D-37Apr 25 2018
Who says you are never too old to do something irresponsible? Follow along my journey in Africa as I fulfil a long-held daydream to travel from Cape Town to Cairo. Wait, make that the other way around. Follow me on my Journey from Cairo to Cape Town as I take 'the hard way'.
I shall be making life far more difficult than necessary for myself as I travel over 3 and a half months by public transport from the exotic pyramids of Cairo to the misty heights of Table Mountain in Cape Town.
Why do this? It’s a ‘proper adventure’ and I’m tired of reading the exploits of the average Joe who are really no more remarkable, resilient or capable than I think I am.
So be drawn along for the ride. I shall make this as entertaining as possible and will use the triumvirate of Facebook, Instagram and VOLO to convey the pain, suffering and absolute joy of the journey.
And if you think I am really absolutely nuts, read up on the exploits of Paul Theroux (Dark Star Safari, Last Train to Zona Verde), Peter Moore (Swahili for the Broken Hearted) and Michael Palin (Pole to Pole). There are countless others, like Alastair Humphrey who did the same trip on a bicycle (The Boy who Biked the World), who might also inspire you to do the same.
D-28May 05 2018
Time is still counting down. I would say that preparations are well under way, and have been for some time.
Yesterday was a big milestone. Perhaps that is a major exaggeration, but it felt like a good moment. I got my Ethiopian visa. That was a minor challenge, even in London, as I was interrogated on the phone, told that a three month multiple entry Visa is simply not possible and should be obtained upon arrival. I’m not sure what part of my copious paperwork, cover letter and flight information required my explaining it three times. I suspect she had a lazy day and wanted to send it all back to me un-visa’d. Luckily it all worked out well and I had a visa issued to me, by post, in timescales that are pretty amazing (sent by post on Wednesday, processed on Thursday and in my hands by Friday).
Cairo feels a little bit closer...
DAY 1Jun 01 2018
We are at Heathrow airport awaiting my flight. Very exciting but I also realise that the first 2 weeks is very civilised!
Apparently BA found out about the trip and upgraded us both! Lovely! The new seats are exceedingly comfortable. We are both quite excited
Happily the flight was quite uneventful. We arrived in Cairo in the very early hours of the morning. Arriving is somewhat tedious; first we must queue to purchase a visa from the bank branch in the airport. Then queue for immigration then through to baggage claim. When we think we are done we have to go through security on the way out. So many queues so early in the morning! When we finally 'get out' I try to buy a SIM card and eventually give up; then the adventure of negotiation with a taxi to get to the hotel.
DAY 2Jun 02 2018
On the way to the hotel we are introduced to the manic traffic of Cairo. Who knew there could be so many cars on the road so early in the morning. Ramadan has something to do with it. Plus a broken water main adds to the traffic jam. We eventually arrive to our rather grand hotel (which was built to entertain Emperor Napoleon III and Princess Eugenie) and are thankful to arrive sometime in the early hours of the morning.
After less than 5 hours sleep, it was time for an early start! After missing the window for breakfast it was time to meet up with our driver, who drove us to the hotel early in the morning. Well the driver never showed up so a new driver was procured (a bit of a rust bucket, but with good A/C).
The pyramids of Saqqara and Giza came calling. A tour of Memphis (and the little remaining ruins) pretty much drained us of what energy we had.
To keep us going we even had some water and a bit of bread in front of the locals. It’s hot, damn hot and it’s Ramadan so we will have to upset the locals a few times.
Today’s temp is 35, sunny with a bucketload of pollution.
DAY 3Jun 03 2018
Yesterday was so manic that today we have a bit of a lie in. We get up to meet the driver around 8:30 in the morning to explore Cairo. It feels like we’ve been in Cairo for days, but this is only the second morning.
Today’s agenda includes the incomparable Egyptian Museum, the heights & views of the Citadel complex, the historic souk of Khan El Khalili and Coptic Cairo.
We’re maximising every hour of our visit in Cairo, so after seeing the city we are going to Luxor.
You may think that I’m already cheating as we are taking a flight to Luxor. But in 2010 I took the train from from Cairo to Luxor so I think this leg of the trip is covered!
DAY 4Jun 04 2018
Apparently the weather here is getting better (mid-30s) although it is due to get up to the 40s over the next week.
Today we went out to the wonders of Karnak and ran around like little ants attempting to avoid the friendly security guards. Eventually the power of the mid-day sun chases us away.
All taxis in Luxor are numbered, and the newer the car the higher the number. My impatience to get going meant that we hired the first taxi driver outside of the hotel which agreed to a reasonable price. Our taxi is numbered 3 and it seems as though the taxi and driver are from a different era; possibly when power steering was a modern invention.
I’ve been to Luxor three times in my life; 1978, 2010 and now,
A lot of things have changed. There are smart phones everywhere and it is cheaper and easier to get a 4G sim with fast downloads for your phone than it is to get a hotel with decent wifi. First world problems have come to haunt me!
The interesting thing is that the culture of ‘baksheesh’ has not changed. No doubt that won’t surprise my parents who lived here for about 6 years in the 1970s, Little tips and gifts are requested at every turn. Luxor is a city that has certainly seen tourism for thousands of years (no doubt a fashionable tourist spot for Ptolemy Egypt and Rome) and they have developed tourist hunting as an art form.
DAY 5Jun 05 2018
We finally had a sleep in. No 7 am starts to the day, Of course we paid for it by going out in the hot noon-day sun. Only two things go out in the hot noon-day sun; mad dogs and Englishman.
Breakfast on the terrace is really lovely, The food here always has a tablespoon of oil, regardless of what you eat. So getting a healthy breakfast can be a challenge. Luckily the tea here is amazing; ‘yellow label’ is the tea of choice and is popular all over the Arabic speaking world. I am a coffee drinker, but here I have become a tea man (if such a thing exists).
Breakfast was marred by the chainsaws of the workers tending the trees on the hotel’s garden. Because of Ramadan and the crazy heat here they have to work really early. Considering the amount of heavy labour they put in so early, they won’t get a chance for a drink until nearly 7 pm. Tough!
After breakfast, we take a leisurely drive to the Temple of Horus in Dandera. Today we’ve upgraded our taxi to one with A/C and a triple digit number.
Dandera is a Greco-Roman temple built in the style of an ancient Egyptian temple. On the compound there is a smaller Egyptian temple which makes this site extremely ancient.
Dandera is really famous as it was favoured by Cleopatra and has one of the few pictures of Cleopatra and Caesarion. If you’ve ever seen a programme on Cleopatra, then the relief carving of her and her son is from this site. It’s truly amazing as it’s intact and visitors are even able to go on the roof.
The heat was just about bearable today so long as we stay out of the sun. I’m slowly turning bright red despite my hat and lots of sun cream.
Most of these sites have the scent of dirt and pollution (car pollution is just terrible). There is always a car horn to be heard in the background and the call to prayer is frequent and ‘in stereo’. As it is the low season and Ramadan there are no tourists about (I imagine that any tour buses would have, sensibly, come early in the morning).
All this means that we have the place to ourselves, including all the touts who were very happy to see us. I did note that the guards on site were so tired they didn’t even bother us for a tip; a first for Egypt.
DAY 6Jun 06 2018
Today is another day of exploration. The ‘hard way’ has not started yet and won’t for a few days yet.
Today we experienced a bit of Hollywood; we went to the filming site of the Mummy! I think it is called the temple of Hatshepsut or something, but whenever I see it I just think of Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz racing to reach the gates.
As we are early, we have the place entirely to ourselves again. This lasts only a few minutes until the coaches arrived, but we really made the most of our time ‘alone’ with the temple.
Afterwards we went to the Rammeseum and to Seti I Temple. Both were quiet as the tourist coaches don’t bother with these smaller sites. Aside from a new friend at the Rammeseum, we were alone to imagine it in its former glory.
We finished with a tour of the Valley of the Kings. We saw 5 tombs in all. King Tut’s (with his body on display) was really cool as the sarcophagus was unbroken and the tomb is undamaged (but relatively simple). Ramses V’s tomb was intricate and amazing with a beautiful series of painted ceilings. Seti I’s tomb was suppose to be the grandest of them all, but we didn’t have enough cash to get in as it costs £50 per person! We didn’t opt for a photo permit either as any pictures wouldn’t have done the place justice.
DAY 7Jun 07 2018
On the seventh day, we rest. After manically seeing the sites we decided to slow down a bit. Last night we had a bottle of wine so this morning we have a good sleep-in.
Unfortunately DISASTER has struck. My extensive download of music has been erased from my phone. Apparently I toggled the wrong option and all the music on my phone was deleted (but safely stored in the cloud). I’m getting into the spirit of simplification!
We went to the souk and bought matching fashionable belts. I needed one for the trip and figured being fashion conscious would really help on my journey.
After a heavy day of shopping (and sleeping) we went to the restaurant with the best view in town.
We finished the day with a ride on the Nile at dusk. Simple, yet gorgeous.
DAY 8Jun 08 2018
Today we are taking the train from Luxor to Aswan. I am extraordinarily impressed with its timeliness. It left Cairo at midnight and arrived only 10 minutes late at Luxor. Beats the trains in the U.K. The price for a 4 hour first class, air-con trip for two people? 102 Egyptian pounds or GBP 4.25. Lovely
Oops. The conductor reliably informs us that our train has mysteriously ceased to exist, that the train we are on is now a different train and we must buy tickets again. So our 102 pound tickets have magically doubled to 234 pounds. Still a bargain, but I need to toughen up my negotiation skills! A bit of Arabic would probably help.
After wandering town and organising tomorrow’s red eye to Abu Simbel (at 4:30) we’ve decided to get out of the 42 degree heat as we are wilting. Our destination, the famous Cataract Hotel
DAY 9Jun 09 2018
A very early start today; 3:45 wake-up call to take a 4:30 car to Abu Simbel. Our hotel is on an island, which makes getting to/from there an experience. But it adds time and subtracts from our sleep.
Abu Simbel was built by Ramses to scare off Nubian invaders from the south. It was discovered by an Italian in the 19th century (same chap who discovered Petra in Jordan). When the Egyptians built the Aswan dam in the 1960s they disassembled the monument and rebuilt it on higher ground; an engineering marvel.
DAY 10Jun 10 2018
The breakfast of champions.
This is the last morning with Zeynep before she returns to London. We’re having breakfast in a 500 room hotel. Did I mention we are the ONLY guests?!
A slow day today. After leaving and saying farewell to Zeynep I made my way to the Sudanese consulate. They open at 8:30 but that changed to 10 for Ramadan. They ended up opening at 10 to 10.
I heard that the process of submitting your application takes about 2 hours. Well it took exactly 2 hours. A lot of waiting occurred. Hand over passport and wait. Fill form and wait. Give pictures and wait. Pay and wait. I have to return tomorrow to pick it up, which is a welcome improvement on the usual 2-3 day turnaround!
The journey is getting started!
DAY 11Jun 11 2018
Another quiet day, another massive breakfast. The last for a while.
I returned to the Sudanese consulate and after only an hour of waiting, picked up my visa!!
Tomorrow I enter into Sudan. I have to be at the bus at 2 for a 3 am start. Crossing the border is supposed to be an all day affair, so a lot of fun is ahead of me.
There will be radio silence from me for a while, Sudan isn’t known for its fast 4G network or WiFi.
DAY 12Jun 12 2018
Today has one objective, getting into Sudan.
Crossing the border was no simple affair. After crossing via the ferry, the final few kilometres brought us to a coach queue seeking to check out of Egypt.
First step, all the washing machines, air conditioners, TVs and all other goods the Sudanese have stuffed in the coach is unpacked and x-ray’d. Then hand in passport and wait an hour for them to do something. Collect passport and wait for a new bus to be packed. Arrive on the Sudan side and repeat the process. Yay.
We arrived in Wadi Halfa at 6 pm. A 14 hour day.
I arrive in the small town of Wadi Halfa just in time to break the fast (Ramadan) with the local men. The food is simple and is communal so is shared with 6 others. I’m exhausted and incredibly dehydrated so I decide to ‘live a little’ and join in. When I drink from a communal bucket of juice I realise that I’m begging to get sick.
Happily my stomach is fine and I’m fine. Lucky me.
DAY 13Jun 13 2018
The heat is so oppressive I nearly have heat exhaustion last night. Staying hydrated is hard and it’s a real challenge travelling here. My decision to sip water to avoid using the local toilets does not appear to be the wisest of decisions.
I have a 0200 start to catch the bus to Khartoum. It leaves at 0300.
After dozens of police stops, 2 breakdowns and 1 stop for iftar (breaking of the fast) we arrived at a train tracks, in the dark in Khartoum at 2100. A long day.
The bus ride was crazy long. I was expecting 11 hours, not 18 hours! But it was surprisingly comfortable. There was air conditioning and it was cool with the blackout curtains. Unfortunately it led to claustrophobia so almost everyone spent the time drifting in and out of sleep!
We were also hit by a sandstorm. I couldn’t capture it in a picture. There was a pink hue to the sky, and it felt like an overcast day where the intensity of the sun was mitigated slightly. It was very windy and there was grit everywhere. When we arrived in Khartoum the whole city was covered in a layer of sand, including our hotel room.
I joined a group of four Chinese who are travelling as far as Tanzania (then they go to South America). I don’t like travelling after dark in Africa (although Sudan seems extremely safe) and we went to the ‘Khartoum Youth Hostel’ as it was the only location where the taxi driver knew where to go. At USD$2 a night it was very basic; none of us entertained staying a second night! You don’t want to see the shower room...
DAY 14Jun 14 2018
I’ve got to register with the police! Today’s task is a tough one as I have to run across town to register with the police. The government also require visitors travelling outside of Khartoum to get a travel permit from the Ministry of Tourism. After going to their new offices (now closed) I was sent to their new, new office and told the permit is no longer required. I hope I don’t get surprised at the border (travellers have been known to be sent back if they don’t have one).
So far I’ve been in Sudan for 48 hours and I’ve spent most of that on a bus and the rest getting permission to stay and leave.
I’m finally done with the paperwork. What does one do in Khartoum in the summer during Ramadan? If you said nothing, you’re right. The city is asleep (until evening) and the museums are closed until after Ramadan.
I found the National Museum (closed but the Egyptian temples in the courtyard are amazing) and somehow ended up in the Corinthia, Khartoum’s only 5 star hotel that kinda looks like the gherkin in London.
Sudanese people really are incredibly friendly. They have gone out of their way to help me and won’t leave (whether a taxi driver or bank manager or bus companion) until they know that I’m safe, ok and happy with where I’m trying to get to. Refreshing and wonderful.
Travellers need not suffer by lack of connectivity with the world. Getting 3G/4G data is cheap, easy and everywhere. On this occasion I picked up my SIM card at Afra mall. Which has a ice skating rink and the latest JCVD movies.
DAY 15Jun 15 2018
The end of Ramadan (Eid Mubarak) means Khartoum is even quieter than normal. It also means the call to prayer is incessant.
Like a Sunday in France, there’s not a thing to do here. Seeing the pyramids is one of the few things I’m really looking forward to doing on this trip, so I’m staying an extra day to do that. The cooler climate of Ethiopia will have to wait.
One of the highlights of Khartoum is seeing the Sufi’s of Omdurman. They are whirling dervishes which, after prayers on Friday afternoon, gather at Hamad al Neel cemetery to enter their dance-like trance.
Unfortunately most of the followers were celebrating Eid. A few came out and they were keen to talk and have their pictures taken. They were quite insistent and I obliged. If only I had a Polaroid to give them a hard copy.
Unlike those Sudanese who wear the traditional white robes, the Sufis wear green (colour of Islam) and red outfits. The chap in green/red is a Sufi and he was keen on being the best of friends! He also obsessed over each of his pictures.
Confirmed; I’m going to the Pyramids of Meroë.
DAY 16Jun 16 2018
I’ve finally managed to see the pyramids of Meroë. A 5 am start was required to miss the worst of the summer heat. Luckily, or unluckily, it was very windy which created a sandstorm and helped blot out the sun.
Aside from Meroë, there a number of other ruins (pyramids, temples, etc) in Sudan.
Meroë are the best preserved, although you’ll note that the tops are badly damaged. That is the work of an Italian treasure hunter, Giuseppe Ferlini, in the 19th century. In the first pyramid he demolished he discovered gold and other precious funeral items. Encouraged, he destroyed many more (some totally to the foundations). He didn’t find anything further after his initial success.
Now that I’ve seen the pyramids, I’ll make my way to Ethiopia tomorrow. It will take two days to travel to Gondar.
DAY 17Jun 17 2018
I’m finally on my way to Ethiopia. I have two ‘choices’ of getting there:
1. Take bus from Khartoum to Gallabat, the Sudanese border town. Sleep in a lakonda (an open courtyard with, if I’m lucky, cots). Cross the border at 8 am when the border opens.
2. Take bus from Khartoum to Al Qadarif, a large town a few hours from border. Sleep in a basic hotel, get up early to take bus to Gallabat and cross the border in the morning.
I’m taking option 2. The border closes at 6 pm as it is illegal for buses to drive after dark in Ethiopia. A good law no doubt as the roads probably aren’t the safest and I don’t like arriving after dark.
So tomorrow is the fun of crossing the border and navigating country three.
Change of plans. It appears that Sudanese friendliness has trumped my plans.
When buying my ticket they asked where I was ultimately going. “Ethiopia” I said. So they went ahead and booked a ticket and put me on a bus which goes all the way to Gallabat. Hmm. So what the hell, I’ll take option 1 and sleep in a lakonda. It promises to be an interesting night ahead...
Arrived in Gallabat and registered with the police. In the process of doing so a moth the size of my hand landed on the floor. Anywhere else and I would have taken a picture (pictures near, let alone in, police stations are a no-no here).
Afterwards we went to the ‘hotel’. Pretty dire. Luckily I was expecting this so I’m not too bothered about it. I might change my tune if that moth visits me...
DAY 18Jun 18 2018
Awake with dawn. A decent nights sleep. There was a thunderstorm and a bit of light rain last night which added to the atmosphere. Only a few mosquitoes visited but I was prepared; my clothes have mosquito repellent embedded and I’ve got a nifty mosquito ‘tube’ too (that thing I wore at the pyramids) so my sleep was relatively undisturbed.
I’m also tightly controlling my water and food intake so I can continue my life without discovering how bad the toilets are here...
I think the border opens at 8 am so I have a few hours to kill before getting my injera fix.
Only an hour to get through Sudanese and Ethiopian customs. Apparently that is quick. I’m pleased. I expected them to open at 8 but they opened before 7. I’m on a roll...
The route to Gondar is uneventful. I had to switch buses, which was unexpected, and had the opportunity to start my negotiation skills again. This is the land of firanji rates; rates for foreigners are higher and there is no way to argue against it.
I haven’t eaten anything all day, so I need some caffeine to keep me going. Job 1, after coffee is getting a SIM card for my phone. More paperwork is required for a SIM card than anywhere else. The network is strictly controlled here; there is only one carrier.
Dinner time. Finally I have the time and opportunity to have a proper meal. I go to ‘Four Sisters’ and it is the best Ethiopian food I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot. The injera (a type of unique fermented flat bread) wasn’t sour at all, which apparently is the hallmark of quality injera. Who knew...
DAY 19Jun 19 2018
Despite the quality of the hotel, last night was sleepless. Due to a religious event (I’m still investigating which one) a priest spent yesterday, last night and this morning chanting and occasionally preaching via loudspeaker. Whilst driving me insane and being incredibly annoying, I have to admire their stamina. Maybe they take turns?
So the chanting that kept me awake was to celebrate the holy day of St Michael. The celebrations have lasted the entire day.
I’ve captured some amazing video of the celebration. Unfortunately the mobile and WiFi network in Ethiopia is abysmal so there is no chance of sharing it.
The Royal Palace of Gondor. As I’ve been to Ethiopia before I’m not going to the ‘must see’ places that would blow your mind. I’ve already done that and am focussing on the places I’ve missed the first time.
All the castles/palaces in these pictures are Ethiopian and are not the product of European invasion. This is an indigenous culture building unique fortification with European and Arabic architectural influence.
If you really want to blow your mind, Google ‘Lalibela’, ‘Monasteries of Bahir Dar’ and ‘Axum’. All indigenous.
Today has been oddly difficult for me. As I’m still getting into the rhythm of travelling, today was a ‘I f’ing hate this’ day. In Egypt I was a walking wallet, ready to be emptied. In Sudan I was a stranger in need of hospitality. In Ethiopia I’m a novelty to entertain. I’ve been here before so it should be no surprise, but after a sleepless night I find it hard to enjoy the city. Being a source of amusement for the greater Gondar population wore thin awfully quick.
Luckily Ethiopian wine came to the rescue to revive my spirits. Tomorrow I’m off to Addis Ababa. A very long journey ahead.
DAY 20Jun 20 2018
Today is rather uneventful, its another day of travelling by bus; from 4 am until 7 pm.
Unfortunately today’s coach ride isn’t quite as enjoyable as those in Sudan. Although there are no potholes, the road surface is uneven and daily life takes place on the road. The driver is determined to cover as much distance as possible as quickly as possible and I spend the first few hours meditating and hoping to survive the coach trip.
Dinner was a bit of American fast food. Its been raining since I arrived in Addis so I wanted something close and convenient. It was actually pretty good!
DAY 21Jun 21 2018
A day of rest. The trip thus far seems to be consisting of epic bus journeys that are utterly exhausting followed by a day or two to recover.
Today I bought a ticket on Ethiopia’s new Chinese built train which goes north-east. I’m hoping thay the journey is easier and smoother than another 12 hour bus ride.
Unfortunately all the train stations on the new line are all far out of town; so it may turn into a mini-adventure just getting to it.
Intermingled with all the errands I drink a lot of coffee to keep me going; coffee here is amazing.
DAY 22Jun 22 2018
Another day of rest. Coffee, more coffee and juice! The juice here is great.
Tomorrow I take the new train to Dire Dawa and transfer to Harar to rendezvous with some crazy guys. Stay tuned...
DAY 23Jun 23 2018
This morning I take the train! It’s so new that the road to get here isn’t on any maps. The staff wear uniforms and look like glamorous air stewards. Easy jazz is playing in the background.
This place has an air of efficiency. Everything is so clean and new. The ticket counters work. Baggage check is a bit too thorough though, they even asked me to open up my toothbrush holder as it looked suspicious. My power bank looked extra ominous.
The station was built in 2016 and trains only started running last year. It was built by the Chinese, who still run and manage it (although the stewards are Ethiopian).
There is a single track to Djibouti so it runs in one direction each day. So tomorrow it returns.
The station, train and tracks are brand new, but that infrastructure hasn’t translated into an operating system after all. Given that there is only one track and one train then congestion isn’t an issue; maybe we’ve hit a goat? We’ve stopped half-way to my destination (Dire Dawa). 6 hours in, and we are only half way there. The scheduled arrival time is in 90 minutes; I am beginning to think we’re going to be a bit late. I think I’ll return to Addis by bus....
A rumour has surfaced on the reason for the delay. A few weeks ago a local was killed by the train. The local villagers have put stones on the tracks to stop the trains and claim compensation. I am guessing it’s tough negotiations as we’ve been stuck for well over 3 hours.
I do question the narrative though. At no point has this train gone ‘fast’ so it is doubtful that a person was killed. It is more likely that livestock was lost and the owners are demanding compensation. A lacklustre experience thus far. We are unlikely to arrive before dark. Yay
More drama. Parents have let their children play on the train as if it were a playground. It seems well tolerated and fellow passengers also ‘look after’ the kids. Well this isn’t a Health and Safety compliant train and a kid cut his foot badly. As we are in the middle of nowhere this has resulted in angst with the Chinese conductor (who didn’t seem pleased to be the focus of so much attention and has since disappeared).
After several hours, the child is off for medical attention (I assume). I’ve also been informed that the tracks have been cleared and I have also had my financial contribution refunded. We still haven’t moved so we’ll see what happens.
Arrived! Too late for onward travel to Harar. Dire dawa is the third largest city, so I’ve lots of options. I’ve found a local hotel but it’s too late for food. Wandering the street (but not straying far) I’ve found a kiosk for some vanilla wafers. A local night club has the World Cup on. So vanilla wafers and beer are for dinner.
Thunderstorms, rain and a blackout follows. Enjoying dinner whilst listening to rain splatter on the tin roof? Priceless. Great evening. I’ve no idea who won the match.
DAY 24Jun 24 2018
Yesterday there was a bombing in Addis Ababa at a political rally for the new prime minister. This morning I ran into multiple support rally’s for the prime minister. A lot of unemployed young men participating which makes it far more dangerous. As we leave town, I note multiple other buses bringing in more unemployed youth. Luckily I managed to avoid the attention of the crowd.
Finally, a trip that was quick (90 minutes) and easy. Arrived in Harar, found the hotel easily and settled in. Walked around the old town. A lot of homeless people, which is a great surprise. This is a khat/miraa area so maybe that has something to do with it.
DAY 25Jun 25 2018
An easy going day. I’m determined to see the hyena men of Harar so I’m staying an extra day in Harar to ensure that happens.
The day is filled with coffee, beer and burgers. I can’t eat doro wot and kitfo everyday!
I’m reading ‘The State of Africa’ by Martin Meredith and make good professional. Apparently there are problems in most post-independence African countries.
Disaster. The heavens have opened up and a nasty tropical thunderstorm begins. It lasts for an hour, it’s the longest and heaviest rain I’ve experienced since arriving in Ethiopia. It doesn’t bode well for tonight.
The rain has stopped, although the water hasn’t had a chance to run off or dry up. I don’t care, I’m chasing those hyenas.
There are two sites. The northern site is more recent, closer to my hotel but has fewer hyenas visiting. I went there last night, met the locals but not the hyenas.
So I’m off to the Eastern site. It’s further away, more secluded (which makes me nervous when travelling in the dark) but a bigger pack of hyenas visit.
I show up to the Eastern site. Success! Hyenas. Disaster! The hyena man is nowhere to be seen. They hang out in a field, their eyes glowing from my torch. They laugh a few times, so no doubting they are hyenas. I hang around for 15 minutes or so. The man is nowhere to be seen and a few enquiries reveals he’s not at home.
I attract some ‘friends’ wanting to help. We go this way and that, in the dark to no avail. Luckily he is harmless but I wasn’t entirely sure...
I jump into a tuk-tuk, tip my friend for services rendered and decide to race across town to see the other site I visited last night. I figure it’s too late for them but what else do I have to do?
I roll up and four or five hyenas are in a open area which is adjacent to a slaughterhouse. We are still within a ‘shantytown’ neighbourhood. My young tuk-tuk driver is not happy with my request that he waits for me. I offer him a shed-load of money to wait; not a chance! He takes the fare and gets the hell out of there.
My generous offer to the driver emboldens the hyena man to demand twice as much for the show. This is the only reason I’m in Harar so I grumble then pay up.
Unfortunately the person taking my picture didn’t quite get the hang of the camera so I only have one decent shot. I feed them by putting meat at the end of a stick held in my hand and put the stick in my mouth. The stick is only a few inches long so I get close. The hyena guy tries to get one to jump on my back; it doesn’t but snaps the meat just a few inches from my ear.
It wasn’t a scary experience at all. Hanging out in the same place the night before I saw little kids wondering around unescorted; so clearly they aren’t a threat (these ones aren’t at least!). I also notice a determined cat amongst them trying to get some scraps. The hyenas trampled it once or twice but otherwise ignore it and when it would make an easy snack. They clearly know a good thing when they see it!
DAY 26Jun 26 2018
Having committed I staying another night, but yet seeing the hyenas yesterday, I’ve got nothing to do.
A quick check of the ‘must see’ museums reveals that one is closed for some kind of refurbishment. The second consists of two rooms.
Happily, I can spend the day drinking coffee, beer and eating. I’ve made a massive dent in my book and hope to finish it shortly. It’s a 700 page beast which makes a mockery of my ‘ultra-light’ packing methods.
DAY 27Jun 27 2018
A rather uneventful day. More travelling by bus. Not too much happened, which is a great thing.
I arrive in Addis and immediately try to buy a bus ticket going south for Friday. Unfortunately they are all sold out. There are other bus companies, but it makes me a bit anxious.
Dinner is schwarma, a nice change. I finish it with Tej, honey wine, at a local Tej bar. Sleep comes easily.
DAY 28Jun 28 2018
I need to get that bus ticket! Moving around Addis is an exercise of avoiding pickpockets and gangs of street kids working together. I may have to go to a few bus offices in a notorious area and, in the worst case, hit up the long distance bus station which is terrible for petty crime.
I decide to splash out, I hire a taxi for the day so I don’t have to repeatedly negotiate with different drivers. Happily my first try is successful, I have my bus ticket. So what to do with the day and a driver?
I go to the Red Terror Museum which commemorates victims of the Derg.
I find time to buy a new novel, shop for some jewellery for Zeynep, drink coffee at the famous Tomoco and visit a church. The heavens pour down. I decide to give up on ‘seeing’ Addis, which I’ve seen before and saw last week. I go to the cinema and see Sicario 2. By the time I leave the cinema I’ve forgotten where I am. Ethiopia! I remember now.
Tomorrow morning I head for the border. It will take two days and an additional day to get to Meru.
The hard way!
DAY 29Jun 29 2018
Day one of getting fro the Kenyan border. No easy feat. 6 am bus to Hawassa. Transfer to a mini-bus continue my journey. As I know best, armed with a map, I fob off the overpriced tuk-tuk to the ‘new bus station’. A sweaty 20 min walk reveals my map is very wrong. Some communication problems and a tuk-tuk ride later and I arrive at the right station.
The road turns to shit in no time. The road looks like a giant potato pealer has taken off the tarmac and left the rough stone foundation intact. We arrive to Dilla just in time for the heavens to open up. I get soaked and shelter with some locals.
Apparently the road is so bad the bus to Moyale is no longer running. So I will have to split it into three stages. I have a tough understanding but we’ll see if that pans out tomorrow.
DAY 30Jun 30 2018
Today this blog is at risk of loosing its PG rating.
Another early start. Up at 10 to 5 to catch the buses which are rumoured to leave at 6. After managing to flag down a tuk-tuk I hijacked two ladies ride to the station. The driver was happy, he got paid twice.
The rumour was right, the bus station (at this stage it is only a very muddy field) is a hive of activity. Nothing goes direct to Moyale (despite my research) as the ‘road is bad’. I’ve narrowed missed the bus to Yabelo, which would cut the trip into two parts instead of three.
I squeeze into the back of the bus. In the process of getting my bag into the back, it falls to the ground and instantly has a travel-worn mud speckled look. Nice.
Off we go! The road is still terrible. Again like the top-layer of tarmac is missing. I manage to notice that the pot holes are becoming pond sized; some large enough to swallow the van whole.
The Nissan van (exactly the same as a Kenyan matatu) is packed with a 19 peeps. In the old days I wouldn’t have taken something so tight and would have waited for the next one. But I get the impression that they are either desperately happy to see me or have a limited route run.
About 90 min into the journey we veer off the main road. It’s that bad. We take tracks going through villages. Going to be a long day...
It gets worse, we’ve rejoined the main road but we’re at the end of a queue. Road block? Police checkpoint? Accident?
Worse, the road isn’t even paved in this section and it’s in a ravine.
The big trucks have churned the road into pure mud. All traffic is stopped. The driver kicks us out and gives us half our money back. I take it the plan is to walk to the other side of the jam and join vans which are also stuck and must turn around.
As I walk through the muck, I see there is no chance to get through that road today. Some heavy duty trucks are in the thick of it. Given the constant downpours, the mud is likely to stay.
Van two is a large affair. A big rural truck which is really comfortable but slow. We lumber along and pick up villagers going our direction.
The truck decided it’s not going to take us all the way. At a small town the driver strikes a ‘deal’ with a Nissan van to take us all to Marayam. There’s no other option do we squeeze into the mini-van. I can’t count all the people but manage to get to 23. I know I’ve missed one or two. I don’t even get a seat, I get a wooden box between the sliding door and the seats. I doubt myself lucky as there are three people in from of me in a crouching position. We carry one for an hour or so. The road is still terrible, but not the muddy morass of before.
Due to the lack of space they’ve put my bag on the roof. It’s raining. So now I’ve a muddy and soaked bag.
Next stage to Yabelo is another mini-van. The road is better, but a lot of hills and switchbacks make it challenging. I’m crammed in the back in another overloaded van. I’ve fought to keep my wet bag with me, but now it’s stuck on my feet. There’s no space to adjust. When the tout asks for money, I’m elbowing or being elbowed to get to my pocket. My feet loose feeling. I start thinking of DVT; if you can get it on a plane then why not a crappy crammed bus?
We arrive at Yabelo without incident. Before we reach the (rather empty) bus station there is a flurry of yelling by another bus. They are leaving for Moyale. I and a few passengers get out, the tout races us across the street and knocks over a woman in the process. What the heck is the rush?!
We leave in a larger van, I get a decent seat. My bag even has a bit of space. The road is a miracle, straight without hills or turns. It’s flat and level, without the awkward bumps that make a speeding vehicle want to fly.
Somehow we arrive in Moyale about 90 min earlier than I expected. After such a horrific first part to the journey, I was preparing to take two days to reach Moyale from Dilla.
I had planned to stay on the Ethiopian side, but I’m exhausted and figure I might as well push it. I go through a massive hall for Ethiopian immigration. It’s empty, just me. I get stamped out. I get to the Kenyan side. It looks like the same builders have been employed as it’s identical. Empty but for one other person. Paperwork completed, I enter Kenya!!
DAY 31Jul 01 2018
Another day and another early start. I’m up before 4:30 to be at the departure point for 5. We leave around 5:45.
The coach is a good old Scania and feels like a coach chassis with a bespoke body on top. I’ve no idea why these are so popular in Kenya. The coaches in Sudan and Ethiopia are Chinese and seemed purpose built and nicer.
The road is amazing. Long, straight stretches with not a pothole to be seen. We have to stop at numerous police checks and have to get out twice for ID checks.
The coach is going to Nairobi via Nyeri, so I have to leave it at Isiolo and switch to a matatu to take me the final leg to Meru.
It all goes without much hiccup and I arrive by 3 pm. Only problem is that Meru is hardly recognisable!
I quickly meet up with some old friends. We head to his ‘man-cave’ for beers, football and some impromptu nyama choma (roast meat aka BBQ).
I’ve been struck with food poisoning!! I spend the night on the toilet with joyous liquids coming out of both ends.
After avoiding any mishaps on the journey thus far being back in Kenya has made me comfortable and drop my hygiene standards. I’ve been immediately punished for getting overly comfortable.
DAY 32Jul 02 2018
The worst of my illness is over by mid morning. No more visits to the toilet so I go and explore Meru. The place has changed! More mega-supermarket than I could ever imagine. Things that were hard to find in Nairobi in 2001 can now be found in Meru.
The place is also inundated with people. It’s crowded! But there are no street children; Meru was famous for the high density of street children. Where have they been pushed too?
I take it easy, but can’t help indulge in chocolate, Oreos and chocolate milk. Dinner is plain rice and beef stew.
DAY 33Jul 03 2018
What’s wrong with my stomach???
From 1:30 -7 am I’m a permanent resident on the toilet. It is endless, I didn’t realise I had so much in me! I must be dehydrated as I’ve passed nothing but water. The night is much worse than before.
I drift to sleep at 7:30 and have breakfast around 9:30. Back to bed, after a toilet visit, and sleep until 1:30.
A visit to the chemist gets some antibiotics. By evening I’m better. I visit an old friend for dinner. Despite the lavish spread, I’m on toast and plain rice. I dabble with desert and get paranoid then cream will set me off again. Luckily I’m good!
DAY 34Jul 04 2018
Today I’ve visited more friends. Anzar, the chef from my first night, has gathered a group to head to Nanyuki for drinks. Alas only three of us ever make it. After going to Nanyuki in the evening we head to a lodge. As this is in the shadow of Mt Kenya it’s unbelievably cold! I’m literally freezing my nuts off! A judge fire keeps me warm. I’m a good boy and don’t drink too much. I’m on antibiotics and I’m unconvinced that my stomach has recovered.
Going home I have a heart attack, Anzar insists on driving like a lunatic. Driving in the dark is never my favourite, driving drunk in Africa is a really stupid idea. We get home ok but frankly I’ve had enough of it and I’m done with evening ‘adventures’ in Meru. I feel like Danny Glover “I’m too old for this shit”.
DAY 35Jul 05 2018
Shaba National Reserve
Dipak and I arrange to leave in the morning to have lunch at a safari lodge. True to our alcoholic past and despite the annoyance of the night before we start having beers quite early. Maybe I’m not too old to make the same mistakes again and again...
Getting into the park is tricky as I’m not a resident and it’s really not justified to spend $60 (or whatever charge) just to go to a lodge to eat. We drive to a few scenic bars on a river whilst looking for a way in. We spy some crocodiles and eventually find a gate where the entrance fee is more reasonable. Of course the warden is just pocketing the money so it’s all a bit shady.
Lunch is great, steak and more beer. Crocodiles, baboons, lots of lizards and monkeys. I think I’ve reached my limit on Tusker. It’s not exactly a good beer and my stomach is struggling with the quantity of gas it produces. There is a rumour of craft beer in Kenya, but unfortunately it’s very elusive.
DAY 36Jul 06 2018
A moderate start. After waking up and having breakfast I say goodbye to Dipak. I find the bus stage (which I never used when I lived here) and discover that the buses are nicer and less crammed than the days of old.
By 9:40 we leave. The road is good, but the towns along the road have grown. So we are constantly slowing for people, traffic or speed bumps. What used to take 3 hours on a slightly scary speed taxi now takes about 5 1/2 in a safe and comfortable bus.
Nairobi has better highways. But not enough of them as there are throngs of people everywhere. After alighting the bus I head to the Hilton which is nearby. I try using Uber but the traffic heading to Westlands is so bad they ask me to cancel the booking. I use the Hilton taxi service as I’m not sure I trust the guys on the street; the price is even reasonable. Downtown was a dodgy area 20 years ago and still has the same vibe. Fighting rush-hour traffic we arrive at the airb&b flat I’ve rented. It’s amazing and in a quiet area in a good part of town. My own space for a few days. Heaven and a haven.
After settling I head to the Sarit Centre, which I knew from the old days. Mango juice and a Black Forest cake later, and I’m good! The mall hasn’t changed much and I get a weird sense of dejavu. I decide to see a movie; Ant Man 2. Wait for the dvd.
DAY 37Jul 07 2018
Today I had a proper lie in. No noise in the hallway, screeching in the corridors or housekeeping ‘kicking me out’. No need to rush to eat breakfast either. Pure luxury.
There is a coffee machine in the apartment so I make a huge pot f coffee and sip whilst enjoying the solitude.
At 5 pm I have a ‘date’ with an old Peace Corps friend who lives in Nairobi. We meet at a ‘hip’ bar for drinks. Catching up is great and we swap stories. Sadly I can’t stomach Tusker any more so I treat myself to a lot of red wine. After Chris leaves I have a pizza, it’s actually amazing. About a minute after he leaves I realise we’ve not had a picture taken of us together. Completely forgot! Unforgivable in an age of social media; how do I prove we actually met?!
I also note that Chris and I missed watching England win their football match. Happily we won!
I watch the first half of the Russia and Croatia game before going home. Getting into the taxi I find myself asking to go to Klubhouse for old times sake. It’s bigger than before and finishing the match on a massive screen is amazing. It’s a fantastic game! After it’s over a reggae singer takes to the stage. I decide it’s time to go home and make a retreat!
DAY 38Jul 08 2018
Nairobi is both amazing and incredibly boring. It’s nice to be in a city, with a lot of choices for restaurants, cinema and shops. Having Uber at my fingertips also makes travelling much better. The problem is that there are only so many restaurants and malls I can go to without going crazy.
The flat I’m staying in is lovely. It’s a nice break from hotels and housekeeping. I even discovered that the tv has Netflix. Dangerous.
Today I discovered ‘Two Rivers’ shopping mall. It’s absolutely massive, but there are a lot of empty shops. I managed to get a haircut, which was timely.
In the evening I had a big burger at a place called Urban Burger. As I pay it dawns On me that it costs more than Byron’s in London and not quite as good (but still tasty). I may have misjudged timing as I bought a ticket to see Jurassic World 2. Perhaps I shouldn’t have bought it 3 hours in advance as I’ve circled Westgate mall about 4 times.
DAY 39Jul 09 2018
No cereal for breakfast today. I’ve decided to go to Artcaffé for breakfast. Wise choice.
I also decided to approach the trip slightly differently. I’m unlikely to come back this way anytime soon and some countries I’ll never see if I don’t do so now.
So I’m going to leverage local flights to see more places, particularly when it causes a logistical nightmare. So I’m going to fly to Rwanda, travel by bus to Uganda and figure out my next step from there. I’ll have to backtrack on that journey and I need to manage my appetite for marathon bus journeys.
Another day another movie; Tag. Really funny, most enjoyable movie I’ve seen thus far. Dinner is seafood, I’m really strategically planning my meals now. Ignorantly I’ve hit happy hour, so a second glass of wine has mysteriously arrived. Yum
I’m eating too much but I don’t think I’ll really have choices until South Africa. Plus I know where to go in Nairobi. I do feel bad for my lack of participation in cultural activities, but I lack the motivation to see the museums again (I suspect they haven’t changed since thy were first constructed) and I’m not interested in seeing the zoo, I mean animal sanctuaries. Time to move on I think...
DAY 40Jul 10 2018
For breakfast I went hipster. Thank god for taxi apps. I’ve gone to a hipster hideaway for breakfast, which I never would have found otherwise. Delicious. I have to confess, they have the best coffee in Nairobi thus far.
Dinner at the urbane Urban Eatery. I’m lucky to get in, World Cup semi-finals mean all tables are taken.
DAY 41Jul 11 2018
The final morning before flying to Rwanda. I feel the need to splurge on good food one final time.
So this morning is French; Le Grenier à Pain. I’ve definitely over ordered but I’ll be a good boy for the rest of the week.
A new update! Best coffee in Nairobi is at Le Grenier à Pain. Unfortunately they don’t get best breakfast award or a good service award.
That’s still with the Wasp and Sprout and then Artcaffe. Unfortunately the coffee at Artcaffe was awful; which is unfortunate as they are close to where I am staying.
I’m staying in another Airbnb; partially because of price and due to the luxury of solitude. It’s not as nice as the Nairobi flat. But it’s got better water pressure and a nicer view.
Another bonus is that it is above a tapas restaurant. Strange right? It’s a converted house in a very quiet neighbourhood. I take a risk; I have octopus and mushroom balls. They are really good!
DAY 42Jul 12 2018
Today and tomorrow will be interesting. The first new country since the Sudan, but I’m intentionally avoiding exploring the tourist bits. Why? Lynn (Chinese backpacker) I met crossing the Egypt/Sudan border and going to Khartoum (so two days of excitement) has kept in touch. He’s flying from Ethiopia to Rwanda so we are going to travel together for a bit. Our plans are vague, but I’ve promised not to see the (few) sites of Kigali until he arrives tomorrow.
Even better news is that the next stage of the route is beginning to firm up in my head. Rough draft to be provided soon. I’ve still got 6 weeks to travel with before arriving in Johannesburg.
DAY 43Jul 13 2018
Another day. Lynn arrives tonight so tomorrow is a busy day and we switch this lacklustre apartment for a 2 bedroom house.
A visit to ‘Hotel Rwanda’ and the genocide museum and purchasing a bus ticket to Kampala. God knows what we’re going to do Sunday!
I’ve decided no food pictures today, although I’ve eaten well!
You will note the lack of big buildings. They exist, but it’s very much a low-rise city. The hills make the tall buildings seem bigger. The density of hills and the lack of a river, lake or other focal point means that there isn’t a city centre so this places requires a car as it is so spread out.
I visited the post office and skirted around ‘Hotel Rwanda’ yesterday. A very quiet and empty area. I discovered afterwards that it was considered ‘downtown’. Yikes
I’ve mostly been walking as my pastime is eating so I might as well get exercise. The weather is warm and sunny. The first time since Sudan that the sun is a concern, so the hat has returned as a regular fixture.
Rather annoyingly there are lots of tiny flying insects here. The mosquitoes are tiny, ear buzzing bastards. Not the first experience with them on this trip. What I find peculiar about them is that they are so small and fast moving that I can’t find them to kill ‘em. I only catch a glimpse of them before they disappear and bode their time for the next fly by. Cock is a must here.
DAY 44Jul 14 2018
Lynn arrived in the wee hours this morning. After catching up we went to bed. Upon waking up we transferred to a new Airbnb. It’s a huge house with a veranda. Wow.
We went to the Genocide memorial museum. I expected it to be impactful but was really surpassed by how professionally the museum and displays are. Impressive whilst so depressing. Given how bad times were in 1994 and the aftermath, the development of Kigali is miraculous. A clear demonstration of what Kenya could be if they weren’t so damn corrupt. After we go to the Hotel Des Mille Collines (aka Hotel Rwanda); very nice. We have lunch, wander the empty streets of Kigali and make our way back ‘home’.
There is a TV but the World Cup is not on. No matter as I thought the England vs Belgium match was much later and by the time I looked for it on TV the game was into injury time on the second half. At 2-0 to Belgium I don’t feel bad about missing it.
I think the Cock worked. There are fewer mosquitoes although I’m not sure it’s entirely due to Cock. The bed has an amazing mosquito net; the largest I’ve ever seen and it’s very effective and not suffocating in the least.
DAY 45Jul 15 2018
Today was a leisurely day. Lynn has been on the go for over a month and flew from Ethiopia, which is an exhausting country. He informs me this is the first time he has actually relaxed since leaving Egypt. Kigali is very straightforward and this house is so calm and secluded, I wish I was staying here for the entire week!
After a long sleep in, we are up before 10. He has brought coffee from Ethiopia which we sample. It’s very good.
After reader bag in the balcony we decide to go off for Korean food. After going down the wrong street we discover the oldest Chinese restaurant in Kigali and he can’t resist proper Chinese food. The Chinese influence in Africa can be measured by the huge number of Chinese here; and hence an ever increasing infrastructure of restaurants and hotels which cater for them.
Lunch is good and we the. Heard back via Kigali Heights, which is the only ‘mall’ here. I dare to live dangerously and have the vanilla brownie milkshake. A dangerous choice given the bus trip to Uganda tomorrow.
I get a bottle of wine at the mall for the terrace. The terrace is so nice I don’t want to mess with waiting 90 minutes for the World Cup final.
DAY 46Jul 16 2018
Interesting start to the day. We caught a taxi to the coach station. Only thing is that the taxi drivers kids were in the car for their school drop-off. Our arrival send these two adorable girls (maybe 3 and 5) into absolute hysterics. They cried all the way to the school. The oldest bolted and went straight to a teacher. The youngest stopped crying and shook our hands before leaving. I’m sure they won’t forget today!
As with all bus trips in Africa a ‘short’ route takes no less than 12 hours. t least an hour of it was navigating the traffic of Kampala.
So far Kampala is much bigger than Kigali and much smaller than Nairobi. A happy medium.
After arriving at the hotel (corporate apartments) much hilarity ensued. They put us in one bedroom apartment with a double bed. Hmm. Not going to work. After much arguing and an up charge, we get a nice two bed apartment. Thank god!
DAY 47Jul 17 2018
I seem to wake up fairly early on holiday. I’m up at seven. Lynn is still fast asleep. By 9 I decide to go out and get a local SIM card for my phone. A quick trip next door gets that taken care of.
Upon my return we have breakfast!
Unfortunately my SIM doesn’t work after an hour. Something isn’t right. I join Lynn at the mobile shop. The queue has grown considerably to a two hour wait!
Whilst waiting I leave and go to the post office and buy stamps. Then I buy postcards and return to the queue. I fill them out and return to the post office to send them. I return to the queue. We finally get it sorted out; at least I was able to use the time well!
We hop in an Uber (prime reason 1 to get a local SIM) and head to the national museum. Surprisingly good. After we head to the nearby mall. Lynn has a manic desire for KFC. I have my first KFC bucket in over twenty gears. Tasty. I’ll wait another 20 for the next one.
Wondering around the mall Lynn has his second craving; a pedicure and foot massage. What the hell, I might as well try it out...
DAY 48Jul 18 2018
After hearing about the Rolex, I’ve decided I’ve got to try it.
Unfortunately I’m not hungry! But this is my chance, I shall have to take one for the team in the name of exploration.
I discover a French Patisserie and test the coffee and pastry. Very good indeed. So good I’m taking a vow of being carb-free for a period of time. I’m sure it will last for a bit...
DAY 49Jul 19 2018
Another bus in the morning. I believe this comes from Kigali so there is a high probability it will be quite late.
The station is an open compound surrounded by shops and ‘dukas’ (shop shacks). I’m surprised they have a covered waiting areas. The touts selling stuff, from chai (milky tea) to radios are exceedingly polite. Not what I expected at a bus station. Perhaps it’s because of he hour?
The bus is late by only 80 minutes. It’s a bit old, but the biggest shocker is that we have little TV screens, like on a plane. Would you be surprised if they don’t work!? Not a flicker of life.
Crossing the border is one of the fastest and easiest experiences thus far. A mere feet separates the Ugandan and Kenyan immigration desks. The whole process only takes a few minutes although I note that Uganda was concerned to see my Yellow Fever certificate on the way out, but didn’t bother with it on the way in.
I knew it was going to be a long trip when we arrived at Kisumu around 3:30. For those who don’t know, Kisumu is on Lake Victoria and considerably closer to Kampala than Nairobi.
Around 10:30 I managed to get dropped in Westlands, a posh neighbourhood in Nairobi. Thank god as the bus heads to River Road, a notorious area for pickpockets and worse.
My hotel is just next to where I stayed before. I knew I would be late arriving and trying to get keys to an airb&b apartment might have turned into a palaver. To be honest, after 2 weeks of apartments I’m kinda looking forward to a hotel. Everything is provided and staff are on hand to ‘serve’. It also means I don’t have to go out and eat a 10,000 calorie breakfast.
DAY 50Jul 20 2018
Today is a day of rest and planning.
The hotel breakfast is quite satisfying and the coffee is excellent. I hand off my dirty laundry to be washed and head out. I can’t seem to help waking up early, even when there is no need for it.
I find a nearby cafe to read Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Kim’. I’ve read three books already (one a monster at 700+ pages). I realise that Zanzibar will give me further opportunities to read so I pick up another book. I’m not sure about whether it’s a winner, it’s a book about networks throughout history (seriously).
I’ve done my best to avoid overeating. A coffee, mango juice (my favourite) and a sandwiches; it’s a problem I never dreamt of on this trip. So I retire early (staying out inevitably means another meal, another drink or a beer). I have a nap and start planning out the rest of the trip. I’ve a clear vision to Victoria Falls but am unsure about which direction to take after. The internet at the hotel is blazingly fast; the best so far!
DAY 51Jul 21 2018
Although we left an hour late, the road to the border is amazing and we arrive in no time. The border office is really nice although the process of getting a Tanzanian visa is more complicated than necessary! It involves a form, running to the bank for a receipt of payment then jointing another queue. Happily it doesn’t take long to go through. Waiting for the bus to go through and load up takes another hour or so. Yikes.
Unfortunately there is no fancy ‘Welcome to Tanzania’ sign. Mf Meru is shrouded in clouds. You’ll have to take my word that it’s there.
I do recall that 11 years ago I crossed this same border. It was a simple building (a big shack). As with everything else, this border is unrecognisable and is a huge complex now.
After arriving to the hotel I dash out to get some Tanzanian money. I also need to get a local SIM card for my phone and onward ticket to Dar Es Salaam. It takes a bit longer than expected but I manage to get it all taken care of.
Next is revisiting Arusha. The old ‘centre’ (roundabout with clock tower) looks unchanged but nearly all the shops I remember are gone.
DAY 52Jul 22 2018
Dar es Salaam
The bus to Dar Es Salaam is at 6 today. I ditched Modern Coast bus company as their bus goes from Nairobi to Dar in one go. So although I broke my ticket up to stay overnight in Arusha, taking them would result in a midnight or 1 am arrival. Not ideal.
So I’ve opted for ‘Happy Nation Express’. It’s only semi-luxury. The bus seems brand new, by far the newest I’ve ever taken in Africa. Unfortunately they’ve packed the seats in like a Ryan air flight. If I was any taller I don’t think I could squeeze in. The ride goes smoothly though.
In taking the bus I get to see the countryside. What I’m most surprised by is that the towns along the way look like Kenya 20 years ago (but not like Kenya today). Strange sense of dejavue as the massive, but localised, construction spree in Kenya hasn’t spread to many Tanzanian towns.
We arrive at the bus station, on the outskirts of town, just before 7. I hop in a dilapidated taxi to get to my hotel in good time.
DAY 53Jul 23 2018
Finally a morning without having to wake early for an errand or a bus. I slept like a baby due to the wonderful combination of a comfy bed, AC and a ceiling fan. That ‘white noise’ will knock me out every time.
Dar seems like an interesting city. A mashup of Mombasa and Nairobi; if what they were years ago. Feels safe to walk on the streets (but probably isn’t, but that’s not stopped me from doing it anyway) and I don’t feel inundated by people. What I do note is a significant increase in backpackers. They seems to be everywhere. Arusha is the safari hub for Tanzania so its understandable, but they are all over Dar Es Salaam too. From what I’ve seen on social media, their numbers increase from here to South Africa.
My primary task is to buy a ticket to Zambia. My first class sleeper ticket to Zambia costs a fortune; 106,000 Tanzanian shillings. In dollars it’s a bit cheaper at $46.50. I’ve had to start gunning in dollars as so many hotels and trips are priced in dollars and not in the local currencies. The train is the TAZARA which leaves Dar Es Salaam on a Friday afternoon and arrived Sunday afternoon. It has been known to be delayed in arriving by a day. That’ll be an interesting trip. I wonder what their facilities are like?!
After my train ticket I set out for some culture. I chance upon the South Korean delegations visit to the National Museum. My arrival times with their arrival and viewing of some traditional dancers. For some reason they don’t clock I’m not part of the delegation. It’s only when I ask to buy a ticket that they ask me to leave and return in 2 hours. I visit Samaki-Samaki for lunch. I have the octopus, yum!
After returning to the museum (which is largely empty but what they do have is interesting) I head of for a curio market; supposedly full of carvers. I wonder around and note that whilst they are making everything on site, it’s all the same stuff in East Africa. Some of it’s really nice, but I’ve no space and my flat already has more Africana than the National Museum here!
I finish the evening sitting at a seafood restaurant having a few beers whilst looking out over the Indian Ocean. Amazing. Beautiful. Windy!
DAY 54Jul 24 2018
Dar es Salaam
I sleep in and have a lazy breakfast. My ferry is at 12:30 so there is no point getting up early and no time trying to do anything beforehand. After breakfast I watch Anchorman, still a classy movie, whilst half-asleep.
The ferry goes like clockwork and I arrive in good time. Upon arrival we have to go through some form of immigration; so my passport gets another stamp. Yay.
After checking into my rather simple hotel I make my way through the maze of streets of Stone Town. Naturally I discover where the yummiest restaurants are.
After ensuring my belly is full and my head full of Rudyard Kipling’s fine words, I set out again to explore.
Dusk turns to night very quickly near the equator. There’s a park in the town centre and comes alive with a food market and tourists from all over the earth gravitate there. The seafood looks diverse and a little suspicious, I’ll pass on the food poisoning thank you; once in a trip is enough!
The moon is out in full force and gives a lovely glow everywhere.
DAY 55Jul 25 2018
Playing the tourist!
A full day meandering town, trying some pretty trendy coffee and getting lost in the streets and in the market.
Unfortunately the WiFi everywhere is rubbish so adding pictures is challenging.
Amongst the meandering streets I visit the Old Slave Market. Arab traders set up Zanzibar as a sultanate and used it for trade. Primarily in getting slices from within the East African region for sale to Arabs up and down the coast and in the Arabian peninsula. They also set up clove plantations, which made Zanzibar famous for spices. The plantations were also worked by slaves. History is fun! Yay
I discover a rooftop bar with the most amazing view. Breathtaking. Unfortunately the food is some of the worst I’ve had in some time.
I do try my best to ‘eat healthy’. Walking the town over and over, had exhausted me.
A good spot to see the sunset is a local park which is on the water. It comes alive with locals and tourists and a market begins which seeks food to tourists. Each stall has a ton of seafood, more than they can possible sell (and still loaded at night) which casts suspicion on their ‘fresh’ claim.
I’m also able to observe tourists and locals alike. This is a hotspot, confirmed on google, for white women to find themselves a beach boy. Apparently the beach boys aren’t locals (from the mainland) so native Zanzibarians turn a blind eye to the activity. The only white men I see with African women have kids in tow, so not quite the same dynamic.
I sit in the park, meander about town and at about 9:30 I get a massive urge for pizza. So I head to the best Italian restaurant in town (regardless of quality, all places aimed at tourists are about the same price). I discover that its ‘pizza night’, so it’s buy one get one free. It’s a really nice restaurant, with a courtyard (too dark for pictures) so I have a margherita pizza which is pretty damn good. The juice I order is a bit yucky. I get my second pizza go. Why let it go to waste?
I don’t have a fridge in the hotel so I really can’t take it home even though I have it as a take-away. I can’t seem to find any street kids but I do find a guy rummaging around the market collecting plastics so I donate the finest pizza (literally) Zanzibar has to offer to him. I wonder if he finds the strange new taste of pizza disgusting or amazing? I don’t stick around to find out.
DAY 56Jul 26 2018
Today is another leisurely day of exploration. I sleep in then head out for coffee. I’m pretty sure I’ve explored each shop in town and have met the entire local population, so I’m keen to just enjoy the view or read a book.
After lunch I meander about. Two days later and I really can’t remember where I went or what I did! I returned to the Turkish restaurant for a coke to watch sunset (they don’t serve alcohol). Apparently it’s a popular place for kids to play football on the beach. On my walk back to the hotel I take more photos of the night. The sky is simply amazing as there isn’t enough light pollution to wipe the night sky.
DAY 57Jul 27 2018
I sleep in again. I merely have to take a local bus (called a dala-dala) to the northern tip of Zanzibar. Bus stages (stations) are usually big hectic messes. The one here is so small I walk past it and have to retrace my steps. I just miss the bus (not to worry, the next one is moments away). They bring out a pickup lorry with benches in the back. I reminisce as I used to take something similar for the 7 km journey to Nkabune when I lived in Meru. I politely decline their offer of a seat; the journey is at least 90 minutes.
A local tout enquiries on my destination and tried to get me into the lorry with benches; which I decline. I give a half hearted ‘f-off’ vibe but I’m not sure whether he’s semi-official or just a hanger on. Soon the lorry with benches fills up and leaves.
A ‘proper’ bus arrives. Where I was the only person standing, a sudden throng of people appear before me. They are all elbows. Young and old, men and female are scrambling and shoving to get in the doorway. I suddenly wonder whether I will even get on before it gets full. I push out my elbows and join in. I manage to squeeze in and discover that my tout squeezed in before everyone else (clearly I was the only one surprised by this experience) and reserved a seat for me. I gave him a handsome reward and we are both content!
My hotel is an Airb&b room. It’s part of an apartment block. It’s brand new. So new they are still finishing construction. I’m probably a week too early as they still need to put fitting in the bathroom and curtains up. I have to switch rooms as the first room has a strong chemical smell. The second room is much better but they have to transfer the furniture (minus the bed) to the other room.
The room design is ludicrous; they’ve put what looks like shop front door and windows with a super dark tint. So during the day no one can look out. At night everyone can see in (which is an issue with my lack of curtains). They sort out the curtains by evening but not the door! So people can see me sleep. Good thing it’s the first floor and no one else is staying (although I discover in the morning that other people have arrived and must have walked by!).
I meander around the village to get my bearings and discover a weird Turkish theme with some places. Turks must be near...
I have an awful sandwich on the beach in a place I knew would be bad (not sure what I expected) and dinner on the beach at a place that turned out amazing. Then I bide my time until the Blood Moon arose! The clouds clear in anticipation. Then at peak moon the clouds have crept back in....
I only managed one picture of the blood moon. The night was so clear I didn’t realise the clouds had come back. When I found the moon I tried taking a picture. Then the light from the camera would give me night blindness and I’d loose the moon again. I though I was going crazy until I figured out that the clouds were covering then uncovering the moon.
DAY 58Jul 28 2018
What more to do. I woke up early and planned on a swim. Water was a bit too cool for my liking. So I go back and finish reading ‘Kim’. Then I take a nap. Then I go to beach for lunch and start a new book; The Square and the Tower’ by Niall Ferguson. No more novels for now. Whilst at lunch the heavens open up for a good hour or so. Everywhere has puddles and the ‘fancy’ restaurant I’m in suddenly leaks like a sieve.
After lunch another nap then out for the evening. I’ve managed to avoid getting into the water so that will be a goal tomorrow. Lazy days indeed when my chief aim is to get covered by water. Tough life (boring though)!
The good news is that the clouds are gone (for now) and my phone app (Sky Guide) is finding a use. It uses geo-location to show the sky in your location. Using the compass calibration, I can point the phone to a part of the sky and it will show me the stars, planets, satellites and constellations. I’ve already discovered that what I thought were satellites (as they are so bright) are actually planets (duh). Amazing night sky, even with a full moon!
DAY 59Jul 29 2018
I’m pretty sure that today is a complete write off. I’m pretty certain I have done nothing of note today. I watched a movie on my phone, played video games on my phone, read more if my book, took multiple naps and walked the beach. What else is there to do?
I do try out the Istanbul restaurant on the beach. It’s pricey!
I have to say that the meal at the Istanbul restaurant has been the most flavourful yet. A tuna steak which is wonderfully spiced with a red onion side dish which is amazing (I would never eat red onion by itself, normally), with hummus, taziki, a Greek salad and Turkish bread. Not the biggest portion but so good! They gave me a dessert as well; Zeynep will have to tell me what it is [confirmed as semolina]. It is so rich and so sweet that I couldn’t finish it; the first time in a long time that’s happened!
DAY 60Jul 30 2018
The day started with low tide and a long walk along the beach. For some reason cows chillax on the beach at low tide. No eating, just sleeping. Maybe they are on holiday too.
It would seem the easiest way to get around this resort town is to walk the beach instead of the dirty, sand roads which are water logged with all the rain we’ve had. I discover the oldest lighthouse in Zanzibar, the local Dhow construction industry and a turtle conservation centre which is small scale, it probably needs a visit by an expert to ramp up their conservation efforts.
After hanging out with the turtles I have Bratwurst for lunch. I can’t help but enjoy something to eat which isn’t from the sea.
Afterwards I have a dip in the sea before a shower and making my way to the spectacular daily show that is sunset here. I find myself back at Istanbul as it has a great view and many of the price conscious avoid it, so there is a lot of space.
I must admit this is probably the strangest holiday, to backpack and penny pinch on travel and, a bit, on accommodation then splurge on things in between.
DAY 61Jul 31 2018
Nothing new to mention. One oddity is that my bungalow is brand spanking new so they are still finishing it. A final touch to the building is adding higher quality sand to the front entrance. How do they do this? They dig a really deep hole (7 foot/2 meters) and after the top layer, there is good quality sand which they disperse. How do they fill the hole? Not entirely sure, but when I left it was filling with rubbish; eco-friendly.
I also note that all fresh water is brought in daily on lorries. I wish I had taken better pictures of them.
DAY 62Aug 01 2018
An early start, just to see something new; although I’m merely back in Zanzibar town.
It’s an uneventful trip and I make my way to a good cup of coffee. Finally I get so much of it that I can’t handle any more!
A final opportunity to stroll around Stone Town. I commission a fridge magnet to remember my journey.
I have an ice cream whilst marvelling at nature; I’ve discovered a monster spider!!
I retreat to my hotel. Whilst on the beach it was overcast and rained everyday around 1. No such luck here; the sun is out and it’s very strong. I’ve forgotten my trusty hat so I retire to my hotel to read and ‘think’.
DAY 63Aug 02 2018
Dar es Salaam
Taking the ferry over is a straightforward task. I leave early so I can ensure I get supplies for the train journey tomorrow.
Unfortunately by afternoon I realise something is very wrong with my tummy. What started as a problem last night has become a major issue today. I spend most of the day in bed or on the toilet. Luckily it’s not as bad as a month ago; after a few hours I’m straight onto the antibiotics as I’ve no desire to be unwell on a train.
DAY 64Aug 03 2018
Dar es Salaam
Today I finally take the TAZARA train. I’m sure it will be eventful and exciting!
I managed to tame my tummy, so hopefully the journey will be peaceful.
We leave smack dab on time. Impressive.
The train is surprisingly nice and comfortable. My first class 4-birth cabin has only one other passenger. It briefly seems that there is a third visitor. An African of unknown origin who doesn’t speak Swahili or English, has no luggage and is of an anxious disposition. A thief if ever we saw one. Jerry, who had ‘invited’ him in to take his seat turns out to be a long time resident of East Africa and speaks good Swahili. We swiftly discover he has no ticket and the conductor is called; out he goes. Happily we don’t see him again.
After a bit of chit chat, it turns out that Jerry used to live in Kenya. A bit more probing on my part and it transpires that we both know Kirk Benson from when we were in the Peace Corps. They were both in Mbita, Kenya at the same time and it’s even possible that we met when I visited Kirk all those years ago. Jerry just never left the region for good. Small world.
We get to talking and order a beer. We’re joined by another traveller who is from the Netherlands.
DAY 65Aug 04 2018