Sunday, October 18, 2009



Taking the shuttle bus from Nairobi to Arusha in Tanzania was a bit like ‘dripping water torture’ – driving along at snail pace, over and around the pot holed, painfully corrugated road hoping there was no oncoming traffic as we were blinded with the clouds of talcum powder dust (inside and outside the bus!) – the journey took 7.5 hours to cover 350km!!

Arriving in Tanzania, we had decided to spoil ourselves and take a camping safari into the northern Tanzanian parks so that we could take full advantage of watching for game and not having to concentrate for such long periods navigating the roads. The safari company (Shidolya – Tanzania’s only wholly locally owned and operated safari operator) were fantastic and we had the luxury of a driver and cook to provide us with 3 great meals each day. When we travelled through in 1995 we didn’t visit many national parks due to the high costs of doing so. The pricing system for foreigners (always in US$) has not improved - $50/person/24hr, $50/car/24hr, $50/transit between Serengeti/Ngorongoro and back again and then the most ridiculous $30/person/24hr to erect your own tent in a dusty public campsite with no running water and long drop toilets and this is before you add in the high cost of fuel and 4WD self drive and camp puts you back about $200 per person per day for 2 in a car! We paid a very reasonable $800/adult and $500/child for 5 days with vehicle, food, camping equipment, cook and professional driver and guide included and had a fantastic time.

We spent the first day in Tarangire National Park which was an amazing experience with huge herds of elephant and a magnificent baobab tree studded landscape – this place was a wonderful surprise for us thinking that the best was only to be found in the more famous parks to the north. The next day we then headed into the Ngorongoro Conservation Area climbing up to the rim of the famous crater passing through lush rainforest and appearing out of the mist at the top to look down into this amazing circular chasm way below with herds of animals dotted across the plains. In this conservation area, the Masai continue to live and graze their herds of cattle and goats which at this time of year make a drastic impact on the land with vast tracks of denuded grasslands waiting desperately for the rains to come. With such dry conditions at present, trucks deliver water twice a week to the Masai and then they herd their animals every day down and back up the crater face to water – a very necessary concession even though the Ngorongoro Crater is a National Park. Within the conservation area is Oldepai Gorge (named after the Oldepai plant and not named, as the rest of the world knows, Oldevai) where, the Leakeys and others, have famously found over the years much evidence to piece together the origins or mankind. The small, dusty museum was very well presented and was just amazing to imagine how anyone ever came across the area in the first place or ever imagined to start digging in the dust. It is wonderful to put such a global perspective on the origins of mankind – a good many people would do well to know that their origins are firmly black and African!

From here, we began the long, slow descent down onto the Serengeti plains. The sheer enormity and vastness of the place is just mind blowing with the dry, grassy plains extending as far as the eye can see - the Serengeti itself covers over 14,000 sqkm and is home to enormous volumes of wild animals and varied landscapes. The treeless plains are a result of volcanic explosions that millions of year ago covered the area in ash which, with time, resulted in a shallow hard rock covering so that grass flourishes but trees do not. At this time of year unfortunately, the vast herds of wildebeest and zebra are still further north feeding in the Masai Mara awaiting the rains to begin their migration back into the Serengeti. It was a shame not to see the plains covered with these amazing beasts but, the upside was, many sightings of lion as without plentiful feed on the plains they remain near to the waterways hungry and happy to eat anything that comes by. One morning, we were incredibly lucky to witness a lion kill. As a female left her pride (a male lion and 3 cubs) we followed her stalking along a river bed and after 2.5hrs of waiting she finally took out a Thompsons gazelle – it was a quick kill and not normally an animal she would pursue (being too small and very fast) but the lion are hungry and anything is fair game at present. We were very privileged to see countless other game (plenty of the big 5) and birdlife and Rob and I were most excited to see leopard which we had not sighted in the year we previously spent in Africa. The camping was great and with no fencing, we had a pride of 6 female lions come through the camp one evening. With a sudden rain shower, they momentarily took shelter under the boy’s tent awning so there was much calling out by the guides to ensure the boys didn’t suddenly decide to flee their tent!! The Serengetti more than lived up to our expectations – it is a truly beautiful and enigmatic place and the epitome of all that is good and right about Africa.

After a couple of amazing days, having to turn around and face the drive out, retracing our steps back to the Ngorongoro Crater filled us with little joy. We reached the crater rim at nightfall and there was much excitement with an elephant in the camp drinking from the water tank and many zebra grazing around the tents. The next morning, as we crawled slowly down into the crater, we watched in awe as the Masai too were wandering up and down by foot herding their animals to water. The Masai are a great people, very friendly and have fully bought into the tourism industry that is now on their doorstep – they take any opportunity to charge you to take their photograph and are always trying to sell you curios and pairs of their famous rubber sandals which are made from worn out car tyre tread! They are one of the few Tanzanian tribes who have held onto their traditions, their clothing, mostly don’t get their children to school and are fiercely proud and protective of their tribal traditions. The government for their part seem to respect this and there seems a happy balance between man and nature as they live together on the land.

The Ngorongoro Crater is a truly amazing ‘wonder of the world’ and, within her rim, lives an entire ecosystem with resident animals that never leave. During the intense dry season there are sometimes herds that will make the trip up from the Serengeti in search of food and water but they only remain until the rains fall and then always return to the plains. Descending down into the crater was like descending into a zoo with game everywhere, many lion roadside and hyena out enjoying the puddles from the morning rain. The whole driving safari experience was fantastic and enabled us to see an incredible amount of wild game in one of Africa’s most spectacular settings but, have to admit, we were a little over sitting on our bums for hours of the day and next time, would plan to take a walking safari instead (unfortunately this was not an option with the boys ages).

Returning to Arusha very dusty and filthy, we were very happy to have running water to bath in and have somewhere to wash some clothes. Arusha has grown enormously since we were last there and is the tourism centre for Tanzania with the streets littered with safari company vehicles and lots of muzungu. We enjoyed Arusha as a town but were very quickly over the pushy touts always in your face, trying to sell you safaris or curios or hotels or gemstones.....the boys were not impressed!! At this point, we were going to travel by bus down to Dar Es Salaam and then take the train across Tanzania and down into Zambia. However, allied with the thought of seven to ten days travel on our already sore bums, and with things not great in Cape Town with Rob’s Dad’s health, we decided instead to move up quicker and take the tortuous shuttle bus back up to Nairobi and fly from there down to Johannesburg. strange it has been, being back in ‘civilisation’ once again!!
Our journey through Kenya and Tanzania was an amazing experience for us all. Kenya was more about the culture and the people, Tanzania was more about the nature - Africa continues to intrigue us on all fronts and we have been thrilled that the boys have so embraced this amazing continent.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Kenya cont...


As we headed further south towards Kitale, the road improved dramatically and we could finally reach excitable speeds of sometimes 70km/hour! We stopped having to weave all over the roads taking to the ditches on the side as a safer option rather than crunching down into the mega car wrecking potholes – a bad dirt road is far preferable to a half dead tar one!......Kenya’s roads have not improved since we were last here and distance to travel in this country has little bearing on how long it will take you to reach any one destination!

The land heading south suddenly changed to lush farmland with an entire landscape of maize fields covering all hills and valleys – this area is responsible for a large percentage of the maize production needed to feed the vast and rapidly increasing population of Kenya. Maize is the staple diet of most African nations and in Kenya, ugali (a hard porridge type meal made from ground up maize) is served with all meals – wealthier people will have it to accompany vegetables and meat, the poorer ones (and the majority) will have it as their main food maybe with some form of watery soup. With the drought this year, crops have been affected country wide and now there is famine in parts due to the failure of so many crops – it is heartbreaking to see the tall maize crops standing bearing no fruit.

Kitale is a small agricultural centre where we were to spend only a night as we headed further south but, we found a fantastic coffee shop in town with attached internet cafe (time for work emails and blogs) plus a wonderful lodge to stay out of town so we decided to stay longer – always a sucker for good coffee and a break from ugali and goat! Karibuni Lodge (and the coffee shop in town) is owned and operated by Theresa and Ibrahim, a great English/Kenyan couple who produce all their own food on their property. Theresa runs the coffee shop in town and Ibrahim is the chef serving up fantastic dinners and enormous ‘last you all day’ breakfasts.....on go the kg’s!!

Yesterday we met an amazing American woman, Carla and her band of helpers in the coffee shop who have set up an orphanage in the area to cater mainly for small babies. In the afternoon we went out for a visit and were all well impressed by the work that they are doing. Aid organisations are an industry in themselves in this part of the world and enormous amounts of funds are pumped in annually from all over the world most of which never reach the people, end up in corrupt officials pockets or pay for the lavish ‘expat’ lifestyles that a number of their employees lead. To visit an organisation where the owners live in with the children and where they do not draw a wage but rely on overseas donations to survive, was truly inspirational. James and Tom were enamoured with the little ones and spent their time giving loads of cuddles and playing with a ball whilst Sam found some bigger kids outside and spent his time playing football (soccer) with them. Once again the boys were very moved by the whole experience and especially so when they heard some of the tragic stories as to how the babies came to be in care. We enquired as to whether the orphanage will look for their babies to be adopted out but, as Carla pointed out, it is highly unlikely because the Kenyan government make it so difficult. Any adopting couple must reside in Kenya for a minimum of 12 months before adoption can be approved and then, they will be assigned a child of the government’s choice – no wonder in Kitale alone, there are some 30 children’s homes/projects/orphanages.


This morning Sam woke up unusually late for him and feeling very off, he didn’t want breakfast and by mid morning had a very high temperature. So we borrowed a local girl Elizabeth from the coffee shop and headed to the local hospital for a blood test to find that he has malaria. The hospital grounds were overrun with people and with the rain thumping down was chaos everywhere. We managed to pay a small bribe to have the blood test read quickly (this is Africa after all!!) and then after 3 hours finally saw a doctor who gave Sam an injection and then prescribed medication – all of this required the lovely Elizabeth to run around purchasing the injection for testing, then purchasing the injection for medication elsewhere in the hospital compound and then filling out the correct paperwork elsewhere with much sitting around on benches outside with the other hundreds of people waiting for medical care. The government do not provide free medical care for the people and there were many patients there who had been waiting for days unable to pay and as Elizabeth pointed out many of them often die in the waiting areas. Patients often run away from the hospital as they cannot pay and Carla relayed the tragic story of a baby that died in front of her whilst she had one of her babies in because the oxygen bottle ran out of air and they did not have another one available – at this point there were 3 babies sharing the same tube as it was handed between each to keep them going. Life is a battle of the strongest in this world and wicked to think of how little it would take to even give many a basic quality of life.


Thankfully we got onto the malaria quickly and after a couple of days of rest for Sam headed to Kakamega Forest further south which is a left over piece of forest that was once attached to the Congolian rainforests. The Brits cleared vast tracks of this forest many years ago to plant sugar cane and there is constant pressure from surrounding farmers to have their stock graze in the more open areas - it is impressive that this small oasis still remains standing today. We stayed in some very wobbly and ramshackle elevated rooms in the forest with black and white colobus monkeys swinging and fighting loudly in the trees around us. Rob, James and Tom took a guided walk hunting for birds and big trees plus the many troupes of colobus and sykes moneys that reside in the trees and were very impressed with the guides’ botanical knowledge and pleased that he knew where he was going through the maze of tracks deep in the forest.

From Kakamega we then headed further south through the chaotic city of Kissumu on Lake Victoria which is reeling from the after effects of recent flooding (the rain has still not touched the northern or eastern areas) and back up into the hills around Kericho which is a tea plantation area. Kenya is the worlds 3rd largest tea producing nation and the fields were spectacular with beautifully clipped crops of tea which is picked every 17 days so always looks so pristine and immaculate. Tea farming has gone the way of much agriculture these days and is all owned by big foreign and local companies but at least you can purchase the delicious local tea and not all for the export market. We had trouble finding accommodation so ended up in the very old and austere ‘Tea Hotel’ which, in it’s British heyday, must have been quite the place to be – a magnificent old building with all the old crockery, linen and rooms looking very tired and shabby. We politely refused to pay the exorbitant US$ foreigner room rate and with tourism so slow at the moment managed to get resident Kenyan rates. Everywhere in Kenya there is one rate for residents and another for foreigners which of course are vastly different – Kenya is not a cheap holiday destination and you are often paying over the top prices and left wondering what they are doing with these extra funds which don’t seem to be going back into the facilities or infrastructure you are supposedly helping fund.

From Kericho we headed for the rural centre of Nakuru and delivered the landy back to Ivan who has ‘Arid Adventures’ - it was great to have our own vehicle the past couple of weeks (and especially so a landrover to make Rob feel well at home!) and would not have enjoyed it so much struggling around on matatus (crazy overcrowded combi van transport) with the boys and all our clobber. In Nakuru we again found a fantastic new coffee shop, ‘Guava Cafe’ which is owned and operated by a Kenyan/Australian couple serving the best coffee we had tasted in a long while (even better than Kitale!!). Through this great little establishment we then found an amazing orphanage – the East African Mission Orphanage (EAMO) that has been operating for 12 years. EAMO was set up by a very inspirational and amazing Australian couple who, disillusioned with the consumerist world that they lived in, sold up their life in Australia and poured all their money into the venture. Ralph and May now have 160 children in their care ranging from babies up to 18yr olds, have a primary school set up (future plans for a secondary school and skills training centre), grow acres of maize, wheat, vegetable and fruit trees to feed all the kids and many staff and have an active sponsorship programme running to keep them funded. Undertaking this kind of project in Kenya is not for the faint hearted and to give your life as these guys have done is just mind blowing – the children are a credit to them both - well behaved and so obviously happy with their lives living in a warm, safe, healthy and caring ‘home’. If you are interested in seeing the work these people are doing check out their website


So having lost the luxury of our own vehicle we headed to Nairobi by bus and then took a matatu out to Karen Campsight which is situated in the very luxurious and stately suburb of Karen (named after the famous Karen Blixen of ‘Out of Africa’ fame) outside of Nairobi. After muscling our way through the chaos of the matatu stands and finding the right vehicle, the boys were shoved well into the back of the van with others and Rob and I sat to the front with the backpacks stashed over the top of us. There was a large flat screen TV in front blasting out very loud American/Kenyan rap music with accompanying videos and with this, we took off down town and out through Kibera, Africa’s largest township. It felt a little like we were on a movie set as we wound our way through such abject poverty but also an area of life, vitality and communities all melted together. The matatu stopped and started as more bodies were squeezed on and off, with much calling out and touting for business by the ticket collector who jumped on and off as the vehicle moved through the maze of people, animals and dirt tracks. At the other end we were suddenly spat out into lush forest and then into the very calm, extremely wealthy and tranquil Karen with immense hedged properties, miles of razor wire and electric fences and guards at gates – the safe haven for whites and wealthy Kenyans a million miles from the slums of Kibera.

It has been an amazing journey for the boys to see that Africa is not just about wild animals and spectacular scenery, that in many parts of Africa there is a world of poverty and tragic stories, of corruption and lack of basic human rights. For them to be exposed to the harsh realities of life outside of their own safe havens has been, we think, an invaluable experience and even more important has been their meeting of everyday people who are prepared to give so much to better the lives of others.