Thursday, 9 October 2014

80 Days around East Africa – End of the Trip

Finally Home

Today is the last day I will be writing this blog, for those of you who followed us through Africa, I just wanted to thank you for all your thoughts and well wishes. We truly felt them all the way through the trip and it was partly what kept us going, knowing that you were with us in spirit if not in body.

When I read back at some of my writings, I think I may have given the impression that it was too rough but I think this was probably the best trip we have done. We got to Lake Turkana this time which was a huge mile stone for us. We had a great team and we worked together so well, we had lots of fun and I think the fact that Ernest and I had done it before helped to build the confidence of the other guys as to where we were going and what we were going to see.

There has been a tremendous deterioration in the roads and the infrastructure in the countries where we travelled but then to be fair, a lot of the time it was due to the fact that they were being rebuilt and in a few years time when those roads are finished, the whole experience in those countries will be completely different.

We visited 14 different game reserves, went through 10 different border posts and drove for 15,000 kilometers and did it all in 80 days. Wow, that was quite a trip!

We sat together the last night and everyone spoke about what their highlights for the trip were and we spoke about what fun the whole experience had been and how much we had gained and learnt. One of my personal difficulties on the trip was a stupid thing like making my bed when I am in it, which is what I had to do every night. You know making your bed is one thing but try making it when you are in it is quite another and then to make it worse I had to sometimes make it with  Ernest sitting in it at the same time. He is too impatient to sit outside and wait till I am done so I have to make him sit first in one corner of the tent, then the other while I straighten the sheets etc.
Oh well, I guess it was not like boarding school where someone inspected if the sheets were tucked in properly.

Then of course there is the washingwhen you put those clothes in the bucket and put in the soap and water, you cannot believe the color of the water... It goes this sort of brown color and just never seems to rinse clean.

Kim said that the one amazing thing for him was when we stayed at the hotel in Moshi, he had two showers, about an hour apart and after the second shower the new white towel he used still turned a darker shade of brown.... And he was in an air-conditioned car, not like Ernest and I sitting in our dust bowl of a hippo!

We all agreed that the worst thing that you have to contend with are those dam tsetse flies, they have the most terrible sting, they are so persistent and you just don't know they are sitting on you till it is too late. We all got so badly bitten by the dam things and poor Rouvierre had the worst reaction to them,  her hands and legs swelled up and made her look like a cabbage patch doll - not for too long though as she definitely won the prize for the smartest dressed and best looking of the lot of us. We all looked scruffy and bedraggled and Rouvierre came out looking like she had stepped out of a vogue magazine- sis on her.

The mozzies are also a total pest and in actual fact probably the most dangerous thing that you come across in Africa. We did get bitten but not too badly and I do think we were also most of the time not in peek malaria time so that was good planning on Ernest's part. However as Ernest said -not every mozzie carries Malaria even though I wanted to kill him at two in the morning when he said it, half-awake while I was frantically swatting them.

We saw some really funny sights that stuck in our minds, one of which was seeing this lady sitting side saddle on the back of a bicycle with eyes like saucers being peddled at full speed down a very long steep hill by her "taxi driver". He had a grin from ear to ear and she had a look of such terror... The contrast was hilarious and they were only half way down so what her face was like at the bottom of that hill would have been funnier - I certainly wouldn't have wanted to be her. Then there was a guy on a motorbike carrying two goats. The goats had their chins resting on each of the guys shoulders observing the road. It just looked so funny, we wondered if they were chatting to the driver!

We saw one bicycle with five people on it - dad, mom and three children and then the motorbikes with five adults... How the person on the back actually stayed on was a mystery to us.

We saw trucks so loaded with people that there was no standing room left inside the back of the truck; so they were hanging onto the outside of the truck all the way down the side.

Then there was this one station wagon with the back door open, the actual back of the car was not more than three inches off the tar and there must have been 10 pairs of legs hanging out the back of the open boot plus another 6 or 7 people crammed inside the back that the 10 were sitting on top of, how the thing was going was a mystery as the front wheels were barely touching the ground.

We met so many new interesting people, doing all sorts of things that we had never heard of. Africa is a very harsh place and people do the most amazing things in order to survive. One of the sad things though is because of the latest spate of Somalian terrorism in the area of Lamu in Kenya plus the recent outbreak of Ebola, the lifeline of Africa, which is basically tourism, has been slashed tremendously in places like Kenya and Tanzania, so, a lot of the people who were making a very good living and doing well are now reduced to subsistence level.

However Zambia appears to be just booming, they have a President who has the support of the people, a Kwacha that is worth double the Rand and more new buildings going up than I have ever seen before. Huge tracts of land have been taken over by farmers (from Zim and South Africa I believe) and you travel through miles and miles of wheat, maize fields and cattle farms. There is so much less poverty in that country but there is also evidence of more and more Chinese involvement.

We often ask ourselves why do we do these trips and why do we brave the bad roads, dust, dirt and possible danger?
It is a hard question to answer but I think we just love the adventure of seeing all those new places, getting to see and experience all the different people of Africa, the different cultures like the Masai, Samburu, and the Turkana to see how they live their simple lives without too much interference from Western civilization.

The one thing about African travel is you have no idea what lies around the next corner, there is absolutely no predictability about a trip like this. You may have to stop in the middle of nowhere and camp and you may be lucky enough like we were, to land up in absolute luxury for a few days of bliss in five star lodges and have hot bathes in a copper bath tubs. You interact with people who are so different to anybody you have ever met before and you connect and experience very briefly their existence.

Specifically on one evening we sat for hours with the Masai chiefs swopping stories. I will never forget that little girl on Lake Turkana who put her hand in mine and would just not let go. She gazed at me with such admiration and I could just feel the pleading from her for me to somehow change the life that she had been fated to live.

I will treasure the picture that Steve took of me and all the little girls that were holding onto my hands and arms. Then there was the time where we stopped to take pictures of a breathtaking view and were joined by two Samburu warriors holding AK-47s and who thought it very amusing that Rouvierre wanted to hold the gun and be photographed with them.

There is always the first few seconds of fear... Will they harm us?... and then comes the smile or the welcome. I don't think during our whole three months of travel we were ever in danger from any of the people that we met. They were fascinated with the Strange White Travelleres, they wanted to see what we did and how we lived but there was never any danger. I remember so well the old man, who looked like he was going to keel over because he was so thin, but he took the food that we gave him and sent it back to his children and ate nothing of it himself.

The vistas and vastness of Africa will forever remain in our minds, it is beautiful in places, harsh beyond belief in others and this kind of wilderness cannot be found in many places on planet earth today.

Another reason we felt this was because when you camp in the reserves, you get into very close contact with the wild life, the prices that they charge in the reserves are outrageous but you will never experience the closeness of the animals any other way. The elephant that put his trunk through the screen door and destroyed it to get at the beans that we left inside The Queen and that come walking past and graze around the camp at night to the monkey who jumped up and took an apple out of the bowl that Rouvierre was carrying.
To wake up in the morning, look out of the tent and see an elephant with a tiny baby 5 meters from the tent quietly feeding on a nearby tree, or hear the lions roaring close by and not knowing whether they are 10 meters or 100 meters away.
Steve, whose tent was on the ground frequently had buffalo, hippo or elephants feeding around his tent. Andrea insisted that Steve had a shocker with him every night, not that I think this would have done any good but it made her feel happier.

Ernest was incredible the way he planned the trip so that we were there at the right time of the year, plus he drove The Queen all the way up and down for 15 ,000 kilometers, that was a feat of note.
Ken was absolutely incredible the way he handled his body problem, he was determined to finish the trip no matter what, so he did what was needed, had the operation in the middle and continued on to finish up with all of us. That was something very few people could have done and he really deserved the support and admiration we all felt for him.
Steve our wonder boy, we could not have done without him. He kept the whole show on the road, fixing anything and everything that went wrong with the cars and roof racks and water systems and tires and shocks. The list goes on and on.

Kim was always there, right behind Ernest, he kept up the pace, bought all our veggies in the market, carried things backwards and forwards for us girls and threw water over anyone he suspected of being a wild animal! Beware anyone trying to give him a fright in the future he has perfected the technique. He was the best washer upper and us girls really appreciated that.

The girls, Rouvierre, Andrea and I work fantastically together, we had breakfast and lunch down to a fine art. As soon as The Queen stopped, the kitchen was open and the men had their stomachs filled. We know that the way to a mans heart is through his stomach and we had them all eating out of our hands... Well, sometimes anyway!

The BB award of the trip was won jointly and severely by Kim, Ernest and Andrea.
·        Kim for taking a fridge all the way through the trip and never turning it on... How is that for dumb!
·        Ernest for bringing empty gas bottles all the way through.
·        Andrea for her secondhand boots which well never let her forget. She really took the teasing well and we need to get a picture of those dam boots to prove that they did exist.

So once again thanks to all our followers - we appreciated your support; and more than that thanks to all my fellow travelers, we did it, we went, we experienced and we conquered and I am sure we will never forget the wonderful nights that we spent around the camp fires in the wilds of Africa, listening to the night sounds and thoroughly enjoying each others company - with a cup of coffee in hand of course!

Over and out!
Thank you for everyone that followed us on our journey!

PS  We will post more photos of the trip, so keep on visiting the blog.
The connection and sending photos was limited, so the best photos of our trip are still to come.

Day 74 to 79: Luangwa bridge en Route Livingstone, Nata and finally Shidzidzi (South Africa)

 The plan was to get Lisa, Warwick and the kids back to their car on the border by lunch time and then get to the Luangwa bridge campsite before dark. It was 460 kilometers so we were going to have to move fast once the kids were safely over the border and on their way back to Lilongwe. I must say we were a bit nervous as they would not let us through the Zambian side to off load the luggage so Lisa had packed just enough to get them home and the rest they had to leave with us to bring home in the truck. This of course put us in a permanent state of " traveling circus"  for the rest of the trip and the bed at the back was so piled high with clothes, linen, suitcases, curios and baskets that I could hardly get to the clothes in the cupboards at the back. On top of that we had had a few dirt roads so they were all covered in about an inch of dust. Oh well I just closed my eyes and stayed in the front of the truck as much as possible, that way I could pretend all was neat and tidy at the back.

So we dropped the Goosen's off carrying two suitcases plus kids backpacks and waited with baited breath to see if they got through without a hitch and if the Avis car was still there in a drivable state. It took no more than 15 minutes and Lisa phoned to say all was well and they were on their way. Car was intact and border post was a breeze. So we turned back, met the other guys at Chipata and set off for the Luangwa river bridge. The road was very narrow and winding but fortunately it was a Sunday so there were only a few trucks on the road - or should I say relatively few trucks. We have decided that if we ever come back, we must plan the trip out so that most of the traveling, if possible, on these sort of roads should be done on a Saturday or Sunday. It does not guarantee that we won't have any trucks but it certainly reduces the risk. On this section alone there were no less than 10 big truck accidents and in 60 Kms there were 4 broken down trucks just sitting in the middle of the road waiting to get smacked by another out of control truck.

We got to the campsite at the Luangwa bridge just before dark at about 6:15pm. Oh my gosh what a god forsaken place. It is right on the edge of the Rocky Mountain that climbs steeply out of the river valley. The Dutch guy that owns it started it about 5 years ago from scratch and it has about 6 little rooms built into the rocks, built with rocks and covered in this thin layer of sand and dust. You can hardly make out the rooms with their very rustic roves and one flat little place at the bottom where we could just fit the truck and the two cars.... Much toooo close to prevent everyone being woken up by everyone else's snoring. Oh well beggars can't be choosers and Ernest wouldn't hear of us just driving onto the  dry river bed and camping there, he thought we would be robbed blind by locals and I suppose he was right.

The lodge is run by this Dutch guy and his English wife who are the thinnest people we have ever seen They could compete with any Massai that we saw in Kenya for the thinnest legs in town. They both smoked like chimneys and I think also a fair amount of drinking every night. When Ernest asked him what he was doing there, he said he loved living there with no stress and people. Well he sure looked stressed to us so it is hard to figure out what kind of lifestyle brings the most stress! Anyway he runs river trips down the Luangwa river to the Zambezi which is something that sparked great interest with Ernest and myself and I could just see us returning to this god forsaken place sometime in the future. Maybe we will get our grandchildren to paddle us down the river next.

Our next big run was to get to Lusaka so we set off real early to try and beat the trucks onto the road on a Monday morning. We shouldn't have bothered to try however as there were just so many of them already racing to get somewhere so we just had to pass the slow ones and hold our breaths when the really fast busses overtook us which is terrifying to say the least.
We managed to get to Lusaka and through the other side by 12pm so decided to push on and see if we could make the 400kms to Livingstone before dark.

It was 400 kilometers but the road was good, wider than before and there was another 5 or so hours before dark. Ernest had the bit between his teeth and he wasn't stopping. He was like one of those horses that have decided to go for home or go broke to hell what the jockey thought.

We made it to Livingstone before 6pm and found a great campsite called Maramba.... Great ablutions nice little restaurant and a flat piece of land for the Queen.

Next morning we decided to go and have breakfast at the Royal Livingstone, what a beautiful place it is but I must say the breakfast was very average and the service lousy which was very disappointing but hey, we were on our way home and looked like a bunch of scruffs so we couldn't have cared less. Steve, Andrea and Kim then went to have a look at the Victoria fall while we sat on the veranda sipping tea and saying " hurrah for Livingstone" .... Our favorite expression right now.

We were going to stop for the night in Kasani but we got there so early we decided to keep going and get to Nata, where we camped for the night.  Next day we set our noses for Shidzidzi in South Africa, where we were going to meet up with Tracy, Guy and the kids for two nights.

I don't know if any of you reading this blog have ever experienced being away from home and SA for an extended period of time and then arrive back at that SA border post. The guys who stamps your passport are so friendly  and all say  "Welcome home", you want to jump over the counter and give them a hug, the customs guys are also very helpful and welcomes you home.

The SA border post is not overrun with guys trying to change money or sell you something or see how they can help you through the chaos of the border posts. You drive down the road and the grass along the verges are cut, the signposts are not all broken and bent, there are unbroken fences along the side of the road, the maize crops are green and in perfectly straight rows and the potholes are filled up and you don't have to weave from side to side or break your suspension, you just can't believe how orderly it is compared to the rest of Africa.

We all complain so much about South Africa and yes there is certainly room to improve but if you ever have the opportunity to travel like we have, you begin to realize just what a great country we live in. You need to go and see these countries to appreciate how much better off we are right here.

Now, we flying on a beeline to Shididzi!

Until next time, few days to relax on home soil

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Day 73 - Chipata & South Luangwa, Zambia

We had planned to set off quite early in the morning as we needed to get to our next camp site at Chipata before dark, but we got caught up in trying to get the papers from Avis to let us through the border with Lisa and Warwick's hired car. Oh what a performance and very annoying! Especially so Lisa had to let them know she would be taking the car into Zambia for a few days and they had told her it would be no problem. Then Avis all of a sudden changed their minds and said Warwick had to go back to Lilongwe to get a police clearance certificate to go over the border and that it would take at least 4 hours to get one. This would also have meant driving for an extra 3 hours. In the end we figured to hell with it and left for the border. We decided that we would try and get through without the papers, if not we would just leave their car at the border post, pile the whole family into The Queen and head for South Luangwa together.

So with all the delays we only left Makuzi at about 10.30 and hightailed it straight for the border. We went through some very pretty countryside climbing up and up away from the lake. The further we got from the lake the poorer the people looked and the vegetation became very sparse and more desert like with the usual herds of goats all along the road side. I must say Ernest has got the hooting down to a fine art and I do love seeing how clever those goats are, they scatter so fast, even the babies know to run for the hills as soon as they hear the hooter. This area used to be dense forest but they have just cut more and more of the forest away to make the cursed charcoal.

Eventually we climbed up higher and higher into a very mountainous game reserve called Nakotakota and the vegetation became thick and lush again... Such a contrast from what we had just been through. We got to the border post at about 4pm.  A bit late but still on time to make it to Chipata before dark - but never underestimate the surprises of African travel as there is always a detour or a delay around the corner.

So it came in the challenge of the border post and oh dear, as we had thought they were not going to let that car out of the country without all the police papers etc. try as we may we couldn't shift the guy so we rapidly packed all the Goosens luggage into the truck, parked the car outside the immigration office, hoping it would be there when they came back in a few days and set off for the Zambian side looking a little like a traveling circus.

This proved to be a very difficult crossing.  African authorities have suddenly decided that anybody entering or exiting any country must be fully screened for Ebola. Not a bad thing of course but heaven help you if you just had flu or a cold.

They insisted on seeing all our inoculation certs! Yellow fever certs, and then made us fill out big questionnaires as to where we had been in the last month and just to top it off they took everyones temperature. Shew! It took us at least on hour to get through that mess, especially because the lady that was doing the whole process was new and she got all the papers muddled and generally made a dogs breakfast of the whole thing, she kept pushing the button on the temperature gun and then staring at it for ages with this puzzled look on her face. Then came the usual third party and insurance etc. which took another half an hour!

So eventually it was nearly six by the time we had all dragged ourselves through and onto the road again and off to Mamarula's, a campsite that we had heard about and had on our GPSs. - thank goodness for GPSs as it led us straight there, in the dark nogal (mind you)

This is the real gathering place for overland trucks and there were two of them already there, in the best spots of course and loaded with people from Holland. It is so strange we have only crossed paths with one other of these trucks in Nairobi compared to the last time we were up here, we must have seen at least 30 of them. These particular guys had started in Cape Town so the industry has changed, it seems, they are now working the southern part of Africa instead of East Africa. The worlds perception on what is dangerous has obviously shifted somewhat.

We found our spot, set up tents and went for dinner; we had been told this was where you get the best T-Bone steaks in the world. Well, ours were tough and just awful and the men went to bed feeling very cheated as they had been talking about this steak at the end of the tunnel for the whole day" - ah well you never know hey!

Next morning up early, to the usual bank, supermarket and service station to get supplies and then we got Kim to go into the fresh market stalls to get fresh veggies. Oh the stall holders thought he was very funny as he picked out the potatoes one by one and wouldn't take the bucket that they kept trying to give him. He is the best one to send into the market as 1) he is a man and 2) he used to run a fresh fruit and veggie shop - nobody can fool him with rubbish and believe me they try and palm all the bad stuff off onto us!

The road from Chipata was such a pleasant surprise, we were expecting the worse but it was new, wide and beautiful, thank goodness as with all of us in the truck if would have been a real bad experience for the kids, or should I say the parents as the kids would have loved a roller coaster ride considering all the bad roads we have been on

When we got to the  "Tracks and Trails"  camp at South Luangwa, where Lisa had booked, I was quite disappointed as the actual campsite was not on the river banks. We particularly wanted to be able to sit in our chairs and watch the river with its crocs and hippos, so off Kim and I went to scout out the area and see if we could find the camp site we stayed in last time. I just couldn't remember the name of it so we set off blindly looking for somewhere else where we could actually camp on the rivers edge. No luck, the one I remember has simply disappeared so we stayed put at Tracks and Trails and as it happened it did actually turn out to be a great site and the best in the area.

South Luangwa is different to all the other reserves that we have visited because the camping grounds are all outside the reserves on the Luangwa river banks and you can take daily trips across the river into the reserve itself. There are a few 5 star lodges inside the reserve where you can stay but at very hefty prices and to be honest, not one of these lodges are up to the standard that we have in SA.

It was simply beautiful sitting on the edge of the river as this camp did have beautiful green lawns and huge Pod Mahogany, Apple ring Acacia and Sausage Trees that we would kill to have in our front gardens.

Lisa and Warwick had booked a family unit and had been allocated the one right next to the pool which was the right place for them to be. The pool was built up about 12 feet above the ground, just high enough to be out of reach of the Elephants which were constant visitors at the lodge. The pool was beautifully positioned right under an apple ring acacia tree which gave incredible shade plus shed its pods every day and it was a great source of delicacy for the elephants. So we spent most of the day swimming in this cool, blue, shady pool with the Ellies picking up the pods all around us. I have never been so close to a wild elephant in my life, you could actually touch their heads if you had wanted to and believe me these animals were not tame, they were pretty used to people but if you got in their way they would chase you. We witnessed a few guys running for their lives when they got too close.

The kids could just go down a set of back steps to their room so it was much safer for them to go backwards and forwards and even Cammie who is quite terrified of the Ellies became quite brave.
Our campsite was another story! We were warned not to leave any fruit or veggies in The Queen or vehicles as the Ellie's could smell them and would get them using any means they could.... Of course we are know-it-alls and left some fresh beans in the truck and went off to swim. We had closed the screen door and figured that would be sufficient. Oh boy that trunk went straight through the screen door, into the van and found all the fruit. I think it would have had the fridge open and got to all the stuff in there as well if the manager hadn't arrived and frightened it. It very reluctantly left but the door was very the worse for wear and we knew we were beaten and moved everything into the lodge fridges.

The monkeys and baboons also proved to be a huge problem. They would jump down from the trees and actually grab anything, even out of your hands. They were total pests and I am not exaggerating when I say there were perhaps over 100 of them running around the camp. The men spent a huge amount of time trying to shoot them with Ken's catty. They would sit in the trees above the hippo and just taunt us, dash down grab stuff and dash back again.... Little crafty bastards.

What can I say about South Luangwa other than we all voted it as the best reserve we had been to. There is an abundance of game of all kinds, tons of elephants, lions and had the best Leopard sighting that any of us had ever had.... Even Warwick who has spent years in the bush as a guide! We saw two leopard cubs so close up we could have almost touched them as they were tucking into an impala kill and then later watched a hyena try and catch one of the babies before it stole the kill from them.

The open plains where you could see tons of game just peacefully grazing in the sunset taking no notice of us or the arrival of 40 or 50 Ellies. We had a fantastic guide from the lodge who was just a delight, was very knowledgeable about the area and the game. He was quite outstanding and would love to have had him at Safari lodge.

We had three fantastic days of experiencing Africa at its best with the family and friends that we have spent nearly three months with, with hardly a cross word or upset... I am sure a record for anyone traveling together for so long. We sadly packed up on day four and headed back to the border to drop off Warwick and Lisa and then start our long journey home and back to the drudgery of everyday life in Joburg.  

Sigh……signing out!

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Days 69 to 72 – Makuzi, Malawi

Makuzi is one of those hidden gems in Africa that you find by chance. Last time we were in Malawi we went from beach camp to beach camp to try and find the best spot and settled on this one and strangely enough, when Lisa was looking for somewhere to book for them to stay she chose the same one. It is just below Chintheche where Wilderness Safari has a camp but Makuzi is tucked into a little bay with rocks, white beach sand and the most beautiful huge shady trees to camp under. The lodge itself is a little rustic but very charming and Laura and Brett, the owners, are such interesting people and good hosts.

Laura's mother bought the place about 18 years ago and started to develop it into a lodge but was tragically killed in a Hang gliding accident when she was only 45 years old. Laura then took over the place and she and her husband Brett and their two boys have run it since then.
The water in Lake Malawi is very clean, clear and you would honestly think you were on the ocean with sand, waves and sea water but this is so much nicer because it is fresh water and there are no sharks. There is however the occasional crocodile and so I was ever watchful and a bit nervous about swimming out too deep. The last visit that they had from a croc was over 8 years ago; it had a go at some swimmer who had managed to get away. They had later shot the bastard ... 11 foot long....and not seen another since then.

Anyway it was quite safe in the shallow water as it is so clear you could see one coming from far away. There are also rumors that there is Bilharzia in Lake Malawi but this resort is about mid-way up the lake and there is no sign of it there.

Their two sons ages twelve and fourteen are home schooled and spend a good part of the day in the water, either surfing or playing on tubes or boating into the deeper water. They are both skilled spear fishermen and took Travis with them to a nearby rocky island where they do their spear fishing. He of course was absolutely in his element and barely came out of the water for the four days that we were there.

The lake is really quite deceptive as it appears to be so calm and tranquil but apparently the storms can get quite violent and they do appear out of nowhere. There were 140 fishermen that drowned a little while ago so it is something that really needs to be respected and not taken for granted.
The rest of us swam; sun bathed, read our books and went for long walks up the mountain. There were some unusual birds like the magnificent Purple Crested Turaco and tons of little birds like Manikins and Wattle eyes which we enjoyed identifying.

Kim spent some time going around the property with Laura looking at all the plants she had cultivated; she had some unusual local herbs that he was interested in. She was telling us about an active volcano in Mozambique that her mother had been trying to find... The reason for having taken up hang gliding and when her mom was killed she had decided to complete this mission for her and went with three friends into the mine infested area in Mozambique to find this volcano. There she found a village where there was a community of Nuns who have healing powers in their hands... Thank goodness we persuaded Ernest that we shouldn't go and find them... Forever the adventurer.

For me it was a very special time as I got to spend some time with Cammie who has been away from home skiing quite a lot lately. We have always been so close and we were able to spend time chatting and catching up on all the latest exciting things that had happened to her over the last few months. Kodi of course kept all the "big people" entertained and had them all going on his expeditions" finding crystals on the beach. Poor Steve has to push him up and down in the waves on a big tube that he had managed to borrow from the boys.

Our original plan was to go up to Livingstonia and then on to Nyaka plateaux but we decided just to rather chill at Makuzi and rather not do too much driving with the kids. It was their first "African experience" and we didn't want to overwhelm them with too much traveling.

The last day at the lake was kind of marred by the arrival of the Lake flies. These horrible little creatures hatch from the larvae that are laid in the lake and in actual fact it was the wrong time of the year to see them. Well we seemed to have attracted a lot of stuff that was the wrong time of the year" and we started seeing what appeared to be black clouds over the water. Brett, our host said  "Oh dear they are on their way"  he warned us that by the evening we would be covered in these pesky little flies. You can't complain too much as they are the life blood of the lake and keep the fishes fed but they do get into everything and I would much rather have not seen them... Just read about them - would have been good enough. The locals apparently catch them, compress them into a huge ball, cook them and eat them like they are a real delicacy. Yuck!!

Anyway that night was quite a sight, they came in from the lake and swarmed around the lights in a huge cloud so thick that it almost blocked off the lights completely. They got into our food, up our noses and into our eyes and when you got into the tent you couldn't put on a light inside as they are so tiny they just went straight through the netting. Thank goodness we were leaving the next day as I wouldn't have wanted a repeat of trying to cook without them flying into the food.

Till next time!

Monday, 29 September 2014

Day 66 - Mzuzu en-route to Makuzi, Malawi

The next day was an easy run through Mzuzu to Makuzi where we were going to meet up with Lisa, Warwick and the kids who were joining us for 10 days on our final leg of the trip. We hadn't seen the grandchildren for over two months so I was really eager to get going and settle in before they arrived. 

The day before they arrived, Ken, who had been trying to get out of the way so Ernest could park the car in the right place for the kitchen to be accessible, had backed into a tree and smashed his back window. Oh dear, it hadn't fallen out fortunately but the whole glass was shattered into those tiny little pieces and didn't look like it was going to hold together. So now we had to spend a bit of time covering it with everything from glad wrap to duct tape in an effort to keep it from falling out.  Amazing what glad wrap and duct tape can do when you use enough of it. So after using pretty much the whole roll Ken felt there was enough strength in the window to make a run for Mzuzu which was the next big town on our route to Makuzi.

The first 30 Ks of the journey was up the escarpment away from the lake shore road which was a real test of nerves. There are 40 or so hair pin bends with sheer drops off the side down about 50 or 60 meters. The road has not been very well maintained and is very narrow, full of pot holes and the verges broken away - this was not good for Ken as he was trying to get to Mzuzu to do a better repair on the window. The trucks going the other way have the usual attitude that they own the road and to hell with anyone else which adds to the stress, as you go around each corner expecting to see one of these 12 wheelers hurtling down the hill.

The view over the lake leaves one speechless and even though you hang onto your seat around every corner it is something worth seeing. The lake gets further and further away the higher you climb and you eventually lose sight of it as you reach the plateau and eventually get to Mzuzu. It is one of those bustling little African towns that are just bursting its seams with people and activity. My gosh there are busses, taxis cars and bicycles crammed into the towns so that it is sometimes impossible to move. Ernest has developed the technique of driving on these roads down to a fine art and has taken Kim's definition literally which is that the right of way in any road in Africa is determined by the degree of intimidation one is prepared to enforce. He just drives and everyone gets out of his way.

Low and behold we found a Shoprite and while I was doing the usual top up of milk, eggs and veggies the rest of the gang were ..... You got it, drinking coffee at the local coffee shop. Unfortunately for Steve he put his phone on the table and quick as a flash it was gone. We tried to figure out how it was done just so quickly, two guys walked in, bumped Ernest to divert attention and then moved in and took it right under Steve's nose. You just can't leave anything unattended in Africa. It was his birthday too so we were ready to find these little buggers and beat them up but we knew they were long since gone. It is just such a terrible thing when someone has their communication lines cut so abruptly, funny how we have become so dependent on these dam cell phones.

So we left town without being able to retrieve the phone and stopped again at Nakota bay where you can find all the Malawian carvers who sell some of the very famous Malawi wood carvings. Oh my gosh they are really master craftsman and there is such a variety of bowls, tables, lamp shades spoons animals etc. There are about 15 little stores along the side of the road and it is really like running the gauntlet trying to get from one to the others and make a choice. In the end you almost have to buy something from each one as they are the best salesmen on the planet. I also know that everything is so cheap here and I would get home and regret not having bought some of the bowls and lamp stands. So I kept sending Ernest running back to the truck for more money for "just one more thing" until, he eventually put his foot down and said "enough". The back bed is now knee deep in curios. The one thing we have noticed is that Malawi is one of the poorest of all the countries we have been to. One of the ways you can tell is that here you only see "taxi bicycles"  where as in Tanzania and Kenya it's "motorbike taxis". There seems to be very little industry and the lake is definitely the life blood of the country so nobody is starving because of the abundance of fish but nobody has any money. Probably the best thing about this country is that you never feel threatened here, in fact they are probably the most welcoming and polite of all the places that we have visited but gosh the poverty is heartbreaking. The kids line the road and wave madly as you drive past always with huge smiles on their faces. You pass many many schools but you wonder what the future holds for these guys as there are so few jobs for them to work towards when they are older.

Lisa, Warwick and the kids arrived late in the evening. They had flown into Lilongwe and arrived at about 12 in the afternoon but by the time they got their car and managed to leave the airport it was well after 2. They eventually arrived at Makuzi at about 8 that evening after a rather scary drive on those very narrow roads on a Friday evening. It is definitely the worst time to travel in Africa as we had found out when we were trying to get Ken to the hospital in Nairobi. The world and his mate is on the road going somewhere and as I mentioned before they never put on their lights till it is pitch dark. I think they think they are somehow saving their batteries or saving petrol or something ridiculous and dangerous.

Anyway! They arrived safe and sound and after much excited chatter we were able to feed them and put the kids to bed so they could get up early and enjoy the wonderful Makuzi beach and water.

Signing out!

Monday, 22 September 2014

Day 59 - 60 En-route to Lake Malawi - Marker 10,000km+

Lake Malawi, after the grueling drive!

So it was back to Dar for all of us. I must admit I had been dreading the flight back as our flight to the lodge was decidedly unpleasant. Since we got our own plane I have become quite used to flying and am not a terribly nervous flyer but I don't particularly like flying around in bumpy clouds which is what had happened. As it turned out our flight was not at all that bad. Even though it was much cloudier and probably bumpy, it was not at all upsetting. We all put it down to the pilot; he constantly communicated and was so obviously in control of the plane that before we knew it we were back in Dar, in the rain and on our way back to the hotel.
Our same taxi driver was there waiting for us and today, because it was Sunday, had decided that there was no need to shortie cut’’ie and took us back to the hotel choppie choppie. Still took over an hour mind you.

It had been raining in Dar while we were away and I was not looking forward to confronting the damp and moldy Queen but after our long rest it wasn't such an overwhelming job.
We decided that we wanted to head out of Dar as early as possible the next morning so as to avoid the majority of the traffic.
So we were all up at 5.30, even Steve and Andrea managed to get their watches right this time and we left the hotel at 6 am on the dot. Thank goodness as even then the traffic was like Joburg on a Friday afternoon.... Horror of horrors.

It took us two hours to do the first 60 Ks out of that hell hole of a city. We all decided that would be the last time we ever visited that place; it is not worth the aggravation and frustration. Anyway we were out. Hurrah for the open road.
What we didn't know is that we had chosen the best day to travel out of Dar on the road for Zambia. The ports only open at 8 on a Monday morning so there are no trucks on the road on a Monday. They have to first get their goods out of the harbor, load and then hit the road and that takes most of the day.

It was a long hard day of driving, without too many trucks but there were the usual mad kamikaze bus drivers who pass on a blind corner or blind rise going like mad with no regard for human life what so ever. You could not pay me enough money to go in one of those things. Ernest was very restrained and drove really well, I think he thought if he went too fast I might just jump out the door... So all was good. He did however win the award for the day with a record of being caught 4 times for speeding. Oh my gosh those cops jump out behind every bloody tree and they fine you for as little as three kilometers over the speed limit. It was actually very annoying as they would be waiting at the point where the sign said 50 and unless you put your foot hard on the brakes it was impossible to drop your speed quickly enough not to get caught.
The one guy caught us and said we were doing 95 in a 70 k area, but on the GPS the speed was actually 77. Ks. I know I was sitting right in front of the GPS and looking at it when he jumped in front of the car waving his hair dryer at us (the radar that they use look like hair dryers) He would hear none of it and wanted to see Ernest's drivers license. I opened the cubby and grabbed both yellow docs out the draw (his and mine) and handed them to the cop.

He very officially wrote out the ticket to Mr. Gaye Evangeline Corbett. He took the money, gave us back our "licenses" and we drove off. Only after we left did I realize that I had given him our yellow fever certificates and not our international drivers licenses. That kept us entertained for the rest of the day... Oh my gosh he didn't even know it wasn't a drivers license, we had a few very rude names for him I can tell you.

We made it to our destination of The old farm house " - Kisalanza by about four in the afternoon a long hard day of driving but it was well worth getting all those miles behind us, and as far away from Dar and the trucks as possible. This campsite is well known to campers who travel in Tanzania; we have been here 4 times before and have experienced the hospitality of the very charming owner. She was born in Tanzania to a father who had several farms in the area but they were taken away from the family when Tanzania went socialist, all accept this one farm where she returned to from England when her father had died. I can't imagine being a woman alone on a farm in the middle of nowhere in Tanzania but she seems to love it there.

We were running way ahead of schedule so we decided instead of pushing on the next day we would just stay an extra day, clean out the mold in the Queen after Dar and explore the farm. A good day walking to stretch out legs would be great plus the extra bonus is that she had a small spa and hairdresser operating on the farm so the girls could get some pampering and Steve could get a hair and beard cut. I must say he was looking decidedly bushy".
So we stayed put and extra day and set off for Lake Malawi the next day having fully recovered from the journey the day before. We have now covered over 10,000 kilometers and sometimes all you want to do is just walk and not see the inside of the cars.

It was now Wednesday and the trucks had all caught up with us so we knew the first 150 Ks was going to be a nightmare trying to pass them on that narrow and windy road but after that we would be turning off the great north road and going down to Lake Malawi. There was also the added aggravation of the Tanzanian traffic cops in every village with their hair dryers. This time Ernest insisted that Ken went first as he could slam on breaks and stop far faster than us plus he could then warn us of any cops hiding behind the bushes. That seemed to work well except for one time when we thought we were out the speed zone and Ernest was catching Ken up on a hill so he shouted over the radio to speed up and as he was obeying his lordship out jumped the dam cop again.

I think the Tanzanian Government decided that they are going to stop all speeding on their roads which is quite honestly not a bad thing, except that between the towns there is no speed limit so the trucks just go like mad and that is where the majority of the accidents happen, plus they don't seem to trap the busses and they just carry on at the same speed. Anyway it is a costly exercise and cost us plenty!

Once we were off the main road there were no more cops which was a huge relief but we still couldn't go very fast in any event as the road is very windy and narrow. The road is lined with so many people especially kids walking up and down on the very narrow verge. These small unsupervised kids frighten the hell out of me and are sometimes as young as three years old. They grow up real tough in Africa, it is the land of survival of the fittest.

Entering Malawi was just such a pleasure, gosh the people are so polite and helpful ... Someone said it is like a good mannered South Africa. They were efficient, had smiles on their faces and one for one said welcome to Malawi, we love having you here" not like the arrogant Tanzanians. We were tested at the border for any sign of fever and had to produce all our immunization certificates. That is the first time we have ever been asked for them. I think this Ebola outbreak has everyone jumping.

We spent the night at a little campsite on the edge of Lake Malawi. It was right at the top of the lake but our eventual destination of Makuzi was still 250 Ks away and we didn't want to push it after dark. We found a great place called Akuna Matata at Chitemba Beach. It certainly wasnt the best campsite we have found but at least the ablutions were clean and there was a nice big wall around the back so security was good. We did try and camp on the beach sand but sank straight down and spent the next hour digging ourselves out... So much for our nice quiet restful afternoon.

Shooooo signing out, few pictures to share!

Don't trust Ernest with a hose!!!

The Queen is little stuck!

Friday, 19 September 2014

Day 56 - 58 Azura Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania

The drive from the airfield was literally five minutes and we were met at the entrance to the lodge by the smiling faces of the lodge staff. It always makes you feel so important and the ice cold face cloths to refresh you after the longish flight are always the cherry on the top.

I must say it was a bit of a bumpy flight so I was very glad to be back on terrafirma, our pilot had been a bit of a Harry Casual guy and had insisted on flying through every single cloud, instead of flying around them, I think he liked the thrill of seeing how much stress the plane and his passengers could take.

Anyway it was so nice to arrive and see the lodge and its decor. The first thing you see is the most beautiful ice blue swimming pool overlooking the very fast flowing Ruaha River which is just filled with hippo. I don't know why, but we have seen and inordinate amount of these very special creatures on this trip. Every reserve and river that we have passed have been piled high with hippo scrums (I always thought it was a pod of hippos but it is a scrum of hippos) and their honking at night has often been all around our camps. I am going to get home and wonder what is missing when I go to bed. I think we should import a few, we were wondering what kind of watchdogs they would make? They would certainly chomp any intruders but I am pretty sure we wouldn't have much of a garden.

The very comfortable lounge and deck of the lodge are built up high and it is so lovely to sit up there and just look over the pool to the river which is all of 80 meters wide with some rapids right in front. You do see Kudu, Impala and Waterbuck grazing on the other side of the river but as it is winter and the first rains have only just begun, the rest of the veld is pretty brown and leafless as is typical of the African bush.

The lodge manager Garth and his wife Liz are absolutely charming and are very seasoned and skilled lodge operators. They know exactly how to make you totally relaxed and well cared for during your stay.
So, we settled into the lodge experience with ease, were shown to our very comfortable rooms that are again tented, each with their own little plunge pools and covered decks. They are placed quite far apart from each other so are completely secluded and private. Laying on the front deck you can see hundreds of little finches all hopping around in the bushes close to the villas. Great entertainment during the mandatory afternoon rest and of course there is always a hippo or two fighting their way up or floating down the river, maybe to get a better view of the stupid humans lying around on our chairs.

Ernest was very keen to explore the whole area and so the next day we set off for a full day excursion to the lakes which are about 60 Ks from the lodge. Wow! Did we see a lot of different terrain! You go from the dry sparse vegetation over a very rocky section, through the usual dry river beds and then eventually come to these vast open planes with majestic umbrella trees that almost look park like with cut lawns and very green shady trees.

We did go to Beho Beho, the famous place where Fredrick Courtney Selous was shot and killed in a skirmish with the Germans during the First World War and saw his grave. After that went on to drive around one of the very large lakes in the area called Lake Lagala. It is surrounded by some rocky hills and the water from these surrounding hills is what feeds the lake with runoff, we were surprised that no river actually feeds into the lake; it is solely fed by the run off from the surrounding hills and plains.

There are very tall Borassus palms around the perimeter that grow up to 25 meters with the unmistakable characteristic that the trunk thickens at the top which makes them look very top heavy. The other clumps of palms were the Doum palm which is the multi trunked palm and gives at least a little shade during the day as the heat is pretty intense. We were able to tuck ourselves under some of these palms to have our long awaited lunch. We really laughed as Steve had been calling the Tamboetie tree the Baboetie tree and as much as we tried to correct him he kept reverting back to Baboetie. So we figure maybe we were going to have Baboetie for lunch... Ha ha. Well low and behold what came out of the picnic basket was the most scrumptious Baboetie. Now we have a seer in our midst as well as a mechanic come fix it wonder boy. Don't mess with Steve Ek se.( I say)

I must admit I was pretty impressed with a Baboetie picnic lunch in the middle of the Selous reserve looking at a lake with literally hundreds of hippos, crocks, tons of water birds and eat your heart out bird enthusiasts a whole lot of those very rare African Skimmers just sitting on the banks of the lake.
We watched a bunch of about fifteen Giraffe all come down to drink together, quite a sighting as the most I have seen drinking together before is about 5 or 6.
We set off again to go around the lake and to return on another route. This reserve is so huge it is hard to get the concept of just how much distance you can cover in a day.
On the way home we saw quite a bit of game but the unusual things were eland and a leopard. This apparently is very rare in the area and the first one that had been seen for a long time.
Joseph our guide was excellent; he has eyes like a hawk and could spot anything out there long before we could even see it. He was also an extremely good driver and cared for that vehicle like we had not experienced ever before from a guide... No wonder their vehicles are in such good condition. He also took very well to Ernest's teasing which you must understand is endless.

On one of the drives Kim dropped his hat so we had to back track a few Ks to try and find it. When we found it Ernest insisted that Kim climb out and retrieve his own cap and then said to Joseph that as a penalty Kim must run back to the camp. This Joseph thought was hilariously funny and then said to Ernest that that was too much penalty for dropping a hat because if that was the case then if we broke a glass he would have to kill  us, this he found even funnier and was literally crying with laughter.

On our way home Joseph showed us a lodge that some American had built and operated until 2009. It had been closed just after 9/11 for some reason and just left exactly like that for 5 years now. The cars and trucks are still there, the buildings still there... Everything exactly as it was when it was operating. Oh what a mystery, we just couldn't find out what had happened! He had built a cable car over a nearby gorge and that was all still there in tack like the day the lodge was close... When I say intact, it looked like it was in tact but I wouldn't have like to put it to the test. The gorge was all of 100 meters wide and 300 meters down and the very thick cables still looked good but who knows if they would still hold. There was even a carrier for a vehicle to go across. The guy who built it must have been a very eccentric engineer and Steve was just dying to try and fire it up again to see if it worked.... We had to drag him away before he got any mad ideas.  
So we returned home after a 12 hour game drive. I must admit it was the longest game drive we have ever done but we covered huge ground and saw so much of the reserve which is what Ernest wanted to see.

The next day we wanted to go and see the confluence of the two big rivers in the area, the Ruaha and the Kisigo Rivers which then turns into the Great Rufiji so off we set on another fairly long game drive exploring yet another tiny corner of this enormous reserve - one of the biggest in the world by the way.
The confluence is very impressive; the two rivers come in and right in the center have formed an island which is made up of these huge monolithic basalt rocks. You can see that in the past there have been huge floods that have shifted and moved these rocks around with the sheer power of flooding waters. With some pretty nifty rock jumping and hopping (avoiding the ever present hippos of course) you can get to the middle island and can imagine the huge force of water that flows past during the rainy season.
We spent an hour hopping around, throwing stones in and making wishes which is something that Ernest has to do at every river he gets to. I am sure we all wish the same thing every time so this time I thought let's wish for something different. So this time it was that I would find a diamond the size of an egg just lying on the rock.... Dam it never came true! Anyway - it was getting late and having seen some nice big lion tracks on our walk down to the river, Joseph started to herd this unruly lot back to the vehicle for a quick sundowner and then our long trek back to the lodge.

At this point there was a huge debate... Open the bottle of Champaign or have a G&T ... Eventually deciding on a G&T. Joseph then kept saying he thought the Champaign was a much better idea, he had even packed the Champaign glasses, but we decided G&T it was. At this point he hid his face in the white cloth and confessed he had forgotten the Ginny behind. He had so nicely packed the tonic ie the ice and the lemon but he forgot to put in the gin ie. Shame he was actually blushing.  It was so funny we nearly fell off the landie. We had been puzzled why he kept trying to persuade us to have the Champers! Anyway we decided that the Champaign was exactly what we wanted and had a wonderful sundowner with terrific snacks and a glass of bubbly, but oh boy the teasing he got lasted all the way back to the lodge.

That night we had a great dinner somewhere way out in the bush under the wide open sky, a wonderful experience. Garth is a real expert in the stars and gave us such an interesting talk on the universe and where some of the constellations are in our spectacular night sky, which you can only really appreciate when you are in the African bush.

Well I am afraid our good time eventually had to end and it was time to pack up and get back to Dar and our cars which were waiting for us at the Mediterraneo. We had all had such a good time being pampered and so well looked after that it was hard to pull ourselves away. The last morning was kind of overcast and rainy and I think we all secretly hoped that the weather was going to get so bad that the plane couldn't come and fetch us. We were quite deflated when our pilot arrived and introduced himself. Oh well I suppose good things do sometimes come to an end and we had to pack our bags and get to the air strip to start our journey home.

I think that one of the most important things was that the rest had now given Ken a good chance to fully recover from his ordeal and he was ready to confront our long drive down to Malawi.
We loved every minute of our adventure packed few days and said our sad fare-wells to the staff that had become friends and looked after us so well in those few days we had spent with them.

Signing off, till next time!

18 September - Happy Birthday Steve