not enough time to take in all these experiences.

 

 

Posted by: Ele Quigan | June 22, 2014

Africa Part 1 – Murchison Falls National Park – 22 June

Red earth and the equivalent thick, sticky mud is a constant.  It’s made into bricks, shaped into huts, but it’s a constant, tracked into tents, on to our truck, impossible to remove from jandals and toes.Image 

It’s almost soothing, especially at dawn and dusk, reflecting it’s own light, giving the world warmth and light that’s becoming a comfort.

The rain is still sporadically falling, storms and thunder rolling across.  We’ve taken shelter at a giant church to have our lunch one afternoon, playing Frisbee with local kids.  I think we had as much fun as they did, they watched us throw, copying our movements and picking up the game quickly.

We communicate through smiles and laughter, clapping as the kids catch and throw with us.  All of us a bit shy, not sure of the etiquette, but there were long waves goodbye that day. 

I’m writing today from a National Park, in rainforest, watching a butterfly dry its wings in the gentle breeze.

Yesterday was crazy, tracking two types of beautiful creatures. 

The first, another early start, warned it was slightly wet I was unprepared for the swamp.  Water up to my knees, wet slowly soaking into my wool socks.  Eyes out for mosquitoes and rhinos.

I spotted one through the trees, a grey blob in the distance, hardly a shape.  There was a mother and baby, a 5 month old playful little one.  Splashing and running, sticking close by, head rubbing  and snuggling. 

They look heavy, walking gracefully by.

We spotted 4 more.  3 young males, their little piggy tails tightly curled, which is a sign of fear.  Fear not of us, but their dominant male.  Much, much larger, herding them like cats.

 Strange to see something so large so skittish, their little tails brought such a smile to my face.

The afternoon was a jungle search, tracking to find chimpanzees, a 3 hour gentle hike. 

They called through the trees, announcing our arrival to each other.  Hooting across the treetops, the sound both familiar yet unfamiliar. 

They’re hard to see up in the canopy.  Like the Rhino, dark blobs of colour, squinting my eyes, neck stretched back, seeing arms reach out to nibble at seeds.  They’re messy eaters.  If you can’t see them up high you can definitely hear them, see the leaves dropping under them.

A loud crack of a giant Jack fruit dropping, scattering amongst themselves.

We came across two on the ground.  Placidly eating, but loud.  For the first time we could clearly see their faces, seeing ourselves reflected back.  Dark eyes looking back at us, ears perfectly formed.  Brows jutting forward.  Understanding we were no threat.  I looked on in wonder.

I feel so lucky to see them in their own habitat, unrestricted, accepting our presence, some swinging through branches to find the next snack.

Hearing how so many of these animals are poached and killed seems insane.  How do people looks at such creatures and not see them as we do?  A recent article about elephants being chain sawed shocks.  It’s sickening.  Here where we are staying there are chimpanzee snares, where people have captured them, some are still taken each year.

Visiting these places, seeing these creatures would make most more of an activist. I can’t comprehend the power differential between man with a gun, and an animal with nothing.  I can’t comprehend the ideal of Rhino horn being worth 1 million USD. 

It seems so aimless and sad to kill these creatures, I feel this is only going to become more prevalent the more animals we see, and further through Africa we go.

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