Now that we were back in Europe and had about six weeks to spend before we could move back into our house at the 1st of August, we could take things -very- easy. And so we did 😀
After a smooth flight via Istanbul on June 12th we arrived back in Europe. First we fetched the car from Lavrio port and then drove to nearby Athens, where we strolled through the city for a few days.
From Athens we went west towards Greece’s main peninsula, the Peloponnese. Next to some relaxing snorkeling along the beautiful beaches we visited the sanctuary of Asclepius in Epidaurus. This ancient Greece site was a healing site and contains one of the largest preserved amphitheaters.
Next up was Mycenae, a site that far predates and had enormous influence on the classical Greek culture. Its walled city (citadel) is beautifully situated on a hill (acropolis) overlooking the Peloponnese all the way until the sea.
Moving north to the mainland we crossed the Gulf of Corinth via one of the world’s largest suspension bridges.
And later that day we visited the famous sanctuary in dedication of Apollo in Delphi.
After a brief visit to the east coast at the foot of mount Olympus we went to the Adriatic coast in the west which we mainly followed all the way north to Italy.
The south coast of Albania, between Sarande and Vlorë, proved to be as beautiful and impressive as we’d heard. With magic blue water and wild cliffs scattered with small beaches.
From Albania we took a brief deviation inland towards Ohrid in Macedonia. The stunning deep lake on the border of Albania and Macedonia with crystal clear water is one of the oldest lakes in Europe and contains some unique endemic species.
Further north our coast trip brought us through Montenegro, that in 2001 cleverly convinced the German national bank to temporarily adopt the Euro, but to date still has not let go of it.
Back in the EU Croatia proved to have even more beautiful nature to offer. Especially walking in the Plitvice lakes National Park proved a wonderful experience with fairy tale-like images.
After a quiet night crossing the Red Sea Jasper reached Jeddah the next morning.
After immigration clearing the cars from the ferry took about six hours. So only around 5pm Jasper could drive his first stretch in the Middle East, and drove till darkness set in.
While it was quite a distance, the good roads made driving in Saudi Arabia smooth. And although you don’t get to know much of the people when you are on the road all day, one occasion made it clear the Saudis are as hospitable as any other Arab people: in the morning a couple in a regular car waved to Jasper getting him to stop next to the highway. Not quite understanding what they wanted, he pointed at a bottle of water. But they shook their heads, and instead lifted a flask. So -despite normal routine- he pulled over to find out. They had seen his foreign license plate and only wanted to offer him a paper cup of true Arabic coffee. And off they went again. How friendly!
As Saudi Arabia is not very women friendly and not allowed for unmarried women (they have to be accompanied by their father or brother), we decided that Jasper was going to drive to Jordan via Saudi and I was going to fly to Amman.
Flying was an adventure on its own as they didn’t allow me on the plane,since I only had a one way ticket. Luckily the manager allowed it after a short interrogation and by not taking responsibility if I wasn’t allowed in the country. I met this lovely lady Katherine in the boarding hall and a steward gave us a seat next to each other (also being the only western looking people on the plane), so we spent the whole flight chatting. He even gave us free food, as he was Kenyan and so was Katherine.
I arrived in Amman at night and felt both strange because of being alone without Jasper and sick because of a parasite that has been bothering me every now and then since Malawi.
The next day I still felt bad but in the afternoon I decided to go to town to buy a bus ticket to Aqaba for the next morning. I walked from the bus office to the old town and arrived next to the ampitheatre. Amman is built on 19 hills and everywhere you see white houses and flats.
I arrived in Aqaba on monday afternoon and expected Jasper to arrive there tuesday evening or wednesday, so some time to read, relax next to the pool and watch The Killing. Luckily he arrived on tuesday and the next day we drove to the south part of Aqaba to do some diving. We stayed at Darna Village, a great family run place.
The next day, a Dutch guy, Henk passes by and invites us for a Dutch get together in Aqaba (how cool that is!). We join him and Andree, a Dutch friend who is visiting Jordan, but nobody showed up. We had a great time anyway, mainly because all guests were as drunk as hell! Henk also invites us for a desert tour with some Jordan people and expats. Together we go to Wadi Araba and meet the others. We end up driving an afternoon and a morning with those lovely people. As we were heavily loaded and careful not to damage the engine or clutch, we got terribly stuck in a bowl. All the ‘desert experts’ had a different opinion on how to get out nut nothing worked. Eventually we used a winch and at sunset we were out. The Bedouins prepare us dinner and sitting at night in the desert makes us felling happy and blessed to be able to be doing this trip.
During this trip we also meet Adriano and his daughter Lara and boyfriend Daniel, lovely people and they invite us over for a bbq at their place in Amman. What a lovely evening it was, we hope to meet them again in July in Italy!
After the desert trip we went to Little Petra to have a look at this beautiful old village. We decide to start there again the next morning and walk from Little Petra to Petra. It feels surreal to walk in this incredible old area. The guide insists to have us sleeping at his place, in his cave, as a lot of bedouins live in a cave. We kindly thank for the offer but still he is a bit offended we say no. We walk all day to and in Petra and walk through this incredible city.
At night we book a massage in the turkish bathhouse in the hotel. As I come back from my massage I see Jasper laying down next to the sauna area. He isn’t feeling well he says, 3 guys lift him but I know that pale look, he is going to faint. The massage guy is familiair with this and asks me to get cold water. He throws it in his neck and face and he wakes up and vomits in the turkish bat house, oeps. Luckily he feels better after this, but no more sauna for him today!
The next day we drive to Madaba, we intended to sleep next to the dead sea but there are no camping area’s and the resorts are all very expensive so we decide to drive to Madaba to visit the old churches and walk through the city.
Amman + Umm Quays- Jerash
As we drive via Amman to Umm Quays, the clutch gets stuck. We decide to stay in Amman to have it fixed. Unfortunately there is no spare parts so we take the risk of reaching Haifa with a broken clutch. We take a rental car to visit the Dead Sea, Umm Quais and Jerash. On our way to the dead sea, the car makes a spin twice, on a steep slope. Luckily there was nobody on the road…. So much for the rental and we bring it back. We arrive late at the Dead Sea and it is a public holiday, the place is packed with people and they ask about e25,- pp with another half an hour left till sunset. We decide (again!) not to do this now.
A guy from the hotel knows a garage that seems to have spare parts. We go there and Jasper and the owner test the car, nothing wrong with the clutch he says. They invite us over for lunch and want to buy our winch and bumper. We don’t have to use it anymore and sell it to him. They change the oil too and it takes them all day, it feels as if we are back in Africa…. We were supposed to meet Adriano for a coffee but we can’t make it as we are at the garage waiting and waiting :(.
We visit the death sea again with our own car and this time I WILL float in the dead sea :). We went on a quite tuesday morning and experienced this weird feeling of doing nothing but floating!
Our last trip in Jordan was a drive to buth Umm Quais and Jerash to visit the old ruins. Jerash is next to Rome on of the biggest ruins of the Roman time. We drive around it which gives a great view of the area.
Aqaba- Negev desert
We leave Amman and drive to Aqaba to cross the border to Israel the next day from there. We are welcomed in Israel by a soldier with his finger on the trigger of his gun. Not a warm welcome….As expected the check at customs is a tough one. We have to take almost everything out and the car is X-rayed and checked thoroughly. After 3,5h we enter Israel and drive to the goat farm of Gadi and Lea whom we have met in Harare. They run a farm with some beautiful cabins and a small shop where they sell home made cheeses. Their son runs their farm for 1,5year so they can travel and he shows us around. We even see a little lamb being born! They take us out for dinner and have us stay in one of their cabins and enjoy it very much as they are very warm and friendly people. Unfortunately we have to leave to be on time for the ferry but we would have loved to have more time on this peaceful place in the desert with this family.
Betlehem- Jerusalem- camping on the beach
We reach Bethlehem around lunch time and are astonished by the walls and signs we see on not entering the Palestinian area when Israelian, as it might kill you. Betlehem is beautiful though and the nativity church in the centre is a holy place, as it is considered to be the place where Jesus was born. People go insane in this church, they cry and let themselves fall on the ground! We just watch and I light a candle for my father, my aunt Inge and other beloved ones who have passed away, something I do every now and then.
Before we went off to Jerusalem, we had a coffee at a -we believe- a fake Starbucks but we don’t think the Americans dare to enter this area to check on it ;).
Jerusalem is a surreal place, the place breaths history and we end up driving just into the old city through these narrow old streets. Only later we found out this is prohibited for non residents but a guy helped us, how lucky we are! We walk the whole afternoon through the different areas and pass the western wall and watch a film about king David. We enjoy being in Israel but this day marks the complexity of this country and it feels a bit uncomfortable.
We also noticed it when we camp next to the beach between Tel Aviv and Haifa. A young couple enters and they start a conversation, one of many over the last few months but they had never seen a roof top tent before. They can’t stop saying amazing and ask if they may have a look. They also like to travel (with a rooftop tent?) and end up bringing us all their food, how friendly! Later on a guy enters us and starts talking about religion, he doesn’t want me to shake his hand as I am a women and he wants Jasper to tell him he is the blessed one. Jasper kindly refuses and only after 30min he leaves. To me this 2 of the many faces of this country.
Haifa- Tel Aviv
No we are not in Africa anymore: within 2,5hrs we book a ticket for the boat, drop the car on the boat, book an apartment in Tel Aviv via Air BnB and buy a train ticket to Tel Aviv. This city has stolen our heart (apart from the attack the day before 🙁 We stay next to the Carmel market and walk 2 days through town, also thx to Gadi and Lea who had drawn us the route.
Tel Aviv is a mixture if young families, hipsters, older people, students, sun, sea, bars, great restaurants, lovely shops and a great atmoshpehere!
Shame we had to leave already to pick up our car and start the last episode of our trip: the mediterranean and the balkan!
We did not know very well what to expect from this once ‘terror state’, but we had heard Sudan was safe and the people were friendly.
And they were, right from the start. Just after crossing the border the people from the Sudan immigration office were about to start their break for breakfast, and invited us behind the counters to join. So, not sure if we could both mix in with the men only Jasper joined. But soon they brought Stephanie some foul as well, and offered both us a cup of tea – with loads of sugar of course.
Giving it a good push we reached Khartoum later that day, just when it was getting dark. Things got a little exciting as with the city in front of us the engine heated up. Apparently a small leak in the cooling system, but after adding some water we made it to the youth hostel where we camped in the court.
But, boy it was hot! At the end of May the temperature soared at highs of well over 40 degrees Celsius, and in the nights it cooled under 30 only for a couple of hours. To make things worse, the hostel was suffering from a power breakdown and could not provide electricity or water. And as we learned the next day we would have to wait for our Saudi transit visa for at least four days, we found an alternative in staying at the German Guesthouse. Quite pricey, but equipped with air conditioners, a pool, and a generator to provide these without interruption.
From there we went around town. To have our car fixed (we replaced the water pump as it was leaking from the seal) and to experience some of the Sudan-Arabic culture.
Of course we visited the so-called confluence of the White and Blue Nile. Unfortunately the smog and desert-dust in the air shielded us from a potentially nice view. And we went to the biggest souq of the country – in Omdurman, which is one of the three towns that make up Khartoum. Again we were invited for tea, and being white we mostly were an attraction for them, rather than the other way around.
Friday is the holy day for Muslims, and life mostly revolves around family. There is however one exception which are the “whirling dervishes”. In the afternoon several thousand people gather at the tomb of Sheikh Hamed al-Nil (a former Sufi leader) in Omdurman to watch or take part in the ritual Sufi dances. The ritual starts with two men chanting and walking in circles. Then the group collectively marches to the tomb before forming a large circle and the drums set in to provide an ever-increasing rhythm, driving the participants in a trance. Some of the ‘whirl’ of into the circle, spinning around – alone on their religious path.
On the next day we had a strange moment, as we had to say goodbye to each other: as the Saudis are not too fond of unmarried women travelling through their country Stephanie would fly directly to Amman in Jordan, while Jasper would cross the Red Sea by ferry and drive through Saudi Arabia with the car.
On Saturday morning -with the Saudi transit visa ready- we organised a ticket for the ferry, which would leave on Tuesday. That meant we would be separated for almost a week.
With Steef on the plane, in the afternoon I (Jasper) set off towards the Meroe pyramids. A nice stop on the way to Port Sudan. And a good place for a wild camp. As I arrived late, it was already getting dark and hard to find the exit from the main road, let alone the designated area for camping near the pyramids. But with not a single person or light for miles around I chose to camp right in front of the small ticket office near the entrance. And when I visited the pyramids early morning apart from a camel with driver there still was not a soul – let alone someone to sell me a ticket.
My next goal was Port Sudan, which was about 600 km away. But with some music on the car stereo and smooth roads through the desert I was making good progress. Until I heard a strange sound. Pufffff….
At first I thought it was part of the music. But then I felt the engine had lost some power. That must have been the turbo! But a quick look under the bonnet, in the soaring desert sun, did not reveal any obvious problems. And as the engine temperature and sound were normal, I continued my way. Only at a maximum speed of 80 km/h. Still pondering whether the sound could be a broken turbo, I also started counting whether this new top speed would be sufficient to make it through Saudi Arabia with only three days of transit allowed.
And then -still in the middle of nowhere- there was a fuel station. Not a desert mirage, but a true service station with diesel and -more importantly- some shadow. There another look in the engine compartment learned that the loss off turbo pressure was not due to a problem with the turbo itself, but with the intercooler hose which had come of partially. One of the many small problems we found after having repairs done to our car. Luckily this was an easy fix for me, and -after letting the engine cool off a bit, quite relative in the midst of the desert-I was underway again in minutes. With full diesel power!
On my way to Port Sudan I would come past Suakin, the port from where the ferry to Jeddah would leave. I decided to stop there for lunch, and have a look. And then things took a turn, and went into overdrive. Before turning into the village I was stopped by a guy asking me if I came for the ferry. “Yes, I do,” I replied. Leaving out that it was due only in two days. The guy happened to be from the ferry company, and immediately took me to their office to complete the last paperwork. Then he asked me to take him back to the road and send me of to the port. Was this really happening?
At the port I called the number of a contact I had been given to help me with the paperwork, and quickly stuffed some fruit and cookies in my mouth as a way of lunch. The whole bureaucratic circus at immigration and customs took a few hours, walking from one counter to the other – and back. But then, after an intensive check of the car and our luggage, I had my stamps and was summoned to the ferry. I parked the car and got aboard. So I was leaving today, two days earlier than scheduled!
And then there was the moment of really leaving Africa: from the deck I saw our car coming forward from the lines of waiting cars and being loaded onto the ship. After little over six months and 30.000 km we eventually left the continent. Bye Africa!
After a few days in Nairobi where they had lovely bread at the Art Bakery and we had the mounting of our Malawian brake caliper checked, we decided to proceed to Ethiopia as our visa are running out mid-May. So we left crowdy Nairobi and headed north.
On the next day, quickly after passing the equator and mount Kenya, we saw the confirmation of reaching the northern part of Africa: the first camels (well, dromedaries, or Camelus dromedarius to be precise). And during the day we would see many more: large herds along and on the road, sometimes guided, mostly by children.
As both the scenery and roads were brilliant we made good progress and reached the border with Ethiopia at the end of the afternoon. As there was no possibility to camp in the bordertown Moyale we stayed in a Arabic-style hotel.
The border crossing the next morning went relatively smooth and one of the two ATMs on the Ethiopian side of Moyale actually worked. The first 200km of road was mostly good tar, until turning left at Yabello onto a 100km rocky gravel road with a few water crossings. All in all it took us a good three hours to reach Konso. This town, itself a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the Omo valley west of it are home to many of the ancient tribes in Ethiopia, many still living in much of their traditional ways.
On our way to one of the Mursi villages (the Mursi being the people famous for women decorated with big discs in their underlip) in Jinka we ran into a German overlander we met before at Jungle Junction in Nairobi. He shared us his experience of the Mursi village (“a zoo with people”) and that there was a weekly market in another village we had just passed, Key Afer. So we changed our plan and went there.
After the market we headed straight for Arba Minch where we camped on a lane in the Paradise Lodge as their formal campsite did not accommodate for cars to be driven onto the grass. The next two -weekend- days we spend along Lake Langano, relaxing and cleaning before going into Addis Ababa.
Our schedule in (and around) Addis was dominated by administrative bureaucracy: first our visa for Egypt (three working days, embassy closed on Monday because of Orthodox Easter), then our transit visa for Sudan (one working day, but ran over the weekend so another three days of waiting). So besides visiting the National and Ethnological museums, a few markets and some restaurants we also opted for two get-aways.
The first was to Awash NP, about three hours from Addis, which was mostly dry prairie along the Awash river.
Our second get-away was a visit to the Blue Nile gorge, also around three hours from Addis. There the river cuts more than 1 km deep through the surrounding highlands.
And then when we had our visa on Tuesday we left Addis, just in time to visit a few more sites before our Ethiopian visa ran out. Our first stop on the way to the border were, of course, the rock-hewn churches in Lalibela.
This incredible site with in total 11 monolithic churches was chiseled out of rock by King Lalibela himself in the 12th century, to make “the second Jerusalem” (after the first was captured by the Muslims). According to the legend he got help from angels, so I guess that makes it a little less of a miracle 😉
Before leaving Ethiopia we also wanted to village the Dutch-run Kim & Tim Village campsite at Lake Tana where some of the country’s oldest monasteries are to be found. With Uwe, the German overlander we had met before in Nairobi and Addis Ababa, we made a relaxing boat trip over the tranquil waters of the lake with me (Jasper) jumping out at each of the monasteries to have a look inside.
The afternoon we spent in Gondar, visiting the Camelot-like castle before setting off to Sudan early the next morning.
We had decided to skip Uganda as the clutch master cylinder was worn out and leaking a bit. And with all the mountains and no spare parts in these countries, we didn’t want to push our luck. Shame because we really wanted to see Uganda – maybe next time?! The plan B now was to drive back to Mwanza, sleep again at the lake Victoria and have the car fixed there before going to Serengeti. This plan worked out very well (they even had the spare part flown in at night) and the next day just before 16h we arrived at the Serengeti Gate. We were going to stay on a campsite in Seronera in the middle of the park so we had to drive fast on those badly corrugated roads. Even with this speed we saw a lot of antelopes, buffalo’s, giraffes and birds. This is Africa as shown on pictures and in The Lion King: endless plains where lots of animals can be seen as there is hardly bushes or trees. Unfortunately we didn’t see any lions.
The next day we continued our trip and made some loops in the park before leaving the gate near Ngorongoro.
As you leave Serengeti you enter Ngorongoro national park. The parcs ask high entrance fees including a crater fee, so we swiped our card and try not to think about it anymore :). The road upto Ngoro is a bad one and halfway the trip we heard a strange sound while making a steep curve. We looked at each other and stopped immediately. Jasper went under the car to find out that a pin next to the steering wheel had broken off and was badly damaged. Luckily a friendly guide by the name of Honest, helped us and called the local mechanic from Ngoro village. He had the spare part and was willing to drive down for USD 130,- and we managed to talk it down to USD100,-. Still far too much but they know what we pay for all these parcs and we didn’t want to use a pin if there is another/ better option available. Minor detail: they had forgotten the bold so they couldn’t fix it. So they made a temporary construction and guided us to the crater rim. We arrived in the dark and were welcomed by a big group of…. buffalo’s! The engineer (named “babu”: old man) suggested to take off his lock nut since he also drove a Defender and fix his again at the workshop 2 km down the road. This sounded like a plan and went smoothly! We had dinner in the kitchen and were still surrounded by buffalo’s so we went to bed immediately.
In the middle of the night we heard this girl screaming: “guard, help, help!”. But the guard had left when everybody was in bed. Apparently the girl wasn’t feeling well and she walked – still surrounded by buffalo’s- to the toilet as no one answered her request for help. After a while one of the guides helped her to get back to her tent. Fortunately, the next morning the buffalo’s were gone!
Into the crater
Early morning we arrived at the crater gate and the whole crater and surrounding mountains were covered with mist.
While driving down into the crater the mist vanished and this gave the most stunning views ever! It looks surrealistic: a big area with grass and water surrounded by mountains and everywhere you see animals!
Maybe this would be our lucky day to spot some lions and a rhino? Again a lot of buffalo’s and at the end of the morning we spotted both the rare black rhino and two young male lions who just had a wildebeest for breakfast!
As you are only allowed to stay in the crater for 6 hours we left around lunchtime to drive to Arusha.
It is only a 2 hour trip from Ngoro to Arusha and the trip went smoothly apart from another police stop; overspeeding, again…. Since we’ve entered Tanzania, we were stopped at least 30 times and fined 8 times, all for overspeeding where they stop you at the most ridiculous places without any clear speed signs, or just outside a village.
We arrived early at the campsite. We had done some shopping so we could prepare ourselves a meal with fresh veggies and meat, joehoe! It was also good to have a warm shower again and get rid of the dust. The next day we had to go to the garage (again) as the second-hand spare part from the Ngoro mechanic was worn out. At the garage they advised to replace all four ball joints of the steering, which made sense as the car wasn’t balanced well. Four imported parts is again a lot of money. This car is turning into a goldmine but with those roads, the car suffers a lot. We were happy to be in a town again to do some good shopping, have a coffee, have the laundry done (everything came back one size smaller….) and have dinner at a good restaurant (thx for the recommendation Rene and Bianca, it was delicious!). We had also been looking forward to eat bitterballen and Jasper knew of a Dutchman named Ad who has a lodge in Arusha where they serve them. After a hell of a ride we found the lodge. Jasper had been here before with Rene and Bianca, but he didn’t recognise any of it. Apparently Ad had moved and sold the place to the Dutch Annelies but she has replaced the bitterballen by samosa’s :(.
Now that we were ‘in the area’ we obviously had to visit Zanzibar. And that proved to be wonderful – even in the rain season. So we left the car with Jonathan (thx Judith!) as it needed some maintenance and off we went! We were recommended to stay in the north (again thx Judith) as there is less tide there so we choose a new small lodge named Warare Beach. This place was a true little heaven! We also visited Stonetown with a guide and although the city is old and a bit worn out, you can still see the beauty and the richness it once had. Unfortunately the place isn’t well looked after and some places are about to collapse.
Dar to Kigali
After this (self-proclaimed) well-earned break for ourselves on Zanzibar while our car received some well-deserved maintenance on shore we left Dar Es Salaam to go west to Rwanda. The first day soon became a tough ride on deeply rutted Tarmac full of slow-going trucks and heavy rains. But we managed to reach our goal, the little inspiring political capital of Dodoma. Difficult to see how this could be the political capital?
The next morning, as we were well underway and the conditions of both the road and the weather had improved dramatically, we received a reply from the Rwanda Immigration Office that we had to change our application and re-apply. Aaargh, that could take another three days (or more, as the few days to get our East Africa visa (a prerequisite for entering Rwanda) issued, we opted to take a detour and stay a few nights in Mwanza. A great choice, as we could camp right on the beach of Lake Victoria!
In Kigali we went to the RDB, the organisation that issues the permits for the gorilla trekkings, and informed whether they had any left in the coming days. That turned out not to be a problem at all. In fact, due to it being low season we could go the next morning! So off we went, straight to the Volcanoes National Park where we camped on the parking of thee Kinigi guest lodge right next to the park entrance and headquarters.
We woke up early, the morning still being dark and quickly did our things (shower, breakfast and fold the tent) to report at 7am the park head quarters. There we found it was really quiet, and the two of us would be the only ones to visit the Hirwa (‘Lucky’) group with guide Edward. This group of mountain gorillas was formed when the young male Munyinya broke away from the well-known Susa group (studied by the late Diane Fossey) and managed to snatch a few young females from other group to form his own. The group now consists of nineteen members, of which two sets of twins born from the leading silverback.
We knew we had to bring our own 4WD transport to drive to the start of the actual trek, but did not realise we would have to bring the guide as well! So we left some of our aluminum cases and for the first time actually used the rear seats we’ve made on top of the water tanks. After a bumpy ride of about half an hour we parked the car and continued by foot. First through the fields of the local people, until a low wall with thick forest behind it announced the ‘real’ forest. By then it was still mostly dry.
At the wall where we met with one of the trackers who would lead us to the gorillas. We now walked on a muddy track through the bamboo forest and then it started to rain. We made a quick stop to get into our rain clothes and moved along. The bush got thicker and thicker and the trackers sometimes had to cut a way through with his machete. After about an hours walk we met with the other trackers. This meant we were very close to the gorillas now!
These trackers had followed the group the previous day until they made their nest and recorded that location (nowadays using GPS of course). They are familiar with the group and would stay with us during our visit while keeping us to the one-hour time limit that is strictly enforced to ensure the gorillas maintain their natural behaviour.
So around 9:30 we left our bags, got out the cameras (keeping them under our ponchos as it was still raining) and followed the trackers to the group. And suddenly, just around the corner, there they were! Like lone statues sitting in their nests, scattered over the low bushes.
Even just this was already a very special encounter. Similar to humans gorillas don’t like rain and they were curled up, alone or against each other, to protect themselves. They sat still and we could walk right past them and get a good overview of the group. But luckily the rain then stopped. And the gorillas got into a bit of action.
The mothers started to groom their little ones.
And the youngsters started to play.
The young mature male (‘blackback’) was the first to move from his nest and after some rumbling sounds -after all, he is the next man in charge- moved to some higher bushes and started to feed. While slowly some of the others were following his example one of the younger males made a playful move in our direction and gave both of us a kick with his rear legs. Although generally the gorillas seemed to pay very little attention to our presence and we -being only with the two of us- were allowed to come up to less than two meter, we were warned that the younger gorillas sometimes like to play with the humans and touch -or kick- them.
And then Munyinya decided it was time to show off he was still the one and only silverback in the group.
And just when the gorillas had all left their nests and prepared to move further through the forest while eating our time was up.
But there was one mother -carrying the youngest of all baby gorillas in the group- who stayed behind, laid down on her back and let her child play on her chest: showing her baby off to us. And she gave us a wonderful goodbye.
Today we drove the last stretch towards Dar Es Salaam. On our way we made a small tour through Mikumi National Park and found ourselves lucky: we caught a glimpse of an African tiger! Though we still haven’t seen the endangered Black rhino, this animal is seen even less.
A great moment for us, and a good time for us to have a little ‘holiday’ on Zanzibar the coming days 🙂
Early morning we’ve said goodbye to Zimbabwe and a sweet goodbye as this country has a place in our heart (even the police 😉 . We planned to go to Kasanka NP and as this was too far for one day we looked for a place to stay but, nothing to be found… No campsite and only some crappy hotels or lodges so we ended up in Tuskers hotel, the local business hotel. The next day we continued our trip to Kasanka NP. A beautiful park with a lot of water and grass and since it was rain season, some rain too. We celebrated Jasper’s birthday here with a good lunch and a boattrip. the campsite was just beautiful, close to the water with a lapa and a fire place and every day, staff would come to ask about our ‘program’ to make sure that we would have a warm bucket shower and a fire at night. When checking out the guy at the main lodge asked us to pay another USD 40,- as we hadn’t settled the complete bill yet according to him. After a while he admitted to have made a mistake and was afraid to loose his job. We asked for the manager, a lovely lady from London and she immediately said to leave it like this. We chatted for about an hour about our trip and her trips, everything is ok when you aren’t in a hurry :). Apparently minimum wages had increased with 100% recently so they had to raise prices but didn’t think it through.
We intended to go to the Bangweulu Wetlands but they were too wet so we decided to go to Kapishya Hotsprings. However, the road between east and west in north Zambia has been under construction for a while and the other road couldn’t be used because of the rain season. The only alternative was to leave the hotsprings for what they are and go to South Luangwa via Lusaka, a detour of about 800km….
On they way back to Lusaka we needed a place to sleep and we coincidently found Fringilla Farm, a lovely farm with its own restaurant, butcher, coffeeshop, rooms and campsite. As we were experiencing another problem with the car, we drove straight to the landrover dealer in Lusaka. We couldn’t brake on the motor, so we had to drive carefully on the hilly and busy roads. At the garage they couldn’t find the problem easily and later on we found out that they’d been having troubles with training staff and had little experience with the Defender TD5. We ended up to spend 3 days at the garage just finding the cause of our problem, even with Jasper and the manager eventually helping the mechanics. After the first day at the garage, we were quite late and the traffic jam was just horrible, we bumped into another car. Luckily it was just the taillight that was broken and the guy offered to settle it without police. However a police office saw it happening and took the drivers licences as a back up. So the next day, Jasper and Chris (the guy we bumped onto) went to the office and Chris had warned us that the officer wanted to have some money (KW 200 a 300). The police officer wanted a chat with Jasper alone and said that he wanted us to have a positive feeling about Zambia however we could show some gratitude. The table even had a double layer to give some money under the table :). Jasper said: well I could give you some but I wouldn’t want to be bribing you?! The police officer said ‘well I think we have a miscommunication here,’ and clumsily started rephrasing his question, handing back the drivers licence. Eventually Jasper put KW 40 on (eh, under) the table and the guy walked out leaving the money behind! That was when Jasper took back the money and ended up not paying anything at all.
According to the books and internet this should be one of the prettiest parks in Zambia/ East Africa. We found a beautiful campsite close to the river, a place where overlanders often go to. We’ve spent to 2 days in South Luangwa and to celebrate Jaspers birthday (a week after!) we had dinner at Flatdogs, a nearby lodge and restaurant. We’ve also had the most warm and humid night ever here, incredible it just didn’t cool down!
Pouring with rain we entered Malawi, where signs ironically say: The Warm heart of Africa. As there is a drought in the south, the rain is needed badly and it only stopped raining at 20.00h that evening. We hadn’t expect that so we decided to camp at the local golf club where they have a (worn out) campsite as well. Luckily they served good food :).
The next day we headed to Majete and the last 30km the road became a bit rough. We decided to continue as a detour would take us 2 extra hours and it would get dark in 3 hours. The first part was just horrible with rocks and steep parts and the second parts was ok, but then we had to turn right and our navigation said: 4×4 road. We decided to try a few km’s and after 200m Jasper said that he felt no pressure on the brakes. Oh no, not again a failure of this red monster?! Luckily we were 40km from Blantyre and with some South African help via the satellite phone from Mark of Landrover Adventures (Thx!) we managed to drive to Blantyre on low gear with 3 brakes via a beautiful route though!
We found another Landrover garage (we could start writing customer reviews for them and comparing as we’ve seen many already…) and they managed to find a caliper, as our caliper had broken off. They would schedule it for the next day and it would take them 3hrs. This turned into 3 days as they had found the wrong caliper at first and had troubles taking out the remains of one of the broken bolts from the axle casing.
We were very happy to drive to Majete (via tarred road this time) and as it was a short drive from Blantyre we arrived early. We decided to do a boat safari as the last one in Botswana was wonderful as was this one. We saw hippo’s barking again and again, crocodiles, birds, antilopes and a commmon eland all at a beautiful sunset. Back at the campsite the friendly host Henry made us a fire to braai; just a perfect day!
As it was easter weekend we did some shopping in Blantyre before going to the Zomba Plateau. We drove on the plateau with beautiful views and a lot of green and found a lodge run by an Italian couple just at the beginning of the mountain. The Italian guy was very friendly and we had a chat about a lot of things, before we knew we had drinks and dinner there and went straight to bed. Our easter breakfast was one with eggs, Italian cappucino and a lovely view! The Italian guy told us about the population of Malawi and as there is no control it is expected to grow incrementally in the coming years. This will become a problem as it is already crowded. Furthermore the country is relying on help of NGO’s and other non profit organisations. We’ve met a lot of volunteers from the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany and to us it is difficult to see how this will help Malawi in the long term as the country depends on this help. But what will help to make a country self supporting and is this the aim of these NGO’s?
Our first stop was at Monkey Bay where we stayed at a beautiful but weird place: it appeared to us that the owner and manager and some friends were bloody stoned and we were interfering. Other than that it was a beautiful bay and we took a swim and snorkeled the afternoon.
Heading north we’d got a place recommended by a few people we’ve met (Makuzi Beach Lodge) so we had to go there as well. Again a beautiful and tranquil place with its own beach and sunbeds.
The last place near the lake before going to Tanzania is Lukwe lodge near Livingstonia, owned by Auke a nice Belgian guy and also recommended by other people. The drive up the mountain is quite epic but the lodge is beautiful with stunning views, runned eco friendly and with a (organic) garden from which they take everything to prepare the meals. You could call Auke a wood artist: he’d made everything himself and it looks great.