When we entered Namibia I was finally able to see if my loving and conscientious caring of “Jules the Malaria Patient” had paid off in Uganda by becoming ill. Some would argue that my affliction was even more dangerous and life-threatening than malaria, but this blog post, although belated, is proof that I am alive and have a constitution only a trip through Africa could give rise to. After two months in Africa a friend of mine sent me a concerned but highly un-PC email asking me how the trip was going and if either of us had caught one of the big three yet (TB, Malaria, HIV). I took it one step further and ended up at Death’s door with CV and references in hand asking for a job with a combination of all three – Man Flu. Not only do you have to appear to be extremely ill, you also have to devise a strategy that allows you to lie comatose in a hammock all day so that you don’t have to do any chores like washing dishes. When night falls you then have to weigh up the pros and cons of helping yourself to a beer. Beer means you get to drink a beer. No beer means you are allowed to be sick again the next day.

To recuperate we spent a few days at a campsite called Ngepi Camp in the Caprivi strip. The view was spectacular, right on a river with Hippos in the water, incredible birds and bizarre loos – King and Queen thrones overlooking the river, Tarzan and Jane showers, etc – for those of you who are worried that your ablutions could never live up to anybody’s expectations, this place is proof that if you can dream it you can do it. We went on a bird walk with the most enthusiastic person I have ever met, a guy who gets equally excited seeing his fourth Rufous Breasted Heron as he does seeing his first (Ed. For the uninitiated, “rufous” is a bird-watching word for “red”. Instead of having a red breast a bird has a rufous breast – hence a Red Bishop has loads of rufous). He kept going on about the elusive Tsirping Testicular, an extremely rare bird that you won’t find in Roberts, Newmans or Sasol birds of Southern Africa (Ed. Actually a Chirping Cisticola. Big thing in Bird Land, although if you can actually tell the difference between one Cisticola and the next then you are either a liar or Rainman). When he isn’t taking other people on guided bird walks he takes himself on guided bird walks (Ed. “Lesser Tit Wobbling Swamp Donkey?” Bird Guide “Third bird on page 73 of the 2010 edition, first on page 75 of 2013 edition. You might also have noticed in the picture that although the second dorsal fin appears to be pink, in real life it is in fact light rufous”).

On the way to Etosha we passed through a town full of people with similarities to yeast and flour (in bread). The one redeeming factor was that it had the most incredible droe wors I have ever tasted. We had two amazing nights in the Etosha Game Reserve, seeing incredible game including lions being chased from a watering hole by elephants. The baby elephant in the herd hid in the background, and once the lions had finally got the message that they weren’t welcome he went to the front and did the elephant equivalent of giving them the finger before quickly running back to hide behind one of the bigger guys.

From Etosha we went on to Twyfelfontein, a Unesco Heritage Site. There are loads of carvings of animals in the rocks and maps pointing out springs for other people coming past, made thousands of years ago. We had heard that there were some desert elephants in the area, so popping the beast into low range we headed off down a dry river bed in search of them. In the olden days people used to do this in ox wagons – and not just for shits and giggles. Twyfelfontein was apparently discovered by a guy who had tracked elephants until he found the spring and then settled there to farm. It means “doubtful spring” because whenever a friend of his asked him how he was he would reply that he was doubtful there would be enough water in the spring until the rains came.

We spent a day driving through the Skeleton Coast Reserve, one of the nicest drives of the trip. We were really excited to hear that my parents would be able to join us for a part of Namibia, and drove through to Swakopmund to meet them. I had told my father that he would need to get a spare tyre, forgetting that he always carries one around his waist.

We all drove up to a seal colony to witness what concentrated seal pooh smells like, then because our senses hadn’t been tortured enough we drove through a seaside town called Henties Bay to look at some of the garish holiday homes in the town. I have finally worked out why loads of places around the world have building restrictions in place – in case your next door neighbour employs a Namibian architect to design his house. In Namibian Holiday Home Design 101 you are taught that it is perfectly acceptable to tile the entire exterior of your house with shiny smooth bathroom tiles.

We still have some items of food that we brought from the UK. A tin of chickpeas – were we honestly going to try and make some hummus? Another item is the sort of thing normally advertised with a hot lady putting on stockings and suspenders and then lighting a candle to enjoy a cup of Creamy Mocha Latte Frapuccino before having all her friends arrive and go on about what a good figure she has and how confident she is. Unfortunately for the duration of the trip the sachet has been sitting in our box of spices, so the posh coffee I was expecting on the coldest windiest night we have experienced in a while ended up being cumin infused posh coffee – definitely not a blissful marriage of decadent ingredients fortified by the union of exotic cultures. Outside Walvis Bay we climbed Dune 7 and then headed off to Solitaire, a town in the middle of nowhere with a petrol station, shop, tea room and bakery, and plenty of rusted cars dotted around.

From Solitaire we drove to Sossusvlei to go and see if we could take a unique photograph of red sand dunes and dead trees. We all managed to climb Dune 45 in time for sunrise – something my father is especially happy about, because the exercise gave him a few more points to use that day in his Weight Watchers diet, a point wisely spent on a beer (Ed. He had eaten a tiny packet of peanuts the day before only to discover that the 5 nuts in the packet is worth about 4 points – 20% of his daily allowance). Driving to the actual vlei involved driving through quite deep sand, and we found out that although his car is comfortable to drive, in this case 4 x 4 != 16. Fortunately a nice guy was able to rescue the car from the sand.

On the way to Luderitz we stopped off at Duwisib castle, a large castle built in the middle of nowhere by Baron Captain Hans Heinrich von Wolf. The material was mainly imported from Germany and transported by ox wagon for Baron Captain Hans Heinrich Von Wolf’s castle. Unfortunately Baron Captain Hans Heinrich von Wolf went off to fight in WW1 and saw the business end of a bayonet and Baron Captain Hans Heinrich von Wolf’s wife couldn’t bring herself to return to Namibia, so Baron Captain Hand Heinrich von Wolf’s castle was abandoned. (Ed. With a name like Baron Captain Hans Heinrich von Wolf it would be a shame to use pitiful pronouns)

In Luderitz we stayed at a place called Shark Island where we were buffeted by wind but had a superb view of the sea before heading on to Kolmanskop to try and take some more photos that have never been done before. Instead of the only gay in the village, we had the only gay in the ghost town for a tour guide, starting the tour with a song on an old piano in the town hall so that we could all hear the acoustics of the hall.

From the cold and wind of the Namibian coast we experienced the sweltering heat of the desert and got blasted by a sand storm in Seeheim. With sand in our tents and cars at least we had a good sunset, probably the best of the whole trip. They also had a working model of a windmill at the Seeheim hotel, so I was finally able to see how a windmill works – believe it or not, something I have wondered more than once in my life. It doesn’t turn a screw to lift the water in case you were wondering; there is a sort of piston thing. For more info click here.

From Seeheim to the fish river canyon with spectacular views and tentative plans to return for a 5 day hike through the canyon. We spent a night in Ai-Ais before driving to the border into South Africa.

It was absolutely brilliant having my parents around to share some of the trip with us, although I think they were a bit shocked by how our standards have devolved over 9 months and our lackadaisical attitude towards clean cars, sand in beds, weeing on the side of the road, spitting toothpaste into bushes etc. I think it was like meeting a real life Ralph and Jack, without the wisdom and reasoning of Piggy. Coffee in one of our cups was gracefully declined, but I think they were impressed that I was able to make a fire with only a few matches. Time flew by and we all felt a bit flat at the end – as if we hadn’t seen enough, or spent enough time together in Namibia. From the ancient rock art to endless desert and infinite skies, it is a country that will show even the most extreme narcissist just how insignificant he really is.

Botswana – Land of Giants

We had been warned about long queues, being hassled by fixers, money changers and souvenir salesmen, and general African bureaucratic border bollocks when entering Botswana on the ferry from Zambia. Having some time to kill as we didn’t need to be at work the next day we thought we would risk it. About the only problem we had was having to put the soles of our shoes in dirty water to kill any Zambian bugs and throw away a half used lettuce before we were through. No problems.

Botswana seems to be paranoid about foot and mouth disease with funny water things to step in, water troughs to drive through to clean your tyres and regular veterinary lines with check-points to make sure you aren’t taking contraband meat from one side of the line to the other. If you haven’t been quick enough to hide your steak in your laundry bag it gets confiscated. That is the only negative thing I have to say about this country.

We went to Chobe National Park to see if we could spot an elephant, staying at a place called Chobe Safari Lodge where vervet monkeys are pests and you lose your lunch if you turn your back for one second. They then climb the tree above your car and drop a giant wet turd full of green things on the bonnet. You then wait for it to dry a bit so you can scrape instead of smearing. You wait a bit longer. You then realise that he didn’t take a dump on your car he dropped a melted slab of mint chocolate.

At the campsite we bumped into a Dutch family, Robert, Tamara, Sem and Tess, who we had met briefly when leaving Rwanda ( We went on a boat trip along the river, seeing plenty of animals and amazing bird life, including the African Skimmer, with chicks. For those of you who aren’t in the know, this is a big thing in bird-watching land (although all you need to do to see them is go there). Suitably impressed for people who until then weren’t in the know, we also saw our first Sable Antelope of the trip.

Having not seen enough on the boat we drove through the park the next day – if you haven’t guessed yet, Jules and I love the bush. Whenever we enter a game reserve we feel like we have landed in the equivalent of Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory. To add to the magic, there haven’t been any grown-ups around trying to make us do things like eat peanut butter sandwiches for lunch when we could be eating things like biltong and chips.

Along with the TIA (This Is Africa) acronym, when in the bush we have TIB (slow on the uptake? This Is Bush). TIB comes with its own special rules – there aren’t any. Would you like to eat biltong for breakfast? TIB. Would you like a Niknak and boerewors salad? TIB. Would you like a G&T at a time frowned upon by most people? TIB. Would you like a beer at a time frowned upon by most people? TIB. Would you like pasta instead of a braai for dinner? TIDefinitelyNB.

Seeing animals in a game reserve is exciting, but for some reason seeing them in the “wild” wild is even better – elephants walking around the outskirts of a town, warning signs with pictures of elephants on them on a highway. Even animals you don’t bother stopping for in parks get “ZEBRA” exclamations and frantic pointing when outside a park. We saw an ostrich and were really excited until we got a bit closer to watch him stand up and pull up his trousers after having had a side of the road bos kuck before getting back into his truck.

In Zambia we had met a couple who told us about a place called Elephant Sands. Apparently the ground water is salty so the owner has been unable to get fresh water for the elephants in the area. As a result he brings in a tanker of water every day and fills up a small trough for them. The elephants come bounding in to get to the water like puppies greeting their owners when they get home from work – about 3 metres away from where you sit enjoying your beer safely behind a foot-high wall. I put my camera on the wall to film them and then spent a few tense moments waiting for it to be squashed after an inquisitive elephant came to have a look at it and dropped it on the ground with its trunk. We spent the afternoon and sat up late into the evening watching them coming and going before retiring to the safety of our tent just around the corner. To think that in Zambia we had been worried about a peanut in the car and were now sleeping near about 50 elephants without any concerns – until Jules woke up in the middle of the night convinced that one was next to the car. She leant forward and felt my leg under the sleeping bag and not so quietly shat herself when she thought it was the elephant’s trunk inside the tent.

Next stop was a campsite called Planet Baobab for a “weekend” lying around the pool and reading before heading into the pans. On the way we found a butcher and got our first proper taste of Botswana beef. Who needs to go to church on a Sunday when you are already in Heaven? Fillet is half the price of fillet in South Africa, but I’m not trying to shock South Africans. I’m trying to shock my friends in the UK. Luvic, Bag, Alex and Chris Way go to your favourite currency conversion website and convert 58.95 Pula into Pounds to see what fillet costs per kg and then let beef fomo kick in – and it isn’t emaciated British beef injected with saline solution and oestrogen to grow your man boobs. Can you spell Meat Sweats?

The Dutch family have been doing roughly the same route, so we decided to go in convoy to spend a night at a place called Kubu island – a rocky outcrop full of amazing baobabs with a sea of salt pan stretching to the horizon. After all the obligatory close/far/tall/short pictures in the pans we went back via Chapman’s Baobab, acknowledged to be the third largest tree in Africa with a circumference of 25 metres, estimated to be between 4,000 and 6,000 years old, and was used as a campsite by explorers such as David Livingstone.

Because of time constraints we have decided to save the southern part of Botswana for another trip so headed up to Maun to have a look at the Delta. In Maun we found a butcher called Beef Boys (Where you’ll have fun fun fun until the checkpoint takes your t-bone away). Jules gave me some allowance and then went back to the car. TIB.

Along with the great migration, a flight over the delta has been on the list of things to do this trip, so off we went for an hour long scenic flight. The scenery was incredible with elephants and other animals dotted around the delta and paths in the water from hippos and other animals – amazing. Amazing too that “Scenic Flight” sounds so innocuous – the sort of thing you would do on your honeymoon. Not quite so romantic when you are both viewing the amazing scenery by peeping over your barf bags for the duration of the flight. Okavango Delta Chunder Bucket List Item – Tick.

From Maun we went up towards the Caprivi, staying at a place near Shakawe where we spent a day Tiger Fishing on a strictly catch-and-release basis, releasing 5 before we caught them. No tigers in the boat, but a barbell does count – my first fish of the trip – and something I would always rather catch than pay. While we were on the boat a spectacular fire swept through the area. We were up at 3 in the morning ready to move in case the fire jumped across the river into the camp.

Botswana is an amazing country and I can’t wait to come back.


We have been told that in Africa every man wants a BMW – Beer, Meat, Woman. In Chipata we found a Spar so were able to get hold of some Beer and Meat. With my BMW I headed to South Luangwa. My Woman had found out that the campsite was renowned for a couple of rogue elephants that equate four wheels with food, so hoping for a story – and hoping that the story would involve somebody else’s car we drove to Croc Valley Camp.

(Un)fortunately we had missed the elephants by a day, where they had ripped the fridge out the back of a car. The campsite owner warned us to put all our food in the communal kitchen because they can smell food even with doors and windows closed. This was easier said than done as not only did we have to remove our food, we also had to look for several lost peanuts that had fallen between the seats and gear lever – some embarrassingly still from Sudan.

South Luangwa is a lovely game reserve with plenty of elephant, other game and incredible birds. I was finally able to tell my Woman to pipe down about what a waste of money and how unnecessary the Maxtrax sand ladders were because we got to use them to climb out of a river bed. “I told you so” awarded to Chris.

Imagine minding your own business when without warning a complete stranger jabs a pin into your ankle. Enter the Tsetse fly. In 40 degree temperatures with no air-conditioning there is no way to escape the tsetse as the windows remain fully open as per the orders of a loving Woman. We even had a fight because I kept slamming on brakes or jumping whenever I got bitten on my ankle. Jules told me to suck it up and ignore them. I told her I didn’t want to catch sleeping sickness. She told me to pipe down etc etc. When we next had access to the internet Jules did some quick sleeping sickness research and in typical online self-diagnosis fashion found out that sleeping sickness equals DEATH. Two “I told you so’s” – the closest I’ll ever get to scoring a try for South Africa. I leave you with a Tsongue Tswister -Terrible tsetse taste-testing a tsesebe’s testes.

We went on a night game drive, seeing a pride of lions and a leopard. Stopping for sun-downers we met a game ranger with a pith helmet covered in bird feathers. He said he was going to use some “Juju” to get the lions to go down to the river for some water so we could watch them. I tried to use some Juju of my own, but it is obviously about as useful as another South African Juju because instead of gin and tonic on ice with fresh lemon and big chunks of fatty biltong our sun-downers consisted of orange squash and popcorn.

Instead of back-tracking to leave the game reserve, we followed a track alongside it with amazing animals and scenery, and a feeling of remoteness we haven’t had for a while. I marvelled at how we had travelled thousands of kilometres on horrendous roads down Africa without getting a puncture thanks to BF Goodrich All Terrain tyres. Unbeknownst to me at the same time my father was telling a guy at a tyre shop how we had travelled thousands of kilometres on horrendous roads down Africa without getting a puncture thanks to BF Goodrich All Terrain tyres. Sinister forces are clearly at work. Like using a vacuum cleaner and handkerchief to find a small lost screw for a pair of spectacles we used a bloody expensive BF Goodrich tyre to find a large lost bolt for a pair of widgets, on perfect tarmac, about 10km away from the place we were staying that night.

We stayed at a place called Bridge camp, a stopover on the way to Lusaka. Lusaka is probably the nicest African city we have been to. There is good infrastructure, it is relatively clean, and the people we met were all incredibly friendly. It is also full of South African shops and restaurants and we treated ourselves to a Mike’s Kitchen monkey gland burger. Mike’s Kitchen has always been a family birthday dinner affair and this was the first time I’ve been to the restaurant without my father there to tell me where the monkey gland sauce comes from. We stayed at Pioneer Camp for a few nights and then at Eureka – both really nice places to stay for a few days, although Eureka is maybe a bit better as it has animals walking around the campsite.

After Lusaka we drove down to Kariba to go Tiger fishing. Having caught 2 fish already, Jules has also caught the fishing bug. She even tells people that she caught a Nile Perch that was “Thiiiiis big”. I bitterly correct her by saying it was “This big”. Actual size is probably closer to “Thiiis big”. We stayed at Kariba Bush Camp, a great place on the shore of the lake, with impala and bush buck, and vervet monkeys that run around on their hind legs like people. Fishing involved being near an island full of animals, including the odd elephant that swims across from Zimbabwe. While I admired the animals as I tried to undo the bird’s nest in Jules’ reel (amateur!) she used my rod to hook a tiger fish that without any exaggeration was “Thiiiis big”. Unfortunately it jumped out of the water and spat the hook out, although as a newbie, Jules thinks it still counts.

From Kariba we went on to Livingstone to have a look at Victoria Falls. We walked over the bridge into Zimbabwe as the falls on the Zambia side have all but dried up, passing the idiots about to go bunjee jumping and nimbly navigating the gauntlet of curio sellers. The falls are spectacular. More than spectacular. Bucket list item – tick.

Other activities on offer include helicopter rides over the falls for a hefty fee, microlight flight over the falls for a hefty fee, safari on the back of an elephant for a hefty fee, volunteering in the local community for a hefty fee. You read that correctly. I am going to pay a large amount of money to teach somebody how to use “Betty Eats Cakes And Uncle Sells Eggs” to spell BECAUSE (or Uses Soft Eggs – whichever you prefer, both work). If I am really rich and have opted for a “FULL DAY” of volunteering, rather than the cheaper “HALF DAY” and I can remember what it stands for there might be time to teach you BODMAS. Who came up with the concept of making somebody PAY MONEY TO VOLUNTEER? You my friend are a genius! Can you come and work for me in my sales department. I need a guy who can sell useful things like male nipples to patronising idiots on their Gap Yahs on their relentless quest to slay members of the opposite sex with their selflessness.

The next day Jules and I decided to tick another item off the bucket list. We played a serious game of rock paper scissors to see who would go first and off we went to join the other idiots on the bridge. I would like to say that I nonchalantly dived out into the open like James Bond and used the grappling hook attachment on my watch to repel myself towards the hordes of swimsuit models waiting to have their breasts signed with permanent marker. I can’t. Think Mr Bean when he tries to jump off the diving board and loses his swimming trunks.

Bungee Jump over, soiled undies thrown away etc, I casually walked back to Jules, smiled weakly and said the equivalent of “like totally awesome dude”. While Jules got ready for her jump I took a couple of photos and tried not to vomit. To me Jules had the air of the sort of person who does this for a living – bungee jumping as a warm up before base jumping into a tea cup – smiling and laughing with the guys setting up her harness etc. The video footage shows an entirely different story. Heroes hop to the edge before launching into the great unknown. Jules shuffled her feet slowly like the hungry caterpillar after he has eaten his full, but feels compelled to meander slowly over to the gooseberry bush next door for another bite. Bucket List Bunjee – TICK, and thank God it isn’t on the list twice!

How Mal Are We?

After a relatively painless border crossing into Malawi we made our way up to Livingstonia, an old colonial town at the top of a steep windy pass with cliffs to one side and obstacles in the road requiring low range etc and obligatory clapped-out car with shot shocks and 10 passengers inside just behind to make us look like amateurs. It took us about an hour to go 15 km.

We stayed at a lovely campsite called Lukwe with an amazing view down the valley to the lake. They have a permaculture vegetable garden growing pretty much every type of fruit or vegetable imaginable and we spent a morning chatting to an incredibly passionate guy who is in charge of the garden. He lives in a little property on the other side of the valley and has been using the same gardening techniques he has learned from the owner of the campsite to grow his own vegetables. You can see the difference with an oasis of green in the hills on the other side of the valley.

Jules and I became unwitting pied pipers again when we went for a walk to a nearby waterfall and a bunch of children started following us and then tried to guide us to the waterfall. They should have been in school, but the owner of the campsite told us there are tourists who will quite happily give them 2,000 kwacha for 5 minutes of pointing out the waterfall. When his father earns 500 kwacha for a day’s labour (about £1), there is no incentive to be in school.

After seeing the waterfall and visiting a cave at the top where people used to hide from slavers we walked up the rest of the way to the town – about 5 km of steep uphill heading in the direction of squabbles, bitching and moaning about heat, dust and sore legs which suddenly stopped when we were overtaken by people walking along the same route with large baskets full of flour balancing on their heads. We went to an old missionary museum in the town and then treated ourselves to some scones with banana jam (6 bananas, cup of water, half a cup of lemon juice, cup of sugar, bring to boil then simmer. Banana Jam – Done).

My late grandmother Nina was a lady who’s only competition for title of “loveliest nicest granny in the world” was Mother Theresa and Jules’ and my other grannies (oh and our mothers as well – I forgot, you are also grannies). I think she has been put in charge of the angels looking after children around Malawi, because even though temperatures were in the mid-thirties, they have clearly been listening to her say “It’s that time of the year again – you need to put on a cardigan otherwise you will catch a cold”.

On the way to the lake we stopped at a town called Mzuzu to get some supplies. While I drew money Jules bought a Malawian sim card from a lady who approached her window. With a new currency and exchange rate every couple of weeks Jules can be forgiven for paying 5,000 kwacha (about £10). I drove around the block to find the lady who had tried to crook my wife and left her with the same “I hate people and feel like a muppet” feeling we had with our almonds in Turkey. “Did you just sell my wife a sim card for 5,000 kwacha? That seems very expensive, what is the real price?”

“1,000 kwacha.”

I think this is the first time I have actually wagged my finger at anybody and in my Stern Assertive Gruff Voice I said “You are very dishonest.” She then hastily counted out the difference and handed it back to me. This turned out to be more than I thought Jules had paid, so I handed her back 1,000 kwacha and told her I didn’t want her to pay me more, just for it to be fair. Back in the car and on our way I remembered that Jules had also bought some airtime, so the sim card lady should have given me the extra money after all and had ended up with a 1,000 kwacha present. “And let that be a lesson to you” (spoken in a Stern Assertive Gruff Finger Wagging Voice).

We spent a couple of days on the lake staying at a place called Makuzi Beach Lodge. After staying at one or two campsites Jules and I now know a thing or two and reckon we could build and run the perfect campsite. These guys know more. It is definitely the nicest place we have stayed at and somewhere we will return to. You are also unlikely to find friendlier people running a place like this. We have heard of somebody who went for 5 days and ended up staying for 35 (Makuzi Beach Lodge). To top off a great couple of days we also met up with Sophie and Richard, an English couple we have been chatting to for a while who are on their way back to the UK, having lived in Australia (Morgan Safari). We also feel like we missed a trick, because other people at the campsite had met a couple of people driving around Africa with a deep freeze full of steaks and a 50 litre water container full of Klipdrift. To the uninitiated Klipdrift / Klippies / 2 past 8 (the time on the clock on the label) / Moer my Vrou (beat my wife) is a South African brandy. As Julie’s brother Ross once said in a Stern Assertive Gruff Finger Wagging voice as he put a bottle on the table and squashed the lid – “Nou praat ons” (Now We Speak).

On the way down the lake we spent a night at a campsite called Cool Runnings. Having been away from Nandos for approximately 215 days I cooked the perfect chicken flatty and then for some strange reason felt compelled to play it down to the dreadlocked NGO volunteer next to us who was cooking his own version of Red for the umpteenth time in a row. “We normally have spaghetti with tomatoes, but it’s my birthday tomorrow, so this is a big treat”.

Yesterday I overhead somebody ask what the enemy was. When nobody understood what he was going on about, he said “What is the time dammit – I’m 76 years old.” At 34 I can relate to that. 1 year away from my first Ferrari – a challenge given by a stupid 18 year old version of me. Challenge spitefully declined – “Up yours younger Chris with your long hair and your chiselled abs. Instead of working hard and saving all my money I am going to drink beer and then go on a long trip down Africa”. One of the more colourful stories we have heard on this trip also involved somebody saying “up yours” to himself. A “friend” of one of the bikers apparently used to regularly wet his bed after a big drinking session. It became such a problem that before he went out one night his sober self wrote a note to his drunk self saying “Don’t wet the bed, go to the loo before you go to sleep” and put it on the pillow. That night when he got home, his drunk self read the note and said “Up yours sober self”, and basically stood on his bed and purposefully weed all over it – “Take that sober self – you can’t tell me what to do.” In the words of Nan, my other grandmother – “God Fathers.”

We decided that this year would be the year of no birthday presents because of the trip. This didn’t stop Jules from rebelling and giving me the greatest gift a 34 year old could wish for – my choice of music on the ipod for the drive down the lake. An hour of Guns ‘n Roses. I was even allowed to do the Axl Rose voice (“I don’t need your civil wowoowow” followed by “knocking on heaven’s dowoowow”). I hadn’t been allowed to do that before and I haven’t since. Other voices I’m not allowed to do include AC/DC (although I wouldn’t be able to anyway as those get skipped as soon as they come on), High Pitched Beach Boys, Nasal Tom Petty, Deep Anastasia, Unintelligible Bruce Springsteen etc. After sitting next to each other every day for over 6 months I guess some things can become a bit annoying. Singing along with iPod – occasionally allowed. Sniffing – not allowed. Picking Nose – occasionally allowed. Ball scratching – not allowed. Farting – believe it or not – occasionally allowed.

With Axl Rose voice in full swing we made it down to Cape McClear to spend a few more days at the lake, staying at a place called Fat Monkeys. We have seen lakes big and small this trip, but Lake Malawi is hands down the nicest. We took a boat trip to a nearby island and watched the boat guys feed some fish eagles by whistling to call them, then throwing a fish into the water as they got near. After that we spent some time snorkelling with hundreds of incredible cichlids. The boat guy then taught us how to catch one with our hands and some bread.

From Cape McClear we drove to Lilongwe to get stocked up on groceries and beer, staying at a place called Mabuya Camp, and then at the quieter golf course.

Having left a trail of destruction in our wake – Riots in Turkey, more craziness in Egypt, fuel riots in Khartoum with 30 people shot dead, animals in Kenya doing unspeakable things in a shopping centre, claims by the UN that Rwanda is supplying child soldiers to the Congo – we really didn’t expect to experience any craziness in Malawi. Malawi is known as the “warm heart of Africa” and for a very good reason – the people are friendly. We really didn’t expect to have police in riot gear shooting cartridges indiscriminately from tear gas launchers right next to our car as we drove past a village on our way to the Zambian border – rocks blocking the road, things on fire and people running everywhere. We later found out that two armed robbers had been apprehended by the police but the villagers wanted “mob justice”. There is a news article here.

Other than that, Malawi is definitely a country we will be coming back to, although I’ve put a little reminder in my diary not to steal anything when we do.

Brave Sir Robin in Tanzania

Our cardinal rule for this trip has been no night time driving. Unfortunately there had been quite a bit of congestion at the border into Tanzania which took a big chunk out of our morning and the one place we had found to stay turned out to be to put it bluntly a shit-hole. Because of this we resigned ourselves to breaking our rule and pushed on to Mwanza, a lovely town on the shores of Lake Victoria, crossing over the lake on a ferry as night fell. I felt a bit like Brave Sir Robin as I bravely tucked the car behind a truck without any back lights that was heading in the same direction, using it as a buffer for the cows, bicycles, motorbikes, extremely dark pedestrians and the odd broken-down truck. I’m not proud of the fact that we skulked behind somebody else, letting him take all the risks, then jumping in front of the posts at the last minute to score a goal, but discretion being the better part of valour etc, we made it and thoroughly enjoyed a much deserved Kilimanjaro beer, justified by the fact that we had selflessly lent him our back lights, or so we thought.

After the long drive the day before we didn’t enjoy being woken up at dawn by a bunch of people setting up a marquee next to us for a wedding later on, and then staring as we climbed down the ladder of our tent to get on with our unexpected early start to the day. My sarcastic “Can I help you?” to the Chief Starer was lost when he said “No thank you, I’m just resting” and then thought we were best friends because I had offered to help carry whatever it was he was carrying even though I had just climbed out of bed and was wearing only my old boxer shorts that have lost their elastic and were threatening what is known in the fashion business as a wardrobe malfunction.

On the way to the Serengeti we earned some game-viewing karma when we stopped to help some guys with a flat tyre, lending them our spare to get to the next town. With guaranteed sightings of lions, cheetahs, leopards etc, we had high hopes for the park, arriving before the gates opened the next morning at 6 to wring out every possible expensive minute of game viewing.

Along with all the usual game, we saw two lions without having to share them with the hordes of other tourists, and as we headed to the place we were going to camp that night we saw three cheetahs, which just about pays off the karma debt we were owed. We stayed in one of the public campsites, parking a bit away from the one other group of people there, lit our fire, ate our supper, and drank our beer, listening to the hyenas and the odd roar of some lions in the distance. Jules, being a city girl, started to get a bit nervous, worried about the hyenas and lions – “Nonsense – they’re scared of fire, and the lions are miles away”. To placate her I put out the fire, casually listened to the satisfying sizzle as I spat my toothpaste onto the dying embers and then slowly climbed up into the tent with the spotlight, hoping to maybe see a hyena or zebra in the night, from the safety of the tent.

About 2 minutes after Jules and I had set our alarm for an early game drive the next day and said our goodnights we were rudely disturbed by a car driving up to ours. They told us we had some visitors, and walking through their headlights, right next to the fireplace where we had been sitting moments before was a pride of about twenty lions. They then sat down near the car for about ten minutes, completely ignoring us before moving on into the night.

The next morning we woke up as it was getting light and Jules started climbing out of the tent to go and do her business, except she couldn’t – the lions were back, about ten metres from the car. Game drive aborted, we spent the next two hours lying with our heads poking out of the tent watching them. A lioness decided we were quite interesting and came to have a closer look, staring straight into our eyes as we lay there. Had I been on the ground I think Brave Sir Robin would have bravely run away, but in the tent all Jules and I could do was bravely slide to the back of the tent and peek through the mosquito netting of our window at her, willing her to go away, and wishing we were brave / stupid enough to take some proper photos. I bravely took out my Leatherman in case I wanted to tickle her in self-defence, and Jules bravely readied her own weapon in case the lioness wanted to have a pillow fight. Eventually she lost interest in us, or was concerned that we might have soiled ourselves and it would taint the taste of her breakfast, and moved on. The lions gradually moved a bit away, leaving the cubs behind a tree near the car. I took the opportunity to get into the car and drove up to the ablution block with Jules on the roof to pack up a bit further away from them. The other couple who were staying in the campsite had missed the whole thing as they had left in the dark to go on a hot air balloon ride, probably climbing out of their tent and walking around brushing teeth right next to the pride. The best part was that once the lions had all moved on, word got out that they had been at the camp and all the cars in the park came to watch us pack away our tent as we smugly told them all what they had missed.

The rest of the day was pretty bland in comparison. We had two cheetahs walk right past the car, saw a leopard in a tree, casually drove past a bunch of people all trying to catch a glimpse of a lion near the road and then ended it off with another two cheetahs. Karma with interest – except now we are in karma’s debt.

A lot of roads in East Africa have been built by the Chinese in their on-going conquest of Africa and her resources. These are generally tarmac with few potholes. For some reason they aren’t interested in the Serengeti, leaving the road maintenance to another group of people from their part of the world – the Corrug Asians. These guys haven’t the foggiest idea when it comes to building and maintaining roads. The only explanation I can think of is that the guy in charge of the Serengeti has wisely invested his money in tyre and shock absorber companies around Tanzania. As payback for our spectacular cats, karma enlisted the help of the Serengeti’s roads, breaking an egg, a long-life milk, and rupturing a beer can, leaving us with a fridge resembling a kitchen after a young child has helpfully decided to make pancakes for father’s day. We were also treated to a broken milk carton in our food box, which has made us decide to move over to a thing of unspeakable horror – powdered milk. Speaking of things of unspeakable horror, we are no longer the butter snobs we were in London and are now using a product called “Blue Band Medium Fat Spread”. Although not mentioned in the ingredients, it appears to have been made from yellow Lego brick rejects and wax crayons that have been made into a paste that does not melt when left in direct sunlight. Ingredients that are mentioned include “Artificial Creamy Flavours”. For our second purchase of Blue Band we have healthily gone for “Blue Band Light” – less fat, same “Artificial Creamy Flavours”.

After the lions, Karma decided that we still owed a bit, and when we left the Serengeti we discovered that we now had to pay to go through the Ngorogoro Conservation area, even though we weren’t going into the crater. I don’t know how we missed this vital piece of information – I guess the same way when I leave my house to go to the shops I don’t expect to go through my neighbour’s house – but we got hit with a $200 transit fee to drive 1.5 hours through a pretty landscape that is used by the Masai as grazing land for their cattle. Maybe I don’t have a good enough grasp of the English language, but the only word I can think of to describe this is extortion and a story about a big gruff goat that knocked a troll off a bridge springs to mind. If I know karma – and I do now – these guys have some tough times ahead of them.

After the high of the Serengeti and budget annihilating low of Ngorogoro we headed on to Arusha, which lies at the foot of Mount Meru to stock up on supplies and try and find a butcher we had been told about who makes biltong. We got the car serviced and then continued on our way to have a look at Kilimanjaro, staying at a great campsite called Coffee Tree Camp in Marangu. From there we drove to the Usambara mountains to stay at the campsite Ellin’s parents (from Ellin and Chris who we drove with down Turkana) run, Irente Biodiversity Lodge. Along the way we were stopped by our first Tanzanian policeman. “Hello, I want money, give me money.” At the campsite we met two other couples, two South Africans on their way up to Kenya, and a Dutch couple with a three year old daughter, also on their way up north. We went for a 17km walk around the mountain and through a forest. We had been told there were chameleons, but we only saw three. The Dutch couple took turns to carry their daughter on their backs in a special backpack. Our guide told us that as a child his mother had always told him to stay away from Mazungus because they would put him in a bag on their back and take them away. This was conclusive proof of the story, so as we walked we were watched by nervous children hiding in the bushes around us.

Having climbed Kilimanjaro, people often head to the Tanzanian coast to recuperate. After our 17km hike through the mountains us climbers felt we should do the same. We stayed at a brilliant campsite called Peponi, near a place called Pangani, soaking up the sun’s rays, swimming in a sea the temperature of bath water, eating pizzas, cooking prawns and freshly caught fish, and generally recovering from all the stresses life wants to throw at us.
On our way from the coast we were stopped by another policeman who asked us where we were coming from. We told him and he asked if we had any gifts from Pangani. Unfortunately nobody gave us a gift in Pangani – I feel quite disappointed.

We headed back inland, driving on a main road through a game reserve. A sign said that free game viewing and photography was strictly prohibited and another one gave us a list of the fines for running over and killing animals – $4,900 for a lion and an elephant is a whopping $15,000. For that price I would expect to at least get a new umbrella stand and two oversized toothpicks.

The speed limit in the towns in Tanzania is 50km/h. The speed outside the towns is still an unknown because when we asked a policeman what the limit was he said “This is Tanzania, you can go any speedie”. Excuse me while a cough up a “Bullshit”. In one of the towns we were stopped by a police lady who just wanted to show us that her radar gun had us at 49km/h and “Today you are the winners”. There are more cops here than I think in any country, and they’ve all been given little printing presses in the form of a radar gun that literally prints out money for them.

Like somebody who has won the lottery and then goes out the next weekend to buy another ticket, we went to the Ruaha game reserve, playing the charade of stopping for the first zebra and impala we saw. It is far cheaper than the other Tanzanian game reserves and incredible Serengeti lion experience aside, I would say the best park we have been to on this trip. It also didn’t disappoint us in the “Big Cats” department, as we were lucky to see two prides, one with three large Males which had caught a buffalo the night before and were in the process of devouring it. At one point one of the lions got a bit tired of eating in the sun and dragged the carcass into the shade as if it were a rag doll. Without trying to gloat (much) we have seen over 40 lions so far this trip.

We are now in Malawi having managed to drive through the whole of Tanzania without paying one fine – possibly a first in overlanding circles, especially as it turned out that the back lights we were helping the truck out with when we were driving at night weren’t working and we kept popping fuses for our indicators and brake lights because of a broken wire, so although we didn’t go over the speed limit once, it should have just been a matter of time before we helped a Tanzanian policeman buy some Christmas presents for his kids.

Murchison to Kigali

After our downtime in Kampala we headed north to Murchison Falls. In Uganda we haven’t been able to even think about driving without being stopped by the police. As mentioned in the previous post, we were stopped almost as soon as we had arrived in the country to be asked for food, drinks and money. On our way from Jinja to Kampala we were stopped because we went past a taxi that was stopped on the side of the road. This falls under section something or other, article something else – dangerous and irresponsible use of a vehicle. When the guy eventually realised that we weren’t going to pay him his “spot fine” for doing absolutely nothing wrong he let us go. In Kampala we were stopped by a police lady who then went through every possible way to get something out of us, eventually wanting to hold the car for ransom because we had left the insurance papers back at the house. She asked for some money to help speed up the process. When that didn’t work she started asking for food, then something to drink. “Will you let us go if we give you some of our SPECIAL filtered water?”

“Yes, but you mustn’t think of it as a bribe.”

“Ok, whatever lady. Have a nice day”

Casually taking a bite out of my samosa the next day meant being stopped again. Apparently it is against the law to eat anything while you are driving in Uganda. As the police lady walked up to our window I tried a new trick that we had been taught by some seasoned travellers – speak first. “Excuse me, but do you know the way to Makindye Hill?” This resulted in a complicated explanation with lefts and rights, over the hills, left at the big tree etc. “Thank you very much. You’ve been a great help, goodbye”.

We drove slowly through some incredible scenery to a campsite outside the Murchison Falls National Park, aiming to go in first thing the next morning and make a day of it. Near the entrance to the park was the best road we have been on so far in Uganda, and we were able to drive at 60km/h consistently, even in the pouring rain with poor visibility, not taking it personally when buses went past us like we were looking for parking. With high hopes the next day, expecting to finally see our leopard and cheetah we arrived at the gates only to be told that entrance for a foreign vehicle is $150. Plus $35 each to go into the park. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realise you don’t want foreign tourists to come to your parks.”

Having spent a day driving to the park, and now a day driving back defeated the weather forecast in the car was “Scattered thundershowers with dark clouds and very little sunshine.” Fortunately the weather outside was hot and sunny, and with the perfect tarmac we were able to travel at 100km/h to make up some time… Until we got stopped by our friendly cops. Quick look at his radar gun – 103. “You’re stopping me for going 3km/h over the speed limit?”

It transpires that even though we hadn’t paid to go into the park, we were technically in the park as written on a very faded sign we hadn’t seen in the rain the day before. Our budget doesn’t cater for things like speeding fines and for this reason we have been sticking to the speed limit religiously. After a bit of “Ignorance of the law does not excuse you from the law” the guy accepted that we really did have no idea we were driving in the park and it turned out he was also the first Ugandan cop who wasn’t going to fish for a bribe. We were both extremely relieved.

Julie’s aunt Lizzie had arrived back from her trip to Australia and they very kindly offered to take us to see Murchison falls because Keith had to do some work in the area and Ugandan residents and their cars aren’t ripped off repeatedly by the Ugandan Wildlife Association like us foreign mazungus. The rest of the weekend was spent in absolute luxury, seeing spectacular animals, almost seeing a Shoebill Stork and being spoiled rotten. We went to the top of the Murchison Falls to see the full force of the Nile being squeezed through a gorge about 2 metres wide, and then on a boat trip below them, seeing elephants, hippos, waterbuck, loads of birds, and in my Guinness Book of Records the biggest crocodile in the world, although we were told that there is a bigger one around. Thank you!!!

After living like royalty for a weekend we went back to our gypsy lives in the tent and drove down to Lake Albert, staying at a campsite with a view of the Congo in the distance and loads of Ugandan Cob, Warthogs, Waterbuck and Kingfishers all around us. In Fort Portal we spent a night at a campsite called Whispering Palms, run by an incredibly friendly old man called Tom.

We went on to the crater lakes and stayed in a campsite run by the local catholic church at Lake Nkuruba. Jules was still feeling a bit under the weather so we stayed at the campsite for a couple of days for her to recover, setting up the hammocks and spending our days soaking in the amazing view, watching spectacular acrobatic displays by the local Colobus, Red Tail and Vervet Monkeys.

Next up the gorillas. $500 each for an hour or two. Eish. In the end we decided we couldn’t justify it, but had heard about a lodge with camping run by the local community where a family of gorillas regularly walk past, sometimes sitting in the campsite because they like one of the fruit trees.

To get there we drove on a main road through the Queen Elizabeth Park, not having to pay an entrance fee, but getting to see Elephant, Buffalo and mating baboons along the way. We stayed next to a village called Bahoma, bordering the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, with views of amazing trees and incredible birds, even being treated to regular sightings of the Great Blue Turaco. Unfortunately no gorillas. I went on a guided birding walk seeing some spectacular birds that I’ll never remember the names of, but definitely with a better understanding of what makes bird watchers tick/twitch.

Realising that our chances of seeing the gorillas was going to be slim to nothing we moved on to Lake Bunyoni, our last stop before heading into Rwanda. To get there we had two options. A more direct route that was on Tracks for Africa, but not on our paper Michelin Map, or a slightly longer route that was on both. If it is on the Michelin Map it can’t be that bad. This route involved going into Low Range Four By Four Mode regularly, with steep drop-offs into the fields and forests below, muddy potholes, rocks and all sorts of other things people in Europe with 4x4s pay to drive through, in heavy rain – finally some adventure! I made a comment about how sooner or later a clapped-out Toyota Corolla with shot suspension and 10 passengers will come past without any problems. For my next trick I will predict the winner of the Zimbabwe elections.

We bumped into the three bikers, who were waiting for a part for one of their bikes to be shipped from the UK and had caught a bus down to see the gorillas and then spend some time at the lake while they waited. They were extremely happy to find a small tin of concentrated tomato paste at the local supermarket, because a half-used bigger tin is a bit of a mission to cart around on your bike for tomorrow’s meal of “Red”.

While at the lake Jules and I read a book called “An Ordinary Man”, written by Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager who inspired the movie “Hotel Rwanda”. In 1994 Jules was still in primary school and I was 14, having pretty much ended my school cricket career by dropping an easy catch and having to have my nose reconstructed. During this time there were boys younger than me running around with machetes butchering people. According to the book 800,000 people were murdered in 100 days. Over 5 people a minute and the rest of the world let it happen.

Having read the book, I think I had a strange relationship with Rwanda before we entered it. I don’t know if maybe I think too much, but when we drove past people on the side of the road I couldn’t stop myself from wondering whether or not they once went around hacking people to death. Anybody walking with a limp immediately makes me start questioning the reason for the limp. We went to the genocide memorial, having just about prepared ourselves, but there came a time when it was all too much and neither of us could walk through a room with photographs of babies, toddlers and children with captions containing their names, favourite songs, hobbies and how they were killed. I wonder how it works here – do you start off with the gorillas and move onto the horror of the genocide memorial, or try to end your trip on a high from seeing the gorillas, when you aren’t really in the mood? It isn’t tourism, but I think places like this and Dachau in Germany and the Apartheid museum in South Africa need to be visited by every person who lives in the country, and every visitor to the country needs to go and spend some time there so that there are a few more people who understand the meaning of “Never Again” and one day it won’t sound hollow.

Rwanda is an incredibly clean place. Plastic bags are illegal and once a month everybody picks up litter – the president and his cabinet included. If you make little things like that important hopefully the more heinous ones won’t even be considered. I think every country should have this law – although why should it be a law – to quote a Project Management acronym – JFDI (Just Do It). The people have generally been quite friendly and we have felt safe driving and walking around Kigali. There aren’t many options when it comes to camping, as Rwanda mainly caters for NGO high flyers or tourists who can afford the $750 for the gorillas. In Kigali we stayed at the only campsite we could find, a place called One Love, run by a Japanese NGO, which has a workshop to make and train people to make prosthetic limbs for people maimed during the genocide.

Kigali is very similar to some of the suburbs in Johannesburg and Pretoria, with Jacarandas lining the streets. I keep being reminded how lucky we are that South Africa hasn’t recently had that sort of bloodshed – God knows there are plenty of reasons why it could have happened. The world desperately needs more leaders like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.

Rwanda was always going to be a whistle-stop tour, as it is a small country, and quite expensive. We will be moving on to Tanzania, hopefully to finally see our Leopards and Cheetahs and hopefully not have to see too many of their infamous traffic cops.

Sipi to Kampala

Another border crossing and more fixers. I don’t know why they are called that because they definitely don’t fix anything. Collectively known as a manure of fixers, although “fixer” should be replaced with another word that also starts with F. As the car is in Jules’ name, she is the one who always has the pleasant task of getting the carnet stamped while I get to do other exciting things like stand in line for passports, or guard the car and fend off people trying to sell us stuff we don’t want. “Would you like to buy some water?”

“No thanks, I have water”

“This water is ice-cold”

“So is my water – I have a fridge in my car that keeps the water cold for me”

“Ok, would you like to buy another bottle so that you have a spare water?”

“No thanks, I have over 40 litres of water”

“Ok, would you like to buy a soda?”

“No thanks, I don’t drink soda” (this is a little white lie)

Next water salesman. This is where I wish I was back at work so that I could write a program that just loops through each person that approaches and automatically says “No thank you”. Instead I have to deal with it the old fashioned way. “My friend, you approached me at the same time as the guy I have just spoken to, with exactly the same products for sale. You already know that I have more than enough water already, and it is cold because as you are aware, I have a fridge in my car and might I add I am extremely fond of it – did I mention that I had ice in my water in Sudan? No thank you, I do not want to buy a soda because for the second time I don’t drink soda” (white lie again).

After a smooth border crossing without the use of any fixers we were in Uganda. Jules was stamped out of the country instead of being stamped in and had to get that sorted out – fortunately not a problem unless you don’t notice stuff like this at the time. Within 10 minutes of driving in Uganda we were stopped by our first Ugandan policeman. “Don’t you maybe have some food or drink for me or some little dollars for a present?” Time to update “Nay Sayer 1.0” to handle corrupt police as well – in the IT world this could be classified as “Scope Creep” and might require a “Change Request”. Oh, do some of you guys who are reading this blog deal with things like this daily? Sorry – didn’t mean to remind you that you have jobs.

When hairdressers start their businesses I wonder if they go through a “this is bloody awful, I know it is physically possible to call my company this name, but should I?” phase, even if they invariably do end up calling themselves “Curl Up And Dye”. I occasionally face the same dilemma, but as you might have noticed I generally just go for it, even if it does mean a complete loss of pride and respect, followed by a “Have you no shame?”, so in light of this, and with a heavy heart, Jules and I had ummed and ahhed about seeing them, but in the end we decided that we couldn’t miss the Sipi falls.

We stayed at a campsite called Moses’s Camp, run by a local family, with abysmal ablutions, a mediocre restaurant and warm beer. For this you pay 7,000 Ugandan Shillings each per night. That works out to under £2, where you are camping with a view of the Sipi falls from your tent. Look a bit to your left and it looks like you can see the curvature of the earth in the distance, with plains and lakes, and a valley of coffee and banana plantations below. You can forgive them for the ablutions and bland food and are almost willing to overlook the warm beer. We have never seen a view like that, and after a few snaps we put away our cameras and sat mesmerised as we watched a storm move across the plains in the distance.

The next day we went for a guided walk to the falls, among coffee and banana trees. For some strange reason our guide was obsessed with circumcision. “I have been circumcised” Announced the guide proudly.

“Uh… Ok” Said Chris.

“With NO painkillers” Exclaimed the guide.

“Uh… OK” Sighed Julie politely.

“Before you get circumcised you have to do a test. A fire is lit in the cave and there is lots of smoke and you have to walk into the smoky cave with your eyes wide open. Then a knife is put in the fire and gets really hot and it is placed on your foreskin and you aren’t allowed to cry.
Then if you have passed the test the next day you get circumcised with NO painkillers and there is a big party and people drink lots of beer. After that you can go and get some paracetemol” Explained the guide vehemently.

“Uh… OK” Said Chris and Julie disinterestedly.

“Women used to be circumcised because the husbands would be out hunting for days at a time and they didn’t want their women to play while they were away. After they have been circumcised there is no feeling. Now only the men are circumcised because the government has made it illegal to circumcise women” Described the guide.

“Those rotten scoundrels” Agreed Chris and Julie.

We also went on a coffee tour at one of the local’s houses with a Dutch couple we had met at Moses camp, Tom and Simone. This basically took us through the whole process of making coffee, from germination to the finished product, with a couple of cups of coffee thrown in. A young lady who lives in the house brought the coffee beans and prepared the fire to roast the beans while we all took turns grinding them with a pestle and mortar. She couldn’t speak a word of English, but kept looking at each of us and smiling constantly. “She has been circumcised” Said the guide conspiratorially.

After the beautiful scenery of Sipi we headed off to Jinja to go white water rafting on the Nile. Julie’s cousin Tim used to be a river guide and when we were waiting to be assigned our rafts there was a “Which of you is Tim’s cousin? Tim said I must look after you.” Death sentence as pictured. White water rafting is definitely the most fun you can have with a blow-up something. Walking around London being humiliated while hand-cuffed to a blow-up something else and wearing a dress on your stag do is apparently the second most fun you can have if you can remember any of it.

Following the rafting we all got skwank (drunk as a skwank) at the pub. This involved having my first funnel since my friend Gavin and I threw a shebeen party when we were at university, which started at about 7 and finished at about 11 because everybody had drunk too much too quickly and peaked too soon. At that particular party one of our guests who shall remain nameless thought she had B.O and used the Strawberries and Cream toilet spray as a deodorant, and I had to climb onto the neighbours roof the next morning at about 8:30 in a hell of a state because one of our other esteemed guests had thrown a beer bottle onto the roof leaving broken glass in the gutters. The night in Jinja after the rafting had some similarities – madness. The driver of one of the overland trucks came in brandishing a panga and threatening one of the barmen about something and had to be forcefully removed from the premises. The naked ninja appeared – one of the regulars who once went to circus school removes his clothes, wraps his t-shirt around his head and then climbs up one side of the pub roof and down the other side. Later on somebody drove his motorbike into the pub and onto the deck that overlooks the Nile. For some bizarre reason I had to pull the gay overland tour guide’s nipple ring because I had commented on the tattoo that covers his entire torso, and Jules for some bizarre reason behaved herself. You’re quite right Nan and Granny – we don’t condone this sort of behaviour either!

The next day was supposed to be a recovery day, but Jules had made plans to meet up with Tim in Kampala because he had missed a flight to Nairobi due to a fire that had burned down the airport. This was not good news for Chris, who was quite comfortable dying in the tent until it got too hot and then went to find some shade under a tree to die in. After the slowest “packing up camp” so far, Jules drove us to Kampala – her first time driving since Turkana. My job as chief navigator was to hold my seat belt away from my neck to reduce the chance of vomiting in the car. I could never be a “mature student” – hangovers seem to grow exponentially as you get older.

That night to my horror and Jules’ delight there was a bottle of champagne from her aunt Lizzie in the fridge. Unfortunately we missed Lizzie as she has been in Australia, but we had an amazing time with Julie’s uncle Keith, who took us on a tour of Kampala, and then to their house on an island on Lake Victoria for the weekend. We went fishing and Jules with plenty of deserved smugness caught a 15kg Nile Perch. I lost my lure, but it is ok, because I drank a Gin and Tonic for the first time, and I am not that bitter.

After a great weekend with Keith and almost ready for the next leg of the trip, Jules decided to catch Malaria. This involved a trip to a clinic to get tested, a couple of days of medication, and a trip to the hospital at 10 at night after she collapsed in the bathroom. The only advantage of malaria is that Jules hasn’t had the energy to veto my shopping trolley. Two trips to the local butcher returning with fillet steak both times, and also able to sneak in a couple of T-bones! Other than that, each day of the past week has been a rehash of the previous day – lying on the couch watching movies. We don’t have the same taste in movies, so other than watching every season of “Breaking Bad”, we had to reach a compromise – I would watch Spud if Jules watched Star Wars. “Why are we starting with Episode 4? That doesn’t make any sense?”

“I can’t watch any more – those stupid robots make me feel tense – the one doesn’t speak, it just beeps, and then the other one answers it. And Chewbacca annoys me too. How do I know his name? Because there was a girl at work that everybody used to call Chewbacca behind her back.”

Star Wars finished and now we watch Spud, a movie about a bunch of boys going to a school called Michaelhouse in South Africa. It even has John Cleese in it, balanced by some horrendous South African actors. I have 2 brother’s-in-law, Julie’s cousin, and a bunch of friends who “schooled there”. One of my friends refers to himself as a Michaelhusian. Julie’s cousin is apparently even in a scene in the movie, although we failed to find him. There is an old saying about Michaelhouse that the movie seems to confirm but I’m not brave enough to quote in full – I’ll start and leave it for somebody else to finish in a comment if he chooses to at his discretion. “You know what they say about Michaelhouse…”

After a week in civilisation with regular things called baths and showers and beds, 3 malaria tests and some cabin fever, it is time to move back into the beast and bumpy roads.

Some more gnus about our trip

Since we started our trip we have been in contact with another South African couple Arno and Elise, who have been travelling up Africa, having left at roughly the same time as us. We had made tentative plans to meet somewhere, but as neither of us really have any deadlines other than finishing the trip around “Decemberish” we weren’t sure when or if it would happen. They thought we were still in Ethiopia, we thought they were still in Tanzania, and when we arrived for a stopover in Jungle Junction in Nairobi before heading on to the Masai Mara they had their tent set up, the braai was about to be lit, and Elize was making rusks. After greeting each other like long lost friends we settled down for a night of stories, ice-cold beer, boeries and taking it in turns to tell the Jungle Junction dogs to “Voetsek” when they came round to beg for food. There isn’t a dog in the world that does not understand that word. “Voetsek” does not mean “Good Dog”.

Arno and Elize were also heading to the Masai Mara, so we all agreed that 8 eyes are better than 4 when it comes to seeing if you can spot a wildebeest during the great migration and decided to go together.

Another couple from Namibia were also at the campsite with a spectacular Land Cruiser kitted out with everything you can imagine, including a vice welded onto the bull bar, internal air compressor with connections on the front and back bumpers, a device that monitors your tyres and warns you when one goes below a certain pressure, a shower with built-in heater and shower curtain… The tour of our “Really Useful Boxes” didn’t take quite as long. As Arno and Elize had made plans to meet up with him later to go through Turkana into Ethiopia, he kindly lent us some walkie talkies so that we could be in contact should one of us see one of the elusive wildebeest.

We have revolved all our plans around being able to be in Kenya or Tanzania to see the great migration. We have also held back on a number of other treats to be able to afford the park fees. Having watched plenty of documentaries by David Attenborough et al we had extremely high expectations. What the documentaries don’t show you is the state of the roads that the extremely high fees don’t maintain. They also don’t show you minibuses loaded with people racing through the park to tick each animal off – the more you see the bigger the tip for the driver. The one lion we saw was literally chased around the park by about 20 cars. We saw a long line of minibuses racing off later on, all trying to get to see a rhino. This is not “being on a safari”. It is a really expensive zoo without cages. Having said that, the Masai Mara is spectacular – the scenery is as we imaged with the endless skies you can only see in Africa. Yet again we have a bunch of photos in an incredible place that just don’t do it justice! We also got to see one or two wildebeest. No amount of documentaries could have prepared us for the sheer spectacle. It was definitely the gnicest work of gnature in the gname reserve.

At the Masai river we waited for a river crossing where the gnus swim through a gauntlet of crocs, strong currents and the risk of being trampled by other gnus. This wasn’t the first crossing, and there was carnage all along the river – carcasses wedged between rocks, or drifting down the river, completely ignored by the satisfied smiling crocs that had gorged themselves previously like the romans in Asterix in Switzerland, shouting “the stick the stick” as they dropped their gnu into the Massai fondue. The vultures and Maribou Storks had hit the jackpot, floating down the river with their prizes, almost too heavy to fly. You would think that after eating so much they would stop, but they just carrion.

Unfortunately we were parked next to a fleet of minibuses, as if in a taxi rank. Some of the tourists were having a snooze, others were playing on their phones, and I imagine some were sitting there bored out of their minds while tweeting “I’m at the Masai Mara in Kenya, going to get so wasted tonight LOL”. I hate people (close family and friends and all readers of this blog excluded of course).

So was the Masai Mara worth the expense and hordes of minibuses? Yes, although migration aside, go to any South African game reserve and you will see more, with less cars, and there will actually be some evidence that the money you pay is being used for something other than causing gout and obesity in officials and politicians.

After a roaring campfire and more stories with Arno and Elize we said our goodbyes and went on to the next stop, via miles and miles of tea estates. Kakamega forest – with a name like that how can you go to Kenya and skip it. Unfortunately after joking about the first thing I was going to do when I got there I ended up hopping from one foot to the next while I waited for a handwritten receipt where the numbers had to be written down in English as well as numerically and the description became “Two people visiting the Kakamega forest in a car or is that a 4×4 and let me write down some more stuff even though I can see you have something far more urgent to do.”

We had a great day walking through the forest with an extremely knowledgeable guide who taught us about the medicines, birds and animals from the forest, as well as showing us a tree that was hit with a stick, resonating like a drum and in the past used to call people from around the forest when there was important news.

I know a lot of people’s hearts will pump custard for me when I say that doing a trip like this can be exhausting and you need a break from it every now and then, but after a month of touring Kenya we spent a couple of days relaxing at a lodge called Neiberi River Lodge, a few kilometres outside of Eldoret, camping next to a river. The first thing we were told was that several years ago Bill Gates spent a night there. We were also shown the bungalow he stayed at with a plaque on the wall to confirm this. He was there for one night but his entourage and security were apparently there for about a month before he came to make sure everything was ok.

More impressive than seeing a plaque with the words “Bill Gates stayed here once upon a time” was meeting Freddie – the guy who manages the fire pit in the lodge’s restaurant. A sane person does not use his bare hands to pick up coals and burning logs to move them around the fire. Freddie does, and not by juggling the coals in the fumbling hot-potato style of an under 12 D-team cricket player. When he went home at the end of the night he kept repeating that he was going to have another one for the road and then laughing hysterically, so I think the question “How does he pick up fire with his hands without feeling any pain?” was answered.

Next stop Uganda.

Aberdare, Tsavo East and Lamu

While in Gilgil Tim took us to Nakuru for our first proper tourism in Kenya – a place called Nakumatt. Walking around Nakumatt, Jules was stopped by somebody who asked her if she was lost. Her response was she hadn’t seen anything so wonderful for a while and she was trying to take it all in. Nakumatt is like Carrefour if you are in Europe, Sainsbury’s if you are in the UK and Pick ‘n Pay if you are in South Africa. If none of these names mean anything to you, then I guess you are probably in Ethiopia and I will enlighten you – a shop with trolleys to help you carry very important groceries like cheese, bacon, avocados, milk, wine and beer. They even sell boerewors (traditional South African sausage that was invented as a slightly stronger cure than bacon for the dreaded disease of vegetarianism. If boerewors fails then you can try the broader spectrum biltong, which can also soften the effects of rugby loss).

We gate-crashed Mikhaila’s end-of-term safari supper party for the teachers and gap students. Fortunately the last stop was Mikhaila’s house so at 1:00am, when things were still relatively civilised Granny and Gramps were able to Ninja Bomb our way into our tent. Unfortunately the last stop was Mikhaila’s house. Most drunkards are unable to keep up with a guy who can run a half marathon in 1.5 hours. In a similar vein, a guy who can run a half marathon in 1.5 hours is generally unable to keep up with most drunkards, but he tried to valliantly. Needless to say, the couch we were expecting to spend the next day lying on watching movies while we nursed our hangovers resembled the main site of the Mau Mau uprising.

We visited Lake Naivasha, staying at a lovely campsite called Carnellys Camp. This had amazing birds, great scenery and cold beer, so we forced ourselves to stay an extra night before heading on to Nairobi. On the way to Nairobi we drove through an “Animal Passage”, a road where you have to drive carefully because animals are passing through. It isn’t often that you get to see giraffe, warthog, zebras, jackal and various antelope on a normal road.

We spent a couple of nights in Nairobi at a campsite called Jungle Junction, where people on trips like this invariably end up to swap war stories, compare notes and get into Land Rover vs Toyota debates. They have a mechanic on site and we got him to sort out the klunk sound with the suspension. After half an hour he came back with a “Do you want the good news or the bad news?”

“What’s the good news?”

“You don’t drive a Land Rover (pause for laughter and effect). There is no bad news, something just needed to be tightened.” If only that was always the case.

As much as we would love to visit all the game parks, the fees for people from outside of East Africa are extortionate, so we have had to try and balance the “Trip of a lifetime; You only live once; You can always earn more money” mentality with common sense. We spent a night in the Aberdare National Park, driving through a rain forest loaded with Buffalo and Elephant that suddenly appear through the trees and just as suddenly disappear. That night we camped in a clearing with four buffaloes and a waterbuck.

The trip from Nairobi to Mombasa is not one for the faint-hearted. Although not full of potholes, it is full of arseholes who drive like they are on pot. It is regarded as one of the most dangerous roads in the country due to hundreds of deaths that have occurred and is definitely the worst road Jules and I have been on, including all roads in Istanbul and Cairo – people overtaking five trucks at a time on a blind corner, with idiots behind them doing the same. A common occurrence is a slingshot overtaking manoeuvre where you overtake somebody and as you get back into your lane the guy overtaking behind you continues past you. If you hesitate because you can’t see if it is safe you will have 5 cars behind you overtaking at once, all using the power of guesswork to stay alive.

We stopped at Tsavo East, a spectacular game park with loads of red elephants coloured from the sand, including one with the biggest tusk I have seen on a live elephant – magnificent! We camped in a public campsite with no fences and Jules is convinced there was a lion below us in the night. I slept through all sorts of animal noises, so the experience was wasted on me. The next morning we saw a couple of young male lions hunting some warthogs. This was especially tense because we had 45 minutes left in the park before we had to pay for another day. They slowly stalked their prey with incredible grace, the warthogs completely oblivious, noses to the ground. We alternated between watching the lions, watching the warthogs and watching the clock. Long story short the lions got lazy, one of them not even bothering to chase the warthogs, the warthogs got away and we made it out in time.

From Mombasa we drove to Kilifi, camping in the parking lot of a backpackers called Distant Relatives with brilliant showers among tall bamboo trees. Other than that it is a typical backpackers. I enjoy Bob Marley, but I don’t need to have the reggae vibe thing going the whole time. I don’t need a bunch of guys on guitars showing their sensitive side to girls on their gap yah. I don’t need girls on their gap yah volunteering for an NGO and walking around in T-Shirts that say “Challenge Yourself to Change the World” outgooding each other (one NGO we have seen has optimistically been called “A Glimmer of Hope” – Eliminate Poverty, Illuminate Lives). One of the more memorable conversations overheard between the NGO Gap Yah Girls was “Did you hear that the main actor in Glee died?” (What is Glee you might ask? I don’t know either).

“How old was he?”

“Quite old – I think about 28”. I really didn’t need to hear that conversation.

From Kilifi we drove up the coast to Lamu, the land of the French Cowsay, via Watamu and Malindi. “What’s a French Cowsay?” I hear you ask, and I’m really glad you did. Le Moo. We camped in the driveway of a lodge called Barefoot Beach Camp, being charged a reasonable 400 Shillings each to camp there. What we didn’t realise is that they sprinkle gold dust in the fish soup because the next morning we were blind-sided by a sneaky 5,900 Shilling bill for lunch and some beers.

Lamu is an island just off the North Coast. It has only three cars – one for the governor, a tuc-tuc ambulance, and a bakkie for sick donkeys. We left our car on the mainland, trusting that it and everything inside would still be there when we got back and hopped on the ferry. The town is a UNESCO heritage site, although apparently on the verge of irreparable loss and damage due to insufficient management and development pressure. Apart from being quite dirty with loads of donkey poo all over the place, the town is full of character and we saw incredible houses when we went on a tour of the town. The people were generally quite friendly, and with the odd exception the touts and souvenir salesmen generally weren’t too pushy.

We went on a dhow trip to Manda Toto Island to do some fishing and have some lunch. When we got on the boat the captain told us that he had bought some fish in the highly unlikely event of none of us catching anything because fishing is a game and sometimes you win, but sometimes you lose. Jules was the only person to catch a fish (a 3cm long foul-hooked fish is still a fish) but was unable to celebrate because along with rules like “Buffalo”, “No Smugness”, although quite a recent addition, is very much in play. For the unitiated, Buffalo is when you have to drink with your left hand, otherwise you have to down your drink, a house rule that is always in effect. “Buffaloes and Wildebeests” is an optional alternative – alternating drinking hand every half hour.

On the boat trip we were treated to a spectacular lunch of coral fish, coconut rice and curried vegetables cooked in coconut milk, all cooked over a charcoal braai on the boat. To prepare the coconut our chef used the most over-engineered kitchen implement I have ever seen – a carved wooden fold-up chair with a coconut-scraping attachment built into the end.

On the way back from Lamu we were stopped at one of the numerous police check-points on the road. We have heard about the possibility of being subjected to police corruption, but generally they have been quite friendly, and only occasionally want to see things like driving licenses and insurance papers. The police woman at this checkpoint wanted something else. “Where are you coming from?”

“Lamu, but we have driven from London to Kenya”

“Where are you going?”

“Back to Nairobi, then to the Masai Mara”

“Let me look first at myself (Bends over to see that she looks ok in our side mirror). Ok you can go”.

We did the trip from Lamu back to Nairobi over 2 days, stopping again at the backpackers in Kilifi – different sensitive guitarists, same NGO Gap Yah Girls. Early the next morning we donned our brown trousers and left for a marathon 9 hour drive of close shaves, Jules lifting her feet up to brace herself and blocking her ears while breathing in deeply and me dropping the not so occasional expletive and quite probably causing a few expletives.

From here we bankrupt ourselves to hopefully watch some Gnu’s get chomped by Lions and Crocs in the Masai Mara.

Turkana Route Done – Kenya Believe It

In Omorate we bought some diesel on the black market as we still had some Birr left over. This was syphoned from a 44 gallon drum into a watering can and then poured into the beast by the local child labour. We then had our carnets and passports stamped without any real problems (Wendy turned the carnet guy around by offering him a sweet when he started complaining about us all having “Moyale or Omorate” as our point of departure in the carnet instead of just “Omorate”).

To cross the border into Kenya we turned off the main road onto a nondescript dirt road. Soon after that we came across a village with a small school and a man flagging us down for a chat. He was fuming because the car in front hadn’t stopped to talk to him so next time he will take down their details and report them because he is the school headmaster and we must tell them that. Check the worry in my eyes!

The bikers had gone to watch a bull-jumping ceremony so we made plans to meet up with them just across the border the following day. We camped in a dry river bed along the shore of Lake Turkana and became reality television for a bunch of locals who arrived with little wooden chairs, put them down in the shade of a tree near the cars and then proceeded to watch us, later moving to near our fire area when we started preparing supper. Out came the tables and fold-up chairs, a box wine, stainless steel cups and knives and forks. Wendy made a cabbage salad and Jules and I made a risotto. Chris and Ellen prepared some tilapia they had bought earlier. Jules went back to the car to fetch some salt. She came back from the car. She then put the salt in the pot. Are you bored yet? I’m not surprised. Finally the kids who had come to watch the faranjis lost interest as well and started to play a game of “Throw stones at birds flying past”. A couple of close shaves, but by the end of the game it was birds 1, children 0.

Early the next morning the children from the village were back to watch our morning movements, although unfortunately this was before we could do our morning movements. I tried to distract them so Jules could go for a wee, discovering that binoculars are the most amazing thing ever invented. It didn’t take long for them to work out that trying to look through them from the front blocks the other guy’s view and can lead to a shove from a bigger kid.

Chris (from Chris and Ellen) brought out a chess set and the two of us played an intense game with plenty of spectators while we waited for the bikers. Jules tried to show some of the kids how to do “Biggles” glasses with their hands over their faces (If you don’t know what that is, see guy on left of attached photo – ignore the guy on the right because he was absolutely useless, although his inability to do “Biggles” was extremely funny for the other children, so he was allowed to stay).

The road became incredibly rocky and in some of the steeper parts it was quite tough on the bikes, especially for Chris (from Chris, Archie and Archie) as he was worryingly experiencing a problem with his engine that had supposedly been fixed in Addis. Chris (from Chris and Julie) also had a worrying problem when the gear lever moved backwards and forwards without changing gear. It turns out that our repair in Addis had caused a bigger sounding problem. Fortunately this was easily repairable and we were on our way without causing too much stress.

We had left-over goat pasta, cooked by Archie (from Archie, Archie and Chris), in his signature sauce – Red. Red is bolognaise with garlic (if you have any), onions (if you have any), herbs (if you have any) and tomatoes (if you have any). Failing that you can use tomato paste (our favourite brand can be found in most Ethiopian shops – Chilly Willy).

Jules had a heart attack when she felt something tapping the bottom of her foot while she was eating her goat and Red. Lifting her foot she discovered a hole big enough for the world’s largest, scariest snake, complete with eyes and head belonging to the world’s cutest little mouse.

On the fourth night we camped right next to the lake in Sibiloi National Park, with Hippos, Crocs, Tsesebe and Hyenas all paying us a visit.

In a town called Loyongalani we stayed at a campsite called Palm Shades, moving away from the staple diet of Red or Two-Minute Noodles for lunch to have some jelly with left-over mangos which we had made a couple of nights earlier. The campsite wasn’t too bad, but we were hassled a bit in the village by the usual personal shop assistants. That night we settled down to a night of cards, Ice Cold Beers and Red for supper.

The next day we did a marathon drive to Maralal on the worst road we have ever been on. If a sane person had witnessed this they would have called the car equivalent of Childline and the beast would have ended up in a foster home. On our way to Baragoi in South Horr we saw truck-loads of police with AK-47’s. This was the area we had been most concerned about because of a history of bandit activity. Last year over 30 police officers were killed in an ambush in an operation to recover livestock. Fortunately we made it through without any security issues, although the beast selfishly added a new sound to its repertoire of generally intermittent unfamiliar sounds and smells that conspire to turn our imagination against us. Normally the sound turns out to be something innocuous like jerry cans on the roof rubbing against each other, and the smell is usually from the battered old taxi or truck in front of us, but this sounded like a wheel was going to come off every time we went over a bump.

We stayed at a campsite called Camel Camp, too shattered to even light the huge pile of free firewood the manager had organised for us for a bonfire. The bikers religiously stuck to their diet of Red while Jules and I treated ourselves to goat stew, the only item on offer in the restaurant.

The next day we drove to Gilgil to stay with Julie’s cousin Tim and his girlfriend Mikhaila for a couple of days, being treated by them on our first night to a meal of Spaghetti and Red (“hehe – good joke Chris”, says Mikhaila, “but what you aren’t telling them is that Tim cooked it on his own, and he used loads of ingredients, including Real Beef Mince, something you and Julie haven’t seen since Cairo and it was bloody tasty, and I saw you help yourself to another spoonful later on in the evening when you thought nobody was looking).