Wednesday, 26 August 2009


After a couple of months where the travel has been in some respects
quite hard, Uganda was an absolute breath of fresh air.

We had managed to secure an overnight bus from Kenya, which was
spacious and not at all dusty which was an absolute luxury for us! We
had expected the journey to take 12 hours and that we would arrive in
Kampala at about 9am. So needless to say we were a little confused
when the bus pulled up in a carpark in the dark and everyone got off.
We had to ask about three people before I was satisfied that yes we
were in Kampala and yes it had taken three hours less than we had

Our first mission in Uganda was to find a tent. As far as we can work
out from here on in we will have a lot more options to camp (which we
hope will also help us save a little on accommodation). The poor guys
in the tent shop however must've been very confused as we hopped into
various sized tents, with our bags... and then even more so as we
asked if we could try to see which of the tents would actually fit
into our backpacks!

We have ended up with a good sized tent which has plenty of room for
both of us and our bags. The only down side is as it is a South
African design it has plenty of air vents for when it is warm. Might
not be so great using it for the slightly damp camping conditions in

We tested the tent at the backpacker haunt of Red Chilli Hideaway in
Kampala for a few days while we explored the city and used the camp as
a base for seeing other parts of the country.

In particular we visited Jinja where the Nile pours out of Lake
Victoria, and finishing our trace of the Nile through four countries.
Unlike our sedate Nile cruises we had had further downstream, this
time we were doing whitewater, and it was remarkably cool. We
managed a good balance between tipping out as we came through the
rapids adn holding on and just getting totally soaked. At one point
we got stuck at the top of a waterfall and once we were unstuck came
down the waterfall backwards. I'm sure that wasn't really part of the
plan, but we made it down and didn't tip out!

We then headed west to Lake Bunyonyi. The setting was beautiful.
Green green hills terraced cutting away to this deep blue lake that
weaves out under the hills. We had a prime camping spot on a raised
bank next to the lake. From our tent we could see the lake and in the
morning we woke up to the sound of the local men punting about in
their dugout canoes. Most of them singing.

It was a really great place to rest for a few days and we enjoyed the
company of other overlanders (in a 10 tonne truck, a landcruiser and a
couple on a 125cc Africa Single (all the way from the UK!)
respectively) and passed the evenings with beers, bbqs and tales from
the road.

We had planned to spend a few more days on the lake, but when there
was the opportunity to have a lift all the way to Kigali in Rwanda it
was an easy decision to move on a day or two early.

Now that we are in Kigali I am very grateful that we have the extra
time on this side of the border... but that's another story.

Sunday, 16 August 2009


It's hard to work out quite what the best bit about Kenya is.

I think it is fair to say that by the time we'd made our way from Southern Ethiopia into Kenya we had been left quite fatigued from all the additional effort required each day just to deal with the locals and the buses. So the best bit could well be that everyone speaks English or that there's no special prices for foreigners or that the hotels seem less like brothels or that buses (even the 17 hours on the dirty bumpy road from Moyale to Isiolo) seem spacious and leave at sane hours.

After an initial miss in the food department (being a diet of stews made from bad cuts of meat and other 1950's housewife staples) and a disaster in the coffee department (I saw Paul drinking instant, it was not a pretty sight), we have had a real hit by discovering what "butchery" means. Turns out it's a meat bbq restaurant; so the best bit could also be the vast amounts of grilled meat we have had in recent days.

Or it could be either of the National Parks we have been to.

The first was Lake Nakuru NP where the lake was pink with flamingos, the grasslands were teeming gazelles, zebras and buffalo, amongst others and in the safety of our van we got up close and personal with some huge white rhinos.

At Hell's Gate NP, we hired bikes for a closer look at the animals and to have the freedom to stop whenever we wanted to. The first stop was a wee premature as the chain on my bike broke. All was not lost however as this even slower approach meandering on foot, much to the curiosity of the animals. At one point we spotted a giraffe about 200m away and with some keen stalking we got within 20m of what turned out to be a family group of three. So that may be the best bit.

Or maybe it was camping on the lakeside, surrounded by monkeys, with hippos making nighttime visits to the camp.

It's all so hard to pick!

Friday, 7 August 2009

Ethiopia: In search of the Ark

Apologies for the delay in giving any sort of update on Ethiopia. The combination of internet and power supply is a little hard to come by…mind you not as rare as the combo of power, running water and a hotel room that I am happy to wander in barefoot.

Our trip in from Sudan, three weeks ago, was a lot easier than we had expected, and the immigration office, complete with resident chicken was a good laugh.

The next day, having decided that border towns are no place to linger, we had our first taste of Ethiopian public transport.  

As a general rule, no bus is allowed to leave until you have been waiting (with the engine on) for at least two hours and it is 125% full.  The roads are awful, the locals vomit as soon as you hit a sealed road, and the one tape (the only one in all of Ethiopia it seems) is played on a loop at speaker damaging volume.  At least the rides are long…

Our travels have taken us to the castle filled town of Gonder, the Simien Mountain National Park, Lake Tana & Bahir Dar, Addis Ababa (by mistake), Laibela (via some small towns where it is necessary to overnight on the two day bus trip there, and back), back to Addis and we are now traveling the Rift Valley Lakes (Ziway and Awasa so far) and then on to Kenya.  

I'm not going to go into any great detail about all the places, so I hope that these highlights help to give a small insight into this thoroughly confusing place. 

The Simien Mountains are just stunning and we had a very enjoyable three days hiking.  Unlike New Zealand national parks, people still live within the park boundaries and everywhere we went little shepherd boys would be tending their flocks.  The standard uniform for a shepherd boy, in fact any man in the north, is a blanket which at the start of the day covers your shoulders, but as the day heats up it migrates up until it just covers your head.  Paul had great fun trying to explain to our mountain guide, an ex shepherd boy, the merits of both fences and sheep dogs – neither of which are present in the Ethiopian Highlands.

According to the last Ethiopian census (the results of which I understand have no actual correlation to the real representation of the country), Christians far outnumber the Muslims.  Certainly in the north it feels like a Christian stronghold.  There are brightly coloured churches, wailing at all hours and people throw money from buses into the upturned umbrellas of priests in spots where new churches are to be built. Presumably this is to help build yet another protective sanctuary for the Ark of the Covenant, which appears to be housed in every church in the country. 

The churches in Laibela were, in spite of the absence of the Ark, quite a visual treat, especially as it was St George's Day and there were lots of people scurrying with their white blankets (which moved headwards as the day progressed).

It seems that the three real options for a well educated person are to work in the Church, the Government or an NGO – or at least that seems to be the case in the north where there does not appear to be much wealth generating industry.  While there certainly are some very poor people here, 25 years after the famine that we are all familiar with, it is hard to tell sometimes how much of the begging and constant requests for money is learned habit as opposed to real need.


We had been warned about the culture of seriously inflated prices for farangis, and the constant requests for money, but this has not been as bad as we had expected.  We often get followed by kids yelling "YOU!", rather than hello, but for the most part they just want to shake our hands, or follow us wherever we are going.  The adults too are far friendlier than we are expecting and many people, from bus-driver's-mate to waiters are keen to shake hands and do the traditional shake-hands-while-also-bumping-right-shoulders trick.

Ethiopia has heralded the start of really cool wildlife – baboons in the north, colourful birds everywhere, and here in south monkeys and hippos!

In the coffee arena, expectations have been exceeded with my personal favourite being the upside down macchiato. 

We only have a couple more injera filled days before our visas run out and then it's on to Kenya!