Monday, 23 February 2009
After the Safari we've decided to do some water sports in Uganda. After a decent overnight drive from Nairobi to Kampala we checked a few companies and fond the Nile River Explorers. Sunday morning we've got picked up by the shuttle transfer to Jinja. This place is well known as a starting point for many outdoor activities. Shortly before Jinja we've passed the big dam that has been built to produce electricity. The place we've started from offered us a big and tasty breakfast before we had the briefing of the day's program. We picked up our equipment and then started our short trip to the Nile.
Rafting started on a slow part of the Nile. After the first instructions we've passed the first rapids grade one and two. Shortly after we've got flipped over a few times but no one got major injuries. It was great fun and very exciting to flow down the river in a little rubbe boat. Many rapids on our 30km long trip are oficially classified as greade 5. There is only one grade more in the scale so it was really a challange for the most of us. We've shared our boat with five Germans who live for a few months in Uganda to work as volunteers. At the end of the day we got a nice barbacue and chilled at the bar until late night.
Now we are still at the riverside camp and have to decide what to do next. Most probably I will head directly to Tanzania and walk up the Kilimanjaro. Edith and Walter are thinking about to see a national park in Uganda before they continue to the beach in Kenya.
Friday, 20 February 2009
After a few days in Nairobi we've checked out safari opportunities. It's quite easy to get started. In Nairobi you get asked all the time if you are interested in one. The friendly hotel porter recommended us his friend and we checked two companies and compared them. The time now used to be high season. Because of the economy crises and political unrest in late 1997 tourists don't come in high numbers. Our deal was 3 days Safari (2 nights in a camp) and travel from and to Nairobi to Masai Mara. The best was that the three of us got a own minibus, driver and cook for 110$ a day! The national park borders to northern Tanzania and continues as Serengeti. The animals move between these two parks and are now mostly in Tanzania and come back in the rainy season (starting March/April).
We arrived Wednesday morning and at the late afternoon our first drive in the Masai Mara started. In front of the park is a big Masai village full of colorful dressed people. They like to wear colorful bright clothes because the lions don't like these colors. The park is full of all kind of animals. Giraffes, gazelles, lions, Zebras... Everything you have seen in a TV documentary. We had luck to see lions and even a cheetah with two cubs. The second day was a full day in the game park. Highlight of the day was the hippo pool with a lot of hippos and some hungry crocodiles. The rest of the day was long hours driving for animals. We had the feeling all went out and left us alone in the park.
Today, the last day, was very spectacular. We saw hunting lions in the early morning! Our driver has seen some other minibuses near a creek where we've spotted a family of lions two days ago. The lions circled around a hat beast and started the hunt right after the minibus stopped. We've watched the hunt from beginning to the end when two female lions grabbed the hat beast and a male lion threw himself on the animal to throw it down. We spent an hour watching the male lions eat. They didn't share the meal with the female lions who successfully hunted. A real chauvinistic king of the jungle ;)
We have now a little stop before we enter the bus to Uganda. We'll spend our weekend in Kampala and at the beginning of the river Nile. We want to do some rafting and if we survive we'll be back at the beginning of next week. As already mentioned we'll split up to Mombasa and mount Kilimanjaro. I hope I find a reliable internet connection in Uganda and finally upload the outstanding photos.
Tuesday, 17 February 2009
The big truck ride
In the early morning we've crossed the border to Kenya to check the possibilities for a ride to Nairobi. Two options where available: Ghetto minibus and a truck. As locals have told us that the bus leaves when its full we decided to take a truck. Also two trucks have been available: a truck with a load of 20t beans or a cow transport. Our decision was almost spontaneously the bean truck. None of us have ever been on a public African truck transport so we've decided to pay 2000 Kenyan Shillings for the cabin. Including our Ethiopian friend we took all four seats inside the truck. For me it was much more an adventure to take a seat on top of the truck with the other low budget travelers. It was great! A perfect view, sun, fresh air and a friendly truck driver assistant.
The first section on the road a Kenyan soldier with a machine gun was with me on top to protect the truck against bandits. I felt very comfortable with soldier Mike. For sure he just was there for decoration. Our driver hat problems with beggars and the local police but he didn't do anything to help him out. After soldier Mike left the truck at a big checkpoint the truck suddenly stopped and we picked up four illegal Ethiopians. Kenya and Ethiopia have an free travel agreement between the two states. Because of the huge corruption of Kenya, Ethiopians have to pay to the border police a few hundred dollars to receive the free entry stamp. After a while the truck left the paved road and took a dessert route near the Somali border. This area is known as one of the unsafest places in Kenya. Bandits, crazy villagers (as co-driver Tuju calls them) and bumpy dessert roads. After an hour in the dessert we had a flat tire. It took four hours and a lot of effort to get the flat tire off, repair the spare tube and put all together. Luckily a few other trucks also stopped by and helped us out. Driver Sam was also very nice to us. He shared his food (Somali pancakes with dried meat, beans and sliced pineapples) and drinks with us. The rest of the day was a real pleasure. Many animals around (Ostriches, Birds, Camels, warthogs...) and constantly changing environment (trees, bushes, sand, stones, rocks, dust...).
At the evening we all have been in the truck cabin and after a stop Edith and Walter decided to sleep on top of the bean sacks on the truck. I've decided to stay in the cabin with Dereje and the driver. Suddenly the driver stopped and told me he wanted to see me drive. Obviously Tuju, the drivers assistant, has told him that I can drive a truck. I told him that earlier on top of the truck cruising through the dessert. It turned out that it was quite difficult to drive the truck. Not only because of the dessert tracks but also because of the defect steering. I had to use all my strength to make a big turn. The truck was also very heave with almost 30t, 10 passengers and 4 illegal Ethiopians. After some time I've got comfortable with steering and I drove the truck over five hours to the final overnight stop.
After sleeping on the ground on an old mat the journey continued until the early afternoon. Edith and Walter joined me at the top and we had a lot of fun. We also have seen some giraffes and monkeys that day. Due to the high security in Kenya the truck had to stop every hour at a control point and the Ethiopians had to hide because the police searched the truck. We left the truck in Garissa and continued by bus to Nairobi.
After two days we have set up the next plans for the week. Tomorrow we leave to our first safari in south Kenya. It lasts for three days and we're back on Friday. We'll get dropped at the bus station to Uganda to stay there over the weekend. Walter wanted to visit Uganda and as a teaser he told me its a good place for white water sports. After a brief research we intend to go on a grade 5 rafting (there are 6 grades). I expect that to be quite rough but a lot of fun if we survive ;)
Next week we'll be back in Nairobi and then probably split up to the beach and the mountains. Edith and Walter will enjoy some nice days at the beach in Mombasa and Sansibar and I will check out the mountain.
Monday, 16 February 2009
Ethiopia, officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a landlocked country situated in the Horn of Africa. It is bordered by Eritrea to the north, Sudan to the west, Kenya to the south, Somalia to the east and Djibouti to the northeast. As often a country with the word "democratic" in the official title is not so democratic at the second sight. The government has full control over media and every kind of communication. That was also the reason we couldn't use the Internet and our cell phones had no roaming. I'll try to write a bit of our Ethiopian journey as far as I still can remember.
Border fun at the Sudanese/Ethiopian border
Crossing the border at Gedaref was a very special experience. We've arrived at the Sudanese side after sunset. We wanted to cross as quick as possible to be on the other side before the border closes down over night. Two helpful men guided us to a building without any sign on the door. That was the security registration. After the formalities we continued to the second building a few meters behind: costumes. Again the official had to write down the same information as in the first building on a big sheet of paper. Finally we arrived at the immigration building. Again the same list but this time we got a stamp in our passports. The Ethiopian side was better but also strange. The entrance of the immigration office was well hidden in a backyard - not easy to find in the dark! The office was a messy barrack but with big beer posters on the wall. Again we had to wait for a long time to get our passports done but then we where finally in Ethiopia. Gedaref at the Ethiopian side was a long lineup of bars, shops and hotels. A big change after Sudan.
Travel route through Ethiopia
Gedaref -> Gonder -> Bahir Dar -> Lalibela -> Bahir Dar -> Addis Ababa -> Moyale
Bahir Dar is one of the leading tourist destinations in Ethiopia with a variety of attractions in the nearby Lake Tana and Blue Nile river. The city is distinctly known for its wide avenues lined with palm trees and a variety of colorful flowers. It is also considered as one of the most beautiful, well planned, and safest cities by many standards. We've chosen this place to relax and prepare for the long dirt road to Lalibela.
Lalibela is a town in northern Ethiopia. It's one of Ethiopia's holiest cities, second only to Aksum, and is a center of pilgrimage for much of the country. The population of Lalibela is almost completely Ethiopian Orthodox Christian. Lalibela was intended to be a New Jerusalem in response to the capture of Jerusalem by Muslims, and many of its historic buildings take their name and layout from buildings in Jerusalem. This rural town is known around the world for its monolithic churches which play an important part in the history of rock-cut architecture. Though the dating of the churches is not well established, most are thought to have been built during the reign of Lalibela, namely during the 12th and 13th centuries. There are 13 churches, assembled in four groups.
Addis Ababa was the final big stop on our journey through Ethiopia. It's the capital city of Ethiopia and the African Union. The city is populated by people from different regions of Ethiopia. The country has as many as 80 nationalities speaking 80 languages and religious communities including Christian, Muslim, and Jewish. Addis Ababa has big diplomatic and political significance for the continent but the infrastructure is poor because of political reasons.
After many days of extensive travel in Ethiopia we decided to take the 2-day bus to Kenya following by a 2-day travel to Nairobi. So far our longest journey in a go. We had to get early to the long distance bus station "autobus terra". A terrible, unsafe, crowded place at one of Africa's biggest market areas. We managed to get seats in the front by paying a guy who got there early in the morning to reserve our seats. Then we headed south driving 9 hours in a very old bus with Ethiopian seats (home welded and children size). In the city of Dilla we had a overnight break. Ont he bus we met Dereje who strolled with us through the village hunting for a local bar. There we had the chance to try local beer (out of a old bean can) and some spicy beans as side dish. The next day was driving all day again and arriving at the afternoon in the border town of Moyale.
Moyale reminded me of Tijuana in Mexico. A place for people trying to get to the other side of the border. Many stranded people there and a place just to be left behind as soon as possible. There we had also our first contact with Kenyans. The visited the Ethiopian side for cheep booze and girls.
We have been offline for a long time because Ethiopia had such a bad communication infrastructure. Internet was just limited available and only the local Ethiopian sites have been accessible with very poor speed. The mobile phone was completely worthless because there was no roaming. Now we are in Nairobi (Kenya) and searching for the next travel opportunities.
Later today I want to find a high speed Internet cafe where I will update the photo section. We have been in the past 14 days in very picturesque places in Ethiopia and Kenya. Leaving Sudan we traveled from Khartoum to the Ethiopian border and then continued with a round trip through the country. Later on there was a 4-day travel to Nairobi on old buses and even a truck. We are all happy now to be back in civilization again! It's now pretty easy for us to handle the frequent unexpected changes to our journey and the sometimes poor conditions of our "hotels".
Later I'll post the more detailed updates from Ethiopia and Kenya as well as the gallery update. Thanks to all who commented and sent emails. I look forward to give you a reply as soon as possible.
Sunday, 1 February 2009
After a week absence from modern technology we are now in Khartoum. During the last week we have traveled through the north of Sudan and got an idea how big this country is. Most fascinating is that life just exists along the Nile. From ancient cultures to modern civilization. The northern part of Sudan is still very simple. The infrastructure (roads, communication, water..) is still very basic. Nowadays there are a lot of projects going on in cooperation with the Chinese government. Sudan sells oil to China and gets in reward credit and infrastructure projects. The good thing is that the roads get paved to the north. We had already a 12 hour ride on a dust road through the dessert. The bus broke down, nearly got stuck in the sand and overloaded with goods.
Accommodation in Sudan is also very basic. Simple beds and common sanitary but that is OK for us. Just in Khartoum prices are ridiculous high. But we don't want to complain because the people here are so friendly and nice. Everyone seems to be happy that we visit Sudan and many are trying to talk with us. Unfortunately not all speak English but we also lack in Arabic.
In Karima, a little village at Jebel Bakal, an ancient culture site with pyramids, we have met a group of students on an excursion. They have been so lovely and invited us for coffee and we took a lot of pictures with them. In this group was also Hassam, a journalist from Khartoum. He took very good care of us and helped us to find a hotel. We had to ask in over 10 different places because all where full. There is a fair going on and all "cheap" places have been sold out. Hassam also invited us to his newspaper and at the opening ceremony of the fair. Politicians, local artists and a firework - all in a colorful mix with the audience.
Yesterday we managed to get our visas for the next country: Ethiopia. We will leave Khartoum tomorrow and take the bus to the border. Of course we have to switch buses, don't know the time table and probably get lost in transit again. Public transport runs here on best effort basis. A time table doesn't mean anything and its always helpful to add a few extra hours to a journey because of interruptions like: praying, eating, fixing the bus, praying again and finally finding yourself alone without connections at the terminal stop.
Edith and Walter are doing well. Especially Edith is now used to travel life and takes also some discomfort with a smile. Walter has also everything under control and I haven't been arrested yet. That's a good basis for our next round trip in Ethiopia.