August 31, 2011

Meserani to Entebbe

So about 12 months and two weeks ago (I am running a bit behind!)…

Today. Last day in Tanzania, last day of the tour and thankfully had our last night sleeping on those hard sleeping mats. The sleeping mats won’t be missed. We got an early start, which was nothing unusual there. We left the campsite pretty much before most of the others. We’d managed to wake up a couple of our fellow travellers after their late nights, we’d packed up, made our lunches for the day, taken our group shot, given the security guard our left over food – in return I got a nice photo of him – we’d done all our dishes and packed our stuff away in the truck for the final time. The last day of a tour is always a little bittersweet. You have to say farewell to new friends, with a common bond of shared adventures, but yet looking forward to the next lot of adventures that are coming your way. Today we had a pretty big travelling day ahead of us back to Nairobi – including a border crossing where one person didn’t have a passport. We stopped off in Arusha (don’t take photos of this, this or this…) and dropped our cook off and another girl who was going on to climb Mt Kilimanjaro. We used the lovely hotel amenities, then continued on our way. We saw Mt Kilimanjaro from the distance, but that was about it.

It was really busy at the Namanga border crossing. We left CL with our tour leader and we went and did our stuff. Got the stamp on my passport, was allowed back into Kenya without parting with any more money, then headed over to the post office to post some post cards. The post office wasn’t open because it was a Sunday, but the person in the store next door said he’d ring the lady who runs it and get her to come in. So about 10 or 15 minutes later, the lady came down and helped us with our postage requirements. She’d been at church, so I had a good chat with her about Uganda, Missions and what I was doing in this part of the world. She was a very helpful lady, definitely worth a mention on my blog!

Anyway, after a while we all wandered back to the truck (on the Kenyan side) to wait for Julius and CL. Eventually, to our surprise they both got back, one very, very relieved CL and we figured the less questions we asked the better. We stopped down the road a bit for somebody who had no money to buy some souvenirs, where the highlight of that shop was the flowers rather than the overpriced souvenirs we wouldn’t have been able to get into our country.

The roads so far today weren’t too bad, in fact, we’d been warned that they were going to be pretty bad, so we were expecting worse than the Serengeti roads, but really, they weren’t bad at all. We saw a few odd sights – like the wide load where they had two guys riding on the wide load waving huge flags to warn you of the oncoming wide load. I guess it provides employment for two people each load, whereas if you had flashing lights, it wouldn’t… Plenty of typical African scenes, people wandering along the road in the middle of nowhere, barricades and detours while they built the road and cars and trucks travelling way too fast for the conditions. Despite all that, we made good progress and made it back to the Kivi Milimani Hotel in good time.

Even though we were down a couple of group members, we headed out as a group for tea at a local restaurant in the center of town. This was heaps better than the Carnivore – in terms of “authentic” African food and hands down much better in terms of price. It was pretty much a traditional African meal, I think I had talipa and some rice, got to socialise with the locals – mainly at the little washstand they had where everyone came to wash their hands. Afterwards they had a band there – we popped in to see what they were up to and when they saw us they started doing some renditions of well known contemporary songs in english – surprisingly they weren’t too bad! But seeing as most of us had pretty early flights in the morning, we didn’t stay long – but it was a good night. Oh yes, in Nairobi, we weren’t meant to go out on the streets along, even during the day. So that meant everywhere we went we had to get a taxi, even to go into the bank just down the road. That started to add up a bit. I’m not sure if that’s a general recommendation for everyone and they’re being over protective, or whether it’s really as bad as they say, but anyway, that’s the way it was.

Jen and I didn’t have a flight until later in the day. We weren’t really sure what we were going to fill in the day with – we though maybe head into town and get some Kenyan food to take back to people. We ended up making a split second decision to jump in the taxi with the japanese girls from our tour who said they were going “into town for some shopping”. We asked the taxi driver to drop us off in town when we found out they weren’t exactly going to town, but that got lost in translation, so we ended up out at the wholesale depot for Kenya Wine Agencies. It was a “hot tip” from the taxi driver and apparently you needed to know somebody to actually be able to get in to go shopping there. So we had to show our passports and sign in, follow the manager through the packing room floor to the showroom – and we were the only people in there. He took great delight in detailing all the locally produced wine and spirits and grabbed a selection for us to choose from. I can’t remember exactly how long it was we were there for, but it was a fair while. We were obviously tourists – you could tell that, so we were never going to be anything but once off customers, but he spent ages with us. He was well rewarded at the end though, when the Japanese girls loaded up more than I’m sure they would ever get through the airport or customs, let alone by able to carry. Oh – and all this was done without knowing the prices. He wouldn’t tell us the cost of anything. I grabbed a carton of grape juice as a bit of a token gesture after he’d spent so long telling us all about it – I kind of felt obligated to buy something… So after we’d selected what we wanted, all without knowing how much it would cost, the goods disappeared – they went one way, we went another. We met up with our goods at a kind of checkout – we could see them through the window and got to check what we’d selected, the cost was tallied and they presented us with one bill. Between four. *sigh*… So the taxi driver had to help sort us out, we could only pay cash and it was far more than the others expected (I mean they’d bought heaps, surely they had to have some idea it was going to be expensive…) So the taxi driver handed over the cash, but did we get our goods? Nope! Again, our goods went one way and we had to go another. We left the building – still good-less and finally when we got outside, we could collect our goods through a conveyor belt hole in the wall where there were a couple of guys sitting around waiting to help. Seemed like a lot of effort, but I’m sure they had their reasons…

So, with time running out, we headed to the Nairobi Giraffe Center. We had about 3/4 of an hour here, before we absolutely had to get the japanese to the airport – with a slight detour to the hotel to drop Jen and I off first. The giraffe center was pretty cool. The others fed the giraffes, I took photos. Those giraffe have huge tongues and slober everywhere. They even have hand washing stations at the bottom of the stairs! It’s great to see that they’re taking an interest in conserving their wildlife though and providing a giraffe experience and education for many tourists. The gift shop here is pretty good and very reasonably priced. My tip would be pay this place a visit for all your Kenyan souvenir shopping needs.

Finally dragged the others away from feeding the giraffes, but not with enough time to spare to drop Jen and I off at the hotel. So we went to the airport… and waited while the others visited the ATM so they could pay the taxi, then finally made it back to the hotel. All that used up far more shillings than we expected, we had nothing left to do anything else with and virtually had nothing left for lunch. Between us we scrapped together enough for a bowl of chips and one all you can eat smorgasbord meal (between two) at the hotel. We had booked our friendly taxi driver from this morning and pre-negotiated our fare – despite the fact that we’d given him all that business this morning, he still wanted to overcharge us for the trip to the airport! GRRRRR Another tip – be aware of those taxi drivers in Nairobi and be prepared to negotiate, because they will charge more than they should.

Airport again, got on the flight and headed back to Entebbe. Great Intrepid trip – the Serengeti Trail. If you’ve only got a short time and want to do as much as you can, this comes recommended. Headed back to Uganda feeling like I’d been on holiday, even though the pace was hectic, the nights were cold, the truck bumpy and dusty, it was very relaxing – and I did wish I was back there sitting on that rocky outcrop overlooking the Serengeti. Had to pay to get back into Uganda – thought I was going to get away without it (you shouldn’t have to if you leave Uganda for Kenya), but after he’d stamped my passport and given it back to me, he asked me for money. I argued a bit, but it wasn’t worth it. He took my money and I demanded a receipt. He looked at me and very, very slowly took the book out of the drawer – I think I was the first one he’d given a receipt to all night and I was well back in the queue. Makes you wonder what he did with the other payments he demanded from the arrivals…
Got picked up at the airport by Mike, Shirley and James, who’d been caught in the Kampala traffic jams on the way here and I think they said it took them an hour to travel 100m – thanks to the ambulance putting their sirens on they finally got moving. Had to use my limited Ugandan on the lovely taxi driver guy who wanted to take me back to Kampala, he even offered me his phone to call my friends so I could find out where they were! Stopped off at Nicky’s pizza, introducing James to real pizza and soda. Had the salmon pizza this time that we’d missed last time. Great pizza, great trip, great wildlife, great experience.


August 28, 2011

From the Crater to Meserani

“It’s gone, it’s gone, someone has stolen it, it’s gone IT’S GONE, I can’t find it anywhere”. A familiar voice rang out. Instead of the customary chainsaw snoring from the tent nearby, it was a panicked screaming coming forth from the same tent. I know I’d gone to bed late, and hadn’t slept much because it was so cold, but I was pretty sure it was not yet time to get up. Sooner or later they’d stop and whatever it was that was “gone” would show up and we could all go back to sleep. But the cries of “it’s gone” gained more intensity in desperation and panic. I groaned, rolling over to find my phone and check out what time it was. 4am. What on earth is going wrong at this time of the morning. I wasn’t going to get out of bed to find out – tent walls are pretty thin and sooner or later somebody closer would respond to the panicked cries of CL (besides, Jen, the other person in my tent was out at a toilet stop, she’d be back soon to give me an update). Our tour leader Julius did the “leader” thing and got up to check out the disturbance. You know when somebody is in such a panic that it takes you ten minutes to actually calm them down to get something out of them – this was one of those times. Finally Julius got it out of her. Her passport and ALL her money was missing. She has it with her ALL the time she says, and now it’s not there. Someone had got into her tent and stolen it, there was NO WAY she would have lost it anywhere. Some of us went through all her stuff and also went and had a look around the toilet and shower blocks. Those who travel know what a passport means – it’s your ticket in and out of the country – it shows you are who you say you are and where you belong. It’s the most valuable thing you have when you’re travelling. But sympathy at 4am for a traveller who had tested our patience for the last 7 days had run out. So a couple of people helped her look and were able to look properly with “unpanicked eyes” – hoping that we’d find it and get her to shut up! Surely it had to have been lost – chances of somebody stealing it from luggage inside a tent are remote at best. I mean, first of all they have to actually get inside the tent with somebody sleeping in it, then find it in the dark amongst all their stuff… all without waking them up. It’s not good odds for the thief! Oddly though, it didn’t show up. A big thanks to Jen for representing our tent in the search!

Nobody really went back to sleep and come first light, Julius and CL headed into the police station. CL had the good fortune of getting her tent packed up for her (again) and lunch made for her as well. We got to meet a Tanzanian police officer and sympathise with him as he dealt with a still panic stricken CL.

Despite the drama of the morning, we were still hoping for a good day. It was Ngorongoro Crater day – the day we descended the crater and went on safari again and for the last time. We had heard many good things and were looking forward to it. Our vehicle this time wasn’t the truck, but some 4WD safari vehicles, with our own guides. That was great, until we realised that they really weren’t so great at english…

The only remaining animal in the big 5 list to see was the rhino. So when our driver asked us what we wanted to see, that’s what we said. Despite this place being known for all the animals, including the big 5, he told us he didn’t like our chances. Great – not. We spent a fair bit of our time searching the most likely places for rhinos. Our spotter tried to point out something he said *may* have been a rhino – but since none of us could actually see what he was talking about, it could have been anything, so we didn’t cross rhino of our list. The other thing I wanted to see were the flamingos. The bright pink birds that you see in all the pictures promoting the Crater. We pulled up at one stage and they point away in the distance to the lake. Yes, we thought, that’s a lake. Flamingos they say. The answer to our question “Can we get closer”? was met with a puzzled look and a definitely not, you can’t go out there there’s no roads, we’d get bogged. That was our flamingo experience. They just show up in the camera if you zoom in far enough, but to the naked eye, all you could really make out were vague pink streaks as the abundance of flamingos merged together to make something just visible.

We pulled up for lunch at a great looking picnic spot beside the lake. Oh by the way they said – eat your lunch in the vehicle because those nice looking birds will like it more than you will. Just when we thought maybe the day was getting better, and we could at least eat by the water, it was ripped from under us! Those birds certainly were annoying, small but intimidating, and none of us felt safe even in the vehicles – they were pretty close to coming in through our top viewing part and even the doors. Of course *somebody* insisted on attracting them by feeding them, no prizes for guessing who. Yes that’s right, somebody who had us up at 4am. “But they’re so lovely”…

There were plenty of wildebeest and zebras – herds of them as opposed to isolated smaller groups we saw in the Serengeti and these were also in much better condition. I guess a reliable year round water source and consequently food source helps. Some of the scenery in the crater was spectacular – the clouds over the hills of the crater were pretty cool and it was good to see something other than an endless sea of brown. We saw a couple of cheetahs – but the more amazing thing was the number of vehicles that seemed to come from nowhere just to see it. We hadn’t seen any cheetahs, so that was something new. Our guides pointed out a lion, getting quite excited, but we’re like lions – meh, seen heaps of them and we saw a couple of lion kills. We had an elephant approach our vehicle from a long way off – we got excited about that, sort of. He was a big old loner elephant. Separated from the herd as an outcast they said, and will probably die soon. He came up close, thought he may have been going to run off with someone’s camera, but he didn’t. Hopefully Pieter, our fellow traveller and expert photographer got some good shots!

I guess the crater wasn’t all bad – there was good scenery, and although mostly the same animals, there were many more of them. I probably wouldn’t do the crater again, but would be more than willing to do the Serengeti and different parts of Kenya/Tanzania again on safari.

After the crater we headed off to meet up with our truck and onward to a village called Mto Wa Mbu. We stopped there and of course got hassled by the locals to buy things. I really don’t understand why these guys don’t get that if they offer the best price on something first up, they would make a whole lot more sales. Most groups don’t have a lot of time, so therefore don’t want to spend time haggling and will go without something rather than be taken advantage of – or will run out of time because they are haggling and won’t get as much. I saw a really good painting that would’ve looked great hanging on my wall, but they wanted far too many shillings for it. So it stayed there. We went on a bit and had a look at a huge old tree and a last lookout over the Rift valley.

We stayed that night at the Meserani Snake Park. There were people everywhere. We had our own little area booked though and we had a good farewell night of our tour. Our cook (forget his name, maybe Habukka) got the night off and together with our driver Chris and tour leader Julius we read out an appreciative letter for each of them. Good staff on your tours really do make or break a tour. Added to that, good travellers on your tour also make or break the tour. We had a great group and while there were many forgettable CL moments, thankfully most of them have been forgotten and she wasn’t always bad. Chris told us we were one of the best groups he’d ever had and I said you probably say that about every group. He said no, normally he doesn’t socialise with the travellers – and they don’t want to socialise with him, so he stays in his truck. But this time he said, he didn’t do that at all and loved being out there with us. I guess not being a tour filled with teenagers helps and all of us were more than willing to pitch in and help clean up, set up camp, cook, wash up – whatever needed doing. We had a roster, but it wasn’t used, we all just did whatever needed to be done. The snake park had a bit of a reptile display and a nice bar area and it was good to meet up with some travellers from different countries. A few of us played a bit of darts, but most of us didn’t stay long after the late night the night before and the extremely early morning.

August 25, 2011

Serengeti to Ngorongoro Crater

I felt the warm gentle breeze blow over me and the warmth of the sun. I found a place just out of the way and for a moment, enjoyed the silence of the Serengeti before I heard the distant chatter of more people arriving. And I drank in a 360 degree view of endless sun scorched plains with a kopje (rocky outcrop) away in the distance, marveled at the shadow of the clouds on the ground, ground vast enough to have a shadow uninterrupted by hills, trees or kopjes and let my mind play back the amazing sights of earlier that day. It was quite cool in the morning as we packed up our camp while the sun slowly rose over the dusty vegetation nearby and began to show its colours of bright yellow and red, promising another hot day. As we started on safari we drove past the different scenery. There were the small watering holes, providing an “oasis in the desert”, the savannah trees, somehow managing to survive in the harsh climate. The dry grass under your feet ( when it wasn’t the dust and rocks) and the out of place palm trees. Then there were the animals. The giraffes. So close that the whole giraffe wouldn’t even fit in the frame of the camera. So close that you could see the calloused knees from kneeling, so close that you could almost reach out and touch them. Then there were the numerous herds of thousands of thompson gazelle, the zebras, the hyenas with their small kill and the vultures hanging around, looking for any scraps from the hyena. The ostrich, the hard to spot owl, the baboons that arrived at our campsite just as we finished packing up, and of course, there was the amazing lion hunt and kill this morning.

It was nature at it’s finest and truly, it was such a pleasure to witness the cycle of nature. That may sound funny, but whether we like it or not, that’s how nature works. Animals eat other animals to survive, that’s just the way it is. So to witness the stalking and then the actual kill of a small thompson gazelle not more than 10m from us, was, well a real privilege. We had front row seats thanks to our driver Chris. We watched the lions stalk out the prey, isolate it from the rest of the herd and slowly, slowly close in. By the time the little gazelle smelt the trouble, it was too late. Even the screams from CL (see earlier post for CL explanation) to the little gazelle could not save her. Yes, everyone else was holding their breath, trying not to make a noise breathing, but CL decided that it wasn’t right and started yelling. I’m sure she was nearly tackled by everyone in our truck – as quietly as we could of course and while trying not to miss the action. Finally the lions pounced. One from one side, the other from the other side. The little gazelle ran away, right into the path of the other lion. I reflected on how I’d manged to capture it on video, even if, unfortunately the little gazelle ran for cover behind a bush and was taken down then. The lions dragged the gazelle back out a bit and we could see them feasting on their hard work. Such a privilege and something you normally only see on tv or at the zoo. It was in a way, a fitting end to our safari through the Serengeti. After that, we sat back satisfied. We had watched the kings of the jungle outwork their total dominance, their power, their speed, their patience, skill and presence.

Then we took the road out toward the Naabi Hill gate, along the dusty, bumpy roads we had come to know the Serengeti for and here I was, drinking in the 360 view. I could still taste and smell the dust, but I was high enough to be well above it and could see plenty of the blue sky. Pretty amazing to stop and consider where you were and the things you were seeing.

Somebody called my name and I was jolted back to real life.

Lunch was going to be ready soon, so my time up at the highest point, overlooking the Serengeti was nearly over. I lingered as long as I could, savouring it for as long as I could, and already marking down my time at the top of the kopje as one of the top 2 or 3 moments of my African trip.

After lunch we headed further south east toward Ngorongoro Crater. We stopped at a Masai village and while the others took a tour of the village, I enjoyed the view of the distant crater rising from nowhere, an upclose view of the spikes on the savannah trees and the rocky ground, all to the background noise of the Masai warrior dancers entertaining the tourists.

A bit further on we stopped in at Olduvai gorge. They had a museum showing the history of the gorge but again, the real highlight was the view. They gave us a talk about something – what it was – I really don’t know. I was too busy looking at the view, thinking how cool it would be to go and explore – if only we had more time. Next time.

The climb to the top of the crater was a slow one in our truck. We witnessed yet another great sunset and got there just in time to set up our tents and have some tea in the last of the light. There were tents everywhere and people everywhere! There were also animals wandering around the edge of the camp – I can’t quite remember what they were now, maybe a zebra? Ngorongoro Crater is not only known for its abundance of animals, but it’s also known to be really cold. I stayed as long as I could by the fire – it was really quite late by the time I went to bed – and I knew it was going to be far warmer by the fire than in bed. I’d been cold in the Serengeti at night, and this was going to be colder. My tip: Bring a good sleeping bag. It is COLD! Overall, the best day on
the Kenyan/Tanzanian trip by far and close to, if not the best, day of my African trip.

August 23, 2011

Afternoon Safari and Ngiri Camp

So twelve months ago…

Last post I detailed our morning safari, so now here’s the afternoon safari on the Serengeti. Of course we had a great lunch in between, cooked by our very good cook – and too busy eating it to get any pics, some free time to do some washing (if needed) and have a shower while there was some warm water (water is warmed by the sun – not solar, just in a black tank, it’s enough to take the chill off it during the day). It’s actually pretty cold at nights at these places, we had a fire at night while we were there, that was nice. The camp site, Ngiri camp, is pretty basic – a cleared area to camp in, some huts to cook in, some shelters to shelter under, a good toilet and shower block (no hot water or power, but they are luxuries) and plenty of monkeys and hyenas to keep us on our toes.

The afternoon safari – again plenty of animals. Saw a herd or family of elephants up really close and saw the African Environments Film Crew getting some shots of them as well. They had a pretty serious lens on their camera! The giraffes were so close – the animals don’t even worry about the vehicles. Took a tour of the visitor center at Serona, which had a detailed, life sized, interactive exhibit of the wildebeest migration and saw the rock that the final scene of the movie the Lion King was based on – where Simba stood as king of the jungle.

August 22, 2011

Morning Safari

Filed under: Trips,Uganda — pearsey @ 10:40 pm
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Got up earlish today for our first morning safari. Pretty amazing. Saw 4 of the big 5. Big 5 are Elephant, Buffalo, Leopard, Lion and Rhino. Got to watch the lions hunt – they are pretty powerful creatures, and very patient. They were stalking and circling the little gazelle for a long time. They worked as a pack, slowly isolating the gazelle from the rest of the group. In the end though, the little gazelle took off and the kill and capture took place away in the distance. Still, we were happy with that – until the next day when we saw better!

Then the coolest thing was, after the lions had finished, they came back and sat in the shade of our truck. Literally right outside our window were 2 lionesses, just sitting, enjoying the cool of the shade. As long as we stay inside our vehicle, we’re safe. But if we were to get out, they’d see us as prey and attack. And no, we have no protection around our campsite. It is open… so don’t ask me how that works.

Driving through the Serengeti is quite amazing. Sometimes there are just endless plains, there is a huge sense of space. Then seemingly from nowhere, up will spring a few trees, and an oasis. Sometimes away in the distance you will see a kopje, a rocky outcrop, often where the lions hang out. These are quite amazing – all around are plains, then in the middle of nowhere, a heap of rocks rise from the ground.

Plenty of zebras in the early morning light, some giraffes and elephants thrown in for good measure, a few birds and all have names, but most I can’t remember. The leopard was just hanging around in the tree. He was hard to spot and was a long way off. But still, we crossed that one of our list on the big 5. Chris and Julius (our driver and guide) were both pretty good at spotting the animals. We’d be like… where is it… what are we looking at?? Took us all ages to spot that leopard.

There’s also an ugly 5 – hyena, vulture, wildebeest, warthog and marabou. We spotted all of them at some point.

Another memorable moment was watching the lion family play. The 3 little cubs came out from the shade and started playing with their dad (I guess he was their dad) as he came back. We could’ve stayed there for ages just watching them but lunch back at camp awaited!

The photos may not look the clearest and best, but that is the dust. There is plenty of dust around. We had the windows of the truck open all the time and dust just flies everywhere. But we put up with it because you couldn’t see anything out the windows if they were up because they were so dirty!

This was only our first real safari – we still had an arvo one later in the day and another one tomorrow morning. There’s a time restriction on safaris – after about 5 or 6 pm you’re not allowed to be “on safari” so you don’t disturb the animals.

Enjoy the pics, I had trouble narrowing them down. The awesomeness of it all is well, simply awesome.

Caves and Pipes

Filed under: Idle Ramblings — pearsey @ 8:20 pm
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I’d had this weekend booked up in good faith for a while, but after those friends cancelled at the last minute, I had a free weekend and was determined to redeem it. Actually reminded me of that song by Claire Hazard – finest unreliable friend – is an interesting song and quite fitting actually. But I digress…

It was a lovely sunny weekend, so staying at home doing the cleaning was not an option and doing my blog was still an inside job, so that also got the flick. So what else could I do, but jump in the car and head out bush?

Went to a favourite place of mine, Melville caves, about an hour’s drive from here. I love getting out in the bush, especially at this time of year. It was great just sitting on top of the rocks there, looking out at the scenery below, listening to the birds and smelling the wattle. The smell of the wattle surely must be the smell of spring! Love checking out the different plants and looking for things that you may not notice if you’re in a hurry.
Then headed over to Mt Moligal. I drive past it quite a bit when I head that way for work but I’ve never had time to go up for a look. Great view and looked good looking back at the rocks of Melville caves.

Sunday I had the day off church, so I headed south to one of the churches in Melbourne, then dropped in at the Organ Pipes National Park on the way home. The pipes were just as I remember them – not that spectacular, but maybe I needed to look at them a bit longer. Rosette rock was different and the Tessellated pavement is much more spectacular in Tassie. Still, it is good seeing the different rock formations, the different things that God has created and enjoying the smell of wattle and listening to the birds and the stream flowing over the rocks. Sitting in the sun, listening to the stream flowing over the rocks is like water to the soul, but I’m not sure that the aeroplanes flying over head enhance the setting…

I got asked if I took any pics and if they turned out – hence this post. Thought I may as well chuck ’em up here so everyone can take a look.

The first six rows are some shots from Melville Caves. Always amazes me what manages to grow in the rocks! The last few rows are from the Organ Pipes NP.

Off to the Serengeti

Filed under: Trips,Uganda — pearsey @ 7:24 pm
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Awoke today to a great sunrise and plenty of birds on the shores of the lake snapping up the abundance of insects. Packed up our tents and sleeping gear, packed the truck and headed off to take a quick look round Musoma. We didn’t have long, so by the time we found a bank ATM that worked and I had checked up some flights on the slow interent, time was pretty much up. It was already fairly warm, so it didn’t worry me too much that I was in the air conditioned internet cafe for a bit longer than I thought! It was good taking a few moments to sit back and watch the city move by. Had a real quick walk through a market, it was interesting, but hard to look around when all the stall owners are trying to sell you something.
Just on the outskirts of Musoma we stopped at a little shop. Prices were pretty high compared to the rest of the stuff in Tanzania, but good to have some ice cream! The kids saw our truck and just came running, looking for anything we would give them. They loved lollies, but giving lollies to them was bad for them so they missed out!

Finally though, made it to the west Ndabaka gate to enter the Serengeti National Park. Stopped for lunch and took it in turns on monkey watch – scaring the monkeys away from the food and vans because they’d steal anything. If they got too close, the locals would throw rocks at them. Sounds a bit extreme, but it had to be done. They didn’t steal anything from us, but from another truck they did. A quick chase ensured the stolen goods were returned!

As we continued towards our campsite, we kept spotting heaps of animals. We’d get pretty excited and Chris our obliging truck driver would stop when we did. Eventually though our tour leader and Chris got sick of stopping – we’d be setting our tents up in the dark if we kept stopping and besides – these were just the side show, not the main event. Meaning as good as we though it was, there was more and better to come! A few people got excited when they saw some hippos – I’m like hippos… ah, seen heaps of them. Some of our group were going hot air ballooning early next morning and when I heard the time they had to get up, I was ok with not going ballooning.

We did see the river where the wilderbeast cross when the migrate. It was half empty but when the wilderbeast cross it is full and apparently many of them don’t actually make it. There’s also the crocs they have to contend with as well meaning the crossing is fairly dangerous.

The wilderbeast in the serengti at this time of year didn’t make the migration for some reason. They could be the older animals, or could have been too weak to make the trip. Unfortunately for these animals, there is also not alot of food in this area of the Serengeti at this time of year – hence why they migrate. All the ones we saw were in pretty poor condition. In fact, even the lions we saw were all pretty thin as well, not sure why, plenty of wilderbeast to eat! I guess not much meat on them though…

Saw some black giraffes. Didn’t even know there were different types of giraffes, but apparently there are – I saw them with my own eyes!

The elephants below were in a herd. There was one bull and a few older females. Our tour guide Julius was pretty helpful and was telling us all about the animals. The story with these elephants – it was pretty funny… the poor bull had 3 females around him and as the bull walked away unsatisfied, Julius says – “It’s not only us men who have trouble with the women”.

Got to the campsite a bit later than planned, but we were first there so we got the best site and our cook got the best area to cook in. We weren’t allowed to keep any food in our tents because the hyenas would come and attack and if we walked to the shower block at night we were to go in pairs. We were all a bit skeptical, but after a couple of us spotted some hyenas not far from the shower block, we took a bit more notice!

Kisii Kenya to Musoma Tanzania

Filed under: Trips,Uganda — pearsey @ 6:30 pm
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Today (a bit over 12 months ago) we left Kisii, headed for the border crossing point of Sirari/Isibania, crossing into Tanzania. We stopped at a soap stone carving place along the way. Soap stone is a soft stone that they carve into different ornaments and things like that. The place we stopped at was home to the soap stone, in one of the few areas in the world that it is found (so we were told). It was good to watch it being made, from the start in chunks of stone, through to the finished product. They were happy to explain the process to us all, and were happy for us to take photos. It was encouraging to see that the owner, a local, had built up a bit of an industry that would help other locals gain employment. The products here were a little more expensive than elsewhere, (like more than double) but at least if you purchased anything you could see and talk to the people who had made it and that you were supporting. (If you’re after the cheapest soap stone stuff, the Giraffe center in Kenya was the cheapest we saw). The ladies at the shop were just fantastic. They wanted their photo taken with us, were more than happy to pose for photos and genuinely looked like they were enjoying what they did.

Onwards to the border and Tanzania!!
At the Sirari crossing point, we had to get off our truck and walk through (the truck had to be checked for illegal goods), and unfortunately we couldn’t take any photos, so no photos at either border crossing. I parted with USD50 and in exchange I got a visa and stamp on my passport and was allowed into the country for 3 months! For the record, I was able to purchase my visa at the crossing and had no problems at all. They had some toilets there on the Tanzanian side, but of course you had to pay to use them. They did take Kenyan shillings though, that was a bonus, took a while to work out which toilet was male and female because we couldn’t read the signs, then by the time I went to go, the lady manning the toilets had gone – I headed in and by the time I got out the gate was locked… Thankfully though she was right there, and took my money off me and let me out. The border crossing was surprisingly busy. There was hardly anyone around on the road while we were travelling, but when we get there, I’m like where did all these people come from… Contrast this to the Vietnam/Laos border where there was no-one on the roads and it was all quiet at the border crossing too. Anyway, they let us all in and we continued toward Musoma.

Somewhere along the route was a bridge that must have been a fairly strategic bridge. For what I have no idea, but whatever it was, it was guarded and we weren’t allowed to take any photos. What??? Don’t they realise we can all just jump on google and view the bridge from the satellite photos anyway? Of course we all reached for our cameras and very discreetly took some (poor) shots. It was a great view from the bridge, maybe that’s why they were guarding it so much! For everyone’s sake, here is the bridge location on google maps (satellite view), along with some wikipedia photos of the bridge and the view.

Got to Musoma, on the shores of Lake Victoria (almost felt like being back “home”, with home being Uganda). We were looking around wondering where we were staying when Chris, our driver, jumped up on the truck and started throwing stuff down. We’re looking at him and he’s like grab one, go set it up. And this was our first night camping. We had some free time in the arvo, some people went bike riding around the town, I thought I’d go for a walk along the shores. That kinda got hijacked a little… I was on the shores in the area just outside the camp ground when a couple of younger (about 17-18) boys started talking to me. One was from Tanzania, one from Kenya. One of them wouldn’t stop talking – the other guy, the Kenyan I think it was, didn’t know much english so he didn’t say much. The Tanzanian told me all about the lake, how the Ugandans had caused all this “weed” problem they were having, didn’t want me to go near the water because it is dangerous because we (white man) aren’t used to the water (we were able to swim in it in Uganda, what happened, oh yeah that’s right the Ugandans must have caused some problems). He asked me where I was from and when I said Australia and he found out that he could come over to Australia and not have to work and live off the government, he started asking whether I was married and maybe I could marry him and he could come over to Australia that way. Told him I was spoken for (to stop the hassling) and he said but now I am your friend, I could come over that way. Wanted to hold my camera, I said no way, drop dead – could just see him running off with it, then wanted my email address because we were “friends” and he could come and stay with me in Australia when he came to visit. He wouldn’t stop asking so in the end I gave him a fake one – it was close, but not close enough! And while all this was going on… there were some sea eagles doing some absolutely amazing stuff in front of me – diving, fishing, playing, soaring… I’m like… ahhh let me go, get some photos, but he wouldn’t stop. Was so annoyed I was missing this display from the eagles – and he wondered why I was saying no to his marriage proposal!
Finally escaped from these guys and hot footed it back to the shore of the lake near our camping ground and hung around there instead. At least everyone got a good laugh from my afternoon stories!

It was just on dusk and we’d just eaten a fantastic meal cooked by our cook and we looked up and saw this huge cloud coming towards us. We just did the only thing we could – RAN for the truck. Our driver, tour guide and cook were just laughing at us – oh yeah, they forgot to mention you get invaded by these insects here – they won’t hurt you. Thanks guys. The insects kind of ruined the evening a bit, maybe you just have to get used to them, but they were everywhere and so thick. Still there in the morning, but at least the majority of them had disappeared.

August 20, 2011

Rift Valley to Kisii, Kenya

Filed under: Trips,Uganda — pearsey @ 8:45 pm
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So here we are, back in Nairobi, Kenya (about 12 months ago), getting ready to head out on safari. We got a bit of a sleep in because one of the passengers on our trip was going to be late (flight delay). So eventually we loaded our stuff in the truck, and she still wasn’t here, so then we waited again… We’d just decided we were going to go, when she arrived. Before she even stepped on the truck we were looking at each other with oh no what are we in for looks. Let’s call this lady CL, for cat lady, because she reminds me of those eccentric old ladies who have a million cats running around. CL apologised for being late, yelled at somebody for treating her luggage “roughly”, (had brought more than you would ever need on an 8 day CAMPING trip), told us her whole story, nearly cried (or may have been, I can’t remember) and generally just did everything she could to draw attention to herself. So…. forgetting about CL for a while now 🙂

We headed round to a supermarket to get some supplies – our truck is, well, the size of a truck. This supermarket wasn’t made for trucks. So we drove in, but how we got out I’m not sure. I can tell you it wasn’t a three point turn though, it was more like a one hundred point turn. Literally. We had about a foot to spare either end and it took ages. The supermarket was pretty good though, had some pretty decent supplies, but still, it was expensive so we were all going through the Kenyan shillings pretty quickly.

Finally got on the road, much later than we should have been, but still, good to be away. Driving through the outskirts of Nairobi was pretty much like driving through Kampala. Just that the road was heaps better (it was asphalt). Our first scenic stop was a lookout over the Rift Valley. It was huge, we had a clear day and you could see for miles. We had probably a 180 view and all you could see was this valley below. Anyway, the stop was brief and we continued on. I was surprised at how many crops there were as we drove past. There were even some pretty big harvesters and I realised Kenya had actually entered the mechanical age when they farm! I think most of the crops we saw were wheat and corn. In a way it was kind of sad to see so much of the land given over to farming. I know we need to grow food, but when you know the land used to be a place where the animals would have been and that the way of life for the people would have been much different, you have to wonder what the price of progress and a growing population is. There were still a few of the classic Savannah trees that you associate the wilds of Kenya with, so it was cool to see them (just seemed wrong seeing them in front of crops). Went through a few small towns as we crossed the valley and saw a few tribsemen walking around with their cattle.

Stopped on the side of the road somewhere for lunch, just out in the middle of some desert area. There was one guy who looked after some cattle, dressed in his traditional gear who took a bit of interest in us. Unfortunatley his english was zero and our kenyan vocabulary was a huge one word that we could actually pronounce properly. Not much exchange took place and after a while he just left. Our tour leader Julius thought it was rather funny though as we recounted our exchange with him.

At lunch we were introduced to “flapping”. We just had sandwiches and cordial, so not a huge amount of dishes, but they still needed to be done. So we first learnt how to do the dishes – rinse them in the first basin, wash them in the second, then rinse them in the third. How did we dry them? Well it was air drying. So we stood there dishes in hands, waving our arms around. They dried pretty quick during the day! Oh yes – and all of us had to wash our hands before we ate – there was a process for that as well, I think three basins again.

After our lunch stop, we continued on, stopped at wood carving place somewhere along the way (they stood there and watched us take photos, then one guy demanded money, we didn’t oblige) and eventually got to Kisii. In Kissi we stayed in an old boarding type place. The rooms though were excellent – we had been told it was “simple”, but you couldn’t fault it. We had power, a nice bed with sheets and blankets and plenty of place to store your luggage. Admittedly you had to walk to the bathrooms, but that was no problem. And this place gave us a really nice breakfast in the morning where they even had a tv going! They had some nice gardens inside the place and it wasn’t far to walk back to the shops. Which kinda proved handy later that night… The girl I was rooming with, Jen, had her camera breakdown on her. So here we are about to go on safari and she has no camera. So we headed off to the “supermarket” where they told us we could get a camera. We’re like – a camera in a supermarket??? Turns out the supermarket had everything, more like our Big W kind of stores. It’s getting late (and dark) and we’d been told not to go out after dark because it was dangerous so we were trying to get this deal done fast. Finally after some searching and negotiations with sales people who didn’t speak english very well and kept trying to up sell us things, we finally had a new camera. Definitely a different experience trying to buy electronic goods in another country that’s for sure!

Made it back for tea to find out that we’d missed first course. What had I missed?? Just soup! No problem there for me at all!

August 18, 2011

Off on Safari!

These are the posts that people in Australia have waited (twelve months) for! For the next stage of my african adventure I headed off on my trip to Kenya and Tanzania where I’d take in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro crater, hopefully see a bit of wildlife and experience another part of Africa – as well as meet some different people.

To begin with, we had scheduled in the early Sunday morning service at Life Ark Prayer Center for me to preach at. Again we got treated like royalty, I’m not used to that at all, just because I come from a different country and have a title of “pastor” doesn’t mean I should get priority seating and treatment. But anyway, that’s how it is, or how they choose to honour us I should say. This place had a great presence of God and an enthusiastic and hungry congregation. Up until now I wouldn’t commit to coming back to Uganda, but somehow this place made me almost say “when I’m here next time”! Uganda is a nation that has great potential, but like I said to this church, they need to stand up and pray for their community, their church/friends/family/neighborhood and country. Allow themselves to dream and to see the potential that could come out of anyone of them in this room – the potential to change things for the better. This was also the first place that I’d preached at and got a monetary offering (ever!) of some sort (most churches in Uganda brought us sodas after preaching). That was pretty cool.

I had a mid afternoon flight to Nairobi, so pretty much as soon as we got back from church, I gathered my stuff and headed off for the airport. The drive to the Entebbe airport can be a bit hit and miss – you can get stuck in traffic pretty badly sometimes, so we left with plenty of time (we thought) and hopefully would find a place to grab some lunch as we went. Anyway, two highlights of the trip to the airport today. The first we had to stop for a train!! Well ok, just the engine. But nevertheless, I didn’t think anything would go along those tracks, so to actually see a moving engine, I got pretty excited! (My Dad is train-mad, so that’s where it comes from). I got the best photos I could, I don’t think Mike was too keen on stopping right there so I could actually take a better look! He would argue that there was nowhere to stop, but I would say that’s because he wasn’t trying hard enough!

We were nearly at the airport where highlight number 2 took place. We found a pizza shop. No big deal you say. But when we tasted this pizza, cooked in a wood fired oven, it was a big deal! Anyway, we grabbed take away pizza because that’s all we had time for, thanks Kampala traffic, and I made a mental note to make sure I visited there on the way back – especially when we saw the SALMON pizza on the menu!!! In our haste we hadn’t even read that far, but anyway, had to save something for next time! (Update: The place is Nicky’s Pizza.)

Got to the airport, checked in, spent three minutes looking around at all the shops (it didn’t take long) then boarded my flight to Kenya. Was really looking forward to this, getting to see different things, praying I’d get to see some animals and that I’d be rooming with somebody decent! Only an hour flight, but got served a snack – a MEAT PIE… delightful – yummy pizza and pie in one day! I hadn’t seen anything that looked like a pie as we know it since I’d been there, so it was special, stop laughing! And sorry, no photos of the food, I think I was in too much of a hurry to eat it all.

So arrived in Nairobi, changed some money and grabbed my transfer. All that went smoothly, the driver had a nice car, was a nice guy to chat to and he suggested that I come to Kenya to be a missionary because Kenya needed some missionaries there – so next time, forget Uganda he said, come to Kenya. I would definitely recommend this guy to get a transfer from Nairobi airport to where ever you need to go, but I can’t remember who it was or what company. Someone I found and booked on the internet. My first mistake I made though was paying in Kenyan shillings rather than USD. Worked out it cost me more, but you get that. So, got to the Kivi Milimani hotel, found I had a room on my own that night and hung out til our group meeting later that night. We decided to head out to the Carnivore restaurant for tea that night. Carnivore restaurant is not a place to go if you’re a vegetarian! All kinds of meat are cooked over open coals then served off the skewer right in front of you. Not so sure that I like an incredibly sharp knife less than 8 inches away from me being used at awkward angles… but all good. Ostrich, pork, beef, lamb, crocodile, chicken. Apparently it was meant to be a good place for tourists to visit and speaking to people after I got back they all recommended it. Unfortunately for us, by the time we could get a table, it was 9pm, then it turned out heaps more expensive than we were told it would be and they didn’t bring us the exotic meats until they’d served us far too much of the “normal” meat. It was good to have some nice meat, but it was an expensive meal even when comparing it to a night out in Aus. By the time the taxis came back for us, we were well and truly ready to go coz we had a pretty early start next day. So ended day one in Kenya.

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